About Chris Bosak

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

For the Birds: Where are the birds?

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

Photo by Chris Bosak A tufted titmouse perches on a homemade birdfeeder in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A tufted titmouse perches on a homemade birdfeeder in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

It started with one, like nearly all things do. Then another came in, and they kept coming.
“Where are the birds?” was the similar question in the emails and phone calls.
Here are few examples:
“Why am I not seeing as many birds at my feeders for the last two to three weeks?”
“I’ve probably seen a woodpecker or two since the beginning of September! What is going on? Why don’t the birds find us again?”
“The birds I feed here in Richmond have disappeared. Myself and my neighbors haven’t seen them for several weeks.”
Becky of New Hampshire offered some hope, however. She said crows were more numerous than in past years and that the smaller birds stopped coming.
“They are just lately slowly reappearing,” she wrote.
So they are coming back. My guess is that all of the writers asking where the birds have gone will soon get their birds back.
Why do yards with bird feeders go through slow times? It’s not in the owners’ imagination. It actually happens and for several potential reasons.
Two reasons, which I’m fairly sure are not the case with my readers, are dirty feeders or spoiled seed. It’s important to keep feeders clean for the health of the birds that visit. It’s also important to change the seed if it has been in the feeder for too long. High temperatures or precipitation can cause the seed to go bad.
Many people suggest changing your seed offerings to bring the birds back. Try using safflower or different blend, they say. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that way of thinking. If your birds have enjoyed black-oil sunflower seeds for years, why would they suddenly snub their beaks at it? If, on the other hand, a particular type of seed has never really worked, then yeah, try a different type.
Predators often cause a temporary loss or reduction of birds that visit feeders. First-year accipiter hawks – sharp-shinned and Cooper’s — are learning to hunt on their own and stalking feeders. The adults could be out there lurking, too. Perhaps a new cat is in the neighborhood and scaring the birds away from yards and into the safety of cover.
Finally — and to my thinking the most plausible reason — the birds are perhaps finding all they need from natural sources. There is plentiful food out there in the real world for birds in the fall, especially a fall like this that has been warm and dry.
There are seeds galore to be had from flowers such as coneflower, black-eyed susan, coreopsis, sedum, and sunflowers, as well as countless weed and grass varieties. The birds don’t really need the feeders in this time of plenty. Sure, they often do come when natural food is plentiful, but sometimes they don’t.
When they don’t come to feeders, it’s a temporary pause. The birds will be back. Weather will turn for the worse soon enough and natural food sources will decrease dramatically. That will bring the birds back to the feeders for supplemental food sources again.
So they will be back. I promise. Make sure the seeds in the feeders are fresh. If birds haven’t visited in a few weeks, it’s probably a good idea to change out those seeds with fresh ones. Rain or humidity could have seeped in and made the seeds moldy or otherwise spoiled.
Are you experiencing a slowdown at your feeders or is it business as usual? Let me know by dropping me a line at http://www.birdsofnewengland.com

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Gardening with Melinda: Plant easy-care daffodils now for added spring beauty

Photo by Longfield-Gardens.com Unique daffodil varieties like Lingerie offer double flowering.

Photo by Longfield-Gardens.com
Unique daffodil varieties like Lingerie offer double flowering.

By Melinda Myers

Daffodils have a cheery presence in the spring garden and are a surefire way to chase away the winter blues. These fall-planted bulbs are also reliable perennials that require no maintenance and are not bothered by deer or other pests. The National Garden Bureau has declared 2017 the Year of the Daffodil, and with the fall planting season right around the corner, now is the time to choose your favorites.

Yellow trumpet daffodils are classics, but there are many other flower styles and colors to choose from. Double-flowering types like white and yellow Lingerie and long lasting lemon-yellow Sherbourne feature multiple rows of petals and some varieties look more like peonies than daffodils.

Multi-flowering varieties like Beautiful Eyes, display several flowers on each stem. This variety’s white and orange blossoms have a gardenia-like fragrance. Miniature Continue reading

For the Birds: Busy Kinglet is in constant motion

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-crowned Kinglet perches on a branch in New England.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-crowned Kinglet perches on a branch in New England.

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

I thought it was going to be the easiest bird photo I’ve ever taken.

There was the kinglet, literally right at my feet. It was hopping along the beach a few weeks ago looking for small insects among the plants popping out of the sand. It was a male ruby-crowned kinglet and he was alone at this stage of his migration.

I grabbed the camera from the front seat and got out of the car for what I thought would be a quick strike. It wasn’t. The kinglet didn’t fly away and didn’t run away. It just wouldn’t sit still — not even for a second. Now I know how department store children’s photographers feel on their bad days.

