For the Birds: Keep an eye out for kinglets

Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-crowned kinglet inspects sedum for food in New England, fall 2019.

I’ve seen them in the deep woods, in my flower garden, in suburban parks and even at a sandy beach.

There are no excuses for missing out on kinglets during the fall migration. That is, unless you aren’t outside enough looking for them, which is unacceptable.

Last week, I wrote about the tiny kinglets being tough creatures able to withstand extremely low temperatures. This week, I’ll take a closer look at kinglets, a good reliable sighting throughout New England during migration periods.

We have two types of kinglets in New England: the ruby-crowned kinglet and the golden-crowned kinglet. Don’t let the names fool you, the color of the crown is not a good way to distinguish the two species in the field. First of all, you hardly ever see the crowns in the first place — especially that of the ruby-crowned kinglet — and secondly, the colors don’t Continue reading

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We need more snow geese

Photo by Chris Bosak
Snow geese at Cayuga State Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y., fall 2019.

You didn’t think I was going to post one snow goose photo and leave it at that, did you? Here’s the link to my previous post on snow geese in which I mention that New England, for the most part, misses out (but not by much) on the massive snow goose migrations.

I found these snow geese near the beach at Cayuga State Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y., during a camping trip with three long-time friends. Yes, it’s not New England, but it’s only a few hours drive away and the area gets so many snow geese that people actually complain about them. (At least the one wine pourer did.) It just goes to show the narrow margin by which New England misses the spectacle.

Here are some more shots of the geese. There were four geese there when we visited in late September. In a few weeks, the mowed corn fields will be filled with these beautiful birds.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Snow geese at Cayuga State Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y., fall 2019.
Photo by Chris Bosak Snow geese at Cayuga State Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y., fall 2019.
Photo by Chris Bosak
Snow geese at Cayuga State Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y., fall 2019.

Fall migrant spotlight: Snow goose

Snow goose, Seneca Falls, N.Y., fall 2019.

New England is not known for its snow geese. In fact, most snow geese that I have seen in New England are “stray” individuals hanging out with Canada geese. The massive flocks seem to be reserved for nearby states such as Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. There are, however, pockets of New England that host large numbers of snow geese for relatively short periods of time. Northern Vermont comes to mind for such a spectacle.

Snow geese are one of the world’s most numerous species. Most snow geese are white (hence the name) but young ones are grayish and there is a blue morph variety. Here’s an interesting tidbit from allaboutbirds.org: “In wintering and migrating flocks that are feeding, lookouts keep an eye out for eagles and other predators. Upon sighting a threat they call out to the rest of the flock, which may take flight.”

Here’s a great article on the snow goose migration from www.pennlive.com

Happy fall migration.

Classic For the Birds: Neither summer nor winter

Here’s another classic For the Birds column, this one originally printed in the fall of 2007. Andrew was five, Will was two, the economy was starting to unravel.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-crowned Kinglet perches in a tree at Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods on May 5, 2014.

We’re losing birds daily as the days get shorter and nights get cooler. That’s the pessimistic view.

We’re gaining birds daily, too, as the days get shorter and nights get cooler. I like that one better. I try to be a glass-half-full type of guy, even as my 401k plunges into the abyss.

Fall migration is a funny thing for birdwatchers in New England. We say goodbye until next spring to some birds, such as oystercatchers, ospreys, and hummingbirds; and hello to our winter birds such as white-throated sparrows, juncos, and ducks of all shapes and sizes. In the meantime, birds that nest north of here and winter south of here will pass through like a train in no particular hurry to reach its destination.

Now is the time to concentrate on those varieties. The kinglets, warblers and vireos of the bird world. Our summer birds have been with us for months. The winter birds will be here soon and stay with us until spring. The migrants are fleeting. That’s why they’re called migrants.

Kinglets are my favorite fall migrant to watch. A tiny bird that would easily fit in the palm of your hand, kinglets are energetic little bundles of joy. We have two varieties in New England: ruby-crowned and golden-crowned. For the most part they migrate through New England at different times, but I once watched from my kitchen window a ruby-crowned and golden-crowned sharing the same hemlock branch.

Kinglets are not shy and will often hunt for tiny insects within arm’s reach of any human patient enough to stand still long and learn its hunting pattern. They hunt high in trees, along the tops of average-sized bushes and even along the ground. I once watched a ruby-crowned kinglet hunt on a sandy beach a few autumn’s past.

