Latest For the Birds column: Watching warblers, of course

Photo by Chris Bosak A Palm Warbler perches among pussy willows at Selleck's Woods in Darien, Conn., April 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Palm Warbler perches among pussy willows at Selleck’s Woods in Darien, Conn., April 2016.

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in several New England newspapers.

Warblers steal the show in spring migration, and rightfully so. They are colorful, cute, sing interesting songs and are plentiful in our woods in April and May.

Other songbirds are a blast to watch in the spring, too, of course. Birds such as orioles, tanagers, grosbeaks and towhees capture our attention and make us nudge anyone standing close by to make sure they see it too. Less colorful birds such as chipping sparrows, kingbirds, phoebes and vireos enhance our spring as well.

But it’s the little warblers that get most of the attention during the spring migration.

I love warblers for all the same reasons that everybody else does, but I think there’s another reason we appreciate these neotropical migrants so much. Warbler watching, like birdwatching in general, can be as easy or as difficult as you want to make it.

Someone can choose to see and appreciate the small birds flitting around the trees, but not care to identify them — easy and totally acceptable.

Others may choose to identify only a few, perhaps the ones they see often in their yard — relatively easy and also perfectly acceptable.

Still others will want to know all of the 30 or so warbler species that pass through New England and be able to identify them by sight and sound — very difficult, and, of course, acceptable.

I fall in the latter camp, but have had limited success over the years. I do very well when I actually see the bird in the spring — at least if it is a male. Females often look different than males in the warbler world. I can usually ID the females, but not to the degree of the more colorful and patterned males.

Seeing warblers in the fall migration is often not as easy. They don’t sing so finding them is more difficult right off the bat. If you do find one, it could be an adult or juvenile. The adults don’t always look like they did in the spring, especially the males, and the juveniles don’t always look like the adults.

Where my success has been limited over the years is learning their songs. I know many of them “by ear” but have many to learn. A few songs are permanently burned into my brain, and I know them immediately. Other songs sound completely foreign to me, even though I’ve probably heard them dozens of times before.

Species such as yellow warblers, black-and-white warblers, blue-winged warblers and black-throated green warblers I’ve learned over the years and know their songs when I hear them for the first time each spring. Some songs, such as those of the northern parula and chestnut-sided warbler, I need to hear a few times before they sink in for the season. Many other songs I just haven’t memorized and don’t know what they are when I hear them.

I like it that way, though. I don’t want to know everything because there would be nothing left to learn. What fun would that be?

Watching warblers is a prime example of why birdwatching is such a great hobby and so popular among millions of people. It’s easy enough that we can all enjoy it, but difficult enough to keep us challenged.

Lots of towhees on a rainy day

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Towhee perches on a branch in Ridgefield, Conn., April 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee perches on a branch in Ridgefield, Conn., April 2017.

I spent some of the rainy Saturday at Bennett’s Pond in Ridgefield, Conn. I didn’t see or hear a single warbler, but I did see and hear several eastern towhees. It is a great bird with interesting plumage and a unique song.

Formerly called the rufous-sided towhee, this bird has light brown/reddish flanks. Its call is a loud and quickly uttered “tow-hee” and its song is the famous “drink-your-teaaa!” They are more often seen on the ground, scratching in the leaves to uncover food. The male is pictured in this post. The female, which I couldn’t photograph yesterday but did see, is also a handsome bird with white and reddish light brown plumage.

They were passing through in large numbers Saturday. I hope at least a few of them stick around locally to nest. It’s a great bird to see in summer when the birding can get a little slow.

You can even see the little rain drops on this guy.

Here’s one of him singing: Drink-your-teaaa!

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Towhee sings from a perch in Ridgefield, Conn., April 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee sings from a perch in Ridgefield, Conn., April 2017.

 

Gardening with Melinda: Grow Your Own Tropical Paradise in a Container or Garden

Longfield-Gardens.com Elephant ears, like this Black Stem variety, can be grown in the garden or in containers.

Longfield-Gardens.com
Elephant ears, like this Black Stem variety, can be grown in the garden or in containers.

