Gray Jay: Friendly bird of the northern woods

Photo by Chris Bosak A Gray Jay perches on a branch near a pond in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Gray Jay perches on a branch near a pond in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014.

Gray Jays are quickly becoming one of my favorite birds. Their range does not stretch into southern New England, but on my last several trips to northern New England, I’ve seen these handsome and friendly birds. I have been visiting the northern reaches of New Hampshire for more than 20 years now and I started seeing Gray Jays only in the last few years. They appear out of nowhere and offer close views. They seem to be as curious about you as you are about them. From what I’ve seen, they hang out in small flocks (3, 4 or 5 birds.) Gray Jays are one of those boreal species that makes the Great North Woods so special. I took the above photo while canoeing on a small pond in northern New Hampshire. This one flew right up to the pond’s edge to check me out.

 

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.

Love those bluebirds (plenty of photos)

Photo by Chris Bosak Eastern Bluebird at Mather Meadows, a property of the Darien (Conn.) Land Trust.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Eastern Bluebird at Mather Meadows, a property of the Darien (Conn.) Land Trust.

Eastern Bluebirds are nesting again at Mather Meadows, a property of the Darien (Conn.) Land Trust. Here are some photos I took during a quick visit on Tuesday morning. (More photos below — click on “continue reading.”)

Eastern Bluebirds have made a strong comeback following a decline due to several factors, including competition for nesting sites with introduced species such as House Sparrows and European Starlings. The comeback has been bolstered in large part to humans offering nesting sites to bluebirds, a.k.a bluebird houses. The houses are built to specific dimensions, including the entry/exit hole sized to keep out sparrows and starlings. Bluebirds still face competition for those homes from Tree Sparrows, but the competition is not as fierce.

Continue reading

Sibley discusses ‘Birdwatching in New England’

Well-known birdwatcher David Allen Sibley visited The Hour newspaper’s office in March 2014 shortly after the launch of the second edition of his Sibley Guide to the Birds. He sat down with Chris Bosak of The Hour and http://www.birdsofnewengland.com to answer a variety of questions of about birds. Here he discusses birdwatching in New England, where he grew up and currently lives.

Today’s warbler photo

Photo by Chris Bosak A Common Yellowthroat perches on a branch at Selleck's/Dunlap Woods on Sunday, May 11, 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Common Yellowthroat perches on a branch at Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods on Sunday, May 11, 2014.

Here’s another warbler photo taken this weekend at Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods in Darien.

Last week I had a post with several warbler species included. The Common Yellowthroat was not included in that post, but I found a fairly cooperative one this weekend. Yellowthroats can be tricky to photograph because they are usually hidden among thick brush, often near wetlands.

On Saturday, I led a bird walk with a great group of people and we saw 10 warbler species, in addition to several other types of birds, such as vireos, egrets and thrushes. The warbler season in New England is still in full swing. Let me know what you’re seeing out there, send photos and sightings to bozclark@earthlink.net

The brighter side of starlings

Photo by Chris Bosak European Starling visits feeding station in May, 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
European Starling visits feeding station in May, 2014.

Yes, European Starlings are overpopulated, outcompete native species for nesting sites, take over birdfeeding stations, destroy crops and really don’t belong in the United States in the first place, but … they sure can be a handsome bird in the breeding season, especially if the light hits them just right.

Starlings look markedly different from one season to the next. Their breeding plumage, seen above, features an array of dots, lines and colors, such as green, purple, blue and, of course, black.

I don’t often have good things to say about European Starlings, but this visitor to my feeder this morning at least temporarily softened my stance.

The story about how starlings ended up in the United States in the first place is very interesting. Here it is, from Wild Birds Unlimited:

“The European Starling was introduced into North America when the “American Acclimatization Society” for European settlers released some 80-100 birds in Central Park (New York City) in 1890-91. The head of this particular organization, Eugene Scheiffelin, desired to introduce all birds ever mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare.”

Read more by clicking here.

 

 

Yellow-headed Blackbird in Stamford, CT

Photo by Chris Bosak A Yellow-headed Blackbird perches in a tree at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary in April 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Yellow-headed Blackbird perches in a tree at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary in April 2014.

By now you may have heard about a Yellow-headed Blackbird that has been hanging around Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Stamford, Conn. If not, don’t worry. I was a little late to the game, too.

But on Sunday morning I took a trip over there to see if the bird was still around. A birder from Rowayton was already there looking at the bird, which was at the main feeding station within the sanctuary. It remained only a few seconds before taking off to the top of a nearby tree. It returned after a few minutes and fed on the ground under the feeders for several minutes.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds are rare sightings in New England. They are western and Midwestern birds. I love my New England Red-winged Blackbirds, but Yellow-headed Blackbirds are even more colorful and much larger. Having never seen on in New England before, I was very impressed with the bird’s color, size, yellow rump patch and white wing patches.

David Winston arrived and said the bird had been there for several days and it frequented the feeding station. Suddenly the birds all darted off into the woods and other safe areas. While the bird was elsewhere temporarily, David Winston took the opportunity to make sure the feeders were filled and the ground underneath had plenty to offer. David is tireless in his efforts to promote and maintain the sanctuary.

Photo by Chris Bosak David Winston fills the feeders at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary this weekend, hoping to keep a rare Yellow-headed Blackbird in the area.

Photo by Chris Bosak
David Winston fills the feeders at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary this weekend, hoping to keep a rare Yellow-headed Blackbird in the area.

See more photos of the bird (taken by David Winston) by clicking here.

David spotted a Cooper’s Hawk in a somewhat distant tree, hence the apprehension for the feeder birds to stay at the feeder. Eventually the hawk flew off and the blackbirds came back. By now a few more birders had arrived and the star of the show returned.

In the field guide “Birds of North America” Kenn Kaufman mentions something about the Yellow-headed Blackbird’s “awful attempts to sing.” I can now vouch for that as the Stamford bird vocalized several times while I was there.

I returned very briefly this afternoon (April 28, 2014), but did not see the bird. Truthfully, I didn’t look that hard today. Time was short. Hopefully it’s still around and many other birders will be able to see it.

Another great rarity spotted at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Yellow-headed Blackbird eats seeds under a feeder station at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary in April 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Yellow-headed Blackbird eats seeds under a feeder station at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary in April 2014.