About Chris Bosak

Bird columnist and nature photographer based in New England. Co-managing editor of The Hour newspaper. Bird

Not a turkey, but a nice Thanksgiving sighting

Photo by Chris Bosak A Common Loon swims in Long Island Sound in Darien on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 27), 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Common Loon swims in Long Island Sound in Darien on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 27), 2014.

I took my boys Andrew and Will on our annual Thanksgiving Duck Hunt (actually a watch) on Thursday. Time was short this year so we hit only a few of our regular spots and no true freshwater ponds, so the number of duck species we found was way down. Our goal each year is 10 different species. This we only got five: Hooded Merganser; American Wigeon; Black Duck; Mallard; and Bufflehead. It was our worst effort in the eight years we’ve been doing it, but again, time was short and the time spent together is the main goal. So mission accomplished in that regard.

We did get a nice surprise at Weed Beach in Darien when a Common Loon made an appearance much closer to shore than usual. Loons are much more drab in the winter than they are in summer, but it’s a thrill to see this iconic bird regardless of the season.

Here are a few shots of the loon — a big, powerful bird — taken on a very gray day.

Oh, by the way, we did see a flock of turkeys on someone’s front yard.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Common Loon swims in Long Island Sound on Thanksgiving Day, (Nov. 27), 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Common Loon swims in Long Island Sound on Thanksgiving Day, (Nov. 27), 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Common Loon swims in Long Island Sound on Thanksgiving Day, (Nov. 27), 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Common Loon swims in Long Island Sound on Thanksgiving Day, (Nov. 27), 2014.

 

Turkey facts for Thanksgiving

The text below has been shamelessly stolen from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Wildlife Refuge System press release — but, hey, that’s why they send press releases, right? The photo, however, is mine.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

Photo by Chris Bosak Wild Turkey in New England, Jan. 2013.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Wild Turkey in New England, Jan. 2013.

Eight Wild Facts about Wild Turkeys
#6. That Funny-Looking Bird is Faster Than You

So you thought there was nothing to know about turkeys except whether you liked drumsticks or white meat. Think again.

  1. Enough with gobble, gobble. Turkeys also cluck http://bit.ly/1sfVooH and purr http://bit.ly/1sfVooH.
  2. Turkey droppings tell a bird’s sex and age. Male droppings are j-shaped; female droppings are spiral-shaped. The larger the diameter, the older the bird.
  3. Feather-hanger: An adult turkey has 5,000 to 6,000 feathers – count them! – on its body.
  4. Tom turkeys aren’t the only ones that swagger and fan their tail feathers to woo mates and ward off rivals. Some hens strut, too.
  5. Crunchy treats. Young turkeys – poults – scarf down insects like candy. They develop more of a taste for plants after they’re four weeks old.
  6. They may look off-kilter – tilting their heads and staring at the sky –yet but they’re fast. Turkeys can clock more than 12 miles per hour.
  7. Move over, American bald eagle. Ben Franklin called the wild turkey a “bird of courage” and thought it would make a better national symbol.
  8. Wild turkeys are not hard to find. National wildlife refuges are great places to look —while you enjoy a stroll in nature and emerge looking less like a butterball yourself. Here are some favorite turkey hideouts:

FLORIDA
St Marks National Wildlife Refuge
To boost your chances of seeing turkeys, get out of your car and walk. “Turkeys are sensitive to the movement of vehicles,” says Ranger David Moody. Wearing camo colors might help, too. The refuge permits bow hunting the first two weeks in November. Then it closes to hunting until December 13. Almost 50 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail go through the refuge. Turkeys like the open terrain of the longleaf pine sandhill ecosystem along the trail. $5 entrance fee.

GEORGIA
Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge
Look for turkeys along 50 miles of gravel road, including five-mile-long Wildlife Drive.  You might also see them off Round Oak Juliette Road, a scenic (and paved) byway. Or try one of the refuge’s five hiking trails. No entrance fee. (Note: the refuge is closed for a deer hunt Saturday, Nov. 22.)