By Melinda Myers

Add an exciting new look to your garden, poolside, patio or deck with elephant ears.  These easy tropical plants have tall stems and giant leaves that measure up to two feet across. You can use them to create an instant focal point in the garden, screen an unwanted view, or extend a bold welcome at the front door.

Elephant ears can be grown in containers as well as the garden, so if space is an issue, try some of the more compact varieties like Hawaiian Punch. You’ll appreciate the impact this three-foot tall plant makes with its red stems and bright green leaves with dark red veining.

Or go big with six-foot tall Black Stem. Its smooth blue-green leaves are displayed atop striking purple-black stems. Variegated varieties are another option. The unusual foliage of Mojito, is decorated with blue-black dashes and splashes. No two leaves are alike on this beauty. For even more color and drama, don’t miss Black Magic. Its dark, blue-black leaves measure 2 feet across and can grow up to 5 feet tall. Continue reading

New way to make your own bird art: Paint by Sticker


You’ve heard of color by number and paint by number, now the latest thing is Paint by Sticker. There is a birding option for Paint by Sticker from Workman Publishing and I received the book a few weeks ago. I admit I was a bit skeptical at first, but I really am enjoying the book. It is fun to see the work come together into a neat finished project.

As the name suggests, you have a white outline of a picture with numbers and shapes on it. in the back of the book are correlating stickers to be placed in the shapes.

Here are a couple photos to illustrate the new trend. (Don’t laugh, it was my first attempt.) There are 12 photos to do, including blue jay, spoonbill, waxwing and oriole. Below the photos are some thoughts from the publicity department at Workman.



From Workman:

“Nearly a year old, with over 450,000 copies in print, the Paint by Sticker series has surpassed coloring books with its simplistic approach to mindfulness in which “paintings” are pieced together one sticker at a time. These activity books have allowed adults to re-create the Mona Lisa and kids to re-create some of their favorite zoo animals.

 

“Paint by Sticker: Birds is a true celebration of the birds that provide beauty, soundtrack, and vibrancy to our lives. The piecing together of these posters ultimately reveals some of the most stunning birds, from the mandarin duck to the roseate spoonbill. This book fuels creation, while transporting participants into a meditative state.”

For more information, see http://www.workman.com

Latest For the Birds column: Looking at birds’ bills

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Blue Heron stands in a pond in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Blue Heron stands in a pond in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several newspapers in New England.

Although I’ve made this claim with many birds over the years, the great blue heron stands as one of my favorite birds.

My “favorite” bird may vary depending on the season and what I’ve recently photographed, but a few species have long been “one of my favorites.” Hooded and common mergansers, common loons, wood ducks and American oystercatchers stand alongside the great blue heron in that category. Of course I love all birds – well, most of them anyway — but these stand out for me, regardless of how many I’ve seen over the years.

It’s probably just a coincidence but with the exception of the wood duck, Continue reading

Happy Easter from Birds of New England

Photo by Chris Bosak A Wood Duck mother swims with one of her babies at Woods Ponds in Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Wood Duck mother swims with one of her babies at Woods Ponds in Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.

Happy Easter everyone and thanks for supporting http://www.BirdsOfNewEngland.com.

Photo by Chris Bosak A baby mallard stays dry during a rainfall by huddling under its mother's wing.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A baby mallard stays dry during a rainfall by huddling under its mother’s wing.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Wood Duck swims with one of her chicks at Wood's Pond in Norwalk, spring 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Wood Duck swims with one of her chicks at Wood’s Pond in Norwalk, spring 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak A young Wood Duck swims at Wood's Pond in Norwalk, spring 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A young Wood Duck swims at Wood’s Pond in Norwalk, spring 2016.

For the Birds column: What is that bird trillling?

Photo by Chris Bosak A Pine Warbler sits on a deck railing in New England this fall.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Pine Warbler sits on a deck railing in New England this fall.

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in several New England newspapers.

The birds are moving through, that’s for sure.

Mornings in New England are now filled with the songs of so many birds it’s hard to separate the voices. Throw in a mockingbird imitating the songs of several birds, and the confusion ratchets up a level.

A tufted titmouse (peter, peter, peter) broke the morning silence one morning this week for me; a robin (cheery up, cheery oh, cheery up) the next morning. I love mornings filled with birdsong.

