For the Birds: One of those May walks

Sometimes you just have to be patient. I tell myself that every year but rarely, if ever, do I heed my own advice.

I am so eager for the spring migration to hit full swing that I start tromping through the woods starting in mid-April expecting to see all the explosive colors of the northward songbird migration through New England.

Walk after walk in late April and early May yields some great birds but not the full-on spring spectacle. Finally, one day in mid-May, I get that walk I have been waiting for with colorful birds all around. Patience is key, sure, but that’s easier said than done. 

That walk happened for me the other day when I got up early and hit the nearest park. The action started right away with an eastern towhee. It was one of the few towhees I saw on the walk compared to the dozens of towhees I had seen during my late April walks. Most of the towhees have either moved north or settled into their nesting season and are remaining quiet and out of sight.

Then I heard a familiar song from the tree above me. The distinctive “chick-bree” call could only be a scarlet tanager. Despite their awesome coloration, male scarlet tanagers can still be difficult to find among the leafed-out canopy. I had little trouble finding this guy, however, as he flew from one tree to the next revealing its impossibly red plumage in the golden morning light of the rising sun.  

As I continued down the trail, the colors continued: the beautiful red upside-down triangle of the rose-breasted grosbeak, the electric orange of the Baltimore oriole, the dazzling blue of the indigo bunting, the bright yellow of the blue-winged warbler and the slightly darker yellow of the yellow warbler. Bobolinks and red-winged blackbirds brought life to the meadow. 

The great sightings didn’t stop with the colorful birds as there were plenty of “dull” birds to see as well. Among the highlights were yellow-billed cuckoo, field sparrow and ovenbird. And lots of catbirds. Lots and lots of catbirds. 

The sounds of the birds add to the magic. The insect-like buzzy song of the blue-winged warbler and tropical-like odd song of the cuckoo stood out among the rest.

It was the walk I had been anticipating for nearly a year. I enjoy New England year-round and each month has its special gifts for birdwatchers, but that mid-May walk when everything comes together never gets old.

If only the magic lasted longer. It’s called the peak of migration for a reason. Just as it has to build to its high point, so too will it now taper off as birds continue to push north or settle into nesting and go quiet.

Enjoy these days while they last. The color and variety are spectacular and unmatched by any other time of year. 

Bird-filled walk in May

Photo by Chris Bosak – Scarlet tanager in New England, May 2023.

A full column is forthcoming on this walk, but it was a good one. Here are a bunch of photos from the walk on the morning of May 18, 2023. Good variety and color. Gotta love mid-May.

Photo by Chris Bosak – Indigo bunting in New England, May 2023.
Photo by Chris Bosak – Male rose-breasted grosbeak in New England, May 2023.
Photo by Chris Bosak – Female rose-breasted grosbeak with nesting material in New England, May 2023.
Photo by Chris Bosak – Red-tailed hawk in New England, May 2023.
Photo by Chris Bosak – Yellow-billed cuckoo with dragonfly in New England, May 2023.
Photo by Chris Bosak – Great-crested flycatcher in New England, May 2023.
Photo by Chris Bosak – Chestnut-sided warbler in New England, May 2023.
Photo by Chris Bosak – Ruby-throated hummingbird takes a perch in New England, May 2023.

For the Birds: Chipmunks scarce to many this spring

Photo by Chris Bosak A chipmunk looks up after grabbing sunflower seeds from a feeder in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2018.
Photo by Chris Bosak A chipmunk looks up after grabbing sunflower seeds from a feeder in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2018.

So, what is up with the chipmunk population this spring?

It’s well past the time when they should be lurking and scampering around our backyards and woodlands. The last few years the little imps have been ubiquitous and, depending on your perspective, entertaining or annoying us nonstop.

This year? I’ve seen only a handful, and others have expressed similar observations. I’ll share what others have written based on my request in last week’s column. At the end, I’ll share what my favorite wildlife expert has to say on the topic.

