About Chris Bosak

Bird columnist and nature photographer based in New England. Co-managing editor of The Hour newspaper. Bird

Never tire of Great Blue Herons

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Blue Heron walks in a pond in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Blue Heron walks in a pond in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

I have a stock pile of Great Blue Heron photos to last me a lifetime. Here are some more I took this week as I can’t resist driving or walking past one without taking some photos.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Blue Heron walks in a pond in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Blue Heron walks in a pond in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

Gardening: Add some eye candy to your garden this fall

Photo credit: Longfield Gardens Dutch Master daffodils, Involve tulips and Muscari provide several layers of color in the garden.

Photo credit: Longfield Gardens
Dutch Master daffodils, Involve tulips and Muscari provide several layers of color in the garden.

By Melinda Myers
Shorten the winter season with the help of spring flowering bulbs that you plant in fall. These beauties often provide the first bit of color, fragrance and winter relief each year.

Look for new and unique ways to incorporate bulbs into your landscape. Create a seasonal water feature with a river of blue scillas and grape hyacinths meandering through the garden. Welcome visitors with a front door or walkway garden that blooms from early spring through early summer and is loaded with crocus, tulips, daffodils and allium.

Don’t overlook those shady spots. Many of these locations provide enough early season sun, before the trees leaf out, for bulbs to grow and flower. Use more shade tolerant spring bloomers like snowdrops, grape hyacinths, scillas, anemones, daffodils, fritillarias and Camassias in shady areas among hostas, ferns and other shade tolerant perennials.

Whether you’re new or experienced, growing bulbs is an easy endeavor. Just follow these simple steps to a beautiful spring garden.

Selection

Purchase bulbs that are dense and firm, and free of bruises or mold. Shop early for the best selection. Mail order sources will ship your bulbs at the proper planting time. If you buy locally, store the bulbs in a dry, well-ventilated and cool 60-degree location until it’s time to plant.

Don’t let deer, rabbits and chipmunks dissuade you from planting. Include hyacinths, grape hyacinths, scillas, glory-of-the-snow, fritillarias, alliums and Camassias that the animals tend to overlook.

Design Ideas

Include a variety of bulbs for added color throughout spring. Early bloomers like Glory of the Snow, crocus, early tulips and daffodils, and grape hyacinths (Muscari) are followed by mid-season daffodils and tulips along with fritillarias. Late spring blooming tulips and alliums finish off the spring display.

Combine several bulbs that bloom at the same time to double the floral impact or at different times to extend the color throughout the spring. You can create your own combinations or look for prepackaged combinations prepared by experts like those at Longfield Gardens (www.Longfield-Gardens.com). Low growing White Splendor anemone along with Ocean Magic grape hyacinth make a striking combination for under shrubs. The yellow blossoms of Dutch Master daffodils, pink Involve tulips and purplish blue grape hyacinths will give you several layers of color in the garden.
Or add a bit of eye-catching red to the garden throughout the spring with the Really Red collection of tulips. Red Emperor starts things out in early spring, followed by Oxford and ends with double-flowering Red Princess and Sky High Scarlet.

Location

Plant bulbs in well-drained soil for best results. Avoid areas such as next to the dryer vent or against the south side foundation of your home that tend to warm up early in spring or experience a winter thaw. These bulbs often sprout too early and subsequent cold temperatures can limit or eliminate their bloom.

Reduce maintenance and boost your garden’s beauty by mixing bulbs with perennials. Once the bulbs are done blooming, the neighboring perennials mask the fading bulb foliage.
When and How to Plant
Increase growing success in poor soils by incorporating several inches of compost, peat moss or other organic matter into the top 12” of soil. This improves drainage in clay soil and the water-holding ability of sandy and rocky soils. Then be sure to incorporate a low nitrogen, slow release fertilizer.

Wait to plant your bulbs until the soil cools. This is any time after the night temperatures are consistently 40 to 50 degrees, but several weeks before the ground freezes.

Plant spring blooming bulbs three times as deep as the bulb is tall. Water thoroughly to remove air pockets and encourage fall root growth. Add a layer of mulch to conserve moisture, suppress weeds and reduce the risk of early sprouting.
So break out your trowel and garden gloves and get busy planting. You’ll be glad you did when spring arrives and your yard and garden are filled with a rainbow of beautiful flowers.

Melinda Myers has over 30 years of gardening experience and has written over 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 program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Longfield Gardens for her expertise to write this article.

