Feeder birds with New England fall backdrop

Photo by Chris Bosak A red-bellied woodpecker perches on a log and grabs a peanut in New England, October 2020.

There’s nothing like a New England fall, especially when it provides a colorful backdrop for bird photos. I found a rotted log in my backyard, positioned it on my deck railing in front of a small sassafras tree, sprinkled some sunflower seeds and peanuts on the log and enjoyed the show. It was nonstop action for hours. I hope to make a video soon as well.

Photo by Chris Bosak A tufted titmouse perches on a log in New England, October 2020.
Photo by Chris Bosak A blue jay perches on a log in New England, October 2020.
Photo by Chris Bosak A blue jay perches on a log and grabs a peanut in New England, October 2020.

For the Birds: Busy, busy feeders

Photo by Chris Bosak American Robin in Selleck's Woods in fall 2013.
Photo by Chris Bosak American Robin in Selleck’s Woods in fall 2013.

Activity at the birdfeeders has been nonstop. I have not seen any of the winter finches or really anything out of the ordinary, but the regulars are showing up in droves. I did see a palm warbler in the birdbath and a few yellow-rumped warblers in the trees.

I’m not alone in being invaded by feeder birds. Bill from Keene wrote recently and made an interesting analogy regarding the many birds at his feeders when he likened the action to an airport terminal. His visitors have included tons of juncos, jays, robins and many more. “Almost clouds, all flying madly, like insects,” Bill wrote. “Looks like an airline terminal.”

I really do like the airport analogy and thought of it the next time I watched my feeders. My frequent fliers are titmice, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches and downy woodpeckers. They come and go like so many airplanes at LaGuardia or JFK, nonstop from dawn to dusk. Other regular visitors to Bosak International include Carolina wrens, blue jays, cardinals and red-bellied woodpeckers.

I have heard from others as well, and I appreciate the emails. This week, I even received comments from North Carolina (via my YouTube account) and “smokey California” (through my website). The North Carolina reader (or should I say viewer?) watched my goldfinch versus pine siskin video recently and mentioned that she has a lot of siskins at her yard now. The California reader posed a question about mockingbirds. Closer to home, Steve from Rochester had a couple of siskins, along with great numbers of house finches and robins. He also had two male purple finches and four red-breasted nuthatches.

John and Joanne from Dover had quite a morning recently when they looked out their window and saw 80 to 100 American goldfinches covering their black-eyed Susans. “They stayed about half an hour and then took off,” they wrote. “This is the first time we’ve seen this.”

Connie from Keene loves watching her downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers but was also thrilled to see a northern flicker on the ground in her yard. Flickers love ants and are the only woodpeckers in New England commonly seen on the ground.

Karen from the Monadnock Region wrote to say she had about 20 robins in her yard recently. “They love to use our birdbath and must be eating worms or insects on our lawns and in the gardens,” she wrote. “Some of them are young. Also, they leave a lot of blue droppings. Must be eating blackberries or blueberries.”

Karen also wondered if robins flew south for the winter. Yes and no. Some robins fly south for the winter months, and many robins remain in New England throughout the winter. Many of the robins we see in the winter are likely migrants that have flown down from up north.

What are you seeing out there? Drop me a line and let me know.

Caption this photo as nuthatch feeds from its own cup

Photo by Chris Bosak A white-breasted nuthatch looks to grab a seed from a coffee mug with a white-breasted nuthatch painted on it, New England, fall 2020.

Guess who was messing around with birdfeeder photo props again? I’m being overrun by white-breasted nuthatches this fall, so I figured: Why not?

Can you come up with a clever caption?

Splendidly iridescent grackle

Photo by Chris Bosak
A common grackle visits a feeder in New England, October 2020.

I know some people get overrun by grackles, but I hardly ever see them at my feeders. When two showed up on a recent sunny day, I was able to capture the brilliant colors of their iridescent plumage. Grackles are blackbirds, but when the sun hits them just right, they are also green, blue and purple.

For the Birds: Good news from the Winter Finch Forecast

Photo by Chris Bosak A pine siskin perches on the top of an evergreen in Danbury, CT, March 2019.

The 2020-21 Winter Finch Forecast is out and it looks like it could be an exciting next several months in New England.

This is the first forecast by Tyler Hoar. Ron Pittaway did the forecast for several decades before passing the torch to Hoar this year. The Winter Finch Forecast is a prediction of what finch (and other) species may irrupt into New England and parts south and west. An irruption is when northern birds move to or through an area in abnormally high numbers. For example, many years we get very few or even no pine siskins. Other years we get so many we can’t fill the feeders fast enough. Irruptions occur mainly due to food availability, or lack thereof. If it is a bad crop year up north for a certain type of food, such as pine cone seeds, irruptions may occur as birds move in search of food sources.

