For the Birds: Winter of the Bluebird brewing?

Photo by Chris Bosak
An eastern bluebird scans a yard in Danbury, CT, March 2019.

I thought it was going to be the winter of the junco again, but it’s looking more and more like the winter of the bluebird.

Last year was the winter of the barred owl. As you recall, barred owls were being seen in great numbers all throughout New England. Experts had conflicting theories on why so many of these beautiful owls were being seen, but there is no denying that more than usual were found. On one trip to visit my brother in upstate New York, I found two barred owls. The second owl was perched atop a Welcome to New York sign on the Vermont border.

Several years ago, Christmas Bird Count results were teeming with huge dark-eyed junco numbers. Whereas there are usually hundreds of juncos in a particular count area, there were thousands that year. I dubbed it the winter of the junco and have been on the lookout for similar anecdotal phenomena since then.

Who can forget the winter of the snowy owl a few years back? I can recall robins and pine siskins being highlighted in previous winters.

As I drive to work every day, one stretch of a particular road often has a large flock of juncos. They scatter as I drive by; their white-outlined tails giving away their identity. I had seen several other large flocks of juncos in other areas so I was convinced it was going to be another banner year for the small sparrows.

As the winter progresses, however, I’ve seen fewer juncos. Meanwhile, my inbox has been lighting up with people seeing eastern bluebirds throughout New England. Personally, I haven’t seen many bluebirds this winter, but a lot of people have, that’s for sure.

Bluebirds are not a rarity for a New England winter. They are not common by any means in the winter, but a certain number each year brave our coldest seasons. I remember when I was looking to purchase a house about five years ago. It was early March and as we pulled into one particular driveway, a small group of bluebirds was resting on a blanket of fresh snow on a bush along the driveway. I ended up buying the house.

I’ve heard from several readers about their eastern bluebird sightings this winter. Marge from Sullivan wrote to say she had several bluebirds at her suet feeder one morning. Raynee from Walpole sent in a photo of a bluebird inspecting a birdhouse in her backyard. She mentioned she does not have nesting bluebirds. It could be that the bluebird was looking for suitable respite from the cold. Jane from Marlborough had a pair of bluebirds visit her feeders a few weeks ago. She sees them in the summer but can’t recall ever seeing them in the winter before.

What about you? Can you confirm more bluebird sightings or is there another surprise visitor in your yard? Drop me a line and let me know.

Susan Stevens of Portsmouth NH, took this photo of a group of Eastern Bluebirds eating hulled sunflower seeds at her window feeder in March 2015. She said the bluebirds also eat suet.
Susan Stevens of Portsmouth NH, took this photo of a group of Eastern Bluebirds eating hulled sunflower seeds at her window feeder in March 2015. She said the bluebirds also eat suet.

One final 2019 birding highlight

Photo by Chris Bosak
A rose-breasted grosbeak eats safflower seeds from a feeder in Danbury, Conn., May 2019.

I promise, here’s the last 2019 birding highlight that didn’t make my Top 10 list. This usually does make my yearly Top 10 list, but other highlights nudged it out this year. Last year was another great year of feeding birds and watching birds in my back yard proved to be a highlight once again. So here’s to those backyard feeder birds. OK, now on to 2020.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A blue jay checks out a box for peanuts in New England, fall 2019.

Another 2019 birding highlight left off the list

Photo by Chris Bosak A young pileated woodpecker knocks on a fallen tree trunk as it looks for insects, Danbury, Conn., summer 2019.

I couldn’t let this 2019 birding highlight go unrecognized. I, like everyone else, love any pileated woodpecker sighting. This sighting was in my backyard and featured a male adult teaching a young pileated how to look for food. Here’s the original post with more information.

Here’s the link to my 2019 top 10 list.

Photo by Chris Bosak A pileated woodpecker feeds a youngster, Danbury, Conn., summer 2019.

Top highlight left off the Top 10 list

Photo by Chris Bosak An osprey eats a catfish at Cayuga Lake State Park, October 2019.

Here’s another 2019 highlight that could have easily made my Top 10 list, which I posted a few days ago. During an early September camping trip with three college friends in the Finger Lakes region of N.Y., we were treated to a sighting of an osprey eating a catfish. Wayne noticed the spectacle first and pointed it out to the rest of us as we were, coincidentally, having our breakfast.

