White-breasted nuthatch

Photo by Chris Bosak A white-breasted nuthatch clings to a dead branch in New England, September 2020.

Here’s a new white-breasted nuthatch photo, just because.

Did you know nuthatches can walk down a tree? Most birds can only climb up a tree, but nuthatches can walk down as well, offering them a different angle of a tree’s bark to look for food.

Birds and salvia Part I

Photo by Chris Bosak A red-bellied woodpecker stands on a deck railing next to salvia blooms in New England, September 2020.

A few years ago I purchased a few bunches of coneflower late in the season and they made for a perfect setting for bird photos on my deck in the fall. This year, the salvia I purchased early this spring has grown enough to make a nice setting for birds eating seeds off the deck railing. The hummingbirds like the salvia too! Click here for one of those coneflower photos. Click here for some hummingbird drinking from salvia shots.

I’ll post a few more salvia shots tomorrow.

Photo by Chris Bosak A black-capped chickadee eats sunflower seeds near salvia blooms in New England, September 2020.

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For the Birds: When birds choose ‘your’ flowers

Photo by Chris Bosak An American goldfinch looks for seeds atop a coneflower in New England, summer 2020.

There are few things more satisfying to the backyard birdwatcher than having a bird eat seeds or fruits from something planted by the birdwatcher’s own hands.

Well, that’s my opinion anyway and it was made clear the other day when a small flock of American goldfinches descended upon my small patch of purple coneflowers for a late afternoon meal.

That opening statement comes with some qualifications, most importantly if you want the birds to be eating the seeds or fruits. I don’t know why anyone would mind birds eating seeds from a flower garden. I also don’t know why anyone would mind birds eating fruits from, say, dogwood trees, crabapple trees or winterberry bushes.

If, however, the fruit is being grown for human consumption, such as cherries or blackberries, then I can understand how there would be frustration on the part of the gardener.

I used to live in an apartment owned by a family that grew some fruits and vegetables on the property. Year after year, the cherries never got to see the light of the kitchen as birds, mostly starlings, ate the fruits before they were ready to be picked. My landlord was mighty frustrated and tried everything to prevent it from happening. He tried noise deterrents and scary-looking balloons, but the starlings were unfazed by it all.

So, yes, there are exceptions to my opening statement, but edible fruits aside, I stand by it. I always get a thrill in late summer or early fall when the goldfinches perch precariously atop the coneflower and pick out the tiny seeds. As the fall progresses, I can usually find a few kinglets (ruby-crowned and golden-crowned) among the sedum.

Sunflowers are great for attracting birds, which makes sense since the best and most versatile feeder food is sunflower seeds. Goldfinches and downy woodpeckers are the most reliable customers when I grow sunflowers.

I love any hummingbird sighting, but there is something more satisfying about seeing one feed from a plant growing in the garden or hanging near the deck than drinking from a feeder.

I’ve never had much luck growing berries, but one house I used to live in had a wild black cherry tree in the front yard. I used to love to watch the robins attack the tree every fall. I would always hope cedar waxwings would come too. To my knowledge, they never did and the robins did a pretty good job of stripping the tree of all its fruits.

Planting native flowers, bushes and trees is a welcomed trend among homeowners and landscapers. It is helping birds, pollinators and other native wildlife even as we continue to take away their natural habitat.

It is exciting to see these plants come back year after year. It’s even better when you see the plants supporting other native wildlife.

Photo by Chris Bosak An American goldfinch looks for seeds atop a coneflower in New England, summer 2020.

Goldfinches invade coneflower patch

Photo by Chris Bosak An American goldfinch looks for seeds atop a coneflower in New England, summer 2020.

I don’t have a lot of garden space on my property as it is predominately shaded. I do have a few sunny spots and I wasted no time in planting some native perennials, including coneflower. The goldfinches come every year when the flower heads start to die off. The goldfinches started arriving this week and have returned daily. There will be more photos of the goldfinches coming up soon, I’m sure.

The photogenic nuthatch

Photo by Chris Bosak A white-breasted nuthatch grabs a sunflower seed from a deck railing in New England, August 2020.

I feel like I’ve taken this photo 100 times, a nuthatch with a seed in its bill. Here are a few more. I find white-breasted nuthatches to be very photogenic and rarely pass up an opportunity to capture them on film — well, you know what I mean.

Photo by Chris Bosak A white-breasted nuthatch grabs a sunflower seed from a deck railing in New England, August 2020.

For the Birds: Hummingbirds ride out the storm

Photo by Chris Bosak A female ruby-throated hummingbird hovers in a backyard in New England, August 2020.

Tropical Storm Isaias really put on a show as it blasted its way through New England. Wind, rain and tornado warnings ruled the day last Tuesday as the storm packed a bigger punch than expected.

My sons and I stood on the screened-in porch and watched as 50 mph winds roared through the woods in the backyard. We ignored the occasional rain that wind gusts blew through the screen. Small maples bent like those inflatable tubes you see outside some businesses. Dead or dying ash trees threatened to topple and, indeed, many did throughout the neighborhood. We were lucky. At one point we heard the alarming sound of a huge tree or branch cracking. I was ready to scramble into the house for protection, but Andrew pointed out that the fracture was occurring in the woods safely away from the house. He pointed out a massive branch high around the top of a gigantic oak tree that had peeled away from the trunk. It never did fall as it got stuck among the canopy branches of nearby trees.