Latest For the Birds column: Hawkwatching primer

Photo by Chris Bosak An Osprey soars over the Norwalk River on Monday, Sept. 1, 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Osprey soars over the Norwalk River on Monday, Sept. 1, 2014.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.), The Keene (NH) Sentinel and several Connecticut weekly newspapers.

A September would not be complete without a bird column on the fall hawk migration. For many, the hawk migration is the highlight of the fall season, despite there being many other birding options this time of year.
It’s hard to blame those people who feel that way. You can’t complain about spending a sunny, crisp fall day on the top of a mountain or other open area looking for hawks coming down from the north. Pick the right day and you may see hundreds of hawks making their way to their winter grounds.
The trick for many people, including myself, is figuring out which hawk is which from such a distance in the sky. I have gotten better over the years but certainly not to the level of the experts at the popular hawkwatching sites throughout New England. The experts, who are trained in this sort of thing, know the identification of the bird long before I can even see it out in the horizon.

The other trick to hawkwatching is picking the right day. Weather plays a big role in the fall hawk migration. Pick a day with a steady southerly wind and you’ll likely see very few hawks. Which hawk wants to battle a stiff headwind to start a thousand-mile (or more) journey.

But, pick a sunny day following a cold front with a northerly (or northeast or northwest) wind and you could be in for a banner hawkwatching day. In mid-September, upwards of a thousand Broad-winged Hawks may be seen in a single day.

Speaking of Broad-winged Hawks, they are one of the most prominent and early hawks seen in New England with their number peaking around the middle of September. Osprey are also prominent in September, but several “fish hawks” remain with us well into October.

American Kestrels, Sharp-shinned Hawks and Peregrine Falcons are seen frequently in late September into early October. By the time the middle of October rolls around, birds such as Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures and Merlins are the more commonly seen hawks. Bald Eagles are seen usually in late October and into November. As you’ve figured out by now “hawkwatch” doesn’t mean only hawks. It also includes falcons, eagles, vultures and Ospreys.

The above information, of course, is merely a generalization. Individuals of each of the species can fly over New England earlier or later than the rest of their kin. The important thing to know is that anytime between early September and the middle of November can yield a good hawk movement. In general, mid-September to mid-October is the best time to go – again, keeping in mind the weather conditions.

There are good hawkwatching spots throughout New England. Pack Monadnock at Miller State Park in Peterborough is an excellent place to go on a hawkwatch. Pack Monadnock will likely have an expert on hand. The experts are there to identify, count and record the hawks they see, but they also serve as ambassadors for birding and are more than willing to answer questions anyone may have.

A few quick identification tips as you venture out to a hawkwatch. Firstly, the hawks are flying overhead. They aren’t perched in branches or wires giving you good, long looks. So you need to be able to identify them by shape and movement. You generally aren’t going to get a good look at its back and head plumage. Wing beat pattern often doesn’t come into play as the hawks prefer to ride thermals instead of using energy to flap their wings.

Take an Osprey for example when identifying the hawks by shape. They are relatively large and have crooked wings. Wing shape is important when identifying hawks in flight.

The edges of the wings feature “fingers,” which are also used for identification purposes. Some birds have long fingers and some birds have short fingers. Vultures and eagles typically have longer fingers and the accipiters (sharp-shinned and Cooper’s) have shorter fingers. The Peregrine Falcon often flies in such a way that the fingers aren’t shown.

There’s a lot to learn about hawkwatching, but it’s a fascinating part of birding. My advice is to visit a hawkwatching site on a sunny day (preferably with northerly winds) and sit as close as to the on-site expert and soak in the knowledge.

Canna brings in the hummingbirds

 

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from Canna flower in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from Canna flower in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

My friend Stacy gave me some Canna rhizomes last winter. I stored them in the basement and planted them this spring. In the middle of summer, I had a few red flowers, but not as many as I thought I’d have. Now, at the end of summer/beginning of fall, I have tons of flowers. The hummingbirds are taking notice, as well, as proven by these photos.

Canna is a more southern plant so it should be dug up and stored over winter in New England. Kind of a hassle, but worth it …

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from Canna flower in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from Canna flower in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from Canna flower in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from Canna flower in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from Canna flower in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from Canna flower in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

Gardening: Turn Yard Waste into Gardener’s Gold – Compost

Another column by Melinda Myers, well-known gardening and columnist: 

Gardener’s Supply Company Tumbler composters are great for small spaces and make loading, unloading and turning much easier.

