For the Birds: Good news from the Winter Finch Forecast

Photo by Chris Bosak A pine siskin perches on the top of an evergreen in Danbury, CT, March 2019.

The 2020-21 Winter Finch Forecast is out and it looks like it could be an exciting next several months in New England.

This is the first forecast by Tyler Hoar. Ron Pittaway did the forecast for several decades before passing the torch to Hoar this year. The Winter Finch Forecast is a prediction of what finch (and other) species may irrupt into New England and parts south and west. An irruption is when northern birds move to or through an area in abnormally high numbers. For example, many years we get very few or even no pine siskins. Other years we get so many we can’t fill the feeders fast enough. Irruptions occur mainly due to food availability, or lack thereof. If it is a bad crop year up north for a certain type of food, such as pine cone seeds, irruptions may occur as birds move in search of food sources.

According to Hoar, this is shaping up to be a good year for purple finches and evening grosbeaks. It is also a year when red-breasted nuthatches are moving south in high numbers. Perhaps you’ve seen more of these small, charismatic birds than usual in your yard this fall already. I hadn’t seen or heard a red-breasted nuthatch in my yard for about four years. This fall, I’ve had three already. I’ve seen only one, and heard the other two. Red-breasted nuthatches have higher-pitched songs and calls than their cousins, the white-breasted nuthatch. It’s an unmistakable difference once you learn it. Red-breasted nuthatches are the more common nuthatch throughout much of New England, particularly up north. In southern New England, irruption years of red-breasted nuthatches are a special treat as they are not resident birds.

The Winter Finch Forecast covers finches such as redpolls, crossbills and siskins, as well as a few small birds that aren’t finches. Irruptions are not limited to these small birds, of course. Who can forget the winter of 2013-14 when snowy owls were all the rage and showed up in places they’d never been seen before?

To see the full forecast, enter “2020-21 Winter Finch Forecast” into a web search and have at it. Are we likely to see common redpolls this winter? I’ll leave that research up to you. I’m always looking forward with excitement regardless of the season, but the Winter Finch Forecast offers that much more incentive to cheer on winter and the colder months. Winter is not so bad after all.

For the Birds: Feeling a lot like fall

Photo by Chris Bosak A Bald Eaglea fies over Little Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., Sept. 2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Bald Eagle flies over Little Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., Sept. 2016.

There have been a few mornings recently that have felt an awful lot like fall. Cool temperatures, low humidity, the occasional falling leaf.

The bird world is following suit in New England, ever so slowly. I’ve seen a few passing warblers in the backyard over the past few weeks and the hummingbirds are feeding with an added urgency to fatten up for their journey south.

I’m not trying to rush the end of summer, and we still have a few weeks until it is officially over. The end of August and beginning of September is a fun transition time in the bird and nature world. A walk through a New England meadow this time of year yields butterflies, dragonflies and all sorts of crazy-looking insects that make you think of summer. Then, you notice the goldenrod in bloom and a hawk soaring overhead reminiscent of fall.

The fall migration starts as early as July when young shorebirds work their way southward along the New England coast. It really begins in earnest in the middle of September when the hawk migration gains a head of steam. September is when a visit to a hawk Continue reading

Birds to brighten your day: May 21

Photo by Chris Bosak
An indigo bunting perches on a branch in New England, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

I was a little late to the indigo bunting party this spring, but I finally got one yesterday. I visited a nearby park and took a trail I usually don’t take. I can get stuck in a routine of walking the same route every time I go to a place I visit frequently. This time I took the path less traveled and it made all the difference. (Corny, I know.)

(Repeat text for context:  I’m running out of COVID-19 lockdown themes so from now until things get back to some semblance of normalcy, I will simply post my best photo from the previous day. You could say it fits because of its uncertainty and challenge. I’ll call the series “A Day on Merganser Lake,” even though that’s not the real name of the lake I live near in southwestern Connecticut, it’s just a nod to my favorite duck family.)

Birds to brighten your day: May 18

Photo by Chris Bosak A chestnut-sided warbler lurks in the brush in New England, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

Warbler season was on full display over the weekend. One of my favorite warblers is the chestnut-sided warbler. I like the color scheme and anything with the color chestnut has got to be cool. This guy was lurking among the bushes as I was trying to find a different warbler. I’m glad he made himself known.

