Winter Solstice Birding


Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus


The shortest day of the year dawned with a heavy frost, but all was calm and bright.  The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, the shopping is done, and the guest rooms are ready for the extended family, soon to converge here on the Eastern Shore.  This was one last chance to bird before the guests arrive and the joyous celebration begins in earnest.

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

I consider myself knowledgeable regarding astronomical events, but the neolithic cultures have me beat.  Those observers in Stonehenge, England and New Grange, Ireland, warmed only by primitive furs and campfires, somehow determined the exact timing of the solstice.  They built stone edifices that survive today, aligned precisely with the sites of sunrise and sunset on their horizons.  It must be they were more aware than us about the natural world, being so dependent on timing the changing seasons for planting and harvesting.

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles at Blackwater NWR                      click on any photo to zoom

I’m thankful for the 23 degree tilt.  That is the tilt of the spinning earth off its axis relative to the plane of its revolution around the sun.  It accounts for our changing seasons and spurs me on to Florida’s warmth each winter.  At the winter solstice, December 21, the northern hemisphere is tilted directly away from the sun and our hours of daylight are at their minimum.  Fear not, for the days begin lengthening tomorrow.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias

My birding destination today was the Blackwater NWR.  I’ve described this wonderful location in an earlier posting called “Blackwater NWR, Dorchester County, Maryland”.  I only saw a few birders today but the site was loud.  Thousands of Canada Geese in the fields and shallows constantly squawked–what are they saying?  On a few occasions there was a sudden crescendo and on cue a huge flock took flight, the beating of their wings adding to the cacophony.


Geese Galore

The Mallards were the next most numerous Aves and the second loudest.  I describe their vocalizations as a mocking descending chuckle, mocking whom I’m not sure.  There were also fewer retiring and quieter Northern Pintail and Shovelers scattered in the flock.

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail, Anas acuta

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata

Every birding trip seems to have a memorable event or bird-of-the-day.  During the recent Christmas Count, for instance, I saw more Cedar Waxwings than ever in one day; 207 to be exact.  The bird today was the Tundra Swan.  They have a plaintive, ghost-like call, almost but not quite drowned out by the geese and Mallards.  These seasonal visitors from the north are especially welcome when they treat me to a close flyover as they did today.  I saw them approaching low over the marsh just in time to jump out of the truck, aim, and shoot, hoping the settings were reasonable.  I was lucky this time.  It was another day to remember.

Tundra Swans

Tundra Swans, Cygnus columbianus

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all and may the Peace that passeth all understanding descend on you and yours throughout the New Year.


23 thoughts on “Winter Solstice Birding

  1. Nice!
    This is one of my favorite locations. I used to enjoy the thousands of Snow Geese in the Winter, but they have moved on to a different location in recent years. The Bald Eagles are great in the winter and Ospreys and Eagles in the Summer! Plus lots of other subjects year round!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love seeing the northern shovelers on my little lake spinning in circles with their heads in the water, butt up, Your photos are truly beautiful, as usual. Merry Christmas to you, and keep ’em coming!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The snow geese have arrived on the Choptank. We remember the first time we saw this “white line” closer to the Cambridge side and we had no idea what it was until …they started to fly away .A lovely sight.
    For years I have asked everyone “what is all that noise about”? The geeses make it when they fly, they make it when they are on the water , they don’t seem to make it when they are in the fields .it reminds me of Grand Central Station at rush hour. BUT no one has explained it to me; are they all talking at once? Is it a breathing thing?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The racquet seems to calm down on our cove after dark with just an occasional sentry calling out “all is well”. But at sunrise it all starts again, sorta like living in the city near a busy street. Just part of Eastern Shore living I guess. Thanks for your interest.


  4. It has been years since I witnessed the thousands of Canada geese that gather at Blackwater NWR. Thanks for bringing back the memory of that college biology field trip. Your photos are truly wonderful. Happy Holidays.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love your photos, Stephen. The ducks in this post are perfectly shot. We have had a lot of Tundra swan also in our area along the Niagara River. I only posted them on Facebook, but maybe they deserve a blog post too. I agree on Stonehenge people. They had to be very observant and attuned to nature.

    Liked by 1 person

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