About Chris Bosak

Bird columnist and nature photographer based in New England.

For the Birds: Right or wrong, appreciate the sighting

An eft works its way through the woods in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2018.
Photo by Chris Bosak An eft works its way through the woods in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2018.

To err is human and I am about as human as they come.

Of course, no one is perfect and trying to solve nature’s mysteries is fraught with pitfalls.

I was walking down a trail one morning not too long ago. It had rained heavily the night before and the trail was damp. I had to watch my step because there were so many efts on the trail. I remembered a time when I mistakenly referred to the bright orange amphibians as newts.

I wasn’t completely off base, of course, as efts are the terrestrial stage of the newt. After being born in the water and then crawling around the ground as an eft for a while (sometimes a few years), they return to the water to live out their time as a newt.

That is just one example of many mistakes and misidentifications I used to make. I’m sure there are some things I currently mistakenly identify and there will certainly be things in the future that I errantly call the wrong name.

Here are some examples I often hear from others that are not correct. There is no judgment, of course, as we have already determined that no one is perfect.

I think I hear the “fisher” called a “fisher cat” more often than its proper name. The fierce, large member of the weasel family is simply called a fisher, no “cat” necessary. Indeed, it is not a cat at all. It is a weasel. Now that the red-bellied woodpecker is expanding its range north throughout New England, it is a good time to remind everyone that it is not actually a red-headed woodpecker. The red-bellied woodpecker does indeed have a mostly red head, but the name red-headed woodpecker is already taken by a bird that does indeed have a fully red head. Adding to the confusion is that the reddish-pink belly of the red-bellied woodpecker is not often seen and not an obvious field mark.

Here’s a tough one that took me years and years to get: the difference between a house finch and purple finch. They look very similar and many people automatically default to the purple finch, which is understandable as it is the state bird of New Hampshire and native to New England. House finch, however, is far more common these days even though they are transplants from western U.S. Purple finches are more colorful (at least the males), slightly larger and have more substantial bills. No, not the type of bills that are due every month.

I often hear people think an owl is singing during the day when they hear a mourning cooing. The mourning dove’s song does have an owl-like quality to it, but it is softer and unique to the dove. The owl that typically sings during the day is the barred owl and its song is much more gruff sounding than the cooing of a dove.

Finally, the osprey is sometimes confused with the bald eagle. Both are large, majestic birds of prey with white heads found near water so the confusion is understandable. The best way to tell them apart is by size. As impressive as the osprey is, the eagle is substantially larger. The typical wingspan of an osprey is about five feet, while an eagle’s is six-and-a-half feet. Also, the underside of an osprey is white and that of an eagle is brown. Either way, it’s great to see the population of both species rebounding so significantly.

In the end, whether people get the name or identification correct pales in comparison to the species being noticed and appreciated.

Next wader up: Green heron

Green Heron in southern Connecticut, November 2013.

I find that green herons are typically difficult to photograph because they tend to be wary. On occasion, I have come across green herons that are so wrap up in finding food that they basically ignore me. Those are fun.

Photo by Chris Bosak A green heron on a railing of a walkway at Assateague Island, Maryland.

Next wader up: Black-crowned night heron

Photo by Chris Bosak A Black-crowned Night Heron looks for food in Holly Pond in Stamford in summer 2015.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Black-crowned Night Heron looks for food in Holly Pond in Stamford in summer 2015.

Yesterday I started a series of wader photos. I kicked off the series with the great blue heron, which is probably our most common and well known wader. The black-crowned night heron is not as well known, although it is fairly common along the coast and some inland waters during the summer.

Here’s what a young one looks like …

Back to the adult …

Photo by Chris Bosak A Black-crowned Night Heron perches on a railing at a marina along the Norwalk River, Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Black-crowned Night Heron perches on a railing at a marina along the Norwalk River, Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.

The start of a few wader shots

Photo by Chris Bosak A great blue heron perches on one leg in a tree in Brookfield, Conn., during the fall of 2018.

Summer wouldn’t be summer without our waders, birds such as herons and egrets. We may not get as many individuals or different types as Florida, but New England boasts a good number of these recognizable birds. Here’s the start of a short photo series on these long-legged beauties.

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.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Blue Heron flies across the scene at a pond in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014.

For the Birds: Woodpeckers and rhythm

Photo by Chris Bosak A male yellow-bellied sapsucker perches on a dead tree branch in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.

