For the Birds: Hawkwatching season in New England

Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-tailed hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., January 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Red-tailed hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., January 2015.

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

The seasons are changing, and there’s a lot going on in the birding world.

Warblers and other songbirds are migrating south. Shorebirds — many species of which have long migrated already — continue to move through New England. Other small winged creatures — monarch butterflies — are also seen more often now as they prepare for their generational migration.

On the ponds, the waterfowl migration hasn’t started with verve yet, but wood ducks, which spend much of the summer hiding out, are more often seen and heard in the fall. At the same time, herons and egrets are still with us in large numbers, and feeder birds continue to keep us company in our backyards. 

Yes, a lot is going on in early fall as we birdwatchers start to shift from a summer frame of mind to a winter one.

With all that’s going on, one type of bird still manages to take center stage in September and October: hawks.

Hawkwatches are the primary destination for birdwatchers this time of year as birds of prey by the thousands ride the wind south. Pick the right day with the ideal weather conditions, and a birdwatcher may see hundreds of hawks, falcons, eagles and vultures soaring overhead.

Identifying birds high in the sky is a challenge, to say the least, even big birds such as hawks. That’s where organized hawkwatches come in, or at least sites where hawkwatches are popular. 

New England boasts several spots for hawkwatches. Do an internet search for “New England Hawkwatch” and find one in your area. It’s worth the trip, but don’t delay, hawkwatching season is fleeting and winds down near the end of October.

Experts at these spots can ID the birds in a second, even when the birds are still miles away. Don’t be afraid to sidle up to an expert or stick your nose into a group of experts. I always do when I visit a hawkwatching site and find it invaluably helpful. Birders are more than happy to share their knowledge with other birdwatchers.

I understand as well as anybody that you can’t always pick the days you can go birdwatching, but the best days for a hawkwatch are generally when a northerly wind is blowing. Warm temperatures and good visibility don’t hurt either, from a comfort standpoint, at least.

Hawks, of course, are specific types of birds, but the term “hawkwatch” encompasses falcons, ospreys, eagles, harriers and vultures, as well.

The different types of hawks usually follow a predictable timetable for their journeys to South America. In general, broad-winged hawks, ospreys and kestrels pass through New England first (early to mid-September), followed by harriers, the accipiters (Cooper’s and shark-shinned hawks), red-tailed hawks, and red-shouldered hawks.

Autumn is full of joys for nature enthusiasts — I didn’t even get into it being the breeding season (rut) for deer and moose — but the season wouldn’t be complete without a good view of hundreds of hawks headed to their winter homes.

Photo by Chris Bosak An immature Cooper's Hawk rests in a tree after eating a songbird in Norwalk, CT, summer 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An immature Cooper’s Hawk rests in a tree after eating a songbird in Norwalk, CT, summer 2015.

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Red-winged blackbird singing: Cleaning off the desktop to get ready for fall

Photo by Chris Bosak A red-winged blackbird sings from the top of a tree at Happy Landings in Brookfield, Conn., spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A red-winged blackbird sings from the top of a tree at Happy Landings in Brookfield, Conn., spring 2017.

I almost forgot about a series of red-winged blackbird photos I took on the same day I captured nice images of cedar waxwings and bobolinks. I’m glad I started this cleaning off the desktop project or this photo may never have seen the light of day.

Yellowthroat singing: Cleaning off the desktop to get ready for fall

Photo by Chris Bosak A common yellowthroat sings from a perch in Brookfield, Conn., during spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A common yellowthroat sings from a perch in Brookfield, Conn., during spring 2017.

I posted one shot of this common yellowthroat early this spring. Never had time to edit the other photos until now.

Photo by Chris Bosak A common yellowthroat sings from a perch in Brookfield, Conn., during spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A common yellowthroat sings from a perch in Brookfield, Conn., during spring 2017.

Starting with towhees: Cleaning off the desktop to get ready for fall

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern towhee perches in thick brush in Ridgefield, Conn., spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An eastern towhee perches in thick brush in Ridgefield, Conn., spring 2017.

The spring and summer went by so quickly I didn’t have time to post many of the photos I was able to capture. Typically I posted a few shots of an outing in a post, but filed the dozens of other photos in a “get to them later” folder.

Well, with fall migration starting already, I figured this would be a good time to get around to them. So, without much fanfare or description, these next few posts will be random shots I collected this past spring and summer.

This post features the eastern towhees I found during an early May walk at Bennett’s Pond State Park in Ridgefield, Conn.

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern towhee perches in thick brush in Ridgefield, Conn., spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An eastern towhee perches in thick brush in Ridgefield, Conn., spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An eastern towhee perches in thick brush in Ridgefield, Conn., spring 2017.

 

For the Birds: Goldfinches brighten the landscape

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

Photo by Chris Bosak An American Goldfinch rests on a sunflower in New England.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An American Goldfinch rests on a sunflower in New England.

N othing cheers up a day like a goldfinch. Those little, bright bursts of yellow are always a welcome site at your feeder, bird bath or perched on a flower in your garden.

I especially appreciate goldfinches in the dead of summer. I remember taking a walk a few years ago on one of those classic hot, humid days in August. It was the middle of the afternoon and, not surprisingly, I was finding very little in terms of wildlife. Dragonflies were dancing all over the place, but even the butterflies seemed to be hiding from the heat.

