Painted Bunting returns to SW Connecticut

painted bunting 1

Photo by Chris Bosak A Painted Bunting visits a yard in Stamford, Conn., on Jan. 22, 2016.

No, I’m not on vacation in Florida. Why would I leave New England in the winter? I love New England winters. (I say that now, the day before a big storm is supposed to hit.)

No, these Painted Bunting photos were taken in Stamford, Connecticut. It’s a rare sight to see a Painted Bunting (or anything this colorful) in New England, but this guy is back for his second New England winter. In fact, he is in the same location as he was last winter … in the yard of a birder/nature photographer, ironically enough.

Luckily he is in the yard of David Winston, one of the nicer guys you’ll ever meet. He doesn’t mind (in fact he welcomes) the birders who come see this incredible bird. David and Ginger also hosted this guy last winter, from March to April. Well, that’s really spring, you may say to yourself. Not last year, it wasn’t. Last March and early April were definitely winter.

It was surprising enough that this gaudy bird showed up in Stamford last year, but a repeat performance? It seems this guy is just wired differently than most Painted Buntings. How will this guy fare in the storm that is scheduled to hit New England sometime on Saturday (Jan. 23, 2016) morning? Who knows for sure, but probably (hopefully) OK as he survived much colder temperatures last w Continue reading

For the Birds column: Project FeedWatch underway

Here’s my latest For the Birds column, which ran last Thursday in The Hour (Norwalk, CT) and Monday in The Keene (N.H.) Sentinel.

Photo by Chris Bosak White-breasted Nuthatches are a common feeder bird in New England.

Photo by Chris Bosak
White-breasted Nuthatches are a common feeder bird in New England.

Project FeederWatch gets under way

What will $18 get you these days?

About four cups of coffee from Starbucks. (Served in plain red cups void of evil, offensive snowflake images.)

About eight gallons of gasoline. Way better than the five gallons it used to get you.

Three bundles of the firewood stacked at the entrance of every grocery store, convenience store and hardware store these days. The bundles are each good for about 10 minutes in a firepit.

Two and a half craft beers at just about any bar or restaurant. Oops, forgot about the tip. Make that two beers.

Or, $18 covers your entrance fee to participate in Project FeederWatch, a citizen science project of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. It entails keeping track of the birds you see at your backyard feeding stations and submitting your results online. The data collected helps scientists track bird populations in the winter — similar to the Christmas Bird Count and Great Backyard Bird Count.

The fee also gets you a bird ID poster, birdwatching calendar, instruction sheet and newsletter. No guarantee here that the materials will not have images of snowflakes. Try not to be offended if they do.

Project FeederWatch officially started this past Saturday and runs through early April. Don’t worry if you missed the opening day, you can join in whenever. Participants can count the birds as much or as little as they’d like — 24/7 monitoring is not necessary. Being an expert birdwatcher is not required either.

All skill levels welcome. Why not get the entire family involved? Old and young.

I’ve never participated in the Project before, mostly because I’ve never lived in a place where my feeders have been terribly active. Now that I live at a place with very active feeders I’m looking forward to participating this year. (Active feeders, however, are not a prerequisite for participation. Anybody can do it as long as they have a feeder up.)

The feeders at my new place are always bustling with the common visitors White-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice and Downy Woodpeckers. I also see Carolina Wrens, Blue Jays, Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and American Goldfinches. Lately I’ve noticed a few Dark-eyed Juncos under the feeders. The White-throated Sparrows are not far behind, I’m sure. Will my Pine Warblers I had earlier this fall return to the suet cake? Probably not, but I’ll be watching. Who knows what else will show up?

To join the Project or to get more information, visit http://www.feederwatch.org. The website is full of information and tips on identifying birds (including tricky IDs), feeding birds tips, trend maps, and historical data.

So why participate other than it “helps scientists?” Many bird species are in decline, some seriously so. Tracking the winter abundance and distribution of birds with long-term data offers valuable insight into their lives. It helps scientists track gradual population shifts of bird species. WE know the Carolina Wren and Red-bellied Woodpecker are trending northward. This data quantifies the movement.

That’s more of a positive population shift. What about the negative one? What about the species that are declining year after year?

The data helps scientists recognize the decline and figure out solutions more quickly.

Let me know if join and what birds you see at your feeders.