ILLINOIS
Wild Turkey Trail — Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge
Easy to moderate 1.7- mile trail leads through woods and offers a fine chance of seeing wild turkeys. For more of a challenge, take the connecting 2.2-mile Rocky Bluff Trail. Entrance fee: $2 per vehicle.

MASSACHUSETTS
Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
Several short foot trails give you a chance to glimpse wild turkeys. You might also spy some along Wildlife Drive. Entrance fee: $5 per vehicle.

MINNESOTA
Hillside Trail and Long Meadow Lake Trail— Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
From the Bloomington visitor center, the half-mile Hillside trail connects to the Long Meadow Lake Trail. Follow it around the floodplain wetland, keeping your eyes out for wild turkeys. No entrance fee.

Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge
The refuge has a “healthy population” of the skittish wild birds, says deputy manager Greg Dehmer. Look for them along 7.5-mile Wildlife Drive, two refuge hiking trails, and in prairie fields beside county roads that run through the refuge. No entrance fee.

NEW MEXICO
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
The North Auto Tour Loop is a good place to spot some of the hundreds of Rio Grande turkeys found here. An even better place is the Intermittent Auto Tour Road, open Thanksgiving weekend from noon Nov. 28, through noon Dec. 1. (The route will also be open Dec. 26-29 and Jan. 16-19, 2015.) Or try your luck on any of nine refuge foot trails. Entrance fee: $5 per vehicle.

NEW YORK
Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge  
Feeder Road takes you on a scenic 3.5-mile drive into the refuge, passing fields and grasslands that are favorite turkey hangouts. Double back to exit. Hikers can walk the road or sample five other hiking trails. No entrance fee.

SOUTH CAROLINA
Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge
The 9-mile Wildlife Drive passes many woods and fields where you might spot turkeys, especially in mornings and late afternoons. Or lose the wheels and walk any of seven hiking trails along the drive. No entrance fee.

TEXAS
Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge
Look out for wild turkeys crossing Refuge Road as you drive in the main entrance. Pick from five refuge hiking trails: Raasch Trail is a good bet for seeing wild turkeys. There’s also a Wildlife Drive of about three miles. No entrance fee.

Refuge trails are open sunrise to sunset daily, even on Thanksgiving Day when refuge visitor centers will be closed.  Free trail maps are available outside the visitor center or at a refuge entrance kiosk. For details on Refuge System trails, visit http://go.usa.gov/w9O.

Thoughts from readers — what they are seeing out there

I often ask readers of my bird column, For the Birds, what they’ve been seeing out there in terms of interesting bird sightings. Every once in a while I compile the sightings and use them for my weekly birdwatching column. Here’s the latest, which ran last week in The Hour (Norwalk, CT) and this week in The Keene (NH) Sentinel.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-tailed Hawk eats a Gray Squirrel in a cemetery in Darien, Conn., Oct. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Red-tailed Hawk eats a Gray Squirrel in a cemetery in Darien, Conn., Oct. 2014.

