I ask you, does this look like a “street brawler” to you?
That’s how Peter Dunne describes the Black-bellied Plover – “A bulky, squarish, grayish, street brawler of a plover that likes to keep its feet damp.” (Essential Field Guide Companion) Ok, take another look.
I guess so. See, I’m trying to make sure I have him right because when I look in The Sibley Guide to Birds I see the Black-bellied Plover on one page and the American Golden Plover on the opposite page and there’s not much to choose between them in winter – or as juveniles – and in my amateur view this bird could be either a winter adult or a juvenile. It’s Dunne that gives you the best clue – the black-bellied is a “street brawler,” the American Golden is “gentry.” Sibley’s drawings bare out this comparison, but it’s subtle and unless you were seeing the two side-by side, it is difficult to tell. but in the end I put this one, seen on the Northeast Beach at low tide today, as a street brawler – that is, a Black-bellied. He’s also more likely to be here all winter whereas the Golden – I thought I saw one a few weeks ago – does he look more like “gentry” to you? – is only likely to stop by during migration. And yes, i think he’s a juvenile because the speckling on his back seems so intense.
About that flying quilt
I can’t think “Eider” without thinking “down” and feeling warm and cozy in winter. In exploring this idea just now I learned that they actually harvest Eider down in Iceland without harming the ducks. You can read about it here. Me, I see Eiders regularly near Bar Rock and today I encountered several flocks that seemed to be circumnavigating Gooseberry and got a few shots I really like because they show males in breeding plumage – October is the month to change to their fancy clothes – and i believe a juvenile or first-winter male. There are three males towards the lead of this small flight and two (first and last) are in breeding plumage, while the middle one is, I think, a first winter male whose back is white, but the wonderful head color hasn’t developed and won’t until next spring – ah, the woes of the teenager
Here’s the same flight, I believe, as they first caught my eye. Their flight is rapid – more rapid than I woud expect for what I regard as a rather bulky duck.
The funny thing is, there were three such flights and they all seemed to be coming from an area on the west side and landing in an area on the east side, but instead of flying over the island – a much shorter route – they flew around it. Why? I don’t have a clue – maybe because they’re sea ducks?
In any event, while out at the south end I did see three Monarchs. This is prime Monarch territory, the temperature was in the low 50s, and it was early afternoon, so they had plenty of time to warm up flight muscles. Hope they make it to Mexico. When I was much, much younger – roughly in 1975 I would say – I recall finding a Monarch on Gooseberry one cold fall day and taking it home because I couldn’t imagine it surviving in the late fall conditions. I don’t recall how the incident ended, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t make it through the winter. I suspect we released it during a mild spell.
Saw a Sulphur or two as well, and this little charmer, an American Painted Lady. October, the book says, is the end of the flight period for the American Painted Lady, but it will winter over as an adult. Wonder just how it does that!
The American Painted Lady can be told from the Painted Lady because it is smaller and because the undersurface of the wing shows two large spots at the margin of the hind wing. (The larger Painted Lady has four such spots.) At least according to The Butterfly Book by Donald and Lillian Stokes/Ernest Williams. (Yes, I would be totally lost without all these guides accumulated over the years.)
A long-time friend – and frequent visitor to our feeders in winter – is the Slate-colored Junco. But I’d rather encounter them along the path than at the feeder. We’ve seen them a few other times in recent walks, but this is the first firm pictures and thus, identification on Gooseberry. They are really quite tame there, seem to prefer to feed on the ground, and stay just ahead of you on the path as you walk. Bren suggested we’re scaring up insects as we walk? Theproper name, I just learned, is Dark-eyed Junco and “Slate-colored” is the widespread and common of two variants. If there’s any doubt about the idenity of the Junco it is erased when he flies and reveals bright white tail feathers on either side of a dark tail. Gives him a bit of a racy look.
The Junco is a sparrow, which might help with the idnetification of this LBJ I frequently saw keeping company with Juncos. From this picture concluded they are the ommon – and should be familiar – Eastern Song Sparrow. ( I don’t know why I resist learning this bird, but it always seems to take a trip to the book for me to be sure. )
Of course the walk wouldn’t be complete without a few Myrtle Warblers . That seems to be the name in proper circles – but I do prefer the more diagonostic Yellow-rumped!
What I didn’t expect was to see one apparently working a seaweed pile left at the high-water mark on the Southeast Beach. (No, I don’t understand why this picture was so soft – almost hazy. )
Ooops – I almost forgot the Woolly Bear – he was a having a devil of a time, clamoring up the rocky bank on East Point and getting blown back by the wind. What I love about him, though, is he’s a prophet. I know because when I was 13-years-old my love affair with weather was cemented when under the Christmas Tree was Eric Sloane’s Weather Book – 1954 edition. It has great drawings and exp[lanation, quite scientific really, as well as a drawing of the Woolly Bear witht his note:
A few years ago a group of weathermen decided to test the accuracy of the legend about the caterpillar known to the early pioneers as the ‘Woolly Bear.’ The Woolly Bear was said to be an infallible prophet of winter weather – the wider the middle brown band, the milder the winter. The fact thats cientific men put this bit of folklore to the test is significant, but the fact that the Woolly Bear is still forecasting winters with great accuracy is even more remarkable.
Yep – well, I’m torn between wanting to research this on the Web and getting an update and saying, “oh what the hell” – this guy says it’s going to be a very mild winter. I’ll just wait until next spring to make up my mind. No sense confusing the situation with the possibility of modern research putting this beloved myth to rest. And if he’s wrong – well, maybe it’s time to invest in one of those Eider down comforters! 😉