We lost power before 2 p.m. Tuesday and, as I write three days later, it hasn’t been restored. It may take a few more days as trees and power lines are down all throughout the neighborhood. We are hardly alone. More than a million households lost power throughout New England, including more than 700,000 in Connecticut alone.

It’s safe to say Isaias was a major event. I won’t soon forget the sights and sounds of the beast roaring through the woods and leaving a wake of destruction as it headed north. Through it all, believe it or not, my hummingbirds visited the feeder as if nothing was happening. I have three hummingbirds that visit daily: two females and one male. One of the females rules the roost and is constantly chasing the others away. She sat contentedly on the feeder as those 50 mph winds violently swayed the clothesline on which it hangs. The boys Continue reading

For the Birds: Complain and they will come

Photo by Chris Bosak A female ruby-throated hummingbird visits a flower in New England, July 2020.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in several New England newspapers …

Apparently, all I had to do to get my hummingbirds back this summer was complain to my neighbor.

I had had frequent visits from both male and female hummingbirds early in the spring. The daily visits continued for a few weeks and then stopped abruptly. Last year, and the year before that, the visits never stopped and I saw them daily until the fall.

This year, June was largely a hummingbird-free month in my backyard. 

During a walk around the neighborhood last week, I noticed a neighbor had bird feeders on her deck so I stopped to chat about what birds she had been seeing. She had a few of the usual suspects but didn’t mention hummingbirds. 

I inquired about the tiny birds and she said: “Yes. I see them every day.”

“That’s great,” I replied. “I haven’t seen mine in a while.”

I went on to bore her with the details of my previous years’ good fortune. She feigned interest, we chatted a little more and then said goodbye. 

The birding gods must have heard me griping and took pity on me because, the very next day, a female hummingbird showed up at my feeder. She has been back every day since, too. It is very territorial as I have seen her chase away other hummingbirds. Another female and a male have started showing up now and then, too, when the queen is away.

In previous years, a female has dominated my feeders throughout the summer so I wonder if she is the same bird I have been seeing for years. At any rate, it is nice to see the hummingbirds back in the yard. It is also nice to know there are several of them, even if I get only brief glimpses of the other ones before they are chased away.

I have a few feeders and several flowers to lure the hummingbirds. She prefers the feeders, but on occasion will sip from the flowers. This year, most of my flowers are red salvia, an annual with tubular shaped blooms. In the past, I’ve seen hummingbirds visit my coneflower and even sunflowers.

Complaining usually doesn’t solve problems and often makes them worse, but in this case, things worked out pretty well. I plan to take a trip to northern New England in a few weeks in the hopes of finding some of New England’s disappearing moose. Maybe I should proactively start complaining now in the hopes of getting the same results for that trip?

For the Birds: Grosbeaks delay closing

Photo by Chris Bosak A rose-breasted grosbeak perches on a branch in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.

So much for taking a break from feeding the birds. 

I mentioned in last week’s column that I had taken down my feeders for the summer as my visits had dwindled to a few species. I also mentioned that I continued to maintain a large platform feeder on my deck to keep those few birds happy. Well, that platform feeder is busier than ever. 

One day last week, while working from home and using the outdoor table on my deck as my office for the day, I watched as chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, catbirds, cardinals, blue jays, house finches, downy woodpeckers and red-bellied woodpeckers helped themselves to the offerings. 

The feeder, which is nothing more than a large, flat board I found in the basement, is big enough to hold a variety of foods: sunflower seeds, mealworms, suet nuggets and thistle seeds. I nailed a few small branches around the edge of the board to keep the seeds in place during windy days.

I was already pleasantly surprised by the variety of birds that were coming when a male rose-breasted grosbeak landed on the board. Thankfully, I had the foresight to bring the camera out to the table with me. I was quite sure the strikingly beautiful bird would take off as soon as I lifted my arms to grab the camera off the table as I was sitting only 9 or 10 feet away from the feeder. 

Slowly I moved my arms and watched as the black-and-white bird with a bright red triangular bib looked back at me. I was relieved when the bird looked away and started grabbing sunflower seeds. Still, I couldn’t risk double-checking my camera settings or autofocus point and I started photographing away. The settings were fine, luckily, and I got some nice, full-frame shots of the handsome songbird.

What also made the day special was that many of the birds that visited, especially the chickadees, titmice and downy woodpeckers, were first-year birds still gaining their adult plumage. The young woodpeckers usually arrived with a parent and watched and learned. It was amazing to think that some of these birds were born only a few weeks prior. I hope they visit for years to come and can avoid the many dangers birds face as they grow.

So I guess my summer feeding break isn’t going to pan out, which is fine with me. I’ll continue to enjoy the show as long as it lasts.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Rose-breasted Grosbeak visits a homemade platform feeder in Danbury, Conn., on May 6, 2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Rose-breasted Grosbeak visits a homemade platform feeder in Danbury, Conn., on May 6, 2016.

More rose-breasted grosbeak close-ups

Photo by Chris Bosak A rose-breasted grosbeak perches on a branch in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

I posted one close-up shot of a rose-breasted grosbeak last week, but of course, I have more shots. So here’s a couple more.

Photo by Chris Bosak A rose-breasted grosbeak perches on a branch in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.
Photo by Chris Bosak A rose-breasted grosbeak perches on a branch in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.