According to Hoar, this is shaping up to be a good year for purple finches and evening grosbeaks. It is also a year when red-breasted nuthatches are moving south in high numbers. Perhaps you’ve seen more of these small, charismatic birds than usual in your yard this fall already. I hadn’t seen or heard a red-breasted nuthatch in my yard for about four years. This fall, I’ve had three already. I’ve seen only one, and heard the other two. Red-breasted nuthatches have higher-pitched songs and calls than their cousins, the white-breasted nuthatch. It’s an unmistakable difference once you learn it. Red-breasted nuthatches are the more common nuthatch throughout much of New England, particularly up north. In southern New England, irruption years of red-breasted nuthatches are a special treat as they are not resident birds.

The Winter Finch Forecast covers finches such as redpolls, crossbills and siskins, as well as a few small birds that aren’t finches. Irruptions are not limited to these small birds, of course. Who can forget the winter of 2013-14 when snowy owls were all the rage and showed up in places they’d never been seen before?

To see the full forecast, enter “2020-21 Winter Finch Forecast” into a web search and have at it. Are we likely to see common redpolls this winter? I’ll leave that research up to you. I’m always looking forward with excitement regardless of the season, but the Winter Finch Forecast offers that much more incentive to cheer on winter and the colder months. Winter is not so bad after all.

White-breasted nuthatch

Photo by Chris Bosak A white-breasted nuthatch clings to a dead branch in New England, September 2020.

Here’s a new white-breasted nuthatch photo, just because.

Did you know nuthatches can walk down a tree? Most birds can only climb up a tree, but nuthatches can walk down as well, offering them a different angle of a tree’s bark to look for food.

For the Birds: Early fall sightings

Photo by Chris Bosak Praying mantis at Highstead in Redding, CT, summer 2019.

In my opinion, September ranks up there as one of the best months for wildlife watching in New England. Top two or three, I’d say. I like each of the months, of course, and you could make an argument for pretty much any of them being in the top five. May is hard to beat as it is the height of the songbird migration in New England and comes on the heels of several months of cold weather. Also, the flowers start blooming and trees fully leaf out, adding color to a landscape that had been mostly gray for far too long.

So May, I think, has to be number one.

April, September and October duke it out for second. To me, September gets the nod. Like May, September is a transition month. The fall migration begins in earnest during September, but summer still hangs on tightly. Not only do we get to see the fall migrants pass through, but all of the things that make summer special remain. Loons and hummingbirds are around for much of September, but they are mostly gone by October.

September is a great time to take a walk in a field. The goldenrod is in bloom and if you look closely, you can often find interesting critters such as a praying mantis or yellow garden spider. It is interesting to note that praying mantises are not native to North America. Also, male yellow garden spiders are small and brownish; only the female has the intimidating size and colorful pattern.

September also marks the beginning of the southward hawk migration, which is a highlight of the year for many birdwatchers. September features the massive broad-winged Continue reading

Update on the tomato hornworm

Photo by Chris Bosak Wasp cocoons cling to what’s left of a tomato hornworm in a garden in New England, September 2020.

Here’s a quick update on the tomato hornworm I wrote about a few weeks ago. As you can see from the above photo, it didn’t get any better for the tomato hornworm, the caterpillar of the five-spotted sphinx moth. I was pulling some of the dying tomato plants out of the garden the other day when I noticed this scene on a bunch of small pear tomatoes. As you can see, some of the wasp cocoons are empty now as the wasps completed their cycle and flew off into the world.

Confused? Here’s the original story.

Here’s what the caterpillar looked like a few weeks ago:

Photo by Chris Bosak A tomato hornworm is covered in braconid wasp larvae on a tomato plant in New England, August 2020.

Odds and ends …

Photo by Chris Bosak A hummingbird moth sips nectar from a butterfly bush in New England, summer 2019.

Odds and ends from the natural world:

I led you astray in a recent column and I’m here to own up to it and make it right.

I wrote about and included a photograph of a tomato hornworm caterpillar being covered in the small white cocoons of a wasp parasite. That part was true. It was a tomato hornworm and it was covered in the cocoons of braconid wasps. These wasps start their life cycle as an egg laid inside the giant green caterpillar and eat their way out to build their cocoons.

I was mistaken, however, in saying that the caterpillar would have turned into a hummingbird moth – at least the kind we enjoy watching around our flowers in the summer and early fall. That moth is the hummingbird clearwing moth and is not Continue reading

Don’t let looks fool you

I love when I stumble upon these. Yellow garden spiders may look threatening, but they are harmless and not aggressive towards humans. They can bite humans but will only do so if threatened (handled, stepped on, sat on, etc.) Females are the large, colorful ones we see in gardens and fields. Males are smaller and nondescript. They are native to the U.S. and are beneficial to our landscape, if not intimidating-looking.