For the Birds: Hawks in a New England winter

Photo by Chris Bosak – Young Cooper’s hawk in New England, January 2023.

It is not uncommon for birders at designated hawk watch sites to see more than 1,000 hawks in a single day. The fall hawk migration is most certainly a sight to see, particularly if the conditions are right.

With the sheer number of hawks and other birds of prey that migrate south through New England in the fall, it is tough to imagine that any of them remain in our region once the migration is over. But, of course, we do see a fair amount of hawks throughout the winter months in New England. 

Red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks and our accipiters, sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks, are the most common hawks we see in New England during the winter. Other birds of prey that we continue to see in our coldest months are the peregrine falcon, vultures and, of course, bald eagles, which congregate in large numbers where water remains unfrozen.

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For the Birds: Winter birding delights

Photo by Chris Bosak Redhead seen in a New England pond.

There may be a hot-looking red head at the lake or perhaps a bleach-blonde beauty.

Oh, and don’t forget about that Icelandic number that’s been hanging out at New England beaches.

Don’t worry, you have the right column. I’m still talking about birds.

The aforementioned attractions are just a few of the unusual birds that may be seen in the area during winter.

News of such sightings travel quickly along the grapevine, but Rare Bird Alerts are also available to everyone with access to the internet. Simply do an internet search for “rare birds” for the state or specific location you are interested in. Dedicated birders keep the alert lists updated and it is extremely helpful when you’re trying to track down something rare or unusual, or just interested in knowing what’s out there.

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For the Birds: Good times, bad times …

Photo by Chris Bosak — A northern cardinal and red-bellied woodpecker share a feeding station in New England.

For those who feed birds, it seems that there are slow times, busy times, and routine times.

It can be disconcerting and frustrating during the slow times. You glance out of the window hoping to see a few birds to lift your spirits or to just appreciate a bit of nature during the day, and nothing is there. It can be worrisome because the thought often arises as to whether or not the lack of birds indicates that something is wrong with bird populations.

Populations of many bird species, of course, are indeed in decline. But a slow period at the feeder is typically not an indication of a broader concern. There are certain times of the year when birdfeeders go through a slow period. Seasonal fluctuations are normal. We are perhaps going through one of those fluctuations now as I’ve received a few emails recently wondering why the birds have suddenly stopped visiting. 

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For the Birds: Bears among us

Photo by Chris Bosak — Black bears in northern New Hampshire.

Bears are among us. We all know that, of course, but it seems that the bear population throughout New England is thriving, and the large animals are showing up more than ever and in places not seen before. 

My closest call with a bear came about three years when I was jogging through the woods. It was a hilly trail with many twists, turns and curves. Heavy metal music blared through my in-ear headphones. My eyes were trained on the ground to watch for roots, rocks, downed branches and anything else that might trip me up. 

I turned a blind corner and noticed a blur cross before me. I stopped in my tracks, killed the music and looked to my left to see a large black bear sitting next to a tree about 15 feet off the trail. The bear had crossed the trail in front of me and settled at that spot. It was as curious of me as I was of it. Thankfully, it was showing no signs of stress or feeling threatened. It was just kind of there looking at me. 

I looked at the beautiful animal for a minute or two and headed back the way I had come.

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For the Birds: Evening grosbeaks remain elusive

Photo by Chris Bosak – Purple finches sometimes irrupt into New England in the winter.

For one of the few times in this column’s history, the accompanying photo will not match the content.

The reason for that is quite simple. I am yet to get a decent photo of the main subject. Even as I receive emails from readers across New England about evening grosbeaks showing up at feeders, I have yet to host them at my feeding station. I am also yet to see them in the “wild” closely enough to get a good photo.

Tricia from Alstread wrote in the day after Thanksgiving to say she had evening grosbeaks at her feeder. She was hopeful there may be an irruption of the birds this winter. I, too, am hopeful.

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For the Birds: Supporting conservation this giving season

One of my favorite places is a small pond in northern New Hampshire near the Canadian border.

It is miles from the nearest house and, in fact, miles from the nearest utility pole. It is truly wild, and over the years I have seen a lot of wildlife there, including dozens of moose, otters, bald eagles and osprey. The pond (technically it’s a fen) is too small for loons to nest on, but there is usually a loon or two using it for hunting and rest.

One morning, I was canoeing there, and as I made my way through a serpentine-like creek that feeds the pond, I noticed a sign attached to a tree. This is a strange place to see a sign, I thought, out here in the middle of nowhere and particularly this far down the creek.