Suddenly, I heard the cheerful song of a goldfinch in flight coming up from behind me. I turned just in time to see the bright yellow bird perch on the top of a thistle flower. The pink-and-purple flower rocked back and forth as it reacted to the weight of the tiny bird. When the flower settled, the goldfinch went about its business of picking at the flower.

I watched the scene briefly, and continued my walk. About five minutes later, I heard the bird again. I looked up to see it fly over my head and disappear into the distance. Despite its tiny size — about 5 inches — the goldfinch is an easy bird to identify in flight. It flies quickly in an undulating fashion — like a roller coaster with small rises and falls — usually uttering its potato-chip, potato-chip song as it bounces up and down.

I didn’t see any other birds on that walk, but the single goldfinch perched on the flower made it all worthwhile.

Goldfinches also score points with me as they are frequently seen in my garden. I’ve seen goldfinches perched atop coneflower and black-eyed Susan flowers, picking away at the seeds. I’ve also seen them on sunflowers.

Goldfinches, of course, are also reliable feeder birds, often occupying every perch of a tube feeder. I love to see all six perches of my blue tube feeder occupied by the bright yellow birds.

Goldfinches will eat sunflower seeds and will visit platform or tube feeders. A sure way to attract goldfinches is to offer Nyjer in a tube feeder specifically designed for the tiny seeds. Do not try to use thistle seeds in a regular feeder as the tiny seeds will spill through the holes.

“Sock” feeders stuffed with thistle seeds are a good alternative.

Goldfinches visit feeders at any time of the day. It’s interesting to note that goldfinches move on frequently so the birds you see at your feeder in the evening are not likely the same ones you saw in the morning.

Goldfinches are found throughout the country and many remain in New England through the winter months. They are not the flashy yellow birds we love so much in the summer, though. We still love them in the winter, of course, but they are much duller, often appearing olive or brownish.

It’s fun to see the splotchy male goldfinches in the early part of spring as they slowly regain their bright yellow plumage. Only the males are bright yellow. Females are a duller yellow.

They also have black caps and black wings with white stripes. My brother Ed and his wife, Debbie, are big Pittsburgh Steelers fans, so the goldfinch is a favorite in that household.

Of course, you don’t have to be a Steelers fan to appreciate the beauty of a goldfinch. The bright yellow speaks for itself. Throw in a purple or pink flower and you’ve got real proof that Mother Nature likes her colors.

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For the Birds: Brown thrasher — talkative entertainer

Photo by Chris Bosak A brown thrasher checks out its surroundings in New England.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A brown thrasher checks out its surroundings in New England.

It’s usually not easy and this time was no exception. It took a little coaxing to get the bird to show itself.

Eventually the brown thrasher flew out of the thicket and landed at the top of a tall shrub to check out its surroundings and sing a few notes. Once a brown thrasher gets going vocally, it rarely lacks for something to say. It can go on and on for hours.

This bird, however, instead of breaking into its incredible repertoire of songs and mimicry, simply repeated its nonmusical call note.

 I watched for a long time as the bird afforded me a close view. From my experiences, brown thrashers are usually skittish, but every so often one will allow for long observation. Another problem is, I don’t find them often enough. A few times a year is about the extent of my brown thrasher sightings.

Many conservationists worry about the status of the brown thrasher. Most would agree that the population is in decline, but the extent to which is up for debate. From my experiences, I’ve never had much luck finding them, so it’s hard for me to form an opinion based on my own anecdotal evidence.

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No dancing bear, a real one at a Dead tribute show 


My friend Steve and I were headed to the Forever Grateful show in Danbury, Connecticut, on Saturday.

We hadn’t seen each other in a while so we caught up at my place and hung out for a while. Then we stopped at a bar for a quick drink before heading to the festival at the west campus of Western Connecticut State University. Parking, of course, was a minor issue at the venue as we drove around the lot looking for a space. Eventually we turned around and headed back out of the venue to grab the nearest on-road parking spot, leaving a sizable walk for us to get to the show.

The reason I got into so much detail is because the timing of this had to be just perfect. If we hadn’t stopped at the bar, or if we had found parking immediately, we would have missed it.

As we headed to the security area, and there were, I’m guessing, Continue reading

One Simple Step Can Improve the Health and Vigor of Your Lawn

Fall lawn fertilization is the first step in growing a healthy lawn next year.

Fall lawn fertilization is the first step in growing a healthy lawn next year.

By Melinda Myers

Do just one thing this fall and you can improve the health and vigor of your lawn.  Fall fertilization helps lawns recover from the stresses of summer and provides needed nutrients to grow deeper roots and a denser stand of grass. And that means fewer weeds and a healthier lawn that’s more resistant to drought, insects and diseases.

Fertilize around Labor Day as the temperatures begin to cool and lawns start spreading outward instead of growing upward. Continue to leave clippings on the lawn. They return nutrients, moisture and organic matter to the soil.  Consider it free fertilizer applied every time you mow the lawn.

One fall application will give low maintenance lawns the nutrient boost they need. You’ll have a healthier lawn with minimal care.

Increase the quality and improve the lawn’s ab Continue reading

Another (and closer) shot of the heron

Photo by Chris Bosak Great blue heron at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, CT.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Great blue heron at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, CT.

The consensus seems to be the bigger (or closer) the better. So here’s another shot of the heron that I didn’t include in the previous post. You ask for it, you get it at http://www.BirdsofNewEngland.com. Thanks for your feedback!