 

For the Birds runs Thursdays in The Hour. Chris Bosak may be reached at bozclark@earthlink.net. Visit his website at birdsofnewengland.com

Project FeederWatch starts Saturday

Here’s an email I received recently from The Cornell Lab or Ornithology. With my new home buzzing with bird activity, I’m going to join this important citizen science project this year. Here are the details should you be thinking about it, too, or learning of the project for the first time here:

 

Dear Friend of the Cornell Lab,

The FeederWatch season begins on Saturday, November 14, so now is the time to sign up! This is the last reminder that we will send to you before the season starts, and we hope you decide to join the fun this year.

What is Project FeederWatch?

Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders. Participants periodically identify and count the birds at their feeders from November-April. Using our easy online data entry, you can immediately see all of your own counts and view colorful tables, graphs, and summaries.

With Project FeederWatch, you become the biologist of your own backyard.

Anyone interested in birds can participate; you don’t have to be an expert. All you need is a bird feeder, a comfortable chair, a window, and an interest in the birds in your neighborhood.

New participants will receive:

  • FeederWatch Handbook & Instructions
  • Full-color poster of common feeder birds
  • Bird-Watching Days Calendar
  • Our annual report, Winter Bird Highlights
  • Subscription to the Cornell Lab newsletter

Why should I participate?

FeederWatch data help scientists track broad movements and long term trends in abundance of winter feeder-bird populations. Explore the millions of FeederWatch sightings on our website. You can help contribute to a nearly 30-year dataset that helps us understand bird biology while learning about the feathered friends in your own backyard. Join online today.

Sign up for $18 ($15 for Lab members) today so that we can get your research kit in the mail.  Although it takes several weeks for kits to arrive, you can begin counting birds Saturday following our online instructions. Your participation fee helps keep the project running; without it, Project FeederWatch wouldn’t be possible.

We hope you will tell us about the birds at your feeders!

Sincerely,


Emma Greig
Project Leader
Project FeederWatch

Cover shot of Darien Times, featuring bird shot by yours truly

Chris Bosak photo of Black-crowned Night Heron on page one of The Darien Times, Thursday, August. 20, 2015.

Chris Bosak photo of Black-crowned Night Heron on page one of The Darien Times, Thursday, August. 20, 2015.

Here’s part of the front page of the Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, Darien Times, featuring my shot of the Black-crowned Night Heron. Thanks to Darien Times Editor Susan Shultz. More editors should have such good taste.🙂

Beachgoers asked to: ‘Fish, swim and play from 50 yards away’

Photo by Chris Bosak An American Oystercatcher walks along the beach at Coastal Center at Milford Point this spring.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An American Oystercatcher walks along the beach at Coastal Center at Milford Point this spring.

An important press release from American Bird Conservancy

Washington, D.C. — As millions of vacationing Americans head to their nearest beach destination for surf and sun this summer, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is urging beachgoers to be mindful of the many beach-nesting birds that will be tending to their nests and newly hatched young.

 

“Young birds have a tough go of things during their early days, so they really need our help. They face being trampled by unaware beachgoers, run over by motorized vehicles, or killed by predators. Even people simply getting too close can cause nest abandonment,” said Kacy Ray, Gulf Conservation Program Manager for ABC’s Gulf Beach-Nesting Bird Conservation Program.

 

“The best thing for beachgoers to do is to avoid getting close to areas where larger congregations of birds are gathered, and to always respect areas that are roped off or marked with signs designating an area that is used by nesting birds,” said Ray. “The habitat for these birds is diminishing every year Continue reading

Project SNOWstorm seeks to unravel mysteries of the Snowy Owl

Photo by Chris Bosak Don Crockett of Project SNOWStorm talks about Snowy Owls at a presenation at Milford City Hall on Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Don Crockett of Project SNOWStorm talks about Snowy Owls at a presentation at Milford City Hall on Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015.

 

(Here’s a little something I wrote up about a presentation on Snowy Owls I attended on Sunday. The event “The Hidden Lives of Snowy Owls” was presented by Don Crockett and sponsored by Connecticut Audubon.)

Last winter Snowy Owls enthralled the U.S. Even casual birdwatchers couldn’t help but be caught up in the historic irruption of the beautiful, yet powerful Arctic bird of prey.

