Christmas Bird Count time is here


The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season is upon us. The local one that I participate in — the Westport Circle — takes place on Sunday. Many of the counts take place this weekend, but the range to do the count started on Dec. 14 and runs through Jan. 5. Participants spend all day “in the field” counting birds (individual species and total number) and send the data to the circle’s compiler, who turns it all into the National Audubon Society.

The Christmas Bird Count is the world’s largest citizen science program with data going back to 1900. The data helps scientists track bird populations and is valuable in determining what steps, if any, need to be taken to help certain species.

The data, of course, is valuable and is indeed the most important part of the CBC. But it’s also a fun day to look for birds all day. Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate — let me rephrase that, the weather hardly ever cooperates — but that only adds Continue reading

A lingering Great Blue Heron; to migrate or not to migrate

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Blue Heron stands on a dock near the Norwalk River on Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Blue Heron stands on a dock near the Norwalk River on Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014.

Some try to stick out the New England winters and some fly south where it’s warmer. That can be said for several species of birds, but for this posting I’m talking about Great Blue Herons. The pictured bird was found earlier this week near Veterans Park in Norwalk, Conn.

It’s an interesting dilemma for the birds. What gives the better chance of survival? Sticking out a New England winter and subsisting on the small fish to be found, or risking the perils of migration and moving to a warmer climate? Both have their risks, of course. A particularly cold winter can spell doom for the herons that stay around. However, the risks Continue reading

More “colorful” sparrows

This past summer I wrote a post on this website about sparrows and, while they may not boast red, blue or green feathers, they are still beautiful and heavily decorated. The beauty, however, is more subtle — mixing browns and tans rather than vibrant hues. Sometimes you have to look closely or at a different angle, but the beauty is there. In that previous post, I included a photo of a Song Sparrow. Here’s the link in case you missed it or want to see it again.

So now I offer this Swamp Sparrow as further proof. I saw this sparrow at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Stamford (Ct.) earlier this fall, so it’s not even in its breeding plumage. I have seen Swamp Sparrows on their breeding grounds while camping in northern New Hampshire and they are strikingly plumaged. Their fall plumage, as you can see here, is not too bad either.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Swamp Sparrow perches on a branch at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary, fall 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Swamp Sparrow perches on a branch at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary, fall 2014.


Red Knot Shorebird Listed as Threatened by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Red Knot, from American Bird Conservancy.

Red Knot, from American Bird Conservancy.

Here’s an interesting press release from the American Bird Conservancy. It will be interesting to follow the fate of this beautiful shorebird.

(Washington, D.C., December 9, 2014) American Bird Conservancy (ABC), Defenders of Wildlife, and the Natural Resources Defense Council welcomed today’s decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to formally list as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) the highly imperiled rufa Red Knot, a shorebird that flies more than 9,300 miles from south to north every spring and repeats the trip in reverse every autumn—one of the longest migrations in the animal kingdom. Though the decision to list the Red Knot was hailed as an important victory by the three groups, they urge FWS to quickly designate critical habitat to better protect the bird.

Surveys of wintering knots along the coasts of southern Chile and Argentina and in Delaware Bay on the East Coast of the United States during spring migration indicate that the species experienced a serious population decline in the 2000s. Specifically, a 2011 count of the main wintering population of the bird in South America found a decline from the previous winter of at least 5,000 birds—approximately one-third of the remaining population.

“The compelling scientific case for ESA listing fueled our 10-year effort to encourage this decision,” says Darin Schroeder, Vice President of Conservation Advocacy for ABC. “While the decision to list the rufa Red Knot was certainly a protracted process, we do now have hope that future generations of Americans will be able to witness this migratory marvel.”

Red Knot survival is tied to management practices associated with a key food source for the bird: horseshoe crab populations along the shores of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. An abundant horseshoe crab population provides critical fuel for migration when the birds stop at Delaware Bay to feed on horseshoe crab eggs. Birds with higher weights have a better chance of reaching the Arctic to breed and survive into the next year.

