For the Birds: Patience is key, even though it’s hard

Photo by Chris Bosak A yellow-rumped warbler perches on a clothesline in Danbury, CT, April 2020. (Merganser Lake)

I doubt Tom Petty had birdwatching in mind when he wrote the lyrics “the waiting is the hardest part,” but it sure is appropriate for birders in the spring.

Signs of spring start as early as January or February when a few hardy flowers poke out of the ground. Owls also start their breeding season about this time but that is done in secret and largely unbeknownst to humans. March brings the first spring peeper calls, more flowers, red-winged blackbirds, American woodcock and, finally, eastern phoebes, at the end of the month. March also brings the official start to spring, of course.

April starts off fairly slowly until the first pine warblers arrive. Then it’s warbler season! The problem is, pine warblers are three weeks to a month ahead of most of the other warblers and other colorful migratory songbirds. Palm warblers and yellow-rumped warblers are the exceptions as they closely follow the pines.

Those three weeks to a month can seem like an eternity. We’ve endured winter and have slowly gotten small teases of spring. Bring it on already! We jump Continue reading

For the Birds: Romance with mealworms

Photo by Chris Bosak A male eastern bluebird feeds his mate mealworms in a backyard in Danbury, Connecticut, April 2020. Merganser Lake.

Is there anything more romantic than shoving a few dried mealworms into your mate’s mouth? Not if you’re a bluebird.

“My” bluebirds are still coming around daily. For the past few days, I’ve watched the male feeding the female, even though she could easily get her own mealworms a few feet away. What fun would that be? Where’s the romance in that? How would she really know if he was the one?

It’s part of the courtship, of course, but it’s also fun to watch. Every time I saw them land on the deck railing together I’d wait a few seconds and, sure enough, the male would jump down to grab a few worms and go right back up to feed his mate.

I feel fortunate that the bluebirds are still visiting daily, but they won’t be using the bluebird box I purchased and set up in the backyard. They have checked it out a few times but don’t seem that interested in it. It’s not proper bluebird habitat, I admit. They prefer flat, Continue reading

For the Birds: Beavers helping geese

Photo by Chris Bosak A Canada goose sits on a nest atop a beaver den as another goose remains alert to potential danger in New England this spring.

I received an interesting email the other day from Tricia from Alstead. She relayed that she and a few other people — and a couple of dogs — were taking a walk when they noticed a strange lump on the top of a beaver den.

It turned out that the lump was a Canada goose, presumably sitting on eggs, as the bird remained hunkered down, despite the proximity of the humans and dogs. Tricia hypothesized that the goose nest was built over a vent hole in the den, which kept the eggs warm.

I couldn’t confirm nor deny that hypothesis but it does make sense.

The email did spur me to research the relationship between Canada geese and beavers. It turns out that they have a very beneficial Continue reading

For the Birds: Warbler season already

Photo by Chris Bosak
A pine warbler visits a backyard in New England, April 2020, Merganser Lake.

Another quick, one-day break from the A Day on Merganser Lake photo series to bring you the latest For the Birds column …

Could it be warbler season already?

It sure is and I’m just as surprised as the next person. Not that the first week of April is unusual for the early warblers to arrive; it’s right on time.

Still, I was surprised when I looked up and saw a pine warbler perched at the top of my bird-feeder pole system the other day. I wasn’t ready for it. In a normal year, I’d be counting down the days until the first warblers arrived. But this is no normal year. I think we can all agree on that.

Like many others, I’m sure, I’ve been consumed with COVID-19, or coronavirus. It’s on the news 24/7. Grocery stores have one-way aisles, most people are wearing masks and the cashiers are wearing face shields. My work (thankfully I am still working) is busier than ever due to the virus and the days start earlier and end later than ever.

No sports. No concerts. No parties. Heck, no talking to your Continue reading

For the Birds: Goldfinches return to full regalia

I’m taking a one-day break from my photo series so I can share my latest bird column, which runs in several New England newspapers. …

Photo by Chris Bosak An American goldfinch perches on a wire in New England, March 2020.

I alluded in last week’s column to a goldfinch being in transitional plumage.

The truth is, in a way, American goldfinches are always in transitional plumage. Unlike most songbirds that look pretty much the same year-round, goldfinches look dramatically different in their breeding and non-breeding plumage. All birds molt (replace) their feathers at least once a year, usually at the end of summer. Most songbirds, whether the molt is done gradually or all at once, look the same at both ends of the molt.

Male American goldfinches are a brilliant yellow in their breeding (summer) plumage. They are a beloved bird and they adorn calendars, magazine covers, bookmarks and conservation promotional materials. It is this brilliant yellow-and-black plumage that makes them desirable fodder as bird models.

However, you rarely see goldfinches in their non-breeding (winter) plumage on magazine covers. The non-breeding plumage is Continue reading

For the Birds: That springtime feeling; (and Bird Quiz IV answer)

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Carolina wren sings on a branch this spring in New England.

I’ll start another series of photos tomorrow, but I figured I’d bridge the gap with the latest For the Birds column. The answer to yesterday’s Birding Quiz is at the bottom of this post.

Spring is in the air and it couldn’t have come at a better time with global anxiety sky high and most of us living in relative isolation.

The other day, while on a video conference call while working from home, I had to unplug my laptop and go to a different room because a Carolina wren was making such a racket outside the window. “Tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle!” It was a pleasant disruption, for sure.

Later, it was a northern cardinal distracting my work with one of his beautiful, clear spring songs. I’ve been hearing that more and more. Thankfully.

The other day while walking in the woods I heard the much more subtle song of the eastern phoebe, one of the first songbirds to return to New England each spring. Phoebes are named after their song, just like the chickadee, whip-poor-will, bobwhite, pewee and many others. Last year, a phoebe pair built a nest under my raised deck. I hope they come back this spring.

Late March is also a good time to look for American woodcock. This strangely awesome bird does a dazzling aerial dance at dusk, coupled with an odd “peent” call. Woodcock are back in New England already. I received an email from Tricia from Alstead who heard the peent call while taking a walk with a neighbor. The neighbor later found the woodcock, or timberdoodle, in her yard hunting for worms. Woodcock are Continue reading

For the Birds: We can still enjoy the outdoors

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern phoebe sits on a sign near at the edge of Deer Pond in Sherman, CT, fall 2019.

Coronavirus may have robbed us of our schools, normal work routine, hand sanitizer and toilet paper, but it hasn’t taken away our enjoyment of the outdoors yet. Hopefully it won’t even as scientists and officials put additional regulations on our lives almost daily.

Not that I am questioning or making light of the regulations. I understand the reasoning behind social distancing and sheltering in place. It is important to not let the virus get even more out of hand.

Experts have said that being outdoors is fine and even encouraged during this time. They do suggest avoiding crowds and maintaining a six-foot buffer between you and the next person, even outdoors.

That is fine for birdwatchers. Many of us like to enjoy our hobby either alone or with only a few people anyway, so avoiding crowds and maintaining distance is not a problem. The coronavirus crisis may even lead more people into this great hobby Continue reading