The birds made their way down from their Arctic breeding grounds in record numbers during the winter of 2013-14. Birdwatchers flocked to beaches to try to find the owls. Unlike most winters, the birdwatchers were often successful in catching a glimpse of an owl.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Snowy Owl sits on a sign at The Coastal Center at Milford Point in early March 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Snowy Owl sits on a sign at The Coastal Center at Milford Point in early March 2014.

While Snowy Owls can remain in one spot for hours on end, they do move around quite a bit, during the day and night. So where do the owls go when they aren’t under the watchful eye of birdwatchers? What do they do at night when even the best spotting scope can’t keep track of their whereabouts?

Information about what Snowy Owls do when they come down to the United States is valuable because it gives us a better understanding of these mysterious birds. As Arctic breeders, the more we know about them the better as we continue to grapple with the effects of climate change. They may offer clues as to the extent to which climate change is impacting our world.

To help gather more information on these owls, a group of volunteers started Project SNOWstorm last year. The project involves trapping Snowy Owls with a net and attaching a transmitter to each owl’s back using a harness. The transmitter is lightweight (about 40 grams) and the harness is designed to not effect an owl’s flight. The transmitters are solar-powered, which reduces the weight as no batteries are required, and use the cellular phone network as opposed to satellites. Using the Continue reading

5 New England ‘poster birds’ for climate change

Photo by Chris Bosak Bobolink

Photo by Chris Bosak
Bobolink

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.

Are birds in our future? State of the Birds 2014 Report

Photo by Chris Bosak A Piping Plover preens at Milford Point in spring of 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Piping Plover preens at Milford Point in spring of 2014.

The State of the Birds 2014 report was released this week. It is a comprehensive look at how our bird populations are faring and how they might fare in the future. It’s fascinating stuff and a must read for anyone interested in birds and conservation.

Here’s my column on it, with input from Connecticut Audubon officials. 

Visit www.stateofthebirds.org for the full report.

Connecticut State of the Birds Report

Hour photo/Chris Bosak Milan Bull of Connecticut Audubon speaks during the press conference to introduce the 2014 Connecticut State of Birds report Monday at Trout Brook Valley conservation area in Easton.

Hour photo/Chris Bosak
Milan Bull of Connecticut Audubon speaks during the press conference to introduce the 2014 Connecticut State of Birds report Monday at Trout Brook Valley conservation area in Easton.

Habitat, its proper maintenance, and its importance to a variety of birds is the topic of the 2014 Connecticut State of the Birds Report released Monday by Connecticut Audubon Society at an event at Trout Brook Valley.

As usual, the report — this year titled “Connecticut’s Diverse Landscape: Managing Our Habitats for Wildlife” — is full of valuable research and information about a topic regarding birds.

Here’s my story at http://www.thehour.com, click here.

Purple Martins banded at Sherwood Island

Photo by Chris Bosak A volunteer from Department of Energy and Environmental Protection holds a young Purple Martin while she identifies the age during a Purple Martin banding event held Thursday, July 10, 2014, at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Conn.,

Photo by Chris Bosak
A volunteer from Department of Energy and Environmental Protection holds a young Purple Martin while she identifies the age during a Purple Martin banding event held Thursday, July 10, 2014, at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Conn.,

Sometimes fun news assignments come across our offices at The Hour newspaper. If it has to do with birds it usually ends up being forwarded to my email address by everyone else who receives it. Not that I mind, of course.

Photo by Chris Bosak A volunteer from Department of Energy and Environmental Protection holds a young Purple Martin while she identifies the age during a Purple Martin banding event held Thursday, July 10, 2014, at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Conn.,

Photo by Chris Bosak
A volunteer from Department of Energy and Environmental Protection holds a young Purple Martin while she identifies the age during a Purple Martin banding event held Thursday, July 10, 2014, at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Conn.,

Such was the case this week when the Friends of Sherwood Island (a state park in Westport, Conn.) sent a release announcing a Purple Martin banding project. I attended the event, of course, and marveled as staff and volunteers from state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Friends of Sherwood Island took young martins from their nest, fitted them with bands, weighed and measured them, recorded data and returned them to the nests.  As all this was going on, the adult martins fearlessly and undaunted continued to hunt for insects to bring back to the colony.

I even got to return five baby Purple Martins to their gourd. It was the first time I’ve ever held a Purple Martin. Very cool.

For the complete story and photos from The Hour photographer Erik Trautmann, click here.