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

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

More towhees and a warbler

Photo by Chris Bosak A yellow warbler perches on a branch in Ridgefield, Conn., April 2019.

A recent walk in block 91A (my area of the Connecticut Bird Atlas) yielded even more eastern towhees than my walk last week. At one point I saw a female eastern towhee carrying a lump of straw in her bill. Good sign!

Later in my walk, after seeing a beautiful coyote cross the trail and disappear into the woods, I saw my first yellow warbler of the year. Yellow warblers are one of the more ubiquitous warblers in New England as they both migrate through and stay to breed Continue reading

Recognizing World Sparrow Day

Today is World Sparrow Day. I had never heard of this day before, but it has been around since 2010, according to websites I’ve seen. The day is set aside to celebrate and raise awareness of the decline of the house sparrow. I’m sure many of you (I know I did) immediately questioned that house sparrows are in decline. They are ubiquitous in many areas and so numerous to be considered a pest in others. But, according to many sites posting about World Sparrow Day, the familiar bird is indeed in decline throughout much of its global range.

I’ve been critical of house sparrows in the past and have complained of them “hogging” the birdfeeder perches, but I certainly do not wish a precipitous global decline of the species. I’ve read enough about the passenger pigeon to know that no species is safe regardless of their current population. So I read further on the matter of the house sparrow.

According to WorldSparrowDay.org: “The house sparrow was once the most common bird in the world, but in the past few years, this bird has been on the decline over much of its natural range, both in the urban and rural habitats. The decline of the house sparrow is an indicator of the continuous degradation the environment around us is facing. It is also a warning bell that alerts us about the possible detrimental effects on our health and wellbeing.”

It’s always good to get ahead of a problem before it’s too late, which is what the National Forever Society is doing with World Sparrow Day. Much more information is available at www.worldsparrowday.org. Take a look and make your own decisions about the state of the house sparrow.

The term “sparrow” is very broad and includes many bird species. In the U.S., we have “Old World Sparrows” and “New World Sparrows.” House sparrows, which are not native to North America, are Old World Sparrows and pretty much every other sparrow we see in New England is a New World Sparrow.

Here are some photos of New World Sparrows we see in New England.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A fox sparrow perches on the snow in Danbury, Conn., Nov. 16, 2018.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Chipping Sparrow raises its crest while standing on a log in Danbury, Conn., summer2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak
A Chipping Sparrow raises its crest while standing on a log in Danbury, Conn., summer2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak A White-throated Sparrow perches on a branch in Stamford, Conn., March 2015.
Photo by Chris Bosak
A White-throated Sparrow perches on a branch in Stamford, Conn., March 2015.
Photo by Chris Bosak A song sparrow eats berries at Dolce Center in Norwalk, Conn.
Photo by Chris Bosak A song sparrow eats berries at Dolce Center in Norwalk, Conn.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Swamp Sparrow perches on a branch at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary, fall 2014.
Photo by Chris Bosak
A Swamp Sparrow perches on a branch at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary, fall 2014.
Photo by Chris Bosak
An American Tree Sparrow perches near a feeding station during the snowstorm of Feb. 13, 2014.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Dark-eyed Junco eats a sunflower seedsthe day following a snow storm in New England, Jan. 2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak
A Dark-eyed Junco eats a sunflower seed the day following a snowstorm in New England, Jan. 2016.

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.

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.