Report: Long Island Sound faces uncertain future

Photo by Chris Bosak A Common Loon seen during a recent winter in Long Island Sound off the coast of Norwalk, Conn. Loons feature a more drab plumage in the winter.
Photo by Chris Bosak
A Common Loon seen during a recent winter in Long Island Sound off the coast of Norwalk, Conn. Loons feature a more drab plumage in the winter.

Long Island Sound is a special body of water. The estuary that forms the southern border of Connecticut, the northern border of Long Island (N.Y.), ends up at the East River in NYC to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, is a vital habitat for birds and other wildlife.

I have lived in three cities that border Long Island Sound and have spent countless hours birding the coast and open waters. Each December, I participate in a Christmas Bird Count whose territory includes Long Island Sound. The birdlife is varied and thrilling at all times of the year. The fascinating summer birds are replaced by amazing winter birds.

According to the 2019 State of the Birds report released last week, the Sound is as clean and vibrant as it has been in years. However, it also faces an uncertain future as climate change and rising sea levels threaten to drastically alter its landscape. According to the report, the Sound and its wildlife have already been impacted by changes in climate.

The thoroughly researched and well-written State of the Birds report is issued each year by the Connecticut Audubon Society (@CTAudubon). It includes articles by experts from many other state conservation organizations. When I was a newspaperman, I made it a point to attend the annual release event, at which many of the Report’s authors were present. I still look forward to its release each year.

The press release that summarizes the findings may be found here. The full report will be available via PDF on January 1.

To honor the Sound and, hopefully, draw a little more awareness to the Report and its findings, I will post each day this week a photo I have taken at the Sound over the years.

#CTStateoftheBirds

Photo by Chris Bosak A Common Loon seen during a recent winter in Long Island Sound off the coast of Norwalk, Conn. Loons feature a more drab plumage in the winter.

For the Birds: Welcome mat for the typical birds

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers. Thanks for checking it out …

Photo by Chris Bosak A blue jay grabs a peanut from a deck railing in New England, fall 2019.

The word typical often has a negative connotation.

It is usually used to describe something boring or mundane. “Just a typical day at the office.” Or worse, as a word of exasperation to draw attention to a recurring negative behavior: “He said what? Oh, that’s so typical of him.”

But I’m going to use typical in a positive way here. After all, Thanksgiving is a fresh memory, the holiday season is upon us, and 311 is my favorite band. The band encourages “positivity” and closes its concerts with “Stay positive. Love your life.” So I will do that here with the word typical.

The other day, all the “typical” birds showed up at my feeder. And that’s a good thing.

My typicals include black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers and blue jays. You can throw juncos in there, too, during the winter — and late fall as they have already arrived.

Other birds visit from time to time, but those are the birds that are always here. Many people have written to me lately about a lack of chickadees at their feeders. It’s definitely a trend to keep an eye on, but thankfully, I still have plenty of chickadees visiting my feeders. I still haven’t solved the mystery as to why so many people are experiencing a scarcity of chickadees, but I can tell you that I see them often.

I’m not trying to be boastful about my feeders or the fact that I see a lot of chickadees. There are some obvious bird species that I hardly ever see in my backyard.

Cardinals, for whatever reason, are rare sightings at my feeders. I see them all the time in the bushes along the sides of the road when I am driving through the neighborhood, but they avoid my yard like the plague.

Although I get more than my share of juncos in the winter, I rarely see white-throated sparrows — a usual accompaniment of juncos. At my previous houses, white-throated sparrows were a common winter occurrence and easily outnumbered all other winter birds. Here, I barely see them. I’ve seen more fox sparrows here than white-throated sparrows and that’s just plain odd.

I do see a ton of chipping sparrows in the spring and summer, but not enough to add them to my typical list. I am lucky enough to get good numbers of rose-breasted grosbeaks each spring, but their length of stay is too short to make the list. I do enjoy that short window each year, though.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds miss the cut by the barb of a feather. I see them daily from late April until the end of September, but I couldn’t bring myself to include a bird that is not a year-round New Englander. The hummingbirds are off sunning themselves and gorging on insects in Costa Rica or thereabouts, not like the chickadees, titmice and nuthatches that visit me daily regardless of the temperature.

I don’t just give out the title of “typical” to anything, you know.

A look back at winter birding article

Story in Special Places, the magazine of The Trustees
Story in Special Places, the magazine of The Trustees

With the year’s first major snowfall to hit New England over the next two days, here’s a look back at an article I did a few years ago for The Trustees, a Massachusetts-based conservation organization. Check out the group here to learn more about the good things it does.

Here’s a link to the story, if you can’t read the attached document.

Ads turned off on www.birdsofnewengland.com

Photo by Chris Bosak
A beach cluttered with brant is a good thing. A website cluttered with ridiculous ads is not a good thing.

You may have noticed less clutter on this site lately. With it being the holiday season and all, I decided to turn off the automated ad program to give my readers a more enjoyable and less frustrating experience. That, and I wasn’t making any money off of them anyway.

But I am happy to be back to publishing a blog/website free of automated ads. They pervasive on the Internet these days and serve little purpose other than bogging down one’s online experience. I kept them on my site for about eight months and I have to admit I cringed every time I opened the site and saw one of those ridiculous ads competing for space with my bird photos. No more! Away with you, automated ads!

I can’t promise ads are gone forever from birdsofnewengland.com, but if I do bring them back, they will be targeted static ads that I sell and approve myself. Now, if I only had a talent for selling … Oh well, I’ll figure it out. Happy holidays everybody. Enjoy your http://www.birdsofnewengland.com ad-free.

For the Birds: Giving for open space

A bonus For the Birds on this Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

photo by Chris Bosak
photo by Chris Bosak
Wild turkeys in New England.

