What will this late-fall/early-winter bring?

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Towhee calls from his perch at Selleck's Woods in Darien, Conn., April 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee calls from his perch at Selleck’s Woods in Darien, Conn., April 2014.

For years I’ve struggled to get decent shots of Eastern Towhees. Either I couldn’t find them or they remained in thick brush, rendering them unphotographable (but safe from predators, which I guess is way more important than me getting a photograph of one.)

But last fall and early winter, I saw plenty of towhees. The best part is they occasionally came out into the open to be photographed. It was one of the highlights of last fall/early winter. Then, remember, the Snowy Owls came in force into New England.

What will this year bring? I guess we have to wait and see. If you see something interesting out there or you’ve taken a neat photo of a bird (or other wildlife), drop me a line at bozclark@earthlink.net. I’d love to put more photos on my “Reader Submitted Photos” page.

A few more Green Heron shots

Photo by Chris Bosak Green Heron in Darien, Conn., Nov. 2013.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Green Heron in Darien, Conn., Nov. 2013.

Here’s a few Green Herons photos I got last November. That is late for a Green Heron. I’m posting now because my latest For the Birds column was about Green Herons and we are heading into fall. The universe seemed to be telling me to put a few more Green Heron photos out there.

Photo by Chris Bosak Green Heron in Darien, Conn., Nov. 2013.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Green Heron in Darien, Conn., Nov. 2013.

Yes, a ‘green’ heron

Photo by Chris Bosak The back plumage of a green heron.

Photo by Chris Bosak
The back plumage of a green heron.

Green Heron’s often do not look green because the green is not a bright, neon green, but rather a dark muted green. Also, from a distance, which is where the bird is usually viewed, the bird looks more brownish or greenish-brown. I was lucky enough to photograph from a fairly close range one of these birds last week. Zooming in on the feathers on its back, here’s why it’s called a Green Heron. Of course, much of it depends on how the light is hitting the plumage.)

Here’s a full view of the bird.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Green Heron stalks a pond in Darien in this fall, 2014 photo.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Green Heron stalks a pond in Darien in this fall, 2014 photo.

No seagulls, just gulls

Here’s my latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour newspaper (Norwalk, Ct.) and The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.) This one deals with the various gulls (not “seagulls”) that we see in New England.

Want to see For the Birds in your local paper? Contact the editor and make the suggestion.

……

Photo by Chris Bosak A Laughing Gull stands on a piling at a boat dock along the Norwalk River, Sept. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Laughing Gull stands on a piling at a boat dock along the Norwalk River, Sept. 2014.

Watching gulls is either one of the easiest things to do or most difficult things to do when it comes to birdwatching.

On one hand, you can go to the beach (or parking lot or dump) and see all the gulls you want. You are 100 percent guaranteed to see them any time of day and any time of year.

On the other hand, gulls can be endlessly challenging for birders, to the point that expert birdwatchers are the only ones who can be certain what they are looking at — and even then maybe not so much.

Like many aspects of birding, it’s as easy or as difficult as you want to make it. You can roll into a parking spot at the beach, pull out a stale loaf of bread and be surrounded by gulls in seconds. (Not that I’m condoning feeding birds bread.) That is certainly birdwatching, whether you care to identify the species of hungry gulls or not.

Or you can find a group of gulls and inspect them to see if any rare species are mixed in among the common species. That sounds easy, but can be extremely difficult, if not next to impossible. It’s not as if the common species are blue and the rare species are yellow. In many cases they look identical with only very subtle differences. It’s like trying to find Waldo but only every other person in the picture wears glasses, blue jeans, and has a red-and-white sweater and hat on.

So is that simply a flock of Herring Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls, or is there a first-year Iceland Gull mixed in there somewhere? Or perhaps is there a hybrid of some sort among the flock.

(Since I used the word “flock” in that previous paragraph twice, now seems to be a good time to address the obvious question. “Flock of Seagulls” is technically not correct since there are no birds that are actually called “seagulls.” They are simply gulls. With that said, good luck getting the song “I Ran” out of your head for the rest of the day. Sorry about that. Whatever you do, don’t go to YouTube and search for that song. The outfits and haircuts are too much. Some things should just stay in the 80s.)