The decline of Red Knots and other shorebird species has been largely caused by a diminishing supply of horseshoe crab eggs due to overharvesting of horseshoe crabs for bait and other purposes. When Red Knots leave Delaware Bay in poor condition due to the lack of horseshoe crab eggs, they either die before ever arriving in the Arctic or arrive in too poor a condition to successfully reproduce. As a result, adult birds are dying off without being replaced by juveniles, leading to a decline in population.

“It’s clear that Red Knots are dying because we’re decimating a food source they desperately need to survive,” says Jason Rylander, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “Now that they’ve been listed as threatened, it’s time to make serious changes to horseshoe crab management and put a halt to their decline. We’ve waited far too long for this decision, and Red Knots are paying the price.”

Despite the growing evidence of over-exploitation of the horseshoe crab population, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has not reduced the harvest significantly in the last six years. The State of New Jersey eventually implemented a moratorium on horseshoe crab harvesting in 2008, but Delaware and Maryland, which border Delaware Bay, have failed to do so.

“I’ve personally seen the Red Knot’s numbers dwindling in migratory stopover points like Canada’s Mingan Archipelago,” says Elly Pepper of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “These birds are strong enough to make migratory trips of nearly 20,000 miles annually, but not strong enough to weather the overharvesting of East Coast horseshoe crab populations. If we don’t change management policies for one of the key foods this bird relies on quickly, one of nature’s most epic journeys, and the birds that make it, will be wiped off the map.”

Red Knots are not the only species affected by the horseshoe crab fishery. Other species including Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, and Semipalmated Sandpipers also depend on an abundant supply of horseshoe crab eggs at the Delaware Bay stopover and have experienced significant declines as a result of the shortage.


Since 2005, four formal requests to list the Red Knot under the Endangered Species Act have been submitted to FWS. Citing a lack of resources and other priorities, FWS chose not to list the bird but placed it on the candidate list in 2006. Since then, Red Knot numbers have continued to fall.

A “threatened species” is one that is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Such a designation requires that the species be protected from adverse effects of federal activities; provides restrictions on taking, transporting or selling a species; provides authority for recovery plans as well as the purchase of important habitat; and provides for federal aid to state and commonwealth wildlife agencies that have cooperative federal agreements.

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Wood Duck in mixed company with Mallards

Photo by Chris Bosak A Wood Duck hangs out with a flock of Mallards at Wood's Pond in Norwalk, Dec. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Wood Duck hangs out with a flock of Mallards at Wood’s Pond in Norwalk, Dec. 2014.

Several years ago (10 maybe), during a visit to Central Park in New York City, I noticed a very tame male Wood Duck hanging out with a flock of Mallards. I’ve spent hours upon hours on remote New England ponds trying to get decent photographs of Wood Ducks and here was one acting like it was a tame Mallards. The behavior struck me as odd because Wood Ducks, in all my previous observations, are usually extremely wary.

I had pretty much forgotten about this sighting until the other day when I visited Wood’s Pond in Norwalk, Conn., a frequent haunt of mine. A lingering Great Blue Heron

(click “continue reading” for another photo of the female Wood Duck)

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Here’s the starling in winter


Photo by Chris Bosak A European Starling in winter plumage perches on an old sunflower stalk, Dec. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A European Starling in winter plumage perches on an old sunflower stalk, Dec. 2014.

This spring I wrote a post about starlings. Starlings are an invasive species to the United States and very numerous. In the spring, however, I saw a starling near my birdfeeder that caught my eye as visually striking. Well, it happened again. This time the starling was in its winter plumage, which is different from its breeding plumage.
The winter plumage is not always shown in field guides, so it causes confusion with some new birders. I have received emails from readers of my bird column asking what type of bird is in the photo they have attached and it is a starling in winter plumage.
So in this post you have a starling in its winter plumage. Still a striking bird. Click on the link below to see the bird in its breeding plumage.

Click here.