It is the giving season. Not only for presents under the tree but also for charitable giving during the holiday season — not to mention before the year ends for tax purposes. Sorry, had to add in that bit of practicality.

It’s also the time of year to be thankful, what with Thanksgiving coming up in a few days and all. Like every year, I am thankful for the joy that birds and nature bring to my life on a daily basis. We are lucky to live in New England where we get to fully experience the intensity of each season. The winters are cold, the summers are hot, the autumns are crisp and breathtaking, and the springs are sometimes slow to arrive, but totally worth the wait as the flowers bloom and birdsong fills the air.

Each season also has its bird highlights and there is never a dull moment in the woods or otherwise in the field with binoculars around your neck. Even the dead of winter has its rich rewards for the birdwatcher.

My hope, and I would guess yours, too, is that it stays that way. An often-cited study released recently shows that nearly 30 percent of North America’s bird population has disappeared in only the last 50 years. Many nonprofit organizations make it their mission, or at least part of their mission, to save birds. So, since it’s the giving season, here are a few suggestions on where to direct your charitable giving, if you are so inclined to donate to conservation efforts.

There will be no birds — or at least very few — without suitable habitat. Local organizations such as land trusts make it their mission to protect land. They have other conservation and ecological reasons for wanting to protect open space in addition to helping birds, but that is certainly one of their main objectives.

Land trusts do not have a political agenda and they don’t support a million programs that you may or may not agree with. They simply want to protect land. Most land trusts have a very small budget and many are run entirely by volunteers. You know your money is going to the cause at hand, not to a CEO making triple figures.

The other nice thing about land trusts is that the land is saved in perpetuity. It will not be wildlife habitat one year and a condo or a strip mall the next. It will always be habitat.

Do an Internet search to find the land trust nearest you. Chances are there is one that serves the town you live in.

There are other state and local conservation organizations, of course, that do great work. Again, a simple Internet search will help identify some you may want to support.

On the national level, organizations such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, American Bird Conservancy, Audubon Society and American Birding Association all have birds at the heart of their mission. Check their websites to see what comes with a membership as many offer newsletters, magazines, course discounts, and other benefits. Hunting organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, and Pheasants Forever also do outstanding work for habitat preservation.

There are other conservation groups, such as Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy, that are also worthy of a look as you consider your charitable giving this year.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

For the Birds: Cold is no problem for birds

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, written just before the cold snap last week. Now it’s back up in the 50s, go figure.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A mourning dove and chickadee share a platform feeder during a snowfall in Danbury, Connecticut, February 2019.

Birds would fare just fine without human interventions such as bird feeders, birdhouses and birdbaths. They were, after all, here long before we were.

Even in the most extreme cold conditions, such as those we experienced last week and will certainly feel again soon, birds would do just fine without us. Without a doubt, the aforementioned human interventions make birds’ lives easier in the winter. Feeders are an easy source of energy, birdhouses offer refuge from the wind and heated birdbaths are a water source when everything else is frozen.

But, still, the majority of birds would survive even without those things. But how? They are small, delicately built (seemingly) and exposed to the elements. They are not, however, defenseless. They have plenty of strategies to survive the extremes. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

They know to seek shelter. When a driving wind accompanies cold temperatures, you won’t find birds out in the open. A hungry bird or two may brave the wind to visit a feeder briefly, but for the most part, birds hunker down.

That’s when birdhouses come in handy. Birdhouses should be cleaned after the nesting season for sanitary reasons and to make room for birds in the winter. Old woodpecker holes are utilized as well. I once saw a chickadee huddled in the corner of an eave during a snow storm. It was so small and still I almost missed it.

I have a sizable brush pile in my backyard and junco and white-throated sparrows love it. They use it to hide from predators under normal conditions and hunker deep in the crevices during cold, windy weather.

Birds will often huddle together in these shelters, too, for extra warmth.

Many birds will also puff up their feathers to trap warm air near their bodies and keep cold air away. Some tiny birds such as chickadees and white-throated sparrows look almost comical with their feathers puffed up as if they are trying to look big and tough. Not that the birds really care what I think about them, especially when it’s 10 degrees out.

Birds do not hibernate, at least not really. They do sometimes enter a state of torpor, a temporary hibernation-like state in which their body temperature lowers and their metabolism slows. Shivering is another strategy employed by birds to retain heat.

Surviving extreme temperatures and blustery snowstorms is all part of the risk our year-round birds take by forgoing migration.

Migration is fraught with danger. There are buildings to crash into, exhaustion to fight, predators to avoid, and hundreds of miles to navigate without getting lost.

Staying in New England has its challenges, too, as I mentioned above.

For me, I appreciate our year-round birds immensely. Winter is long and dark in New England and I can’t image how dreary it would be without our chickadees, blue jays and other year-round birds.

Just a typical day in the backyard

Photo by Chris Bosak
A white-breasted nuthatch perches on a pole as a downy woodpecker eats suet from a feeder, New England 2019.

The word typical can have a negative connotation. It is usually used to describe something boring or mundane. Or worse, as a word of exasperation to draw attention to a recurring negative behavior: “Oh, that’s so typical of him.”

But I’m going to use typical in a positive way here. Yesterday, all the typical birds showed up at my feeder. And that’s a good thing. My ‘typicals’ include chickadees, titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, and blue jays. You can throw juncos in there, too, in the winter. Other birds come from time to time, but those are the birds that are always there. Many people write to me about a lack of chickadees at their feeders lately. It’s definitely a trend to keep an eye on, but thankfully, I still have plenty of chickadees visiting my feeders.

Not that I’m boasting about my feeders. There are some obvious bird species that I hardly ever see. Cardinals, for whatever reason, are Continue reading