About Chris Bosak

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

Full length shot of the heron; check out those legs

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Blue Heron rests on a log in a pond in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Blue Heron rests on a log in a pond in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

Well, you can see one leg anyway. The other is tucked into its feathers as a way to regulate blood flow and keep extremities from freezing — a ploy used by many birds. I like the spot of blue by the heron’s eye.

More heron photos to come shortly. Another heron was hanging out nearby, too. More on that one soon.

Gardening with Melinda: Grow a bigger garden in a smaller space

Gardener’s Supply Company Planter boxes with built-in trellises like this Apex trellis planter enable gardeners to maximize their garden space for growing vegetables and flowers.

Gardener’s Supply Company
Planter boxes with built-in trellises like this Apex trellis planter enable gardeners to maximize their garden space for growing vegetables and flowers.

By Melinda Myers

Whether in the ground or on a balcony or deck, there’s always room to grow your own garden-fresh produce and beautiful flowers.  Space saving gardening techniques and products can help you increase productivity in any available space.

Consider elevated gardens and planter carts that not only save space, but make gardens more accessible. Movable carts like the Demeter Mobile Planter Cart allow you to grow flowers and produce in narrow spaces, store garden accessories and move the garden into the sunlight or out of the way of guests as needed.

Save more space by going vertical.  Look for containers and raised garden beds with built-in trellises and plant supports.  Just plant your pole beans, peas, cucumbers or tomatoes and attach them to the supports as they grow.  Support the large fruit of squash and melons with cloth or macramé slings. Just cradle the fruit in the sling and secure it to the trellis. You’ll not only save space, but reduce disease problems and make harvesting a breeze.

Double your planting space by growing shade tolerant greens under cucumbers, growing on a cucumber or A-frame trellis.  Set the trellis in place and plant the greens in early spring as soon as the soil is workable.  Plant your cucumbers next to the trellis as soon as the soil warms.  As your cucumbers grow they shade the greens below keeping them a bit cooler and extending the harvest season. Just make sure you can reach the greens beneath the supports for planting, weeding and harvesting.

Extend the growing season with a Year Round Kitchen Garden.  Grow greens and herbs under lights attached to a raised bed on wheels. When the outdoor planting season arrives, remove the lights and roll your garden onto the patio or deck.  Continue planting and harvesting outdoors until it is time to roll it back inside to start your indoor garden.

Or top your raised bed and containers with frost protective coverings. Many have built-in frames to support greenhouse covers, allowing you to plant earlier and harvest later in the season. And once the weather warms switch out the cover for an insect-protective fabric or mesh. These fabric coverings prevent insects like cabbage worms from damaging cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts and keep root maggots off radishes.

Select planters that complement your landscape design and gardening style. Wood, metal and colorful raised beds and containers add beauty, durability and growing space. Galvanized planters, cedar raised beds, and those in eye-catching colors found at Gardener’s Supply make your raised bed a beautiful focal point in the garden. Or fill your planters with tall grasses, cannas, elephant ears and other plants to create an attractive screen.

Look for multi-purpose furnishings and accessories to maximize your space and enjoyment.  Fire pits that become a table or bench can double as a cooler, making relaxing and entertaining in small gardens a real possibility. Or how about planters with built-in hidden storage like the Green Box Elevated Planter Box. You’ll enjoy the convenience of having your garden tools handy, yet out of sight. 

Use these space saving ideas to help increase the beauty, productivity and enjoyment your garden can provide.  With the right combination of growing techniques and garden accessories you, your family and guests will create beautiful memories throughout the gardening season.


Melinda Myers is the author of more than 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 Gardener’s Supply for her expertise to write this article. Myers’ web site is www.melindamyers.com.

Great blue heron with breeding plumage in the snow

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Blue Heron rests on a log in a pond in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Blue Heron rests on a log in a pond in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

Despite the 14 inches of snow that fell in Danbury, Conn., a few days ago, this Great Blue Heron is ready for spring and sporting its breeding plumage. Late winter snow falls can make for some interesting photos for sure.

Last shot of the great gray owl

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Gray Owl hovers over a field in Newport, N.H., in March 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Gray Owl hovers over a field in Newport, N.H., in March 2017.

Here’s the only shot I manged to get of the owl in flight. I wasn’t in the right position as the owl was a few yards too far to the right (or I was too far to the left). As of Monday evening, the owl was still being seen regularly. We’ll see how the storm impacts things.

What a visit this has been from a great bird.

For up-to-date information, click here.

Great gray owl braves the snow (Newport, N.H.)

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Gray Owl perches in a pine tree and battles windy, snowy conditions in Newport, N.H., in March 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Gray Owl perches in a pine tree and battles windy, snowy conditions in Newport, N.H., in March 2017.

While visiting the great gray owl the other day, a few wind gusts and snow squalls rolled through adding to the uniqueness of the scene. The owl itself braved the conditions just fine … of course, it’s a bird of the Boreal Forest so extreme weather is part of life for these birds. If anything, the conditions made things more difficult for us humans, but I don’t think the owl really gave a hoot about our comfort.

