About Chris Bosak

Bird columnist and nature photographer based in New England.

For the Birds: When birds choose ‘your’ flowers

Photo by Chris Bosak An American goldfinch looks for seeds atop a coneflower in New England, summer 2020.

There are few things more satisfying to the backyard birdwatcher than having a bird eat seeds or fruits from something planted by the birdwatcher’s own hands.

Well, that’s my opinion anyway and it was made clear the other day when a small flock of American goldfinches descended upon my small patch of purple coneflowers for a late afternoon meal.

That opening statement comes with some qualifications, most importantly if you want the birds to be eating the seeds or fruits. I don’t know why anyone would mind birds eating seeds from a flower garden. I also don’t know why anyone would mind birds eating fruits from, say, dogwood trees, crabapple trees or winterberry bushes.

If, however, the fruit is being grown for human consumption, such as cherries or blackberries, then I can understand how there would be frustration on the part of the gardener.

I used to live in an apartment owned by a family that grew some fruits and vegetables on the property. Year after year, the cherries never got to see the light of the kitchen as birds, mostly starlings, ate the fruits before they were ready to be picked. My landlord was mighty frustrated and tried everything to prevent it from happening. He tried noise deterrents and scary-looking balloons, but the starlings were unfazed by it all.

So, yes, there are exceptions to my opening statement, but edible fruits aside, I stand by it. I always get a thrill in late summer or early fall when the goldfinches perch precariously atop the coneflower and pick out the tiny seeds. As the fall progresses, I can usually find a few kinglets (ruby-crowned and golden-crowned) among the sedum.

Sunflowers are great for attracting birds, which makes sense since the best and most versatile feeder food is sunflower seeds. Goldfinches and downy woodpeckers are the most reliable customers when I grow sunflowers.

I love any hummingbird sighting, but there is something more satisfying about seeing one feed from a plant growing in the garden or hanging near the deck than drinking from a feeder.

I’ve never had much luck growing berries, but one house I used to live in had a wild black cherry tree in the front yard. I used to love to watch the robins attack the tree every fall. I would always hope cedar waxwings would come too. To my knowledge, they never did and the robins did a pretty good job of stripping the tree of all its fruits.

Planting native flowers, bushes and trees is a welcomed trend among homeowners and landscapers. It is helping birds, pollinators and other native wildlife even as we continue to take away their natural habitat.

It is exciting to see these plants come back year after year. It’s even better when you see the plants supporting other native wildlife.

Photo by Chris Bosak An American goldfinch looks for seeds atop a coneflower in New England, summer 2020.

For the Birds: Hummingbirds and cuckoos

Photo by Chris Bosak A female ruby-throated hummingbird sits on a rope in a backyard in New England, August 2020.

I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed watching the hummingbirds ignore the stormy weather of Aug. 4 and visit the feeders. As you’ll recall, last week I wrote about the tiny birds going about their day as usual as rain fell and wind whipped all around.

I heard from Deb from Royalston, Mass., who said her hummingbirds “had no problem with the fierce winds and rain. All this year’s babies are there now, so we had more than a dozen.” She said it was hard to count them there were so many. I, of course, had only one visit my feeder that day as it was a dominant female who “owns” the feeder.

Jill from Keene wrote: “I too was amazed during the storm the hummingbirds seemed unfazed.” Jill also had a peaceful gathering of hummingbirds and sent me a few photos showing six of them on the feeder at once.

“They did not fight much at all and it was eerily quiet as I usually have several swooping and ‘chirping’ noisily,” Jill added.

A few days later, Jill wrote to say: “The peaceful dinner party was really an anomaly, as they are back to fighting and chasing each other!”

John and Joanne of Dover noted: “We also Continue reading

Goldfinches invade coneflower patch

Photo by Chris Bosak An American goldfinch looks for seeds atop a coneflower in New England, summer 2020.

