Back to back For the Birds columns

Here are the last two For the Birds columns, mostly focused on what readers have been seeing this spring.

Photo by Chris Bosak A male indigo bunting eats seeds from a platform feeder in Danbury, Conn., in May 2018.
Photo by Chris Bosak A male indigo bunting eats seeds from a platform feeder in Danbury, Conn., in May 2018.

If the past season was the Winter of the barred owl, this is the spring of the indigo bunting.

I’ve heard from numerous readers and friends throughout New England and even Canada about this bright blue bird visiting their backyards. The cause for excitement is obvious as it is one of our more colorful birds, flashing a brilliant blue plumage. The brilliance of the blue plumage is dependent upon the light.

It is also nice to hear that so many of these birds are around and delighting backyard birders in large numbers. Rose-breasted grosbeaks are another popular bird this spring. I’ve had limited luck with indigo buntings this spring, but for me, it’s been a banner year for rose-breasted grosbeaks. I’ve seen as many as three males in a tree overhanging my feeders. A female visits the feeders often as well.

It’s also been a good spring for warblers and nearly every walk last week yielded yellow warblers, common yellowthroats, black-and-white warblers, chestnut-sided warblers, American redstarts and yellow-rumped warblers.

I’m not the only birdwatcher enjoying a productive spring. Here’s what Continue reading

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A little towhee time before warbler season

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern towhee perches on a branch in New England, April 25, 2019.

My foot was feeling up for a short, relatively non-taxing walk yesterday (Thursday) so I grabbed a walking stick and hit a trail. The aching foot enhanced the walk in one fashion as it made me slow down and take in all the sights and sounds of the spring New England woods. Too often when I walk I’m rushing to a destination or point of interest (pond or open field) and don’t take the time to fully absorb all that is around me. Not that I’m hoping the foot keeps hurting, but that was the silver lining in this latest bout of tendonitis.

It was still a bit early for a big warbler count — blue-winged and black-and-white were the only warbler species I found — but eastern towhees were numerous. I’ll expand on the eastern towhee in an upcoming post, but this large sparrow is one of my favorites. The calls and songs of the towhee filled the edge of the woods and I noticed several pairs, which bodes well for a strong breeding season (hopefully.) Above is the male eastern towhee and below is the female. The female is duller in color, but still a striking bird.

Photo by Chris Bosak A female eastern towhee perches on a branch in New England, April 25, 2019.

For the Birds: No moose, but gray jays keep us busy

Photo by Chris Bosak A gray jay perches in a tree in Pittsburg, N.H., November 2018.

The surprises began as soon as we arrived in Pittsburg, the northern tip of the Granite State. To be more accurate, the surprises began about an hour before our arrival.

“Is that snow on the ground?” I asked as we drove through the darkness.

The headlights revealed that, indeed, a thin layer of snow blanketed the sides of the roads. We arrived at our rented cabin to find about 2 inches of snow in the Great North Woods.

Snow in early November in northern New Hampshire is not surprising, but this particular snow caught me off guard because of how warm it has been in southern New England. Wasn’t it just 70 degrees the week before?

Although it served as a reminder that winter is coming fast for all of the region, the snow was a welcome gift from the North Country. It was beautiful and, Continue reading

Indigo bunting: Trying for the elusive photo

Photo by Chris Bosak  An indigo bunting sings from a branch in Ridgefield, Conn., in spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An indigo bunting sings from a branch in Ridgefield, Conn., in spring 2017.

I made my annual trip to Bennett’s Pond State Park in Ridgefield, Conn., to try to capture a decent photo of a male indigo bunting. I had limited success as they are fairly difficult to photograph, I’ve found. They are fairly wary birds and their brilliant blue plumage varies greatly with the lighting. That said, here’s one of the shots I managed. What a great bird.

I’m not a chaser, but a Great Gray Owl? Come on

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Gray Owl perches in a tree overlooking a field in Newport, N.H., in March 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Gray Owl perches in a tree overlooking a field in Newport, N.H., in March 2017.

As the headline says, I don’t typically chase rare birds around the region. It’s not that I don’t want to see the birds, but either family or work obligations usually prohibit me from taking long drives to see a bird.

But a Great Gray Owl within 3 1/2 hours? I gotta make that effort. I still had work but couldn’t risk waiting until the weekend should the bird decide to take off and not be found again. So I pulled a maneuver I used to do fairly often before I had kids: I basically pulled an all-nighter. I slept restlessly from midnight to 2:15 a.m. and drove three hours to Keene, N.H., to pick up my old friend Steve Hooper. Then we drove another 40 minutes to Newport, N.H., where this awesome bird had been seen in the same field each day for about a week straight. (I knew that thanks to the ABA rare bird alert.)