I often ask readers: “What are you seeing out there?” Well, the answers I get are just as compelling and pertinent as what I see and write about each week, so here are some tidbits that readers have shared over the last few weeks. Why not start with Bald Eagles? Angela of Norwalk and Judy of Westport have written recently about Bald Eagle sightings. Angela saw her eagle in South Norwalk. The large bird of prey flew by her window and landed in an oak tree across the street where she often sees Osprey perch. “I hope it takes up residence here for the winter. I would be thrilled to see it again,” she wrote. Judy has seen her eagle perched high in a pine tree along the Saugatuck River. At one point, she witnessed the bird dive to the river and pull up a fish. Bald Eagles do visit more frequently in the winter, so perhaps this will be a good winter to see our national bird around here. A slightly smaller bird of prey has also been spotted several times by readers. I received a letter from Danny from Hampshire College who said an unidentified predator has been picking off chickens at the college’s farm. Based on the photo he sent, it looks a like a Red-tailed Hawk is the culprit. Gary from New Hampshire wrote to say he has seen Red-tailed Hawks on a few occasions catch pigeons near his home. Andy also shared a sighting of a Red-tailed Hawk in his backyard. He sent a photo, too, with the hawk peering down with a menacing look. He also sent a photo of an albino or leucistic Dark-eyed Junco. The photos, and other photos submitted by readers, may be found on my website http://www.birdsofnewengland.com on the “Reader Submitted Photos” page. I received an interesting phone call from Leona, another New Hampshire reader, who shared a story about crows in her backyard. “Bird brain” is often used as an insult, but we all know birds can be pretty smart, especially crows. Leona’s crows found a way to save trips while gathering and carrying away food. Leona put out crackers for the birds and instead of grabbing them and taking them away one at a time, the crows would stack the crackers and fly away with a bill full. Smart birds indeed. Finally, Joan shared a story about a lucky and determined chickadee. She saw the little bird hit her glass storm door. Expecting the worst, she approached the door to discover that the chickadee had actually gotten its foot stuck in a hinge of the door. Not wanting to let the bird fend for itself in that grave situation she grabbed a plastic flower pot and put it over the tiny bird. She then used a stick to free the bird’s leg. Joan set the flower pot on its side and took a few steps away to watch the bird. “He didn’t seem to be moving but was still breathing,” she wrote. “I then took a small container of water and dripped just a drop or two on his beak, which he quickly took in.” Here’s what happened next: “I was trying to decide what I would do with him overnight when all of a sudden, he moved his head, looked around at me and flew up onto a branch of a nearby tree about 15 feet up. He sat there for a minute, tipped his head to one side, gave a little “chhpp” and flew back toward the woods.” Joan concluded that “it’s nice to know there are still small wonders.” I totally agree. So, what have you been seeing out there in the natural world? Drop me a line and let me know. For the Birds runs Thursdays in The Hour. Chris Bosak can be reached at bozclark@earthlink.net. Visit his website at birdsofnewengland.com.

Duck (watching) season begins in New England

Photo by Chris Bosak A female Bufflehead swims in Gorham's Pond, Nov. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female Bufflehead swims in Gorham’s Pond, Nov. 2014.

Ducks are my favorite family of birds to watch in New England. The migration starts in October and many waterfowl may be seen in open water right up through April. For me, it makes our harsh winters that much more bearable.

With that said, here’s the first of what will likely be plenty of waterfowl photos I take (and post) this fall/winter/early spring season. It’s not a great photo, but it’s a start.

Female Buffleheads are much less dramatic looking their male counterparts, which feature contrasting black (or, depending on the sun’s angle, blue, purple or green) and white plumage.

Today at the feeder

Photo by Chris Bosak

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

It’s been a particularly busy day at the feeder today. There haven’t been any out of the ordinary species, just lots of backyard favorites. Here are a few photos from the action. Not pictured, but seen visiting today are: American Goldfinch; Northern Cardinal; Hairy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker; Dark-eyed Junco; White-throated Sparrow; Blue Jay and American Crow. No nuthatches today yet … odd.

(Author’s note: OK, got my nuthatch. All is good.)

More photos are below. Click on “continue reading.”

Thanks for visiting http://www.birdsofnewengland.com

Continue reading

A few more Hermit Thrush photos; and a link to column

Photo by Chris Bosak A Hermit Thrush perches on a branch at Selleck's/Dunlap Woods this fall.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Hermit Thrush perches on a branch at Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods this fall.

Here are a few more photos of Hermit Thrushes, a species profiled in my last post a few days ago. Also below is a link to my latest For the Birds column, which appears weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, CT) and The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.)

Here’s the link.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Hermit Thrush rests on a log at Selleck's/Dunlap Woods this fall.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Hermit Thrush rests on a log at Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods this fall.