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Features: On the Wing

For ring-billed gulls, color of feathers is often ‘so last year’

Identifying gulls has flummoxed many a birder, including me. Gulls take several years to reach their adult feathers. Getting there involves a complicated progression through such mysterious plumages as juvenile, first alternate, second basic, and third alternate before ending in their definite phases. For years, rather than hazarding a guess on a specific species, I have entered the generic “gull species” on my checklist.

We were confronted with this problem a few Januarys ago while birding at Shorter’s Wharf on the edge of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge outside Cambridge, MD. A group of gulls was loafing along the shore during a clear, cold morning.

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Downy woodpeckers a study in black, white

He pressed his head and chest up close to the crumbling bark. Pulling his stiff tail feathers up under him in an acute angle, his rear end stuck out. Then with a little hop, he hitched himself up the tree. The process repeated itself over and...

Bluebirds' brilliance captures the light, our attention

The blue feathers seemingly possessed an internal light. Their intensity dazzled, demanding attention. The bird was facing away from me, looking back over his royal blue wing that captured the brilliant sunshine of a perfect spring day....

New friends are but strangers waiting to be discovered

They were in a sheltered cove, just yards away from the Atlantic. There were six of them, bobbing in the late afternoon sunshine, looking remarkably like the younger brothers of the ubiquitous Canada goose. We had come to Chincoteague for a...

Beginning New Year on the right webbed foot

The temperature was a few degrees above freezing and the evening darkness was just starting to give way to the New Year as we entered the wildlife refuge. Sliding past scores of ducks and Canada geese as they began to grow restless on the...


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About On the Wing

Observing the birds of our region brings perspective about their lives, and ours.

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