Have you heard a bird trilling recently? A long series of quick, high-pitched notes often rings out throughout New England during the spring. But what is that triller?

Continue reading

Putting a bow on winter

Photo by Chris Bosak  A broken birdbath and several inches of snow made for an ideal canvas to make a face made out of nuts and seeds used to feed birds.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A broken birdbath and several inches of snow made for an ideal canvas to make a face made out of nuts and seeds used to feed birds.

It’s supposed to be 70, pushing 80, degrees this week. Although New England can throw us some surprises, I’m fairly confident we are done with winter and spring is ready to bloom.

So with that said, here are my last leftover winter photos. I love the photo above. My birdbath bowl broke in half this winter and I didn’t have the heart to throw it away. I used it as a small platform feeder, but when the snow came, obviously it accumulated and covered the seeds. After one of the storms I used some peanuts and sunflower seeds to make a face on the accumulate snow. I was hoping a bird would show up and enhance the photo even more, but no such luck … at least not when I was looking. But it made for a neat photo anyway.

Enjoy and happy spring.

Photo by Chris Bosak Ablack-capped chickadee grabs a sunflower seed from a Christmas decoration during the winter of 2016-17 in Danbury, Conn.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A black-capped chickadee grabs a sunflower seed from a Christmas decoration during the winter of 2016-17 in Danbury, Conn.

Photo by Chris Bosak A white-breasted nuthatch sits on a bird-shaped birdfeeder during the winter of 2016-17 in Danbury, Conn.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A white-breasted nuthatch sits on a bird-shaped bird feeder during the winter of 2016-17 in Danbury, Conn.

Gardening with Melinda: Grow an abundant tomato harvest in a pot

Photo by Gardener’s Supply Company Growing tomatoes in container gardens enables gardeners to jump start the growing season.

Photo by Gardener’s Supply Company
Growing tomatoes in container gardens enables gardeners to jump start the growing season.


By Melinda Myers

Harvest and enjoy the garden-fresh flavor of tomatoes right outside your kitchen.  Grow them in containers set on your patio, balcony, deck or stairs. You’ll enjoy the convenience of harvesting fresh tomatoes just a few feet away from where you prepare your meals. And your guests will enjoy harvesting fresh tomatoes to add to their salad or sandwich.

Tomatoes need warm air and soil to thrive. Containers give you the ability to jump start the season. Plant tomatoes in containers earlier than in the garden and leave them outdoors when it’s warm (but bring them inside whenever there’s a danger of frost.)  Protect your plants with the help of season-extending products like cloches, red tomato teepees or garden fabrics.  These will help warm the soil and air around the plants, reducing the number of days to your first harvest.

Select flavorful and disease-resistant varieties for your container gardens. Consider ‘determinate’ tomatoes that are more compact and generally less than four feet tall. But don’t eliminate your favorite indeterminate tomato. Just provide a strong tall support for these plants that continue to grow six feet and taller throughout the season.

Grow your tomatoes in a sunny spot that receives at least eight hours of direct sunlight.  You’ll grow the biggest harvest and reduce the risk of disease.

Fill your container with a quality well-drained potting mix. Add a slow release organic fertilizer to your potting mix if needed.  This type of fertilizer feeds the plants for several months. Give the plants an additional feeding midseason or as directed on the fertilizer package.

Check soil moisture daily, water thoroughly and often enough to keep the soil slightly moist.  Maintaining consistent soil moisture means healthier plants and fewer problems with blossom end rot. This disorder is not a deadly disease, but it causes the bottom of the first set of fruit to turn black.

Reduce your workload by using self-watering pots like the Gardener’s Revolution® Classic Tomato Planter (gardeners.com). These pots have a 5-gallon reservoir for holding water that moves up into the soil to the plant roots as needed.  This means you’ll be filling the reservoir less often than you would normally water other planters.

Stake or tower your plants to save space, increase air circulation around and light penetration into the plant.  You’ll further reduce the risk of disease and increase productivity by growing vertically.

So start gathering your favorite tomato recipes now, as soon you’ll be harvesting armloads of tomatoes to use in salsas, salads, sauces and of course BLTs.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening For Everyone” DVD set and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Gardener’s Supply Company for her expertise to write this article. Myers’ web site is www.melindamyers.com.