A sunny, cold winter’s day for a birdwatcher

Photo by Chris Bosak A junco looks for seeds on a dried up plant at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., in Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A junco looks for seeds on a dried up plant at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., in Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak An American Robin perches on a rock at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., in Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An American Robin perches on a rock at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., in Jan. 2015.

I dropped off my third-grader at school and faced a decision heading out of the parking lot: Take a left to the beach and see what birds might be there; or take a right and basically start my work day earlier than I have to.

Of course I took the left. It’s a good thing, too, because there were some pretty cool birds down at the beach. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but some good photo opps of birds such as Continue reading

Project SNOWstorm seeks to unravel mysteries of the Snowy Owl

Photo by Chris Bosak Don Crockett of Project SNOWStorm talks about Snowy Owls at a presenation at Milford City Hall on Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Don Crockett of Project SNOWStorm talks about Snowy Owls at a presentation at Milford City Hall on Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015.

 

(Here’s a little something I wrote up about a presentation on Snowy Owls I attended on Sunday. The event “The Hidden Lives of Snowy Owls” was presented by Don Crockett and sponsored by Connecticut Audubon.)

Last winter Snowy Owls enthralled the U.S. Even casual birdwatchers couldn’t help but be caught up in the historic irruption of the beautiful, yet powerful Arctic bird of prey.

The birds made their way down from their Arctic breeding grounds in record numbers during the winter of 2013-14. Birdwatchers flocked to beaches to try to find the owls. Unlike most winters, the birdwatchers were often successful in catching a glimpse of an owl.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Snowy Owl sits on a sign at The Coastal Center at Milford Point in early March 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Snowy Owl sits on a sign at The Coastal Center at Milford Point in early March 2014.

While Snowy Owls can remain in one spot for hours on end, they do move around quite a bit, during the day and night. So where do the owls go when they aren’t under the watchful eye of birdwatchers? What do they do at night when even the best spotting scope can’t keep track of their whereabouts?

Information about what Snowy Owls do when they come down to the United States is valuable because it gives us a better understanding of these mysterious birds. As Arctic breeders, the more we know about them the better as we continue to grapple with the effects of climate change. They may offer clues as to the extent to which climate change is impacting our world.

To help gather more information on these owls, a group of volunteers started Project SNOWstorm last year. The project involves trapping Snowy Owls with a net and attaching a transmitter to each owl’s back using a harness. The transmitter is lightweight (about 40 grams) and the harness is designed to not effect an owl’s flight. The transmitters are solar-powered, which reduces the weight as no batteries are required, and use the cellular phone network as opposed to satellites. Using the Continue reading

Something to do on a snowy day: Learn the difference between hairy and downy woodpeckers

Photo by Chris Bosak A female Hairy Woodpecker clings to a suet feeder as snow falls in Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female Hairy Woodpecker clings to a suet feeder as snow falls in Jan. 2015.

If you live in New England you’re about to buried in snow so why not studies these photos and learn the differences between the hairy and downy woodpeckers. Beginning birders often confuse the two species. I know it took me a long time to be able to tell the two woodpecker species apart with confidence. Hopefully this posting will help some of you distinguish between the two.

The two species are hard to tell apart because they basically look exactly the same, hence the confusion. The major difference is the size. The downy is a dainty six inches, while the hairy is a beefy nine inches. That’s enough of a difference that you’d think it would be easy to tell one from the other. But if you’re new to this birding thing and don’t have a point of reference to judge size, it’s tough. I know, I’ve been there. Plus, like any birds, there can be size variations within a particular species. There can be smallish Hairy Woodpeckers and largish Downy Woodpeckers. So size can or can’t be a good way to tell them apart.

For me, the biggest difference is the size of the bill. In the most simple terms, downys have small bills and hairys have big bills. Beyond that, the bill of the downy just looks small and rather fragile. It isn’t fragile, of course, it’s quite strong. It just looks small and fragile. The bill of the Hairy Woodpecker, on the other hand, looks more sturdy and substantial. If one or the other lands on your feeder, check out the bill — dainty downy or hardy hairy.

