For the Birds: Giving for open space

A bonus For the Birds on this Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

photo by Chris Bosak
photo by Chris Bosak
Wild turkeys in New England.

It is the giving season. Not only for presents under the tree but also for charitable giving during the holiday season — not to mention before the year ends for tax purposes. Sorry, had to add in that bit of practicality.

It’s also the time of year to be thankful, what with Thanksgiving coming up in a few days and all. Like every year, I am thankful for the joy that birds and nature bring to my life on a daily basis. We are lucky to live in New England where we get to fully experience the intensity of each season. The winters are cold, the summers are hot, the autumns are crisp and breathtaking, and the springs are sometimes slow to arrive, but totally worth the wait as the flowers bloom and birdsong fills the air.

Each season also has its bird highlights and there is never a dull moment in the woods or otherwise in the field with binoculars around your neck. Even the dead of winter has its rich rewards for the birdwatcher.

My hope, and I would guess yours, too, is that it stays that way. An often-cited study released recently shows that nearly 30 percent of North America’s bird population has disappeared in only the last 50 years. Many nonprofit organizations make it their mission, or at least part of their mission, to save birds. So, since it’s the giving season, here are a few suggestions on where to direct your charitable giving, if you are so inclined to donate to conservation efforts.

There will be no birds — or at least very few — without suitable habitat. Local organizations such as land trusts make it their mission to protect land. They have other conservation and ecological reasons for wanting to protect open space in addition to helping birds, but that is certainly one of their main objectives.

Land trusts do not have a political agenda and they don’t support a million programs that you may or may not agree with. They simply want to protect land. Most land trusts have a very small budget and many are run entirely by volunteers. You know your money is going to the cause at hand, not to a CEO making triple figures.

The other nice thing about land trusts is that the land is saved in perpetuity. It will not be wildlife habitat one year and a condo or a strip mall the next. It will always be habitat.

Do an Internet search to find the land trust nearest you. Chances are there is one that serves the town you live in.

There are other state and local conservation organizations, of course, that do great work. Again, a simple Internet search will help identify some you may want to support.

On the national level, organizations such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, American Bird Conservancy, Audubon Society and American Birding Association all have birds at the heart of their mission. Check their websites to see what comes with a membership as many offer newsletters, magazines, course discounts, and other benefits. Hunting organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, and Pheasants Forever also do outstanding work for habitat preservation.

There are other conservation groups, such as Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy, that are also worthy of a look as you consider your charitable giving this year.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

A brief return to radio to talk about, what else?, birds

Photo by Chris Bosak
Common loons swim at May Pond in Pillsbury State Park in New Hampshire in June 2019.

Radio people often joke that they prefer that medium over television because they “have a face made for radio.” Well, after having my own radio show for a few years, I can say that I have a “voice made for newspapers.” (Hence, my long career in newspaper writing and editing.)

But, despite that, I recently appeared as a guest on John McGauley’s entertaining Friday radio show on WKBK in Keene, N.H. John reads my column in The Keene Sentinel and was intrigued by an article I had written about a bird population study. He asked if I’d do a quick interview to explain it further. Of course, I obliged and was happy to do so.

I hadn’t been on the radio since I pulled the plug on my Bird Calls Radio show six years ago (or thereabouts). John had some great questions and my answers were fairly intelligent (at least I think so) and delivered in my typical better-off-in-newspapers voice with lots of ums and ahs. So, if you’re a glutton for punishment, click on the link below. I’m on for about the first 20 minutes.

Click here for the audio.

Thanks to John and WKBK for the opportunity.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Common loons swim at May Pond in Pillsbury State Park in New Hampshire in June 2019.

Osprey comeback topic of keynote address

Alan Poole at Connecticut Audubon Society’s annual meeting held Monday, Oct, 7, 2019, at Pequot Library in Southport, CT.

I’ve taken a keen interest in the burgeoning osprey population ever since I covered the story about the osprey pair that built a nest at a Norwalk (Connecticut) beach park. The nest was being built high atop a light pole overlooking a softball field. It seemed a peculiar place to build a nest with the giant lights right there.

At the time, however, even more out of the ordinary was that an osprey pair was building a nest in Norwalk, which is a city in southwestern Connecticut on the shore of Long Island Sound. Norwalk hadn’t hosted an osprey nest — and certainly not one that public and visible — in many years, perhaps decades.

That was 2004. Fast forward 15 years and Norwalk is now home to a more than a dozen osprey nests. Connecticut, in fact, now has more than 500 osprey nests. All up and down the East Coast — shoreline and inland — ospreys have come back with a fury.

It is truly a conservation success story. Ospreys were nearly wiped out by pesticides in the 1950s. Now they have bounced back mightily throughout the U.S. and Europe, and their accompanying winter grounds in South America and Africa.