First, the people like me who have noticed a lack of chipmunks this spring:

“I finally saw a chipmunk at our house yesterday,” wrote Susan of Nelson. “Just one so far. We have plenty of gray and red squirrels, and it has been weird not to see chipmunks.”

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For the Birds: Those magical spring walks

I heard him singing his warbling song and then saw him perched on a branch right over my head. What a sight he was.

The rosy-red, upside-down triangle on his chest stood out like a sore thumb among the budding green foliage all around. He continued his seemingly never-ending, all-over-the-place song as I stood there gawking at him.

It is possible that it was his first day back on his breeding grounds as I hadn’t seen him on my walk just a day earlier. The male rose-breasted grosbeak’s warbling song, of course, was meant to tell other birds of his kind that this was his territory. It was also to tell any females within earshot that he was ready for the 2023 spring breeding season.

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For the Birds: Slow start just means things have to pick up

Photo by Chris Bosak A red-bellied woodpecker inspects a peanut on a deck railing, New England, fall 2019.

It’s usually about this time that I write a column about a recent bird walk that yielded a few warblers and how it’s a sign of a great warbler season ahead. Lately, that has turned out not to be the case as the last few warbler seasons have been rather ho-hum, for me anyway.

Well, maybe my fortunes will change this year. I have taken three bird walks over the last week that have yielded very few warblers. A flock of yellow-rumped warblers and a lone palm warbler have been my only sightings. Granted, it’s a little early in the season, but usually by the last week of April, the birds we have looked forward to seeing for so long have returned. At least some of them. Not this year, though, at least not for me.

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For the Birds: Spring around the region

Photo by Chris Bosak A Brown Creeper finds food at the base of a tree during a cold snap in February 2016, Danbury, Connecticut.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Brown Creeper finds food at the base of a tree.

Spring has all but kicked winter to the curb for this year, but it is always interesting when winter hangs on as long as possible.

Based on my observations, and many recent emails I have received, winter is making its last gasp. The air is filled with the sounds of spring. I can’t go anywhere without hearing chipping sparrows and cardinals singing their hearts out. That is a good thing, of course. The most telling signs that spring is here are the nests being built and even the baby birds that have hatched already.

My last few walks, however, have also included juncos and white-throated sparrows, birds we usually associate with winter. I went for a bird walk the other day and, because I was planning to submit the results to eBird, I kept track of the number of species I saw and heard. I ended up with 32 species, and it was a fantastic mix of spring birds, winter birds and year-round birds.

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Successful spring walk

Photo by Chris Bosak – Rose-breasted grosbeak, April 30, 2023.

Here are a few photos from a morning walk on a foggy, drizzly, gray spring morning. First rose-breasted grosbeaks of the year!

Photo by Chris Bosak – Song sparrow, April 30, 2023.
Photo by Chris Bosak – Field sparrow, April 30, 2023.
Photo by Chris Bosak – Eastern towhee, April 30, 2023.

For the Birds: No simple answers in birding

Photo by Chris Bosak A Tufutaced Titmouse perches on the edge of a birdbath in New England, fall 2015.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Tufutaced Titmouse perches on the edge of a birdbath in New England, fall 2015.

When it comes to birdwatching, there are very few simple answers.

What does a cardinal look like? It seems like a question that would have a simple answer. It’s a medium-sized songbird with a crest, thick and colorful bill, and beautiful red plumage. But, of course, that’s only half — or even less than half — of the answer. Female cardinals do not fit that description and neither do immature cardinals.

So, there is a simple answer to that question, but it is not the complete answer. The full answer is longer and more complicated.

Now, if someone asked what a cardinal sounds like, then it becomes even more complicated. Like many birds, cardinals have a call and a song. In fact, cardinals have many songs. You could simply say the cardinal’s call is a short, high-pitched chip and that their song is a loud whistle. But to fully describe what a cardinal sounds like requires a much more lengthy answer.  

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