Snow always adds an interesting element to photos anyway, but throw in a great gray owl as the subject and you have the potential for a really cool photo.

The owl is still being seen in Newport, N.H. as of this morning (Saturday, March 11, 2017). Thanks to Dylan Jackson of Sunapee, N.H. for the frequent updates for us out-of-town fans.

There has been some concern expressed on the rare bird alert list about some visitors not following proper wildlife viewing etiquette while checking out the bird. Indeed, during the short time I was there Thursday morning, one eager visitor approached way too closely and flushed the bird to another perch. I see this a lot when moose watching in northern New Hampshire. I understand the urge to get closer and closer, but the needs of the animal always have to come first.

If you go see the bird — and if you’re anywhere near Newport, N.H., I encourage you to do so — keep a respectful distance and let the owl go about its day. It needs to hunt and rest as always even though it’s in a foreign area.

Let me know if you venture to see the owl.

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Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Gray Owl perches in a pine tree and battles windy, snowy conditions in Newport, N.H., in March 2017.

I’m not a chaser, but a Great Gray Owl? Come on

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Gray Owl perches in a tree overlooking a field in Newport, N.H., in March 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Gray Owl perches in a tree overlooking a field in Newport, N.H., in March 2017.

As the headline says, I don’t typically chase rare birds around the region. It’s not that I don’t want to see the birds, but either family or work obligations usually prohibit me from taking long drives to see a bird.

But a Great Gray Owl within 3 1/2 hours? I gotta make that effort. I still had work but couldn’t risk waiting until the weekend should the bird decide to take off and not be found again. So I pulled a maneuver I used to do fairly often before I had kids: I basically pulled an all-nighter. I slept restlessly from midnight to 2:15 a.m. and drove three hours to Keene, N.H., to pick up my old friend Steve Hooper. Then we drove another 40 minutes to Newport, N.H., where this awesome bird had been seen in the same field each day for about a week straight. (I knew that thanks to the ABA rare bird alert.)

Hoop and I followed the directions and arrived at the scene at about 6:20 a.m. A rare bird alert message posted at 6:15 a.m. confirmed that the bird was indeed there. I was minutes away from seeing my first Great Gray Owl.

We walked a short distance down a trail, saw a handful of people and joined the small crowd. Sure enough, there was the owl, sitting in a bare deciduous tree surveying the field and ignoring his fans.

At one point it flew to another nearby deciduous tree and then eventually flew another short distance to a pine tree. The wind was strong and snow squalls came and went, but otherwise it was a rather pleasant day for the owl and his human visitors — especially for New Hampshire in early March.

I was hoping to see one more flight, but time was short. I had to drop off Hoop and drive the 3 1/2 hours back to Connecticut to get to work in the a.m. So by 10:30 a.m. I had driven to New Hampshire and back, and saw my first-ever Great Gray Owl. Just the old days.

Here are a few photos with more to come in the days ahead. Also coming soon is more information on the Great Gray Owl as a species.

No promises on how long it will stick around, of course, but here’s a link to a news story about the owl with directions on where to find it. 

And here’s the link to the ABA’s Rare Bird Alert with updates on the owl (and other sightings).

 

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Gray Owl perches in a pine tree in Newport, N.H., in March 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Gray Owl perches in a pine tree in Newport, N.H., in March 2017.


Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Gray Owl perches in a tree overlooking a field in Newport, N.H., in March 2017.

Putting another homemade bird feeder to the test

Photo by Chris Bosak  A white-breasted nuthatch takes a sunflower seed from a homemade platform feeder in March 2017, in Danbury, Conn.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A white-breasted nuthatch takes a sunflower seed from a homemade platform feeder in March 2017, in Danbury, Conn.

I know I’m not breaking any ground with the design of this homemade bird feeder, but figured I’d share it anyway. I’ve been wanting a platform feeder for a while now. The ones I made last year simply by cutting a thin section of a tree trunk with a chainsaw worked for a few months, but I didn’t treat them and they dried up, cracked warped and eventually fell apart.

On to plan B, which was to check out some offerings at stores. I saw one I liked but its design was so simple I couldn’t justify spending money on it. So I mulled it over and procrastinated for a long while before heading into the basement to sift through the scrap wood left by the previous owners of the house.

Almost right away I found an old, wooden cabinet door. The bottom (or inside) already had two thin pieces of wood running near the edges. All I had to do was add two more pieces to close the box and keep the seed contained and I would be done. Just as easily said than done.

The only tricky part was getting it to hang straight, or at least relatively straight. The small chain I used at first just wasn’t cutting it. It would hang low on one end so I’d adjust the links and only make it worse. So I dug out some old carabiner/keychain tchotchkes and linked the same number on each side of the feeder. It still didn’t hang perfectly straight, but that’s fine because I like it slightly angled toward the house anyway. Also, the angle will allow for drainage in heavy rains. (I love when I can justify flaws in my creations.)

As you can see, it’s also a fairly sizable feeder so I can offer a variety of foods at once. It’s working great already and I look forward to sharing photos of future visitors. It’s got rose-breasted grosbeak written all over it. Time will tell.