(Repeat text for context:  I’m running out of COVID-19 lockdown themes so from now until things get back to some semblance of normalcy, I will simply post my best photo from the previous day. You could say it fits because of its uncertainty and challenge. I’ll call the series “A Day on Merganser Lake,” even though that’s not the real name of the lake I live near in southwestern Connecticut, it’s just a nod to my favorite duck family.)

Birds to brighten your day: May 11

Photo by Chris Bosak
A rose-breasted grosbeak perches on a feeder in New England, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day in Merganser Lake XX

This isn’t the first and hopefully won’t be the last rose-breasted grosbeak in this series. I’m pretty sure they nested in the woods behind my property two years ago. I’m hoping they repeat that this year. Daily visits by rose-breasted grosbeaks would certainly brighten up these odd times.

(Repeat text for context:  I’m running out of COVID-19 lockdown themes so from now until things get back to some semblance of normalcy, I will simply post my best photo from the previous day. You could say it fits because of its uncertainty and challenge. I’ll call the series “A Day on Merganser Lake,” even though that’s not the real name of the lake I live near in southwestern Connecticut, it’s just a nod to my favorite duck family.)

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

Birds to brighten your day: May 9

Photo by Chris Bosak A Baltimore oriole perches on a branch in New England, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake XVIII

Here’s another first at the feeder for me. It was hard to miss this guy as he perched in a branch outside the window. Wow, the color! He mostly hung out on the branch as if deciding what food to try out. I have oranges and grape jelly offered — two foods orioles are supposed to like. This guy ignored both and grabbed a few bites of suet before moving along.

There will be more photos of this guys coming soon.

(Repeat text for context:  I’m running out of COVID-19 lockdown themes so from now until things get back to some semblance of normalcy, I will simply post my best photo from the previous day. You could say it fits because of its uncertainty and challenge. I’ll call the series “A Day on Merganser Lake,” even though that’s not the real name of the lake I live near in southwestern Connecticut, it’s just a nod to my favorite duck family.)

Photo by Chris Bosak A Baltimore oriole perches on a branch in New England, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

Birds to brighten your day: May 6

Photo by Chris Bosak A gray catbird perches on a deck railing in New England, April 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake XVI

Catbirds aren’t known as big feeder birds, but this one stopped by briefly for a mealworm or two. I haven’t seen it since. This photo shows the rusty patch under its tail, which is not always shown. During the dog days of summer, sometimes it seems that a few catbirds are the only birdlife to be found. Welcome back to New England!

(Repeat text for context:  I’m running out of COVID-19 lockdown themes so from now until things get back to some semblance of normalcy, I will simply post my best photo from the previous day. You could say it fits because of its uncertainty and challenge. I’ll call the series “A Day on Merganser Lake,” even though that’s not the real name of the lake I live near in southwestern Connecticut, it’s just a nod to my favorite duck family.)

Photo by Chris Bosak
A gray catbird perches on a deck railing in New England, April 2020. Merganser Lake.

Birds to brighten your day: May 2

Photo by Chris Bosak A rose-breasted grosbeak visits a feeder in New England, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake XXIII

On the first day of May, “my” rose-breasted grosbeaks showed up. First, it was one male at my bedroom window feeder. Later, it was two males — both at my backyard feeding station. Welcome back! I look forward to seeing more of their relatives in the coming weeks.

Remember, always feel free to let me know via email or comment what you’re seeing.

(Repeat text for context:  I’m running out of COVID-19 lockdown themes so from now until things get back to some semblance of normalcy, I will simply post my best photo from the previous day. You could say it fits because of its uncertainty and challenge. I’ll call the series “A Day on Merganser Lake,” even though that’s not the real name of the lake I live near in southwestern Connecticut, it’s just a nod to my favorite duck family.)

Birds to brighten your day: April 27

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

A Day on Merganser Lake XVIII

Here’s a solo shot of the yellow-rumped warbler. Warblers aren’t known as feeder birds, but I’ve had three yellow-rumpeds and at least two pine warblers all over my suet feeders the last few days. Warblers are small, often colorful birds that winter in parts south and migrate north each spring. Some nest in New England and some pass through New England on their way farther north.

(Repeat text for context:  I’m running out of COVID-19 lockdown themes so from now until things get back to some semblance of normalcy, I will simply post my best photo from the previous day. You could say it fits because of its uncertainty and challenge. I’ll call the series “A Day on Merganser Lake,” even though that’s not the real name of the lake I live near in southwestern Connecticut, it’s just a nod to my favorite duck family.)