I am quite sure I am not his intended target, but when the yellow-bellied sapsucker drums on the hollow branch in my side yard, I come running. I mentioned in last week’s column that I have a yellow-bellied sapsucker that drums on a branch in my side yard and a pileated woodpecker that drums on a branch in the backyard. Woodpeckers often drum on objects such as hollow branches, the sides of houses, gutters, and chimney flashings. They pick objects such as these because the noise resonates far and wide. This drumming is done to attract mates or announce territory. Obviously, they do not tap on gutters or chimney flashings to find food or make homes.

They may pick hollow branches to make homes, naturally, but the territorial and mate-attracting drumming is more rhythmic and the cadence is specific to individual woodpecker species.

I also mentioned in last week’s column that I was impressed the first time I saw a birdwatcher identify the type of woodpecker from its drumming in the distance. I still do not have that skill down very well, but I am getting a lot of practice distinguishing the yellow-bellied sapsucker and the pileated woodpecker. Just as it is exciting when a bird chooses your property to eat, drink, or make a home, it is also exciting when a woodpecker chooses a branch on your property for its drumming.

It may not be so exciting when they return to your siding, gutter or chimney flashing for this purpose, however. If this is happening, there are measures you can take to try to stop it. Of course, nothing is a guarantee when we are talking about wildlife.

There are literally dozens of products on the market to deter woodpeckers from tapping on your house. Do a simple Internet search for “stop woodpecker damage” and they will all pop up.

New England has several woodpecker types. Most of New England has the aforementioned yellow-bellied sapsucker and pileated woodpecker, as well as downy and hairy woodpecker, and northern flicker. Southern New England and increasingly the middle part of the region also has red-bellied woodpecker. The northern part of New England features the black-backed woodpecker and, to a lesser degree, the American three-toed woodpecker.

The red-headed woodpecker is also an occasional sighting in New England. Many people mistakenly call the red-bellied woodpecker the red-headed woodpecker because it does indeed have a red head, or at least mostly red. The red-bellied woodpecker has a faint pinkish wash on the belly, which gives it its name. The red-headed woodpecker, indeed, has a fully red head. They are more common south and west of New England but, as I mentioned, are occasionally seen in our region.

This is just my own theory, and it hasn’t been scientifically proven to my knowledge, but the dreaded diseases that have ravaged so many of our tree species have greatly benefited woodpeckers. They build their nests in dead trees and branches, and sadly, between hemlock woolly adelgid, chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease and locust borers, they have plenty of dead trees to choose from. And, of course, lots of drumming branches.

More rose-breasted grosbeak feeding shots

Photo by Chris Bosak A rose-breasted grosbeak pair visits a feeder in Danbury, CT, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

Here are a few more shots of the grosbeaks in love.

Photo by Chris Bosak A male rose-breasted grosbeak feeds a female rose-breasted grosbeak in Danbury, CT, May 2020. Merganser Lake.
Photo by Chris Bosak A male rose-breasted grosbeak feeds a female rose-breasted grosbeak in Danbury, CT, May 2020. Merganser Lake.
Photo by Chris Bosak A male rose-breasted grosbeak feeds a female rose-breasted grosbeak in Danbury, CT, May 2020. Merganser Lake.
Photo by Chris Bosak A male rose-breasted grosbeak feeds a female rose-breasted grosbeak in Danbury, CT, May 2020. Merganser Lake.
Photo by Chris Bosak A male rose-breasted grosbeak feeds a female rose-breasted grosbeak in Danbury, CT, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

Rose-breasted grosbeaks in love

Photo by Chris Bosak A male rose-breasted grosbeak feeds a female rose-breasted grosbeak in Danbury, CT, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

I’ve already posted photos of eastern bluebirds and northern cardinals feeding each other. Now, it’s the rose-breasted grosbeak’s turn. I took these photos a few weeks ago, but just now getting around to posting them. Click here to read I column I wrote about the behavior.

Red squirrel pays a visit

Photo by Chris Bosak A red squirrel eats seeds from a platform feeder in New England, April 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

It’s been about four years since a red squirrel visited my backyard (at least that I’ve seen.) In northern New England, this is the dominant squirrel species and I often hear their rattle-like call when I’m camping. In southern New England, the gray squirrel takes over. In most of the region, the two overlap. I have no shortage of gray squirrels (or chipmunks), but these guys rarely show up. It visited for a few minutes for two or three days and I haven’t seen it since. That was in April.