Later in the day, we walked to the nearby beach and saw a few snow geese. It seemed early for snow geese sightings, but I didn’t complain as they are hard to come by in New England.

More leftover highlights to come …

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

For the Birds: Top 10 birding highlights of 2019

Photo by Will Bosak Kingbird rescue, Danbury, CT, 2019.

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

It’s time for my favorite column of the year. This is the time when I look back on the past year and give my top 10 birding highlights. Every year, I struggle to narrow it down to 10, but I will do my best and perhaps put a few honorable mention moments on my website in the next few days.

10. I visited my brother in Naples, Fla., in April and, of course, birds were everywhere. Waders such as egrets, herons, limpkins, and ibis were the dominant species. We have our fair share of waders in New England, for sure, but they are more numerous and more brave in the Sunshine State. I enjoy my visits to Florida, but always long for New England when I’m away.

9. A solid bald eagle sighting has to make this list. A summer canoe trip to the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area in Wurtsboro, N.Y., yielded just that. We saw the female and male, but the young eagles that locals said were around escaped us. The comeback of the bald eagle is a great conservation story. I hope it continues.

8. One last sighting outside of New England … Last winter was the Year of the Barred Owl, or so it seemed. People were seeing barred owls all over the place, day and night. My son and I were driving to Hoosick Falls, N.Y., last February to see another one of my brothers when, about half an hour shy of our destination, sure enough we saw a barred owl perched on a wire hanging over Route 22. The next morning, we saw another barred owl perched on a Welcome to New York sign. The photo was taken from the Vermont side of the sign so, technically, it was a New England sighting.

7. The Christmas Bird Count is always on this list somewhere. My CBC birding partner Frank and I found 52 species, totaling nearly 2,000 individual birds. The birds, the camaraderie, and feeling of doing good for conservation make the Christmas Bird Count a special event each year.

6. This year, after many years of procrastination and talking myself out of it, I tried my hand at selling some of my photography as Christmas cards. I was a vendor at a few craft fairs and did pretty well. The selling part was great, but talking to people about the photography and turning them on to birds was the real highlight. I’ll try again next year and try to figure out how to sell them online.

5. This spring, small flocks of common mergansers made their home for a few days at a small pond adjacent to a nearby shopping destination. I love my common mergansers and my sightings are typically of huge flocks hundreds of yards away. To see a few up close and personal was an unexpected treat, if only for a few days.

4. Barred owls were not the only species garnering attention last winter. Pine siskins were plentiful throughout New England and farther south and I certainly played host to more than my fair share. They stuck around for a long time, too, and visited daily in rain, sleet, snow and sun.

3. I started a new job a few months ago and, of course, I figured out a way to feed the birds out the window near my desk. I found a large, curled oak leaf, rested it on the flat top of a yew bush, and threw in some shelled sunflower seeds. I fill it daily and watch the juncos, white-throated sparrows and song sparrows partake.

2. I was sitting at my computer, probably writing a bird column or something, when my youngest son, Will, came charging up the driveway and into the house. He had been fishing with some friends at the nearby lake. “Dad, there’s a bird stuck on fishing line. I feel so bad for it.” I put the canoe on the car and rushed to the lake. An eastern kingbird tangled in fishing line was dangling helplessly from a tree over the water. Long story short, Will and I paddled out to the bird, untangled it and set it free. The full story, including when Will and I swamp the canoe in mucky water and the bird poops on my head, is archived on my website. Visit www.birdsofnewengland.com and put “kingbird” into the search field. I was proud that Will felt compelled to leave his friends and come get me to help a bird in despair.

1. The top highlight of the year is a morning I spent with three loons at Pillsbury State Park, near Lake Sunapee. The three-day camping trip was marred with rain on two of the mornings, but the middle morning featured a beautiful sunrise and mirror-like water with fog lifting. I saw the loons in the distance and stopped paddling. Eventually, they worked their way over to me and gave me fantastic views. Patience certainly paid off that morning.

I hope everyone had a terrific 2019. Best wishes for an even better 2020. I look forward to sharing more bird stories in the year to come.

Photo by Chris Bosak A common loon swims at May Pond in Pillsbury State Park in New Hampshire in June 2019.