Below is a side-by-side comparison. (Males of both species have a red patch on their heads. Females do not have have the red patch. Both birds below are females.)

Photos by Chris Bosak Side-by-side comparison of Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers' bills. Female Hairy on the left, female downy on the right.

Photos by Chris Bosak
Side-by-side comparison of Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers’ bills. Female Hairy on the left, female downy on the right.

A couple winter birds

Photo by Chris Bosak A female Downy Woodpecker perches next to a birdfeeder in New England, Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female Downy Woodpecker perches next to a birdfeeder in New England, Jan. 2015.

Yesterday (Saturday) coastal southern New England had its first significant snow of the year. And even so, it wasn’t that much of an event as we woke up to about four inches of snow and nothing else fell during the day (except some light rain off and on). But it was nice to see snow finally (I’m sure not everyone shares that opinion) and, for me, that always means checking out the feeding stations for photos opps.

I didn’t do so well in that department as the birds were surprisingly somewhat scarce. White-throated Sparrows were the most plentiful species, with 10 to 12 under the feeders at all times. A Downy Woodpecker showed up frequently, too. There were infrequent visits from cardinals, juncos and titmice. That’s about it. The Carolina Wren Continue reading

Carolina Wrens come a’singing — even in winter

Photo by Chris Bosak A Carolina Wren perches on a feeder in New England in January 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Carolina Wren perches on a feeder in New England in January 2015.

I was sitting in my bedroom doing some work on the computer when I heard a familiar song behind me. It wasn’t coming from the clock radio. It wasn’t even that type of song. It was a bird song, of course, and it was being belted out richly by a Carolina Wren.

“Tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle!” Loud and strong.

It was nice to hear the song. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard a lot of birdsong in New England. I’ve heard plenty of bird calls — non-melodic chips often coming from cardinals and White-throated Sparrows — but not a lot of songs. But this Carolina Wren was in full voice. Why? I’m not exactly sure. I’ve heard Carolina Wrens sing in the winter before, plenty of times. My guess is that it’s territorial posturing. That’s part of why birds sing in the spring, mostly over breeding territories. I think this wren was protecting his feeding station.

(Story continues below, with more photos, too.)

Continue reading

Great Backyard Bird Count set for Feb. 13-16 (press release)

Photo by Chris Bosak

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Black-capped Chickadee and Downy Woodpecker share the suet feeder, Nov. 16, 2014.

Here’s a press release about the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science project for birders of all ages and levels. My next For the Birds column will focus on the Count.

NEW YORK (Jan. 21, 2015) —Give Mother Nature a valentine this year and show how much you care about birds by counting them for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The 18th annual count is taking place February 13 through 16.

Anyone anywhere in the world can count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count and enter their sightings at www.BirdCount.org. The information gathered by tens of thousands of Continue reading

Clearing out my 2014 photos: Meadowhawk dragonflies mating

Photo by Chris Bosak Meadowhawk dragonflies mate in Selleck's/Dunlap Wood in summer 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Meadowhawk dragonflies mate in Selleck’s/Dunlap Wood in summer 2014.

Here’s my next photo in the series of 2014 photos that I never got around to looking at and posting. This will be the final one. It’s time to move forward and let go.

I got this shot in the summer 2014 when trying to add to my meadow close-up collection. I liked the shots based on the quick look I took on the camera’s tiny screen at day’s end, but never took them further than that. In fact, I had forgotten about them until I found the photo folder buried inside another folder the other day.

This shot shows a pair of meadowhawk dragonflies mating in a “wheel” position. The male is the red one.

For a fascinating article on how dragonflies mate, click here.

I like photographing dragonflies in the summer. The birding gets slow in July/August and bird photography even slower. So my attention often turns to the smaller creatures of the meadows, which are around and active on even the hottest days. For many more of my meadow close up photos, click here.