For the Birds: Winter birding delights

Photo by Chris Bosak Redhead seen in a New England pond.

There may be a hot-looking red head at the lake or perhaps a bleach-blonde beauty.

Oh, and don’t forget about that Icelandic number that’s been hanging out at New England beaches.

Don’t worry, you have the right column. I’m still talking about birds.

The aforementioned attractions are just a few of the unusual birds that may be seen in the area during winter.

News of such sightings travel quickly along the grapevine, but Rare Bird Alerts are also available to everyone with access to the internet. Simply do an internet search for “rare birds” for the state or specific location you are interested in. Dedicated birders keep the alert lists updated and it is extremely helpful when you’re trying to track down something rare or unusual, or just interested in knowing what’s out there.

The red head I mentioned is a diving duck that is actually called redhead. They are unusual sightings in New England, but they are sometimes spotted within flocks of scaup in local waters. One year, I found a male redhead swimming with a small group of ring-necked ducks in a small unfrozen pond.

From a distance, the redhead resembles a male canvasback, which is a species declining nationally but still seen frequently in New England during the winter. Closer inspection reveals that the redhead has a more rounded head, is slightly smaller and has bright yellow eyes. Canvasbacks have sloped foreheads and dark red eyes.

Unfortunately, most bodies of water freeze over completely during New England winters and keep rare duck sightings to a minimum. (Well, not unfortunately if you’re an ice angler or skater, but unfortunate for birders.)

Now about those bleach-blonde beauties. Snowy owls are often seen along New England beaches during the fall or winter. I’ve seen them several times in Massachusetts and Connecticut. This doesn’t appear to be a good year to find snowy owls in New England. Some years there are many, some years there are a few, and some years there are almost none. They usually start showing up in November and remain throughout winter. This year, I haven’t heard of any sightings.

Another rare bird alert that shows up sometimes in New England during winter. is an Iceland gull. Iceland gulls, and other rare gulls that visit New England, typically join large flocks of other common gulls, such as ring-billed or herring. It helps to know where to look (from the rare bird alert) and find someone already looking at it. I have trouble picking out rare gulls among the big flocks, but experts are more adept at the practice.

There’s always something new to learn when it comes to birdwatching.

1 thought on “For the Birds: Winter birding delights

  1. We’re having a great birding winter here in SW New Hampshire. A never seen around here before pair of Carolina Wrens possibly wintering in a chickadee birdhouse, and also at least five bluebirds are visiting my feeders daily, and they never appear here in spring/summer….
    (I don’t check the house as I don’t want to spook the Wrens away…..)

    Liked by 1 person

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