First, let’s familiarize ourselves with the kinglet. There are two types of kinglet: ruby-crowned kinglet and golden-crowned kinglet. The ruby-crowned kinglet has an eye-ring that doesn’t quite make it all the way around its eye. The golden-crowned kinglet has no eye-ring, but rather an eye stripe.

To tell the species apart I like to think of a “ruby ring.” Hey, it works for me.

The male ruby-crowned kinglet has a small patch of red on the top of his head, while the female has no patch. With the golden-crowned kinglet, the male has an orangish patch outlined in yellow and the female has a yellow patch.

Keep in mind that the colorful patches are not always visible, especially on the ruby-crowned.

Usually the species stick together, but I’ll never forget the time I looked out a window of my house and saw a ruby-crowned kinglet and a golden-crowned kinglet cross paths on a hemlock branch. If I ever wanted a side-by-side comparison, that was my chance.

The kinglets are also among the smallest birds we see here in New England. The golden-crowned measures about 4 inches, while the ruby-crowned is a whopping 4 ½ inches. By comparison, the black-capped chickadee is about 5 inches (slightly larger than both kinglets) and the ruby-throated hummingbird is almost 4 inches (only slightly smaller than the kinglets).

Their tiny size makes it a challenge to photograph them. Even with a powerful lens, it’s tough to fill the frame.

But the real challenge is their energy. They don’t sit still. By the time the camera’s auto-focus feature nails the subject, the bird is gone. It’s not far away, perhaps only an inch or two, but far enough to throw off the focus.

Now back to my beach-combing ruby-crowned kinglet.

I performed the auto-focus dance for a while before switching to manual focus, which proved to be even more frustrating. Usually focusing required only a slight turn of the lens one way or the other, but I always picked the wrong way. By the time I corrected the error — you guessed it — the bird was elsewhere.

The bird never went very far and at one point was about a foot away from my shoes. I had already determined before that moment that my presence didn’t bother him. The last thing I’d want to do is deny a hungry migrating bird of a good food source, which it obviously had found at the beach.

I wasn’t disturbing him, but he certainly wasn’t cooperating with me either. He was very busy. No time for posing.

After several minutes of trying to catch the little guy, I remembered the last time I had tried to photograph kinglets. I was at a Connecticut park and there were kinglets all over the place in the bushes. In a way that experience was even more frustrating because I didn’t know which kinglet to target and, no matter which one I picked, it was constant motion. I never did get a great photo that day, despite there being dozens of little subjects flitting around the bushes.

But on this day there was only one subject on which to channel my efforts. The results were not much better. I got a couple of decent photos and a bunch of blurry images of a male ruby-crowned kinglet’s tail. A few photos showed nothing but landscape: sand and weeds, no bird. I missed the little guy by a split second, but it may as well have been an hour.

But I can laugh about it now. My therapist says that’s a good thing. He also suggests that I just look at kinglets from now on and not try to photograph them. What does he know? Next time I’ll do better.

Continue reading

For the Birds: Fall has it all

Photo by Chris Bosak A green Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly clings on to a vine wrapped around a stalk on a meadow property of the Darien Land Trust, summer 2013.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A green Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly clings on to a vine wrapped around a stalk on a meadow property of the Darien Land Trust.

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

Early fall is an exciting time, not only for birdwatchers, but for watchers of nature in general.

Male white-tailed deer and moose have their antlers fully grown and ready for the rut, or breeding season. What were little nubs of antlers in early spring are impressive racks for fighting, intimidating other males and showing off in front of the females.

Some say that spring is the best time for watching nature, but only in the fall can we appreciate the beauty and majesty of fully grown antlers. 

Seeing a bull moose in July is a memorable experience. Seeing a bull moose in the fall is an unforgettable experience.

Early fall is also a time when a birdwatcher can really pile on the numbers for a species-seen list. Herons and egrets are still around. Shorebirds are still migrating. Songbirds are moving south as well. Waterfowl start migrating through New England. Continue reading

Gardening with Melinda: Proper tree planting and care is critical to survival

The GreenWell water saver contains and concentrates the water where it is needed during a tree’s critical root establishment phase.

The GreenWell water saver contains and concentrates the water where it is needed during a tree’s critical root establishment phase.

By Melinda Myers

Whether planting a tree to add seasonal beauty, grow backyard fruit, provide a bit of shade, or reduce energy costs, it’s a big upfront investment.  Make the most of your money spent by giving your tree its best chance at survival with proper planting and care.

Now is a great time to plant trees. Cooler air temperatures make it less stressful on newly planted trees and the gardeners planting them.

Select a tree suited to the growing conditions. Make sure it tolerates the sunlight, soil and temperature extremes. Check the tag for the mature height and spread. You’ll have a better-looking plant that always fits the space with minimal pruning.

Plant it correctly to insure your tree thrives for many years to come. Dig a Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.