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

Christmas Bird Count time is here


The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season is upon us. The local one that I participate in — the Westport Circle — takes place on Sunday. Many of the counts take place this weekend, but the range to do the count started on Dec. 14 and runs through Jan. 5. Participants spend all day “in the field” counting birds (individual species and total number) and send the data to the circle’s compiler, who turns it all into the National Audubon Society.

The Christmas Bird Count is the world’s largest citizen science program with data going back to 1900. The data helps scientists track bird populations and is valuable in determining what steps, if any, need to be taken to help certain species.

The data, of course, is valuable and is indeed the most important part of the CBC. But it’s also a fun day to look for birds all day. Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate — let me rephrase that, the weather hardly ever cooperates — but that only adds Continue reading

Northward expansion of the Red-bellied Woodpecker

Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-bellied Woodpecker visits a suet feeder during a snow storm.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Red-bellied Woodpecker visits a suet feeder during a snow storm.

Here’s my latest For the Birds column that appeared in last week’s The Hour (Norwalk, Ct) and this week’s The Keene (N.H.) Sentinel. It is about the northward movement of the territory of the Red-bellied Woodpecker, a large and handsome woodpecker that has been common in southern New England but scarce in middle New England. That seems to be changing.

Here’s the link to the story.

5 New England ‘poster birds’ for climate change

Photo by Chris Bosak Bobolink

Photo by Chris Bosak

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.

CT DEEP commissioner Daniel Esty talks about climate change

A little off topic, but not really considering the link between climate and birds — and all wildlife (including humans.) I

I covered the Norwalk Land Trust’s Annual Meeting on Monday (Jan. 13, 2014) and the guest speaker was Daniel C. Esty, the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.  He had some very interesting things to say about climate change and how to combat it and adapt to it. Here’s an audio clip of Esty talking about the “game changer” when it comes to climate change.

The full story is available at (Search for “Esty” in the search field if it’s not still on the home page.)