Gardener’s Supply Company
Tumbler composters are great for small spaces and make loading, unloading and turning much easier.

Save time and money by turning landscape trimmings into a valuable soil amendment.

The idea is simple, just collect disease- and insect-free plant debris into a heap and let it decompose into a fine, nutrient rich material that helps improve the soil. Don’t add meat, dairy, invasive plants, weeds that have gone to seed or perennial weeds that can take root and grow in your compost pile.

Speed things up by layering yard waste with soil or compost, adding a bit of fertilizer to each layer and moistening to a consistency of a damp sponge. Further speed up the process by making the pile at least three-feet tall and wide.

Turn the pile as time allows, moving the more decomposed materials from the center to the outside of the pile. It’s a great work out and speeds up the decomposition. The more effort you put into composting the sooner you have rich organic matter for your garden.

Build the pile in a location that is convenient for adding raw materials and harvesting the finished compost. Consider placing the pile near a water source to make moistening the pile easier.  Avoid poorly drained locations that may lead to the pile of compost becoming waterlogged.  Soggy materials break down more slowly and may smell.   Continue reading

Latest For the Birds column: More on hummingbirds (again)

Here’s the latest For the Birds column which runs in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.), Keene (NH) Sentinel, and several weekly newspapers on Connecticut.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Errol Hotel in Errol, NH.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Errol Hotel in Errol, NH.

The emails about hummingbirds kept coming, so I will roll out one more column on these tiny birds.

I used to have the worst luck trying to find hummingbirds, but this year has been an exception. I have consistently seen them at my feeder and out in the field, so to speak.

Now is the time to look for them among the many patches of jewelweed, or touch-me-not, that grow at the edges of New England’s woods. Even in years when I don’t see a lot of hummingbirds, I always seem to find them in late summer and early fall buzzing around the small orange flowers of jewelweed.

But enough about where I am seeing them. Hummingbirds are obviously a regional favorite as I have received several emails regarding the species over the last few weeks. In addition to what I included a few weeks ago, here’s a sampling of what people are saying about the smallest of birds. Continue reading

Latest For the Birds column: For some birds, humans are a rarity

Here’s the latest For the Birds column. This one’s a little different. Let me know what you think. Thanks for taking a look at http://www.BirdsofNewEngland.com.

Photo by Chris Bosak Yellow-rumped Warbler in Selleck's Woods, Darien, Conn., April 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Yellow-rumped Warbler in Selleck’s Woods, Darien, Conn., April 2014.

Is it possible that the bird in your backyard has never seen a human before?

It’s not likely, but if there were ever a time for that happen, it’s during the fall migration.

If we were a little farther north in New England, the odds would be much greater. Even in the middle of New England, however, the possibility still exists — at least in my very unscientific estimation. The adult birds, those that flew through our region on their northern migration in the spring, have almost certainly seen humans.

But first-year birds, those born a few short months ago, who knows? Maybe you are the first human one is seeing.

It would take a relatively cautious bird species that breeds in the vast Boreal Forest of the northern U.S. and Canada. So a Gray Catbird or Baltimore Oriole passing through has likely seen plenty of humans already, having likely been born in the suburbs.

But one of any number of warbler, vireo or fly Continue reading

New garden feature at www.BirdsofNewEngland.com

https://birdsofnewengland.files.wordpress.com/2016/09/fawn.jpg

Photo by Melinda Myers, LLC
Deer damage can be devastating to vegetable and flower gardens, making fencing, repellents and other tactics essential.

I’m happy to introduce a new feature and page for http://www.BirdsofNewEngland.com

It’s a garden column from Melinda Myers, a well-known gardener and columnist. I have read her garden column in Birds and Blooms for years. Her columns will appear from time to time with permission on http://www.BirdsofNewEngland.com.

Here’s the first one. I hope you enjoy this occasional series.

Five Ways to Protect Your Garden from the Deer
By Melinda Myers

Don’t let your vegetable and fall flower gardens succumb to hungry deer. Even if you’re lucky enough to be deer-free now, be vigilant and prepared to prevent damage as these beautiful creatures move into your landscape to dine. Here are five tactics to help you in the battle against these hungry animals.

Fencing is the best, though not always practical, way to control deer. Install a 4- to 5-foot-high fence around small garden areas. This is usually enough to keep out deer that seem to avoid small confined spaces.  The larger the area, the more likely deer will enter. Some gardeners report success surrounding their garden or landscape with strands of fishing line set at 12” and 36” above the ground.