Photo by Chris Bosak  A white-breasted nuthatch takes a sunflower seed from a homemade platform feeder in March 2017, in Danbury, Conn.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A white-breasted nuthatch takes a sunflower seed from a homemade platform feeder in March 2017, in Danbury, Conn.

 

Latest For the Birds column: Surviving the cold in the bird world

Photo by Chris Bosak A Northern Cardinal perches near a feeder during a snowstorm in Danbury, Conn., Jan. 23, 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Northern Cardinal perches near a feeder during a snowstorm in Danbury, Conn., Jan. 23, 2016.

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

Despite the welcomed warm weekend, it had been a pretty rough past few weeks weather-wise. Snow, sleet, cold temperatures … in other words, a New England winter.

Most people survive winter by not venturing outdoors and, if it’s necessary to go out, limiting their exposure to the elements to short walks to and from the car. Those who do venture out into the snow, for fun or work, bundle up in apparel scientifically designed to battle the cold.

Birds don’t have the luxury of going inside and turning up the heat. Yet they have survived for eons the worst elements New England can throw at them. It’s nothing short of spectacular when you think about how they do it.

First of all, the ones that are not designed to survive a New England winter hightail it out of the region in the fall. They know what’s coming and head for warmer climes.

That alone is fascinating to think about. Some birds survive by fleeing the cold, some birds survive by toughing it out. Each strategy has its risks and rewards. The birds know which one works best for them.

Unfortunately, some birds that do stick around to battle the elements like true New Englanders will perish during the winter. This is particularly true of individual birds of a species that typically heads south for the winter. Most great blue herons and black-crowned night herons move south for the winter. Some stick around New England and brave the cold. If a winter is too harsh and the bird can’t find enough food, some of those birds will perish.

The same is true of Carolina wrens. They are relatively new to New England, having slowly expanded their range northward, and a harsh winter can take a toll on the population of the handsome little birds.

But, by and large, birds survive these harsh winters just fine.

I was surprised, however, to not see a single Carolina wren last week as I watched the snow falling. Usually one or two show up at my feeders and entertain me during a storm.

Most birds survive the cold nights by seeking shelter to stay out of the elements. I remember a few winters ago seeing a small bird fly under my neighbor’s awning. My curiosity got the better of me, and I had to check under the awning to see if the bird had found a comfy spot. Sure enough, I found a black-capped chickadee tucked into an impossibly small crevice in the corner of the awning. I saw the bird the next evening take the same route under awning.

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Latest For the Birds column: Be prepared for snowstorms by filling birdfeeders

Photo by Chris Bosak A Brown Creeper finds food at the base of a tree during a cold snap in February 2016, Danbury, Connecticut.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Brown Creeper finds food at the base of a tree during a cold snap in February 2016, Danbury, Connecticut.

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in several New England newspapers. (Note the date of the Great Backyard Bird Count has passed for this year.)

When I know a major snowstorm is coming, I want to be well prepared.

That does not include a trip to the grocery store to buy milk, bread, bottled water or any other essentials like that. That stuff I can get after everything is plowed or dug out — usually the next day.

For me, being prepared means making sure my camera batteries are charged, lenses cleaned and storage card emptied. It also means making sure the feeders are full before the storm hits. Perhaps I’ll add a few special treats for the birds in preparation for the snow.

The latest predicted snowstorm did not disappoint. It was supposed to start overnight, and it did. Thankfully I had filled the feeders before going to bed. I woke up to several inches of fresh snow and nonstop action at the feeders.

Juncos were the most prolific bird of the day. They typically hang around the ground seeking seeds, but with snow covering the ground, they perched on feeders alongside the chickadees, titmice and nuthatches.

It was a great storm, and the snow fell all day. Other than a snowshoe hike with the boys, I kept an eye on the feeders most of the day. Nothing too unusual showed up, but the falling snow made for a spectacular scene.

Several New Hampshire readers sent me photos of the birds they saw that day. A collection is available on my website, www.birdsofnewengland.com. If you took any bird photos that day and haven’t shared them with anyone yet, feel free to send them to me at bozclark@earthlink.net. I’ll add them to collection for the world to see.

Speaking of sharing bird sightings, the 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up this weekend, taking place Friday, Feb. 17 to Monday, Feb. 20. It is your chance to contribute to a data base of winter bird sightings. The data is used to track bird populations and identify potential problems before they become irreversible.

All it takes is 15 minutes (or longer, of course) of counting birds and entering your checklist online at www.birdcount.org. You can count the birds alone or with a group, in your backyard or in the woods, for 15 minutes or all four days. It’s that easy. Checklists must be submitted online, however.

“The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way to introduce people to participation in citizen science,” Gary Langham, the Audubon Society’s vice president and chief scientist, said in a news release. “No other program allows volunteers to take an instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations that can contribute to our understanding of how a changing climate is affecting birds.”

The project is growing quickly. In the first year, 13,500 checklists were submitted from the U.S. and Canada. Last year, nearly 164,000 checklists were submitted from more than 100 countries.

It’s a fun project, too, and a good way to introduce children to the joys of birdwatching and citizen science.

Get out there and count.