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 →
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.
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 →
Photo by Chris Bosak A Mourning Dove sits on a nest in early July at Sellecks/Dunlap Woods in Darien.
Here’s my latest For the Birds column on when it’s safe to take down trees without disrupting nesting birds. (The above photo of a Mourning Dove sitting on eggs was taken in early July 2015.)
By CHRIS BOSAK
For the Birds
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,
Photo by CHRIS BOSAK 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.
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 →
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 →