Hoop and I followed the directions and arrived at the scene at about 6:20 a.m. A rare bird alert message posted at 6:15 a.m. confirmed that the bird was indeed there. I was minutes away from seeing my first Great Gray Owl.

We walked a short distance down a trail, saw a handful of people and joined the small crowd. Sure enough, there was the owl, sitting in a bare deciduous tree surveying the field and ignoring his fans.

At one point it flew to another nearby deciduous tree and then eventually flew another short distance to a pine tree. The wind was strong and snow squalls came and went, but otherwise it was a rather pleasant day for the owl and his human visitors — especially for New Hampshire in early March.

I was hoping to see one more flight, but time was short. I had to drop off Hoop and drive the 3 1/2 hours back to Connecticut to get to work in the a.m. So by 10:30 a.m. I had driven to New Hampshire and back, and saw my first-ever Great Gray Owl. Just the old days.

Here are a few photos with more to come in the days ahead. Also coming soon is more information on the Great Gray Owl as a species.

No promises on how long it will stick around, of course, but here’s a link to a news story about the owl with directions on where to find it. 

And here’s the link to the ABA’s Rare Bird Alert with updates on the owl (and other sightings).

 

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Gray Owl perches in a pine tree in Newport, N.H., in March 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Gray Owl perches in a pine tree in Newport, N.H., in March 2017.


Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Gray Owl perches in a tree overlooking a field in Newport, N.H., in March 2017.

A frosty morning at the feeding station

Photo by Chris Bosak An American Goldfinch eats Nyjer seeds from a frozen feeder during a frosty April 2016 morning in Danbury, Conn.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An American Goldfinch eats Nyjer seeds from a frozen feeder during a frosty April 2016 morning in Danbury, Conn.

For the second day in a row the unpredictable New England weather provided an opportunity to get an interesting photo at the bird feeding station. Monday it was snow. Tuesday it was ice. Here, an American Goldfinch visits the Nyjer feeder, undaunted by the ice and freezing temperatures. Notice that this male is transitioning into its breeding plumage. Below are a few more icy photos from Merganser Lake.

Photo by Chris Bosak Ice covers a daffodil bloom in Fairfield County on a chilly Tuesday morning.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Ice covers a daffodil bloom in Fairfield County on a chilly Tuesday morning.

Photo by Chris Bosak Ice covers the branches of a tree in Danbury, Conn., April 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Ice covers the branches of a tree in Danbury, Conn., April 2016.

Project FeederWatch starts Saturday

Here’s an email I received recently from The Cornell Lab or Ornithology. With my new home buzzing with bird activity, I’m going to join this important citizen science project this year. Here are the details should you be thinking about it, too, or learning of the project for the first time here:

 

Dear Friend of the Cornell Lab,

The FeederWatch season begins on Saturday, November 14, so now is the time to sign up! This is the last reminder that we will send to you before the season starts, and we hope you decide to join the fun this year.

What is Project FeederWatch?

Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders. Participants periodically identify and count the birds at their feeders from November-April. Using our easy online data entry, you can immediately see all of your own counts and view colorful tables, graphs, and summaries.

With Project FeederWatch, you become the biologist of your own backyard.

Anyone interested in birds can participate; you don’t have to be an expert. All you need is a bird feeder, a comfortable chair, a window, and an interest in the birds in your neighborhood.

New participants will receive:

  • FeederWatch Handbook & Instructions
  • Full-color poster of common feeder birds
  • Bird-Watching Days Calendar
  • Our annual report, Winter Bird Highlights
  • Subscription to the Cornell Lab newsletter

Why should I participate?

FeederWatch data help scientists track broad movements and long term trends in abundance of winter feeder-bird populations. Explore the millions of FeederWatch sightings on our website. You can help contribute to a nearly 30-year dataset that helps us understand bird biology while learning about the feathered friends in your own backyard. Join online today.

Sign up for $18 ($15 for Lab members) today so that we can get your research kit in the mail.  Although it takes several weeks for kits to arrive, you can begin counting birds Saturday following our online instructions. Your participation fee helps keep the project running; without it, Project FeederWatch wouldn’t be possible.

We hope you will tell us about the birds at your feeders!

Sincerely,


Emma Greig
Project Leader
Project FeederWatch