Warblers are the jewels of the bird world in the spring. They are colorful, spritely and somewhat easy to identify if you can get a good look at them. In the fall, they are still sought after, but often painfully confusing for birdwatchers. The males of most species, resplendent in their breeding plumage in the spring, sport feathers that are dulled by age and the toils of summer by fall. First-year birds — mere helpless naked babies a few months ago — are passing through New England in their confusing neither-here-nor-there plumage.

I had an unfortunate warbler sighting last weekend. I was walking along a long road with my five-year-old, Andrew, and two-year-old, Will. First, let me clarify the walking situation. We had just spent a wonderful, but exhausting morning/early afternoon at an Aquarium in southern New England. We had to walk a fair distance back to the car, but the kids were in no mood to walk under their own power anymore — especially if sharks and seals were not involved — so I had Will on my shoulders and Andrew in my arms. I love them to death, but they are getting heavy.

Suddenly Andrew, who was facing backwards, says, “Daddy, you just walked past a bird.” Sure enough, there on the sidewalk was a dead black-throated blue warbler. I put the kids down and examined the bird. It was perfectly intact and likely either collided with a window or simply fell exhausted from the sky. Not that I particularly enjoyed that warbler sighting, but it did serve as an educational lesson for Andrew and Will, and was a mighty handsome subject at that. (It also gave me a little break from carrying two growing boys.)

Double-crested cormorants made for another educational lesson that morning. The cormorants were alive and well, and this lesson was actually fun — at least I thought so, anyway. Cormorants are large diving water birds. When they swim pretty much only their long necks are above the water, making them look like swimming snakes. There were about a dozen of them swimming under a railroad bridge in a river. It was Andrew’s job to first find them and then count them. The game could have gone on for hours as the diving cormorants became “new” birds each time they resurfaced. He got to about 30 before the game got old and we went back into the Aquarium.

Soon, the double-crested cormorants will be gone and great cormorants will take their place along New England’s coast for the winter. Also before long, waterfowl of many varieties will arrive in New England. Some will merely pass through and some will stay all winter.

The days are going to get even shorter and the temperatures are going to get a lot colder. Those ducks, however, will help us get through the winter. They always do.

For the Birds: Get out there for fall migration

Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-tailed hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., January 2015.
Photo by Chris Bosak — The hawk migration is a highlight of the fall bird migration in New England.

There is more to the fall migration than hawk watches on top of mountains. Watching raptors effortlessly soar among the thermals is indeed the highlight of the fall migration, but everything from shorebirds and songbirds to waders and waterfowl move south in the fall as well.

The fall migration does not garner as much enthusiasm as the spring migration among most birders for many reasons, I believe.

The height of the spring migration is concentrated into a predictable three- or four-week period when you are assured of seeing many colorful songbirds. The fall migration is more spread out. It actually started in July with some shorebirds moving south and will Continue reading

A walk for the birds at Oak Hills

Some bird nerd with cool birdwatching peeps.

I’m a little late with this posting but better late than never. A few Saturdays ago I led a bird walk at Oak Hills Park in Norwalk. I was honored to be invited by the park’s Nature Advisory Committee to be the bird guide. Of course, I accepted because I love spreading the good word about birds and I have a soft spot for any volunteer organization that promotes nature appreciation and saves land.

As a bit of background, Oak Hills Park is mainly a golf course and the nature trails are on land that was once targeted to be cleared for a driving range. The Nature Advisory Committee now stewards that part of the property, which is valuable for birds and other animals — and plants for that matter. Case in point, during the walk we came across a box turtle in the woods. The box turtle is one of many animal species in decline because of loss of habitat.

The walk drew a large crowd and we saw many exciting birds. The highlight for many, myself included, was a very cooperative scarlet tanager, one of the most colorful and brightest birds we see in New England during migration. The red-bodied and black-winged bird flitted around and rested at eye level not far from the gathered crowd. I also pointed out over and over the sound of the Continue reading

Warbler Week: Common yellowthroat

Photo by Chris Bosak
A common yellowthroat perches on a branch in Ridgefield, Conn., May 2019.

Aside from the yellow warbler, the common yellowthroat is perhaps New England’s most common and widespread warbler. The male is a handsome bird with a thin white “forehead,” thick black face mask and bright yellow throat and underparts. The rest of the body is olive and tan. Females are mostly olive and tan with a yellow throat. The loud “witchety-witchety-witchety” song often accompanies birders on spring and early summer walks. Yellowthroats prefer shrubby habitat and are usually found low in this habitat.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Female common yellowthroat