As I got closer, I noticed it was a sign for the Nature Conservancy. I hadn’t really thought of it before, but some entity had to own the land that I enjoy visiting so much. In this case, obviously, it was land owned by the Nature Conservancy.

When you think of it, all land that we enjoy our nature watching, hiking, or any other outdoor recreational activity on is owned by someone or some thing. One of my favorite photos that I have taken is of a Baltimore oriole sipping nectar from a crab apple blossom. I took the photo many years ago in the spring on land owned by a local land trust. Without that land trust’s passion for conservation, I never would have gotten the opportunity to photograph the beautiful bird, and the land likely would have been a house, condominium complex, or strip mall.

Pretty much any photo or memory of the outdoors that I can think of will have a similar story. The land on which the photo was taken or the memory was made is owned by an entity that cares about land conservation and the importance of outdoor recreation. In many cases, the land is owned by a nonprofit organization that relies on philanthropy to support its mission.

Many people wait until December to make their charitable gifts for the year, and indeed, most of these organizations receive the bulk of their gifts at the end of the year. I certainly am not about to tell people how to spend their money, but if you are planning to make contributions to nonprofit organizations this year, I would encourage you to at least consider one of the many valuable conservation organizations out there. 

There are terrific conservation organizations at the international, national, state, and local levels. I am usually partial to the smaller state and local organizations, but all of these organizations are worthy of consideration. The Nature Conservancy, which I mentioned at the beginning of this column, is an international entity that has preserved land throughout the world.

I have been looking for years to purchase some land for camping and birdwatching but have been priced out of the market with the recent surge in real estate value. Land is expensive, finite and valuable. I am grateful for the organizations that understand the importance of outdoor recreation and keep their land available to the public. 

These organizations are certainly worthy of support.

For the Birds: An interesting time at the feeders

Photo by Chris Bosak – American goldfinch in late fall/winter plumage.

November is an interesting time to watch the feeders. The regular birds are still around, although some of them look a little different than they did in the summer.

A few new birds are also likely to show up. The trick is spotting them and seeing which ones actually do make an appearance. November is also a time when the weather can be unpredictable, and ahead of a good storm is always a terrific time to see the birds as they prepare for a rough day or days ahead.

My regular birds these days are chickadees, titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, blue jays and cardinals. Over the years, for whatever reason, I’ve never had great luck attracting cardinals. But this fall is different with daily visits from several males and females. I also get house finches, house sparrows and starlings. 

One day last week, a flock of 50 to 60 grackles showed up in the evening, which was interesting to see. Carolina wrens show up on occasion as do mourning doves. 

As I mentioned in a previous column, I have also seen a few red-breasted nuthatches. I am looking forward to seeing what else shows up this fall and winter. 

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For the Birds: A different kind of ‘feeder’ bird

I walked across the living room toward the large window that offers a view of the bird-feeding station and birdbath. I stopped dead in my tracks as a bird much larger than I expected to see was perched on the side of the birdbath.

Wisely, all of the other birds were nowhere to be seen. 

It was a Copper’s hawk, one of the hawks in New England that commonly preys on small feeder birds. The large bird of prey had no interest in the birdbath’s water — either for drinking or cleaning. It was simply using the structure as a perch to get a better look at the feeders and nearby bushes. It hopped off the birdbath and onto a hemlock branch I had discarded to give the feeder birds a place to hide. After peering through the underbrush and finding nothing, the hawk flew off.

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For the Birds: Blue jays and special memories

Photo by Chris Bosak A blue jay perches on a log and grabs a peanut in New England, October 2020.

I settled on the back porch of my brother’s house in western Pennsylvania and watched the blue jays hunt for acorns in an oak tree. 

Before I get into that, I wanted to acknowledge how exceptional the fall foliage has been this year. The conditions must have been just right. Oaks can sometimes go from green to burnt orange to brown quickly. This oak, and many others I’ve seen this fall, are a much brighter orange and the color is lingering longer before turning brown.

The blue jays would fly in from the surrounding areas and alight in this spectacular oak tree. The birds disappeared into the bright orange foliage and work at dislodging acorns. I couldn’t see the jays at work but the rustling of the leaves and branches let me know where they were.

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Cardinal plumages

Photo by Chris Bosak – A male cardinal visits a backyard in New England, fall 2022.

As a follow-up to my recent post on cardinals, here is a look at a male cardinal, female cardinal and immature cardinal. Note the brighter bill of the adult female cardinal compared to the young bird. Here is the original post.

Photo by Chris Bosak — A female cardinal visits a backyard in New England, fall 2022.
Photo by Chris Bosak – An immature cardinal visits a backyard in New England, fall 2022.