Birds to brighten your day: April 24

Photo by Chris Bosak
A black-capped chickadee checks out a birdhouse in a backyard in New England, April 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake XV

Well, it doesn’t look like the bluebirds are going to nest in the bluebird box I got a few weeks ago. My property is not ideal habitat for them as it’s more wooded than open. At least they are still visiting every day and keeping me entertained. The good news is that black-capped chickadees keep checking it out. Hopefully a pair will decide to move in. They are not bluebirds but I’d certainly take it.

(Repeat text for context:  I’m running out of COVID-19 lockdown themes so from now until things get back to some semblance of normalcy, I will simply post my best photo from the previous day. You could say it fits because of its uncertainty and challenge. I’ll call the series “A Day on Merganser Lake,” even though that’s not the real name of the lake I live near in southwestern Connecticut, it’s just a nod to my favorite duck family.)

Photo by Chris Bosak
A black-capped chickadee checks out a birdhouse in a backyard in New England, April 2020. Merganser Lake.

For the Birds: Unexpected, welcome discovery

Photo by Chris Bosak
A gray catbird with food perches on a branch in New England, summer 2019.

I heard what I was pretty sure was a scarlet tanager high in one of my oak trees. The thick foliage makes it nearly impossible to find anything up there. Even a brilliantly bright red bird like a scarlet tanager could easily be hidden from view.

I looked with my naked eye for several minutes, hoping to spot some motion to give away the bird’s location and identity. To my frustration, I couldn’t find a thing, even though I knew right where the song was coming from.

So, I figured I’d try scanning the area with my binoculars with the hopes of catching a glimpse of some bright red among the dark green leaves. Picking out a bird among thickly leafed-out treetops is usually a lesson in futility and humility.

But not this time.

No, I didn’t find a scarlet tanager. I did, however, find the active nest of an eastern wood-pewee. Somehow, my binoculars trained themselves right on the spot. The small, cupped nest is built in the Y of a dead branch sticking out among the impenetrable foliage, about 40 feet high.

I watched the mother pewee for a few minutes before she flew off into the woods. I noticed a bright orange object in the nest. I assumed it was a mushroom of some sort because the dead branch is covered in a white fungus. With my binoculars, however, I discovered it was the mouth of a baby bird waiting to be fed.

Sure enough, about two minutes later the mother bird returned and a few other orange “mushrooms” appeared.

It was the first time I had ever found an active eastern wood-pewee nest Continue reading

Freeing a kingbird from the death grip of fishing line

Photo by Will Bosak
Kingbird rescue, Danbury, CT, 2019.

It started with a bird pooping on my forehead and finished with me tipping over the canoe in a mucky, heavily vegetated part of the lake. The adventure was well worth it, however, as we successfully untangled and freed an eastern kingbird from the death grip of abandoned snagged fishing line.

Photo by Will Bosak
Kingbird rescue, Danbury, CT, 2019.

I was sitting in my home office writing away about something or another when I saw out the window my 12-year-old son sprinting up the road and turning onto the driveway. He was fishing with two of his friends at the nearby fishing hole so I briefly panicked that someone had gotten hurt; perhaps a barbed hook embedded in a thumb or something like that. 

I opened the window and yelled down: “What’s wrong Will?”

“There’s a bird stuck on fishing line dangling from a tree,” he said. “Come help it. It’s freaking out. I feel so bad for it.”

I rushed to the car and drove to the spot, even though it’s literally only a few hundred yards away. Nagging tendonitis in my foot has prevented me from making that walk — or any other walk for that matter — for weeks now. 

“I think if we go through the woods we can get to it,” Will said as he pointed out the bird.

I recognized the bird as an eastern kingbird. The white band at the tip of its tail gave it away. 

“I don’t think so, Will. All that vegetation is growing from the water so we’ll never reach it from land. We can probably get it with the canoe.”

I hobbled back to the car as quickly as possible and fetched the canoe. I used only one strap around the middle of the canoe to fasten it to the car since I was going such a short distance.

Back at the fishing hole, Will hustled to help me get the canoe off the car and to the shore. 

“I’ll sit up front, you sit in the back and paddle us to the bird,” I told Will.

“I’ll take photos, too, dad. Where’s your phone?”

Will got us into the weeds and immediately the frantic bird crapped right on my forehead above my left eye. I didn’t even notice it, but Will let out a huge laugh to let me know.

“Guys! The bird pooped on my dad’s head!” he called excitedly to his friends.

