Latest For the Birds column: Birding and Pokemon

Photo by Chris Bosak cGreat Egret in Central Park, NYC.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Great Egret in Central Park, NYC.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.), The Keene (NH) Sentinel and several Connecticut weekly newspapers.

There I was, taking the train to New York City with the ultimate goal of visiting Central Park. It’s something I used to do fairly often during spring migration.

Central Park is a hub for birds, and therefore birders, in the spring. Only this time I wasn’t going birdwatching — not really anyway — I was looking for Pokémon characters.

Technically I wasn’t the one looking for them. I don’t know the first thing about the game or why it’s the hottest thing since the Hula hoop. I brought my boys down to Central Park as they got caught up in the Pokémon Go hysteria. I was there to keep my eye on them and maybe casually look for some birds along the way.

We arrived at Grand Central and started our walk down Fifth Avenue to Central Park. The excitement around the craze was palpable even as we were still far away from the park. It seemed that about half the people on the sidewalk had their phones in front them and were clearly playing the game. Once we arrived at the golden statue at the entrance to the park, it was clear that this was Pokémon Go central.

We lingered briefly before headed down a trail into the park. As I watched people stopping and pointing and getting excited about their finds it hit me — this craze shares a lot of similarities with birdwatching.

The fact that we were in Central Park, where I had done so much birdwatching before, only solidified my thoughts. Birdwatchers are a tightknit group that seek out rare finds, but also appreciate the common ones. I learned enough about the Pokémon Go game to realize that this is what all these people were doing as well – looking for rare characters, but also capturing ones they had already.

As I had that thought, I looked across “The Pond” and saw a Black-crowned Night Heron land on a fallen tree that was already occupied by a few Double-crested Cormorants. A Solitary Sandpiper hunted along the near shoreline. They were fitting sights to accompany that thought. Here I was getting excited about seeing a cool bird, while thousands of people around me were getting excited with their own finds. We were all outside, we were all walking, and we were all seeking.

I did an Internet search a few days after our trip and noticed that some others have made the same comparison. It is a bit of a stretch, but at the same time not really.

There are some glaring differences, of course, the most obvious and prominent being that the birdwatchers are looking for real, living things, while the Pokémon players are looking for computer generated images that randomly pop up on their phones.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, is the diversity of the people enjoying the hobbies. Pokémon drew literally thousands of people to Central Park and the people doing it were as diverse as the city itself. All ages and ethnicities. Male and female. A lot of families, too. They were all sharing a passion for the same thing.

Sadly, from my experience, birding is not so diverse. It is better than it was and some people are making it their mission to increase diversity in the hobby, but there’s long way to go. I don’t typically see a lot of families out birdwatching together either. I do on occasion, but it is a rate sighting indeed.

Another difference between birdwatching and Pokémon Go is that birding will have much more staying power. I am guessing here of course, but I can see this Pokémon Go craze being just another flash-in-the-pan fad. Birdwatching has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for centuries to come.

Yes, Pokémon is vastly more popular at the moment but how long will it last? These games rarely flourish for the long haul. Remember Angry Birds? Great game, but who plays that anymore?

Years from now, maybe even mere weeks, no one will be talking about Pokémon Go. Birding, however, will be going strong.

Who knows? Maybe now that people are getting reacquainted with the outdoors more and actually discovering how wonderful it is to be outside, perhaps birding will win a few converts. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Latest For the Birds column: Wood Ducks show a tame side

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.) and The Keene (NH) Sentinel.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Wood Duck mother swims with one of her babies at Woods Ponds in Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Wood Duck mother swims with one of her babies at Woods Ponds in Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.

The Mallards were scattered along the grass and I didn’t think twice about it. I’m used to Mallards being tame and not walking away, or even flinching, when someone draws near.

With many Mallards, even with babies in tow, they show little or no fear of humans. In fact, many even welcome the approach of humans as the ducks hope to get some food.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Wood Duck mother swims with two of her babies at Woods Ponds in Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Wood Duck mother swims with two of her babies at Woods Ponds in Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.

But in this particular flock of ducks, two females and their babies quickly retreated to the nearby pond. These ducks weren’t Mallards at all, but rather they were Wood Ducks. Two female Wood Ducks and their babies were “hanging out” with the Mallards in the grass near the pond before I pulled into the parking lot.

While the Mallards in the group, which consisted of most of the birds, did not even bother to wake up from their midday nap, the Wood Ducks’ instincts told them to retreat.

