For the Birds: Welcome to May!

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

Welcome to May, arguably the best month of the year for birdwatching.

So many exciting things happen in the bird world in May that it’s hard to know where to begin. The breeding season is in full swing and our year-round birds as well as newly arrived migrant birds are either looking for nesting sites or already raising young. Suddenly our feeders are visited by colorful newcomers such as rose-breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles or indigo buntings. Waders are back in full force stalking our ponds and rivers.

When it comes to May, however, talk of the birding world has to begin with warblers, those small and often colorful Neotropical migrants that add life to our neck of the woods every spring. Some of these warblers will simply stop by for a few days before heading farther north to their breeding grounds. Many, however, will find a suitable place to raise young and will be with us until the fall.

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A few other birds that may be showing up

Photo by Chris Bosak A Rose-breasted Grosbeak visits a feeder in Danbury, Conn., May 2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Rose-breasted Grosbeak visits a feeder in Danbury, Conn., May 2016.

I’ve posted several warbler photos over the last week or so, but early May isn’t only about warblers. Here are a few other birds that may show up in your backyard (if they haven’t already.)

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For the Birds: Spring feeding and purple martins

Purple martins with dragonflies.

I don’t see a lot of press releases now that journalism is no longer my full-time profession, but I did receive a few last week that caught my eye.

One was from Cole’s Wild Bird Products and the other from the Purple Martin Conservation Association. The topics were very different but did have one important commonality: spring.

Cole’s, which makes a red-hot blend that I’ve used and the birds loved, sent some spring bird-feeding tips. Many people stop feeding birds in the spring for a variety of reasons, including bears and not wanting birds to become dependent upon feeders, but I’m a big fan of spring bird feeding. It’s a great way to get close, long looks at birds such as grosbeaks, orioles, buntings and even a few warbler species if you’re lucky.

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A few warblers

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

Due to various reasons (excuses?), I haven’t been out this year looking for warblers yet. But here are a few “old” shots to celebrate warbler season, a highlight of the birding year. I will take my own advice soon and “get out there.”

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The first warblers

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

Other than the very few warblers of various types that remained in New England all winter, the pine warbler and palm warbler will be the first arrive in the region. I have seen them show up on rare bird alerts already but they will return in larger numbers over the next two weeks. Keep you eyes on your feeders as pine warblers are one of the few warbler species that will visit feeders. I’ve seen them eat suet, suet nuggets and meal worms. Above is the pine warbler; below is the palm.

Photo by Chris Bosak A palm warbler rests on a wire fence in a backyard in New England, April 2020. Merganser Lake.

For the Birds: March hints at migration

Photo by Chris Bosak A northern cardinal perches on a hemlock branch in Danbury.

March is an interesting month for birdwatching. In terms of variety and new birds to be found, it does not rank very highly, but March does welcome our first spring migrants.

Red-winged blackbirds have been around for a few weeks already, and in fact, some had never left and remained with us throughout the winter. American Woodcock have been seen and heard throughout New England already. Their aerial displays at dusk are one of the month’s birding highlights for sure.

In a few weeks, eastern phoebes will show up in New England and for me anyway, that really signals the beginning of spring migration.

In March, we also have our remaining winter birds. Juncos and white-throated sparrows are still around my feeders, and a few red-breasted nuthatches are Continue reading

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.)