I don’t have a lot of garden space on my property as it is predominately shaded. I do have a few sunny spots and I wasted no time in planting some native perennials, including coneflower. The goldfinches come every year when the flower heads start to die off. The goldfinches started arriving this week and have returned daily. There will be more photos of the goldfinches coming up soon, I’m sure.

The photogenic nuthatch

Photo by Chris Bosak A white-breasted nuthatch grabs a sunflower seed from a deck railing in New England, August 2020.

I feel like I’ve taken this photo 100 times, a nuthatch with a seed in its bill. Here are a few more. I find white-breasted nuthatches to be very photogenic and rarely pass up an opportunity to capture them on film — well, you know what I mean.

Photo by Chris Bosak A white-breasted nuthatch grabs a sunflower seed from a deck railing in New England, August 2020.

For the Birds: Hummingbirds ride out the storm

Photo by Chris Bosak A female ruby-throated hummingbird hovers in a backyard in New England, August 2020.

Tropical Storm Isaias really put on a show as it blasted its way through New England. Wind, rain and tornado warnings ruled the day last Tuesday as the storm packed a bigger punch than expected.

My sons and I stood on the screened-in porch and watched as 50 mph winds roared through the woods in the backyard. We ignored the occasional rain that wind gusts blew through the screen. Small maples bent like those inflatable tubes you see outside some businesses. Dead or dying ash trees threatened to topple and, indeed, many did throughout the neighborhood. We were lucky. At one point we heard the alarming sound of a huge tree or branch cracking. I was ready to scramble into the house for protection, but Andrew pointed out that the fracture was occurring in the woods safely away from the house. He pointed out a massive branch high around the top of a gigantic oak tree that had peeled away from the trunk. It never did fall as it got stuck among the canopy branches of nearby trees.

We lost power before 2 p.m. Tuesday and, as I write three days later, it hasn’t been restored. It may take a few more days as trees and power lines are down all throughout the neighborhood. We are hardly alone. More than a million households lost power throughout New England, including more than 700,000 in Connecticut alone.

It’s safe to say Isaias was a major event. I won’t soon forget the sights and sounds of the beast roaring through the woods and leaving a wake of destruction as it headed north. Through it all, believe it or not, my hummingbirds visited the feeder as if nothing was happening. I have three hummingbirds that visit daily: two females and one male. One of the females rules the roost and is constantly chasing the others away. She sat contentedly on the feeder as those 50 mph winds violently swayed the clothesline on which it hangs. The boys Continue reading

For the Birds: Ticks taking down New England moose

Photo by Chris Bosak A cow moose and two calves eat aquatic vegetation from a pond in northern New Hampshire, July 2020.

I never met Bill Silliker Jr., but I am a fan of his work. He was a nature photographer who passed away in 2003. He was based in Maine, and his specialty was moose. His work graced calendars, magazines, books, you name it. The other day I pulled his book “Moose — Giant of the Northern Forest” off the shelf. He wrote it in 1998 and it is, of course, richly illustrated with his fantastic moose photos.

Again, I never met Mr. Silliker, but his writing comes across as down-to-earth, compassionate and deeply caring about the animals he photographed. The book’s chapters discuss various aspects of moose: history, behavior, rut, etc. At the end of the book, he discusses the many threats to moose. Among them are car and train accidents, predation by bear and wolves (Alaska and western U.S.), and humans by way of pollution and habitat destruction.

He also notes that brainworm “may be the most serious health hazard moose face in regions where their range overlaps with that of the parasite’s carrier, the white-tailed deer.” That concern is indeed playing out, particularly in southern New England, where brainworm is thought to be the chief enemy of the moose population, according to biologists in the region.

Mr. Siliker also writes that tick infestations “sometimes play a role in depleting the health and resistance of moose.” Fast forward 20 years from the book’s publishing and ticks have Continue reading

Random iPhone photo from the woods

Like many New Englanders, I’ve been out of power since Tuesday afternoon. Based on the condition of my neighborhood, it may be a while until I’m back online. What a mess. So, with limited resources, here’s an extra photo from my recent trip up north. It was taken with my iPhone and I’m posting this with my iPhone.