Low voltage electric fencing or posts baited with a deer repellent are also options. Just be sure to check with your local municipality before installing this type of fencing.

Scare tactics are less effective on deer in urban environments. They are used to human scents and sounds. Many gardeners report success with motion sensor sprinklers. As the deer passes in front of the motion sensor it starts the sprinkler and sends them running. Just be sure to turn off the sprinkler when you go out to garden.

Repellents that make plants taste or smell bad to deer can also help.  You will find products containing things like garlic, hot pepper oil, and predator urine.  Apply them before the animals start feeding for the best results. And reapply as directed on the label. Look for products like Deer Ban (summitchemical.com) that are easy to apply, odorless and last a long time.

Include deer resistant plants whenever possible. Even though no plant is one hundred percent deer-proof, there are those the deer are less likely to eat. Include plants rated as rarely or seldom damaged by deer.  And be sure to provide additional protection if you include plants known to be frequently or severely damaged.

Constantly monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the methods used.  Deer often change their feeding location and preferred food. And if the populations are high and the deer are hungry, they will eat just about anything. Be willing to change things up if one method is not working. Using multiple tactics will help increase your level of success.

So don’t let hungry deer stop you from gardening.  Be vigilant and persistent and send them elsewhere to dine.

Gardening expert Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including  Small Space Gardening  and the  Midwest Gardener’s Handbook . 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 Summit Responsible Solutions for her expertise to write this article. Myers’ website is www.melindamyers.com.

 

Feeders are back up

 

Photo by Chris Bosak A Chipping Sparrow eats from a acbirdfeeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Chipping Sparrow eats from a a bird feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

When the nights first start to feel just a bit like the fall, I start filling the feeders again. This year that happened to fall on Labor Day Weekend. I hope everyone had a good holiday. The bad news is that summer is almost over. The good news is that fall is next. It’s a great season for birdwatching. (Aren’t they all, though?)

One of my first visitors to the feeders was this Chipping Sparrow. It’s a cute little sparrow and VERY common around my neighborhood. It’s always good to see the birds back at the feeders again.

Latest For the Birds column: I always come back to the American Oystercatcher

An American Oystercatcher seen at Milford Point during the summer.

An American Oystercatcher seen at Milford Point during the summer.

It’s been far too long since I’ve written anything about one of my favorite birds, the American Oystercatcher.

Since they will be migrating to points south before we know it, I figured this is a good time to shine a light on these fantastic birds again.

Many birds make a statement with their plumage. Flashy colors or muted tones, their plumage is their most distinguishing feature. Other birds stand out from the crowd with other features: an owl’s large eyes; a heron’s long legs; a Northern Mockingbird’s incredible singing.

The American Oystercatcher makes a statement in many ways. It is large, especially by shorebird standards. It has beautiful brown, black and white plumage. Its noises are loud and conspicuous, able to be heard from distant beaches as the birds rest on off-shore islands.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the oystercatcher is its bill. It is a thick, long, bright orange/red bill as strikingly beautiful as it is deadly. It is called an oystercatcher because that bill can open shells that other shorebirds can only dream of opening.

American oystercatchers’ eyes are a spectacle unto themselves. While many birds simply have black beads for eyes, the oystercatcher has large bright yellow eyes with a black dot in the middle. The eye is also surrounded by a thick bright red eye ring, similar to that of a wood duck’s.

I still feel that the American Oystercatcher is an underrated bird. Many people rarely see them, if at all, because oystercatchers are only seen around the shore. If you don’t visit the coast, you won’t see one. So it doesn’t even register on the radar of many people because they simply don’t see them. For many birders who do visit the coast frequently, they’ve seen plenty of oystercatchers so the thrill is limited when the see another one.

That, of course, has never been a problem for me. Like Great Blue Herons, Hooded Mergansers, Wood Ducks and countless other bird species, I get a thrill every time I see an American Oystercatcher.

Now that I don’t live near the coast anymore, I rarely see these most impressive birds. I miss a lot about coastal birding, but the American Oystercatcher is perhaps what I miss the most. I still see Osprey, cormorants, gulls and some shorebirds on my freshwater haunts, but not oystercatchers.

I’ll be back soon enough to see them again, I’m sure. I’d better hurry, though, the migration is already under way.