But the scene was still extremely surprising to me. First of all, you don’t always see Wood Ducks hanging out with Mallards. And, second of all, Continue reading

Cooper’s Hawk eating squirrel

Photo by Chris Bosak A young Cooper's Hawk eats a squirrel in southern New England in Feb. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A young Cooper’s Hawk eats a squirrel in southern New England in Feb. 2015.

The other day I pulled into my driveway and noticed a clump of brown in my neighbor’s yard. Birders are trained to notice anything out of the ordinary in a scene because it just might be a bird. Often these days it ends up being a plastic bag stuck in a tree, but sure enough, sometimes it is a bird.

Such was the case the other day. That brown clump was a bird, a young Cooper’s Hawk to be exact. Not only that, but the bird was eating (a Gray Squirrel as it turns out.) Cooper’s Hawks eat mainly birds, but small mammals can also fall prey to these quick and agile birds.

I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story. (Warning: If you don’t like the bloody side of nature, don’t click “continue reading.” Fair warning.)

Continue reading

Red-tailed hawk in the wind

Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-tailed Hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Red-tailed Hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., Jan. 2015.

Here’s the first of a two-part post about a Red-tailed Hawk I found at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., last week.  These photos will show the hawk with gusts of wind blowing its plumage.

I was focused on a tree near the beach that had a White-breasted Nuthatch and a Downy Woodpecker in it. I thought I was getting good shots of the nuthatch, but when I checked the screen on my camera, the results were always subpar. I wasn’t sure what I was doing wrong, but I just wasn’t nailing it. Then I looked in an adjacent tree and spotted a much larger subject. Since I had been in that spot for several minutes, the hawk clearly did not mind that I was there. I gave up on the nuthatch and turned my attention toward the Red-tailed hawk.

I took several photos of the hawk in the tree and it eventually flew to a nearby structure where I was able to get a few more shots as the hawk seemingly watched a foursome play paddle tennis. The wind was whipping pretty good that day, making for some interesting shots of the hawk. The next posting (coming in the next day or two) will show the hawk under calmer conditions.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-tailed Hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Red-tailed Hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-tailed Hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Red-tailed Hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., Jan. 2015.

Eastern Towhee under feeder, nice start to 2015

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Towhee searches a garden for food in Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee searches a garden for food in Jan. 2015.

This weekend I was looking at the regular visitors to my birdfeeders, which in my case include Tufted Titmice, Black-capped Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker and White-throated Sparrow (at least this time of year). Then I noticed another bird on the ground under the feeder: a male Eastern Towhee. Towhees are not typical feeder birds and this bird wasn’t necessarily around the feeder looking for sunflower seeds. It scratched under leaves and sticks in the garden for other seeds and any insects that may still be around. Towhees also eat berries during the winter.

Most towhees have flown south by now, but a few are still around trying to stick out the New England winter. I remember seeing several last winter, too.

I’ve been seeing more and more towhees over the last few years. Hopefully that means they are doing well overall as a species.

An Eastern Towhee in the garden in January: Not a bad way to start 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Towhee searches a garden for food in Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee searches a garden for food in Jan. 2015.

Clearing out my 2014 photos, Take 3: Mourning Dove close up

Photo by Chris Bosak A Mourning Dove looks for seeds under a feeder during a snowy day in Jan. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Mourning Dove looks for seeds under a feeder during a snowy day in Jan. 2014.

Here’s my next photo in the series of 2014 photos that I never got around to looking at and posting. Here’s a Mourning Dove looking for food under my birdfeeder during a snowy day last winter. The photo was taken in January 2014. Check out the subtle colors in this beautiful bird.

Good day for Christmas Bird Count (lots of photos)

 

Photo by Chris Bosak Peregrine Falcon at Veterans Park in Norwalk, Conn., seen during the 115th Christmas Bird Count.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Peregrine Falcon at Veterans Park in Norwalk, Conn., seen during the 115th Christmas Bird Count.

The weather was actually quite nice (cold, but calm) and the birds were plentiful. A story about the Christmas Bird Count (Westport Circle) is posted on http://www.theour.com.

I personally had a good day, too, in terms of finding birds. Below are more photos from the interesting birds I found during the count. Yes, I realize the photos aren’t of great quality, but it was very overcast and the photos were taken mostly to prove what was seen. Some of the photos aren’t too bad, though. Anyway …

The highlight was the three warblers I saw at Oystershell Park in Norwalk. Even one warbler species is pretty rare for a New England Christmas Bird Count, but I had three at one location. The warblers were an Orange-crowned Warbler, Continue reading