Siskin irruption hits home — finally

Photo by Chris Bosak A pine siskin eats Nyjer seeds at a feeder in Danbury, Conn., fall 2018.

After reading about pine siskins being seen throughout New England for several weeks, I woke up this morning to three of them at my feeding station. Pine siskins are one of the winter finches that irrupt from the north into New England and points south in sporadic winters. (Related post may be found here.)

Pine Siskins are often confused with goldfinches because they look fairly similar and prefer Nyjer (or thistle) seeds. Siskins are a bit larger, more sleek, more streaked and have a longer, pointed bill. The heavy streaking, especially on the sides, and yellow wing and tail markings are the best clues to differentiate the species. The male siskins have more prominent yellow markings. 

So today I celebrate that the siskins have arrived. The birds, however, have a very healthy appetite and Nyjer seed is not cheap, so we’ll see how I feel if their numbers multiply. I’m sure I’ll continue to be inspired by their presence. After all, it’s been about 10 years since I was a part of one of their irruptions. I think I can splurge once a decade on them. 

Here is a photo of them with goldfinches. Note the differences in plumage. The goldfinch is on the lower right. 

Photo by Chris Bosak Pine siskins visit a feeder in Danbury, Connecticut, fall 2018.
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For the Birds column: Project FeedWatch underway

Here’s my latest For the Birds column, which ran last Thursday in The Hour (Norwalk, CT) and Monday in The Keene (N.H.) Sentinel.

Photo by Chris Bosak White-breasted Nuthatches are a common feeder bird in New England.

Photo by Chris Bosak
White-breasted Nuthatches are a common feeder bird in New England.

Project FeederWatch gets under way

What will $18 get you these days?

About four cups of coffee from Starbucks. (Served in plain red cups void of evil, offensive snowflake images.)

About eight gallons of gasoline. Way better than the five gallons it used to get you.

Three bundles of the firewood stacked at the entrance of every grocery store, convenience store and hardware store these days. The bundles are each good for about 10 minutes in a firepit.

Two and a half craft beers at just about any bar or restaurant. Oops, forgot about the tip. Make that two beers.

Or, $18 covers your entrance fee to participate in Project FeederWatch, a citizen science project of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. It entails keeping track of the birds you see at your backyard feeding stations and submitting your results online. The data collected helps scientists track bird populations in the winter — similar to the Christmas Bird Count and Great Backyard Bird Count.

The fee also gets you a bird ID poster, birdwatching calendar, instruction sheet and newsletter. No guarantee here that the materials will not have images of snowflakes. Try not to be offended if they do.

Project FeederWatch officially started this past Saturday and runs through early April. Don’t worry if you missed the opening day, you can join in whenever. Participants can count the birds as much or as little as they’d like — 24/7 monitoring is not necessary. Being an expert birdwatcher is not required either.

All skill levels welcome. Why not get the entire family involved? Old and young.

I’ve never participated in the Project before, mostly because I’ve never lived in a place where my feeders have been terribly active. Now that I live at a place with very active feeders I’m looking forward to participating this year. (Active feeders, however, are not a prerequisite for participation. Anybody can do it as long as they have a feeder up.)

The feeders at my new place are always bustling with the common visitors White-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice and Downy Woodpeckers. I also see Carolina Wrens, Blue Jays, Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and American Goldfinches. Lately I’ve noticed a few Dark-eyed Juncos under the feeders. The White-throated Sparrows are not far behind, I’m sure. Will my Pine Warblers I had earlier this fall return to the suet cake? Probably not, but I’ll be watching. Who knows what else will show up?

To join the Project or to get more information, visit http://www.feederwatch.org. The website is full of information and tips on identifying birds (including tricky IDs), feeding birds tips, trend maps, and historical data.

So why participate other than it “helps scientists?” Many bird species are in decline, some seriously so. Tracking the winter abundance and distribution of birds with long-term data offers valuable insight into their lives. It helps scientists track gradual population shifts of bird species. WE know the Carolina Wren and Red-bellied Woodpecker are trending northward. This data quantifies the movement.

That’s more of a positive population shift. What about the negative one? What about the species that are declining year after year?

The data helps scientists recognize the decline and figure out solutions more quickly.

Let me know if join and what birds you see at your feeders.

 

For the Birds runs Thursdays in The Hour. Chris Bosak may be reached at bozclark@earthlink.net. Visit his website at birdsofnewengland.com

It’s that time of year again. Warblers abound.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Prairie Warbler perches in a tree at Selleck's/Dunlap Woods on May 5, 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Prairie Warbler perches in a tree at Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods on May 5, 2014.

I took a quick walk before work this morning. As usual, I was running behind getting my third-grader to school, so I had only about 15 minutes for this walk. But it was enough to know that we are in what many birders consider the most exciting two weeks of the year. The warbler migration started with a trickle a few weeks ago in New England. Based on what I saw on my quick walk this morning, the warbler season is picking up fast. A Prairie Warbler was the first bird I saw — not a bad start to a walk. A few Yellow Warblers darted here and there, too. Yellow Warblers nest at Selleck’s Woods, so hopefully they are looking to set up shop for the summer.

The walk included a few other warbler species as well as the sounds of other colorful songbirds, such as Baltimore Orioles and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. It’s a great time to be out there. Let me know what you are seeing.

Here’s a post from last year featuring some of the warblers you may see out there this time of year. Click here.

Must be spring, the phoebes are back

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Phoebe perches on a branch in Selleck's Woods in Darien, Conn., in late March 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Phoebe perches on a branch in Selleck’s Woods in Darien, Conn., in late March 2015.

A very quiet walk in a patch of woods the other day suddenly turned interesting when a lone Eastern Phoebe made an appearance. Overall, the phoebe is somewhat drab, but its habit of bobbing its tail constantly gives its identity away immediately.

I’ve always liked phoebes despite their nondescript appearance and quiet voice. Perhaps it’s because they migrate so early and offer some hope that winter is finally in the rearview mirror.

I’ve been seeing them almost daily now, so it’s nice to know spring is here. Phoebes, just like chickadees and several birds, are named after the song they sing.