So when I saw that Alan F. Poole, a Massachusetts resident and noted expert/author on ospreys, was going to be the keynote speaker at the Connecticut Audubon Society’s annual meeting, I marked the date on my calendar.

Poole’s informative presentation on osprey included photos, graphs and charts on the incredible comeback of the “fish hawk.” Some tidbits from the presentation:

  • osprey are the only bird species that eats live fish exclusively
  • baby osprey take about 50 days to reach full size
  • in 1940 there were one thousand ospreys in New England; by the end of the 1950s only 90 pairs remained
  • artificial nesting sites such as man-made platforms and light poles have played a major role in the recovery
  • ospreys mate for life but do not migrate together
  • about half of the first-year osprey will die within the first year
  • osprey nests are made of large sticks and may weigh a half ton or more
  • osprey are gentle birds for the most part but will fiercely defend its nest
  • John James Audubon was a big fan of osprey and called them “This Famed Bird”
  • Osprey have self-sharpening talons as the hard upper layer of the talon grows faster than the soft under part

Poole recently wrote Ospreys: The Revival of a Global Raptor.

In other business, Connecticut Audubon Society (@CTAudubon) reinstated its officers, confirmed new board members and doled out awards to volunteers. It’s a great organization worthy of support.

Poole ended his presentation with an interesting comment. Referring to the study released a few weeks ago about the bird population decreasing by 29 percent since 1970, Poole said: “Ospreys are a good example that we can get things right if we pay attention and get organized.”

Amen to that.

Photo by Chris Bosak A first-year Osprey sits on the top of a sailboat mast along the Norwalk River in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2015.
Photo by Chris Bosak
A first-year Osprey sits on the top of a sailboat mast along the Norwalk River in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2015.

Bird population decline fodder II

BirdDeclines-migratory-28.jpg

Here are some more graphics from the recently released bird population study that showed a decline of 2.9 billion birds, or 29 percent, in North American over the last 50 years.

Here’s my recent article on it.

The study’s accompanying website is 3billionbirds.org

#BringBirdsBack

BirdDeclines-grassland-720.jpg

Northern bobwhite highlights walk

Photo by Chris Bosak
A northern bobwhite calls at Happy Landing in Brookfield, Connecticut, fall 2018.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a northern bobwhite in the wild. There are several reasons for that; the biggest being that the bird’s population has declined sharply over the years. Another reason is that 99 percent of my birdwatching is done in New England and the bobwhite is more of a southern bird. 

Despite all that I did come across a male northern bobwhite during a walk at Happy Landings in Brookfield, Connecticut, this morning (Dec. 12, 2018). It was walking along the path near a shrubby area and sauntered off into the brush as I continued along the trail. I walked several yards past the point where the bird had ducked into cover and I took a seat on the trail to see if the bird would come back out. Patience is a birdwatcher’s best tool, I reminded myself as I sat there motionless on this cold and sunny morning. 

My patience was never tested as the bird did come back through the brush and onto the trail in a matter of minutes. It stopped and called a few notes (not its trademark “Bob-white” song, but its less distinctive call) as I watched from a short distance away. It sat there still and called a few more times. I didn’t hear any response calls, but there could have been another bobwhite around. 

It’s hard to tell if this was truly a wild bird or a captive-bred bird that escaped or was released. Bobwhite is a popular game and farm bird. I didn’t notice any leg bands, so I’m hoping it was a bona fide wild bird. Either way, it was a treat to see it in New England. 

The sighting became that much more meaningful after reading this northern bobwhite conservation update from The Audubon Society (audubon.org): “Has disappeared from much of the northern part of its range, and has declined seriously even in more southern areas. The causes for these declines are not well understood. At northern edge of range, many may be killed by unusually harsh winters, but this does not explain its widespread vanishing act.”

Photo by Chris Bosak A nothern bobwhite calls at Happy Landing in Brookfield, Connecticut, fall 2018.

Interesting habitat story about New England by the AP

Photo by Chris Bosak Common Loon

Photo by Chris Bosak
Common Loon

Here’s an interesting story from the Associated Press. I hope the proposal goes through and comes to fruition.

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to establish the “Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge,” areas of New England and New York to preserve more shrubland and young forests for numerous species, such as the New England cottontail.

The agency has identified areas in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island. The goal is to gain up to 15,000 acres.

The agency says many areas across the Northeast have been cleared for development or have grown into mature forests. Private landowners and conservation groups have worked with state wildlife agencies to restore and protect land for 65 songbirds, mammals, reptiles and other wildlife, but more land is needed.

The Service is accepting comments on the proposal through March 4.

Here’s the rest of the story from AP.