On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
It’s Albatrossity Monday! Get some good rest on Monday because on Tuesday we are headed to Scotland for 3 days with Litlebritdifrnt, and then on Friday we get into the weeds with JanieM to round out the week.
Continuing with our twin themes for this series – Migration, and Molt. The two most fascinating aspects of birds, at least in my opinion!
As most people know, male and female ducks have very different plumages in the springtime; the males are often very brightly colored and the females, who have to sit silently on nests, are much drabber and more camouflaged. But for a month or so at the end of the breeding season, the males molt into a plumage (known as eclipse plumage) that is very similar to that of the females. They need to be less flashy because they also molt their flight feathers at the same time, and thus are grounded for a month or so. So how do we discern if one of this pair of Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors) is male? Check out the small green patch visible on the wing of the bird in the background. The secondaries of male birds have a green section; those of the females do not, ergo, that rear bird is a male. By January this male will be much more colorful! Click for larger image.
Not colorful at all, this Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) is trying to make up for that deficit by doing its best angel imitation. And showing off those very fresh and undamaged wing and tail feathers! Click for larger image.
Here’s a common migrant warbler in my patch of Flyover Country, a Nashville Warbler (Setophaga ruficapilla), hanging out in a patch of yellow blossoms on its way south. Contrary to its name, it is found nowhere near Nashville in the breeding season; it was named for that city simply because the first specimen was collected near there, by Alexander Wilson in 1811. Unlike ducks and many other warblers, males and females look similar, and do not undergo major plumage color changes at different times of the year. Click for larger image.
In the same year that he collected the first Nashville Warbler, Alexander Wilson also collected the first specimen of this species, in New Jersey. Thankfully it was not named the Newark Warbler or the Hoboken Warbler. It was named after Wilson himself – Wilson’s Warbler (Cardellina pusilla). With its jaunty black cap, it is one of my favorite warblers. Click for larger image.
A bird that is very familiar to many North American birders and wildlife watchers, the Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) is a summer resident here, although climate change might be slowly moving its winter range north. Currently the winter range includes southern Missouri and eastern Oklahoma as well as a tiny corner of southeast Kansas. Click for larger image.
Here’s another familiar bird, the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus). This male is of the yellow-shafted subspecies, and hence a local bird in this part of the Flyover Country. In the fall and winter we will get an influx of the red-shafted versions, but at the time of this writing, I have not yet seen one of those this season. Click for larger image.
Now we’ll showcase some of the raptors of Flyover Country. September is the first month where we get significant numbers of migrant raptors from the north, and one of the most anticipated is the Merlin (Falco columbarius). This is a cosmopolitan species, with 9 subspecies distributed across the Northern Hemisphere. The name “Merlin” comes from the Old French name for this bird, esmerillon. Pictured is an adult female of the boreal or taiga subspecies, and she is looking for a nice plump sparrow or meadowlark to snack on. Click for larger image.
Speaking of snacks, this adult Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) was plucking and devouring what appeared to be a Mourning Dove. Thankfully its picnic table was well lit for photography and videography! Warning – the video might be too much “nature red in tooth and claw” for some folks. Click for larger image.
Another Red-tailed Hawk that looks not much like the one above, this is a youngster (hatched in 2022) representing the pale-headed birds that are pretty common in the Southern Great Plains, where I happen to live. Perched on an old windmill, it is an iconic image for this part of the continent. It is the current wallpaper on my desktop computer, in fact! Click for larger image.
Our final bird for the week is a plump Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus), fresh from the subarctic regions of Canada and heading to its coastal wintering habitat along the Gulf Coast or further south. In fact, some of these birds winter on the coast of Argentina, which is a long way from Flyover Country. This bird has a Eurasian conspecific, the Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), which is so similar in appearance that it would be difficult to ID if it showed up in North America. The two species were formerly lumped together, and may constitute what Ernst Mayr described as a “superspecies”. Super cute, for sure! Click for larger image.