Drive-by coastal bird watching

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Owl watchers along Route 1A/ Ocean Blvd in Rye just north of Rye Harbor, yesterday in the late morning. On my way to walk the dog I pulled over, rolled down my window and snapped a few pics too.

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Snowy Owl on a rooftop, patiently (sleepily) enduring the paparazzi.

I read on the NH bird list later that there was also a snowy owl a very short distance away on the restroom roof in Rye Harbor State Park, aka Ragged Neck.

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In the neighboring marsh, the tide was high and a male Common Eider was close enough for a few decent photos.

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Very cool looking duck!

A colorful duck of the northern seacoasts, the Common Eider is the largest duck in the Northern Hemisphere. The male’s bright white, black, and green plumage contrasts markedly with the female’s camouflaging dull striped brown.

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Their food is “aquatic invertebrates, especially mollusks, crustaceans, and sea urchins.” They dive to the sea floor to take their prey.

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Also spotted fishing in the marsh, a Common Loon molting from winter to summer plumage. Sign of spring!

Yesterday was very warm for March in the New Hampshire Seacoast, with temps around 65, bright sun and a southwest wind. So good.

 

Thick-billed Murre and more at Hampton Harbor

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A Thick-billed Murre at Hampton Harbor today.

Luckily a real birder who was watching birds a short distance away from me posted her checklist from the same time and location to eBird.org and that helped me figure out what kind of (unfamiliar, locally rare) bird it was.

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The murre was near a female Common Eider duck.

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There were Common Loons too.

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And those sharp little Red-breasted Mergansers.

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Murres are alcids, in the same family as puffins and auks. They look more auk-like when they are out of the water: photo.

A common bird of the far northern oceans, the Thick-billed Murre is found in Arctic waters all across the globe. It remains up to the limits of pack ice in winter, using its wings to swim underwater to find its fish and invertebrate prey.

The temperatures here are supposed to plummet to near-Arctic ranges in the next few days, so our visiting murre will feel right at home.

Cool Facts: The Thick-billed Murre is one of the deepest underwater divers of all birds, regularly descending to depths of more than 100 m, and occasionally below 200 m. It can remain submerged for more than three minutes.

Loon closeup

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Common Loon at Rye Harbor yesterday.

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There were two loons over by the boats and one (pictured above) right near where I pulled over in my car.

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Common Loons are a fairly common sight in winter along our coast.

Coffee and a (molting) loon

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Common Loon, Gavia immer, at Rye Harbor this morning.

When I got back from my morning bus route, John and I had coffee and bagels at Jumpin’ Jacks Java in Hampton Beach then drove the coast. It’s cold. Temperatures much below normal.

I wasn’t looking too hard for birds, but I did have my camera. The wind had settled down and diffused light was mirroring off the calm surface of the sea.

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Loons are big birds. This one was all alone.

Looks like some spotted summer plumage is starting to grow.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology...

The eerie calls of Common Loons echo across clear lakes of the northern wilderness. Summer adults are regally patterned in black and white. In winter, they are plain gray above and white below, and you’ll find them close to shore on most seacoasts and a good many inland reservoirs and lakes.

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Preen.

Loons are well equipped for their submarine maneuvers to catch fish. Unlike most birds, loons have solid bones that make them less buoyant and better at diving. They can quickly blow air out of their lungs and flatten their feathers to expel air within their plumage, so they can dive quickly and swim fast underwater. Once below the surface, the loon’s heart slows down to conserve oxygen.

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Peaceful sight in these last hours of official winter.

Spring equinox is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. this evening.

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Common Loon, yesterday at Rye Harbor

Where do the loons go when the lakes freeze? See answer above.

Sometimes when I’m out doing errands I swing by the coast on the way home and see what I can see.

We moved here from South Florida almost 17 years ago. It took me a few winters to realize these birds on their smooth sea cruises, sailing along with streamlined bulk then disappearing in a dive, were actually … ah-oooo… loons.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Common Loon, Gavia immer

On a North Woods lake in summer, loons stick out conspicuously as large, tuxedoed birds swimming about in the middle of the lake. They can be very vocal and easy to locate, as the yodeling of one loon will often elicit a chorus response from other loons in the area. In winter, loons adopt a much quieter profile along coastal waters, wearing drab, gray plumage. They typically stay close to shore, though, so a scan out to sea with your binoculars will often reveal loons hidden among the waves.