More fox sparrow/snow photos

Photo by Chris Bosak A fox sparrow perches on the snow in Danbury, Conn., Nov. 16, 2018.
As an addendum to my last post, here are some more photos of the fox sparrows that are visiting my yard today following a snow and ice storm.  Later today or tomorrow, I’ll add some photos of the goldfinches that are visiting today. There are lots of them. 
Photo by Chris Bosak A fox sparrow perches on the snow in Danbury, Conn., Nov. 16, 2018.
Photo by Chris Bosak A fox sparrow and junco eat sunflower seeds following an ice storm in Danbury, Conn., Nov. 16, 2018.
Photo by Chris Bosak A fox sparrow perches on the snow in Danbury, Conn., Nov. 16, 2018.

First snow brings fox sparrows

Photo by Chris Bosak A fox sparrow eats sunflower seeds from the ground during an ice storm in Danbury, Conn., Nov. 16, 2018.

Southern New England got its first snow of the season on Thursday evening, a bit earlier than usual on Nov. 15. At some point overnight, the snow gave way to a snow/freezing rain mixture. The four or five inches of snow that fell now has a hard layer of ice on top. 

The harsh weather brought in a pair of unexpected, but welcomed, visitors: fox sparrows. The large sparrows, which are also a bit more colorful than the usual sparrows in New England, show up sporadically throughout the region, mostly during the winter. With strange weather gripping the region, keep an eye out for unexpected visitors at your feeder stations. Let me know what you see by commenting on this post.

Goldfinch on coneflower

Photo by Chris Bosak
An American goldfinch perches on a coneflower head, Nov. 2018.

Since I have some late-blooming coneflower thanks to a clearance sale at a nearby big-box hardware store, I may as well milk the blooms when it comes to photographing birds. Here’s a shot I took today (Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018) of an American goldfinch eating seeds from one of the dead heads.

More shots featuring the flowers coming soon, I’m sure. Best $2 flowers I ever bought!

Lingering garden scene

Scenes like this are quickly fading as winter starts to creep into New England. These coneflowers have lingered into late fall because I purchased them at a box hardware store on clearance a few weeks ago. I’m hoping the flowers return next year, but until then I’m enjoying their later-than-usual blooms. The birds are, too, of course.

For the Birds: It’s safe in the woods — mostly

Photo by Chris Bosak
Yellow jackets are one of the few threats to New England wildlife watchers.

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

Being an avid wildlife watcher in New England is a relatively safe proposition.

Notice I included the word relatively.

We do have two types of poisonous snakes in our region, but they are rarely seen and not widespread. Travel south or west and snakes become a bigger concern.

In all of my hours in the New England woods searching for birds, moose and other wildlife, I can count on one finger the number of times I have seen a bear. So, if just seeing a bear is very uncommon then the likelihood of a New England black bear attacking someone is remote at best.

Without getting too deep into the controversial subject of mountain lions in New England, it is safe to say that the odds of being attacked by a catamount in our region are extremely low.

Don’t let the lack of large dangers lull you into a false sense of security, however. Dangers do lurk, but they are smaller in size and more subtle in their “attacks.”

We may not have scorpions, black widows, or tarantulas in New England, but we do have our share of Continue reading

Bumble bee and pollen

One of the nice things about fall — in addition to the foliage, apples, pumpkins and cool weather — is going to the nursery clearance sales. Perennials that were out of my price range in July are suddenly a fraction of the cost. 
Perennials planted in the fall will pop up again next spring just like all the other perennials in the garden. Another nice thing about buying these plants late in the fall is that they are still blooming. Other than the sedum, my other perennials faded a few weeks ago. Now I have some nice pink and white coneflower blooms that are attracting a lot of bees, especially bumble bees.

The bee in the accompanying photos is obviously finding its fill of pollen. 

Happy New England fall!

For the Birds: Hummingbird feeders are for hummingbirds

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers. Yes, back-to-back hummingbird columns.

Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbirds hovers near a feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in April 2017.
Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbirds hovers near a feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in April 2017.

The hummingbird questions kept coming, so why not devote one more column in 2018 to these little charmers?

This time the question came from Pamela, whose hummingbird feeders in East Alstead are “covered with yellow jackets,” and preventing the intended targets from visiting.

“The poor hummers can’t get near it! The yellow jackets drank the whole thing in one day,” she wrote.

I think we can all relate to this quandary. Whether it’s ants, yellow jackets, or as was my case earlier this summer, raccoons, keeping hummingbird feeders open and available for hummingbirds can be a challenge.

When the raccoons ravaged my hummingbird feeders nightly this summer, I got fed up and simply moved the feeder a few feet way to the clothesline. No more raccoon problem. The hummingbirds found it just fine and actually appreciate the extra-long perch.

So how does that relate to yellow jackets, which certainly aren’t going to be daunted by flying a few feet to the left or right? Well, according to some experts in the field, that just might be enough to discourage yellow jackets.

The educational and fun website Journey North states that insects are “only likely to visit convenient sources and probably won’t search for relocated feeders.”

So, if you’re hummingbird feeder is inundated by yellow jackets, ants or some other insects, try moving it somewhere close so the birds can find it, but still in a place where you can see and enjoy it.

If that doesn’t work and the insects still take over, Journey North offers more tips on discouraging yellow jackets from visiting hummingbird feeders.

First, the site cautions against using cooking oil, petroleum jelly or any other oily substance that can get onto the birds’ feathers.

Clean the feeders regularly. If the sugar water spills or leaks, clean it up and rinse with water. It doesn’t take a genius to know sugar water is going to attract bugs (my words, not Journey North’s).

Use feeders designed to keep insects away.

“Feeders with saucers position the nectar away from the feeding port where long-tongued hummers can reach nectar, but insects cannot,” the site reads. Or, you can try installing insect traps that are sold in bird and hardware stores.

Insect guards placed in the holes of feeders can also be useful, but don’t use yellow ones as bees are attracted to yellow. Yellow guards already attached to the feeder may be painted red with non-toxic paint.

Speaking of red, remember the “nectar” in the feeder does not need to be red, and, in fact, dyes should be avoided. One part sugar to four parts water is all that’s needed.

Because I borrowed so much from Journey North, I’ll add a bit more information about the site and encourage you to check it out. Journey North for more than 25 years has been a citizen science project in North America for children and the public at large. Sightings of creatures, such as hummingbirds and butterflies, are recorded and mapped in real-time to track migration patterns.

One more tip about feeding hummingbirds this time of year. Last week we established that it is OK to keep feeding hummingbirds into the fall and it will not impact their instinct to head south. So, if you are going to keep feeding hummers for as long as possible, make sure the feeder is filled.

At this time of year, with migration on their minds, they are filling up as much as possible. One day, or even a few hours, with an empty feeder could cause the birds to seek food elsewhere and they may not come back until next year.

Good luck and let me know what you’re seeing out there.