My first bird walk of the new year proved to be a good one. A fresh but thin blanket of snow covered southern New England on Monday morning making for a quintessential winter scene. I got up with the sun and headed to the nearest park. As I walked along a trail, a large flock of small birds settled into the tall, leafless trees around me. Before I could lift my binoculars to see what they were, they descended upon the berry-covered brush on either side of the trail. Cedar waxwings, lots of them — at least 100. Usually when something like this happens, I don’t have my camera with me for whatever reason. I was prepared this time. A good start to 2021.
I’m a little late with this posting but better late than never. A few Saturdays ago I led a bird walk at Oak Hills Park in Norwalk. I was honored to be invited by the park’s Nature Advisory Committee to be the bird guide. Of course, I accepted because I love spreading the good word about birds and I have a soft spot for any volunteer organization that promotes nature appreciation and saves land.
As a bit of background, Oak Hills Park is mainly a golf course and the nature trails are on land that was once targeted to be cleared for a driving range. The Nature Advisory Committee now stewards that part of the property, which is valuable for birds and other animals — and plants for that matter. Case in point, during the walk we came across a box turtle in the woods. The box turtle is one of many animal species in decline because of loss of habitat.
The walk drew a large crowd and we saw many exciting birds. The highlight for many, myself included, was a very cooperative scarlet tanager, one of the most colorful and brightest birds we see in New England during migration. The red-bodied and black-winged bird flitted around and rested at eye level not far from the gathered crowd. I also pointed out over and over the sound of the Continue reading
I checked out Happy Landings, an open space of fields and shrubby areas in Brookfield, Connecticut, after dropping off my son Will at middle school the other day. With its huge fields, the protected space is a rare haven for bobolinks in New England. There should be more such field habitat. Anyway, I wanted to see if the bobolinks were back and sure enough, they were — along with plenty of other birds. Take a look …
Happy birding and let me know what you see out there this migration period.
If you’re in the area …
Here are some more photos of the northern bobwhite I spotted yesterday at Happy Landings in Brookfield, Connecticut. Click here for the original post.
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.”
It shouldn’t be too surprising that there is snow in November in the Great North Woods, the area of extreme northern Vermont and New Hampshire. We were surprised, however, to see snow when we arrived on Sunday only because it has been so warm this fall in southern New England.
I hadn’t even given snow a thought yet, to be honest. Heck, wasn’t it in the 70s in Connecticut just last week? But, sure enough, a beautiful blanket of the white stuff covered Pittsburg, N.H. It was only an inch or two, just enough to make it beautiful and remind us that snow is coming soon enough for the rest of New England. (Update: Now it’s Tuesday and a steady rain has melted all the snow.)
With the moose population continuing to dwindle in northern New Hampshire, the wildlife highlight was a trio of gray jays we came across just south of Deer Mountain Campground, which itself is just south of the Canadian border.
I’ve seen gray jays before in Pittsburg, N.H, but never during the “winter.” They were extra bold and landed on our hands as we offered sunflower seeds. I’ve had black-capped chickadees land on my hands for sunflower seeds before, but I could tell the tiny birds were unsure of themselves as they landed quickly and flew off. These gray jays, however, were not shy at all and landed on our finger tips and dug through the seeds to find just the right one.
About half an hour later we found a pair of gray jays, which also ate from our hands and showed little fear. At one point, an evening grosbeak flew in and landed in a nearby tree. I hadn’t seen an evening grosbeak in years and years, so the large yellow, black and white bird was a welcomed, if not fleeting, sighting.
Aside from gray jays, blue jays, ruffed grouse, chickadees, and red squirrels, the wildlife sightings have been rather scarce. But we’ll keep looking and I’ll let you know what we find.
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
The second-most abundant warbler was the Black-and-White Warbler. True to its name, this warbler has no flashy colors to make it stand out among the leaves. Which is fine because this warbler is usually found on the trunks and lower branches of trees anyway. It’s one of the few warblers that does most of its hunting on the trunks of trees. It will often hunt low in trees, making it one of the easiest warblers to find on a bird walk. Many warblers hunt almost exclusively among the leafy tops of trees, making them very difficult to find.
It may lack the color of other warblers, but it’s still a striking little bird with its streaked plumage.
So what’s your warbler story? Feel free to comment or send me an email.
We love to see our first Dark-eyed Juncos of the late fall. They remind us that our winter birds have arrived and will be with us for the next several months.
Well, those months are passing by quickly and soon the junco sightings will become scarce again. So here’s a shot I took of a junco the other day. Will it be one of the last— at least until next fall?
Did you know …
• Juncos are members of the sparrow family
• There are several types of juncos in the U.S., including Slate-colored; Oregon; Pink-sided; White-winged; Gray-headed; and Red-backed. Only the Slate-colored is found in New England.