Anyway, New England features several common gulls that may be easily found. The most common gull on a beach depends on exactly where you are in New England. Ring-billed Gulls and Herring Gulls are the predominant gulls in the Norwalk area. Herring Gulls are the large ones while Ring-billed Gulls are smaller and have a black ring around their bills. Greater Black-backed Gulls are also common around here. They are the very large gulls with dark backs. Laughing Gulls, which feature black heads, are also common throughout much of New England, but not seen as often in the Norwalk area as the others I mentioned. Laughing Gulls show up more around here in late summer and early fall.

The less common gulls that show up on occasion — and discernable only by experienced birders in many cases — include Lesser Black-backed Gull, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, and Bonaparte’s Gull. Picking out these species is difficult because they look pretty much the same as the other gulls with white heads, chests and bellies, and darker backs.

Adding to the confusion is that gulls of the same species can look very much different depending on age and time of year. Young gulls are often brown and/or heavily speckled. So even if you’re looking at 100 Herring Gulls many of the birds may look very different.

Yes, digging deep into gull watching is not for the faint of heart or those short on patience. If all gets too much, keep trying and don’t run away from the challenge. After all, when it comes to breaking down a flock of gulls, do you really want to say “I Ran. (So Far Away.)”

There I go again — back to the 80s.

Female Common Yellowthroat

Here’s a female Common Yellowthroat, one of the many confusing fall warblers to watch out for as you hit your favorite birdwatching spots this fall.

Photo by Chris Bosak Common Yellowthroat, first year, southern New England, Sept. 2013

Photo by Chris Bosak
Common Yellowthroat, first year, southern New England, Sept. 2013

5 New England ‘poster birds’ for climate change

Photo by Chris Bosak Bobolink

Photo by Chris Bosak
Bobolink

In response to the recently released State of the Birds 2014 report, Patrick Comins, the director of bird conservation with Audubon Connecticut, spoke about the 5 “poster birds” that will be most affected by climate change and the accompanying shifts in bird population. He was speaking specifically about Connecticut, but certainly all of New England will see this impact.

Comins spoke during a telephone conference to journalists on Wednesday.

Here are the birds he picked:

Saltmarsh Sparrow: Currently breeds in Connecticut, but has difficulty with rising sea levels and high tides. Rising tides will only become worse over the next several decades.

Bobolink: This meadow nester will likely not nest or be seen often in Connecticut over the next several decades.

Dunlin: This handsome shorebird currently nests and may be seen throughout winter along the New England coast. It’s nesting ability in Connecticut, as Comins put it, will “become zero.” It will move its range north and perhaps New England will get some winter views of this bird.

Blue-winged Warbler: This handsome bright yellow warbler will “move up and out.”

Veery: Comins almost picked the Wood Thrush for his final bird, but chose the Veery. It will become scarce in New England.

The phrase “over the next several decades” may give some people cause to relax and think “I’ll never notice it” or “maybe things will change.” But the “next several decades” will be here before we know it. There have been staggering declines in bird populations over the last 40 years. We’re talking some species dropping in number by 50, 60 even 80 percent. That’s just the last 40 years. That’s basically yesterday evolutionarily speaking. Jeez, I can remember 40 years ago. It bothers me to think this decline all happened in my lifetime.

Hopefully the State of the Birds report will get the attention it deserves and affect positive change for birds and all wildlife.

The full report may be found here.

Are birds in our future? State of the Birds 2014 Report

Photo by Chris Bosak A Piping Plover preens at Milford Point in spring of 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Piping Plover preens at Milford Point in spring of 2014.

The State of the Birds 2014 report was released this week. It is a comprehensive look at how our bird populations are faring and how they might fare in the future. It’s fascinating stuff and a must read for anyone interested in birds and conservation.

Here’s my column on it, with input from Connecticut Audubon officials. 

Visit www.stateofthebirds.org for the full report.