Non-breeding American Goldfinches

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A group of American Goldfinches were foraging in the thickets surrounding Centennial Lake yesterday morning. Those in non-breeding plumage looked starkly different from their bright yellow counterparts. A few of the breeds were still in their bright yellow attire. Though far more subdued, the buffey-colored birds were still quite handsome!

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Double Double-Crested Cormorants

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For the last few weeks, it seems like life has conspired to keep me from birding. So it was particularly delightful to get out for just awhile this morning. My sister and I went to Centennial Park near Ellicott City to participate in the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s in my Mom’s memory. These two Double-Crested Cormorants were leisurely floating out in the lake as the walkers strolled by on the walking path. It was a nice day to be outside, to remember my Mom, and to enjoy a few birds.

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Bobolinks at Bombay Hook

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Bobolinks, who breed in the northern United States and Southern Canada, east of the Rocky Mountains, gather in the fall in large flocks. While Bobolinks are breeders of the grasslands, they gather in the fall in marshes, where they forage on grains in preparation for their long migration across the Gulf of Mexico to southern South America.

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The male Bobolink changes it’s appearance drastically between it’s breeding and nonbreeding plumage. In the summer on it’s breeding ground, the male Bobolink appears to wear a tuxedo on backwards with a straw hat upon it’s head. The breeding male Bobolink cuts a very dashing figure.

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In the fall, the Bobolink molts and dons a coat of warm, buffy browns. These Bobolinks were foraging among the reeds along Shearness Pool at Bombay Hook early Saturday morning. Perhaps 50 of these striking birds foraged and flew about the reeds.

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Forster’s Tern at Bombay Hook

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As I turned the corner of the gravel road leading to Shearness Pool, I was greeted by perhaps 75 Egrets and a variety of Terns, all hunting in the ‘canal’ along the road. One of the Forster’s Terns made pass after pass up and down the canal.

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With each pass, the bird displayed it’s diagnostic features: the long, forked tail, the orange legs, and in it’s non-breeding plumage, the comma-shaped, black ear patch and the black bill with just a touch of orange at the base of the bill.

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The Forster’s Tern breeds in marshes all across the United States and Southern Canada. They winter along the coasts from the Mid-Atlantic States southward into the Caribbean Islands and Central America, and back north along the Pacific Coast into Southern California. As a result, the Forster’s Tern is found year-round in the marshes in the Mid-Atlantic region.

An Evening Walk at Schoolhouse Pond

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After a mild summer, the last few days have been hot and humid – typical Mid-Atlantic weather. The heat and humidity kept the songbirds at bay, but that didn’t stop other birds and animals. This fox kit was half-hidden in the swamp grasses, eating some small critter.

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The resident Great Blue Heron was out and about, not hunting so much as keeping cool in the pond shallows.

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This deer was hanging out at the shady end of the pond.

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And as the sun set, this Double Crested Cormorant floated lazily in the water.

MAAAMMAA……!!!!

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As I stepped out of the car at Schoolhouse Pond this evening, a Catbird fledgling tumbled out of a tree along the path. His parents were calling, trying to get him to fly back into the tree, with no luck. The little fella hopped along the path, trying to fly from time to time, occasionally getting a couple of feet up onto a tiny lip on the retaining wall along the path. After trying to get him into the trees for over twenty minutes, his parents finally called him into the tall grasses along the pond.

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Juvenile Bald Eagle

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This Bald Eagle was sitting on a dead snag overlooking Bear Swamp Pool at Bombay Hook Sunday morning. It takes five years for a Bald Eagle to fully mature. This juvenile appears to be a second year bird. The yellow that is beginning to emerge at the base of the bill, the white mottling on the chest, and the eyes that are beginning to lighten in color all indicate 2nd year. In a first year Bald Eagle, the bill is darker with very little yellow coloring, the eyes are more of a chocolate brown, and the body is more solidly brown. By the third year, the head and tail begin to turn white, and the bill is predominately yellow.

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Clapper Rail at Bombay Hook

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Sunday morning was the time to see secretive marsh birds. Shortly after watching a couple of Soras forage along the edge of the reeds, a Clapper Rail came out in the open long enough for a few photos. Though a reclusive bird, the Clapper Rail is actually quite common in Atlantic Coastal marshes. They are becoming quite scarce, however, along the Pacific coast. The Clapper Rail forages for aquatic insects, crustaceans, and small fish.

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Sacred Idleness

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08 30 14 Bombay Hook 115

“There is such a thing as sacred idleness.”  ~George MacDonald

So very often, birding is an exercise in meditation. It involves sitting and watching, softening your gaze, remaining in the moment, and seeing what there is to see. Yesterday, as I was driving past Shearness Pool at Bombay Hook, I passed a small pond surrounded by reeds. The pond was full of foraging sandpipers. I stopped and just sat, watching the perpetually busy birds, thinking they were all Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. The longer I looked, the more I realized that there were differences in coloration and markings on the birds. Subtle differences, but differences all the same. What would I see?

That’s when this sandpiper walked into the center of the pond. What was unique about this sandpiper? His back was darker than the surrounding sandpipers, which made him stand out from the crowd. Then, there was that distinctive white eye-ring.

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And, what’s that about the legs? Hmm… let’s take a closer look…

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Those legs are not the bright yellow of the Yellowlegs, nor are they the bluish legs of the Willet, or the black legs of some of the smaller sandpipers. These legs are greenish.

Put it all together and what do we have? A Solitary Sandpiper, migrating from it’s breeding ground in the taiga of Canada to it’s wintering grounds in Central or South America.

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And just for the record, the Solitary Sandpiper is #200 on the 2014 Mid-Atlantic Big Year list. Goal for the year met on August 31. Four months to go. Can we make it to 250? (Yes, I do note the irony that tallying numbers is in direct contrast to the concept of sacred idleness with which we began this post.)

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