I didn’t care about it at the moment. I just wanted to help the bird, which was now even more frantic with us closing in on it. 

I grabbed some sturdy stems and pulled us into the vegetation even more to prevent us from drifting as I was soon to have a knife and, hopefully, a bird in my hands. We stopped right below the bird. I stood up carefully and extended for the bird. It was just out of reach.

“Give me the paddle, Will.”

I used the paddle to pull down the branch a few inches. I grabbed it and pulled the branch, bird, and tangled mess of fishing line toward me. Wow, that’s a lot of fishing line, I thought to myself. With my free hand I used the knife of my trusty Leatherman to cut the line above the bird’s wing. I closed the knife, tossed it on the floor of the canoe, and sat down with the highly agitated kingbird in my hand. It bit at my hand and made me thankful that it wasn’t a great blue heron. 

A length of fishing line immediately came free but there was still line wrapped tightly around the wing. I held the bird and pulled gently on the end of the line. Will used the knife to cut the line as close to the wing as possible. 

I dug in a little more to make sure there wasn’t a hook stuck in the wing. The kingbird obliged by extended its wing to expose the wound. Thankfully, there was no hook and the remaining piece of fishing line that had held the bird captive fell to the floor of the canoe. The wound did not look serious and I breathed a sigh of relief that a hook was not involved.

Satisfied that the bird was free from all fishing line I opened my hand to see if it was able to fly. In about half a second the kingbird burst out of my hands and disappeared into the woods. 

The kingbird was lucky. Lucky that Will went fishing that afternoon and was able to spot it. Lucky that we had a canoe handy to access the water. Lucky that it was tangled relatively close to the water instead of higher up and out of reach. Lucky it was only tangled and not hooked. 

I looked around and noticed that the trees in the area were riddled with abandoned lines, bobbers, hooks, sinkers, and lures. Will steered me to them and I pulled down the ones that were in reach. I pulled down the tangle that had snared the kingbird and noticed the bird’s nest was in a branch about a foot above the twisted line.

Thankfully we were only a few feet from shore when I got a little too confident in my reaching and swamped the canoe.  Swamped is a good term because we tipped over in thick, slimy aquatic vegetation. My legs felt for the bottom of the lake but only dug themselves deeper into a spaghetti bowl of slippery stems, roots and goodness knows what else. 

Will, thankfully, had the wherewithal to immediately take my phone out of his pocket and toss it onto the shore. The phone was fine and Will scored points with his father for acting so quickly despite being dumped into a mucky mess. 

We lumbered onto shore — me very gingerly on the uneven terrain — and dragged the half-full canoe onto land. Our legs were blacked by bits of partially decomposed leaves that fell into the water over the last several years. 

Once on land we had little laugh and rejoiced as two kingbirds flew and chattered among the trees just off the shore.

Osprey continue to thrive in Connecticut

Photo by Chris Bosak An Osprey sits in a nest at Veterans Park in Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Osprey sits in a nest at Veterans Park in Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.

You know a bird species is doing well in an area when you take a short break from work to get a nice photo of the bird and return to work a handful of minutes later with good results. The Osprey in coastal Connecticut is one such bird and area. Southern Connecticut, of course, is not the only place where “fish hawks” are thriving. They are doing well up and down the East Coast and many parts inland, too. They nest along salt, br Continue reading

When is nesting season over?

Photo by Chris Bosak A Mourning Dove sits on a nest in early July at Sellecks/Dunlap Woods in Darien.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Mourning Dove sits on a nest in early July at Sellecks/Dunlap Woods in Darien.

Procrastinators rejoice. I’m going to give you an excuse to put off a few chores for another month or so.

Do you have trees on your property that need to come down? Bushes that need to be pruned? Perhaps a field or meadow that needs to be mowed?

Well, I’m not only giving you permission (not that you need that anyway) to hold off for a while, but urging you to do so.

An interesting email came my way this week from a New Hampshire couple. They had purchased property about 25 years ago that at the time was an abandoned Christmas tree lot. Most of the trees are now dead or dying and need to come down. The couple, to their credit, wants to make sure the nesting season is over before they go forward with any of the work.

So, just when is it safe to take down trees or cut fields that may house nesting birds?

There’s no exact date, of course. In general, though,

Click here for the rest of the article …

Looking back at a Barn Swallow nest

Photo by CHRIS BOSAK Young Barn Swallows look for food from their mother, which is returning to the nest with food.

