Back to back For the Birds columns

Here are the last two For the Birds columns, mostly focused on what readers have been seeing this spring.

Photo by Chris Bosak A male indigo bunting eats seeds from a platform feeder in Danbury, Conn., in May 2018.
Photo by Chris Bosak A male indigo bunting eats seeds from a platform feeder in Danbury, Conn., in May 2018.

If the past season was the Winter of the barred owl, this is the spring of the indigo bunting.

I’ve heard from numerous readers and friends throughout New England and even Canada about this bright blue bird visiting their backyards. The cause for excitement is obvious as it is one of our more colorful birds, flashing a brilliant blue plumage. The brilliance of the blue plumage is dependent upon the light.

It is also nice to hear that so many of these birds are around and delighting backyard birders in large numbers. Rose-breasted grosbeaks are another popular bird this spring. I’ve had limited luck with indigo buntings this spring, but for me, it’s been a banner year for rose-breasted grosbeaks. I’ve seen as many as three males in a tree overhanging my feeders. A female visits the feeders often as well.

It’s also been a good spring for warblers and nearly every walk last week yielded yellow warblers, common yellowthroats, black-and-white warblers, chestnut-sided warblers, American redstarts and yellow-rumped warblers.

I’m not the only birdwatcher enjoying a productive spring. Here’s what Continue reading

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A walk for the birds at Oak Hills

Some bird nerd with cool birdwatching peeps.

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

Red-shouldered hawk — again

Photo by Chris Bosak A red-shouldered hawk perches in the wood in Brookfield, CT, March 2019.

As long as this red-shouldered hawk is going to take obvious perches when I drive by a certain spot, I’m going to take photos of it. Red-shouldered hawk, take 20.

Bald eagle sightings on the rise

Photo by Chris Bosak
A bald eagle perches in a tree overhanging Lake Lillinonah in Brookfield, CT, March 2019.

It’s not quite on par with the great osprey rebound, but the recovery of the bald eagle has been fascinating and fun to watch.

Ospreys, once nearly extirpated from New England, have greatly increased their population over the last few decades. They are now common sightings along New England coastlines. Inland bodies of water are also seeing more ospreys but the increase is not as dramatic as along the coast.

Bald eagles are also becoming a more common sighting. I took a canoe ride on an inland lake in Connecticut yesterday and saw two bald eagles — one immature and one adult. (It takes four or five years for an eagle to get its trademark white head and tail.) Later in the day I drove past Danbury Fair, the state’s second-largest shopping mall, and saw an immature bald eagle perched in a snag in a nearby marsh.

I can’t remember the last time I saw three bald eagles in one day. Now that the weather is getting warmer (kind of) and days longer, eagles will be heading north soon. Many eagles, however, will remain in New England to return to nest sites or start new ones. In recent memory, there were no bald eagle nests where I am in southern Connecticut. Now there are several.

Here’s what All About Birds, a website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, says about the bald eagle population: “The Bald Eagle’s recovery is a spectacular conservation success story, and numbers have increased between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 250,000, with 88 percent spending some part of the year in the U.S., 31 percent in Canada, and 8 percent in Mexico. The species rates a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2016 State of North America’s Birds’ Watch List, but are a U.S.-Canada Stewardship Species. Once abundant in North America, the species became rare in the mid-to-late 1900s—the victim of trapping, shooting, and poisoning as well as pesticide-caused reproductive failures. In 1978 the bird was listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Since 1980, gentler treatment by humans along with the banning of DDT (the bird’s main pesticide threat) have led to a dramatic resurgence. By the late 1990s, breeding populations of Bald Eagles could be found throughout most of North America. In June 2007, the bird’s recovery prompted its removal from the Endangered Species list.”

It’s always good to hear those types of stories.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A young bald eagle perches on a dead tree near Danbury Fair mall in Danbury, CT, March 2019.

Snow photos: Here come the cardinals

Photo by Chris Bosak A northern cardinal grabs a seed from a feeder in Danbury, CT, March 2019.

More snow photos from the other day. Here’s a female cardinal sharing a platform feeder with a chickadee and a male looking sharp in his red plumage.

Quick facts: Did you know that fewer than 40 percent of cardinal nests actually fledge young? That’s according to the folks at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The Lab’s NestWatch team studied cardinals and came up with some interesting results. For instance, despite that low success rate, cardinals are a successful species overall. A long breeding season and occupying a variety of habitats are part of the reason.

The article on the NestWatch website also looks at why male cardinals are so darn colorful. Hint: Yes, it has to do with impressing female cardinals. Here’s a link to the insightful story.

Photo by Chris Bosak A cardinal and chickadeee share a platform feeder following a snowfall in Danbury, CT, March 2019.

Joining the barred owl party, Part II

Photo by Chris Bosak
A barred owl perches on a Welcome to New York sign on the border of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., and Bennignton, Vermont, in February 2019.

As promised, here’s Part II of my “joining the barred owl party” story.

Last week I wrote a column about the Winter of the Barred Owl and followed up with a post showing a few photos sent in by readers of barred owls perched on feeder poles. But, at the time of those postings, I hadn’t yet seen a barred owl myself this winter.

Yesterday, I posted a story and photos of my first encounter with a barred owl this winter. That happened on Wednesday. Here’s what happened on Thursday.

I woke up my teenage son Andrew early (relatively) for a day of skiing at Mt. Snow. My brother lives in a New York town that borders Vermont. As we cruised along the “Bennington Bypass” on this gray, misty morning I pointed out the “Welcome to Vermont” sign to my son. I glanced back quickly at the “Welcome to New York” sign that was now in my rearview mirror. I noticed the huge sign had a lump on the top of it.

Could it be another owl, I thought. Probably just a hawk (not that hawks are uninteresting, but they are rather common along highways) I figured, but I wheeled the car around anyway. Sure enough, it became apparent as we closed the distance that the lump in question was another barred owl. Winter of the Barred Owl, indeed.

I parked in a pull-off spot conveniently located in front of the sign and grabbed a few photos before heading to the mountain.

The first owl on Wednesday was photographed in a New York town that borders New England. The second owl was even closer to the New England border and it may be argued it was half in Vermont. Either way, it was nice to join the barred owl party.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A barred owl perches on a Welcome to New York sign on the border of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., and Bennignton, Vermont, in February 2019.

Barred owls abound

After my latest bird column published in The Keene Sentinel this week, I received a few additional photos of barred owls from readers in SW New Hampshire. Funny how they are showing up on feeding poles so often.

Here is the column explaining the Year of the Barred Owl.

First (below) is the original photo I received and then two additional ones.

Photo by Bob Sullivan
This barred owl perched on a bird feeding pole and took several dives at a vole under the snow in Westmoreland, N.H.
Photo by Dale Woodward This barred owl was spotted on a feeder pole in February 2019 in Walpole Village, N.H.
Photo by Rick Allen This barred owl perched on a feeder pole in Swanzey, N.H., during February 2019.