Young Barn Swallows look for food from their mother, which is returning to the nest with food.

Here’s a group of photos I took at a Barn Swallow nest, which was built on a light fixture in the covered portion of the parking lot where I work. The parents dive-bombed and swooped at all the people who parked nearby. They had only one brood before moving on. It’s a credit to the building owner that they let the nest remain throughout the entire process. This was a few summers ago, but I’ve never published all of these photos.

More photos below. Continue reading

It’s nesting season all right

Photo by Chris Bosak A Baltimore Oriole nest in Stamford, Conn., May 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Baltimore Oriole nest in Stamford, Conn., May 2015.

I took a walk around a local park in Stamford, Conn., yesterday. I knew the warbler migration was winding down, but I figured I’d see a few late migrants and perhaps something else interesting. Something always happens when you make the effort to take a walk in the woods.

I was walking happily along looking up in the trees for movement. With the leaves out now, movement is the only way to spot most birds. I glanced down and suddenly found myself tip-toeing frantically to avoid bird droppings all over the trail. Not that it would have been a big deal if I stepped on one, but my brain recognize Continue reading

Bluebirds are back at Mather Meadows

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Bluebird stretches a wing as it rests on a birdhouse at Mather Meadows in Darien, Conn., April 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Bluebird stretches a wing as it rests on a birdhouse at Mather Meadows in Darien, Conn., April 2015.

Last spring I had a post on this site featuring a pair of Eastern Bluebirds at Mather Meadow, a property of the Darien Land Trust. This weekend I paid a visit to the property again and, sure enough, the bluebirds are back. I checked quickly and noted four blue eggs in the house. It’s so good to see them nesting there year after year. It wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and determination of so many people at the Darien Land Trust. If the property (which is largely critical meadow property)  Continue reading

Clearing out my 2014 photos, take 9: Black-capped Chickadee

Photo by Chris Bosak A Black-capped Chickadee clears out a cavity in a tree for a nesting site at Selleck's/Dunlap Woods in Darien in spring 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Black-capped Chickadee clears out a cavity in a tree for a nesting site at Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods in Darien in spring 2014.

Here’s my next photo in the series of 2014 photos that I never got around to looking at and posting.

Admittedly not a great shot technically, but interesting to see a Black-capped Chickadee exiting a potential nesting hole with a bill full of dead wood shavings. A pair of chickadees worked their tails off getting this cavity ready for the nesting season. I’m not sure if they actually saw this whole project through or not. I kind of hope not because the tree was dead and pretty flimsy. I’m not sure it was strong enough to withstand some of the storms we get here in New England. I’m sure the birds know what they are doing. At any rate, chickadees first excavate a cavity and then build a small nest of materials such as moss to soften the bottom of the home.

5 New England ‘poster birds’ for climate change

Photo by Chris Bosak Bobolink

Photo by Chris Bosak

In response to the recently released State of the Birds 2014 report, Patrick Comins, the director of bird conservation with Audubon Connecticut, spoke about the 5 “poster birds” that will be most affected by climate change and the accompanying shifts in bird population. He was speaking specifically about Connecticut, but certainly all of New England will see this impact.

Comins spoke during a telephone conference to journalists on Wednesday.

Here are the birds he picked:

Saltmarsh Sparrow: Currently breeds in Connecticut, but has difficulty with rising sea levels and high tides. Rising tides will only become worse over the next several decades.

Bobolink: This meadow nester will likely not nest or be seen often in Connecticut over the next several decades.

Dunlin: This handsome shorebird currently nests and may be seen throughout winter along the New England coast. It’s nesting ability in Connecticut, as Comins put it, will “become zero.” It will move its range north and perhaps New England will get some winter views of this bird.

Blue-winged Warbler: This handsome bright yellow warbler will “move up and out.”

Veery: Comins almost picked the Wood Thrush for his final bird, but chose the Veery. It will become scarce in New England.

The phrase “over the next several decades” may give some people cause to relax and think “I’ll never notice it” or “maybe things will change.” But the “next several decades” will be here before we know it. There have been staggering declines in bird populations over the last 40 years. We’re talking some species dropping in number by 50, 60 even 80 percent. That’s just the last 40 years. That’s basically yesterday evolutionarily speaking. Jeez, I can remember 40 years ago. It bothers me to think this decline all happened in my lifetime.

Hopefully the State of the Birds report will get the attention it deserves and affect positive change for birds and all wildlife.

The full report may be found here.