For the Birds: Surprise and welcomed bobcat sighting

Photo by Chris Bosak A bobcat rests in a field in New England, March 2021. (Huntington State Park)

The large field is bordered by hedgerows on three sides and woods on the fourth. Additional hedgerows divide the field perpendicularly about every 100 yards with small cutouts where the trails pass through.

I emerged from the woods and spotted something large walking along the east hedgerow about 40 yards away from the trail. It was tan, but then again so was everything else around it: the grass, the weeds, the hedgerow. I stopped in my tracks to watch it.

Before my brain fully comprehended the situation, I thought it was either a deer or a mountain lion. I quickly eliminated deer as it was clearly a large cat based on its smooth, stealthy and powerful stride. Can I finally put the mountain lion (or cougar or catamount) debate to rest with solid photos documenting the sighting?

I entertained that idea for about two seconds before my brain said, “Hold on. That’s a bobcat.”

I dug out my binoculars and confirmed that it was indeed a bobcat. It was my first bobcat sighting in many years and by far the closest and best look I’ve ever had. What a magnificent animal. Now I see why many people mistake them for mountain lions. Bobcats are much more substantially sized than a “large house cat,” as I have heard them described in the past. I have a good-sized house cat at home, and there’s no comparing it to the bobcat. Male bobcats average around 28 pounds and females around 18. The New Hampshire record, however, is 51 pounds.

I fished my camera out of my backpack and took a few photos of the bobcat walking along the hedgerow. I continued along the trail, which soon curved and headed in the direction of the bobcat, which at this point still hadn’t acknowledged that it knew I was there. I made a loud noise to get its attention. With the trail veering closer to the bobcat, I didn’t want to surprise the animal. I figured it would run or trot off when it heard me, but it froze in its tracks and hunkered down to blend in with the surroundings. If I hadn’t been watching it all along, I never would have spotted it among the sea of tan.

I was surprised the bobcat sat still instead of running away. It reminded me of an American bittern trying to elude detection by raising its neck and swaying among the reeds.

I continued along the trail, walking backward to keep an eye on the hunkered cat. When enough distance was between us, I turned and finished my walk. I did look over my shoulder several times to make sure I wasn’t being stalked.

Bobcats are the only wild cat throughout most of New England. Lynx may be found in the northern part of the region, and the mountain lion debate is too hot a topic for me to get into right now. Bobcats may be found in each of the region’s states.

They are shy and avoid people, although many wander into backyards looking for easy meals near bird feeders or chicken coops. Habitat changes and destruction, coupled with unregulated hunting, caused bobcat numbers to drop significantly in New England throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. Recent protections have led to a strong rebound for the bobcat. With the population rebounding, I hope it’s not quite as long between bobcat sightings for me.

More bobcat photos

Photo by Chris Bosak A bobcat rests in a field in New England, March 2021. (Huntington State Park)

As promised (and expected, I’m sure), here are a few more photos of the bobcat I saw the other day at Huntington State Park in Redding earlier this week. Here’s the original post with more details.

I first noticed the bobcat walking in a field.

Photo by Chris Bosak A bobcat walks through a field in New England, March 2021. (Huntington State Park)

It sat down when it heard me walking along a trail.

Photo by Chris Bosak A bobcat rests in a field in New England, March 2021. (Huntington State Park)

Then it lay down and blended in with the field. I never would have noticed it if I hadn’t seen it walking.

Photo by Chris Bosak A bobcat rests in a field in New England, March 2021. (Huntington State Park)

I grabbed a few shots and let it go about its day. It continued to walk along the edge of the field and eventually disappeared into the bordering brush.

Photo by Chris Bosak A bobcat rests in a field in New England, March 2021. (Huntington State Park)

Finally a bobcat sighting

Photo by Chris Bosak A bobcat rests in a field in New England, March 2021. (Huntington State Park)

I came out of the woods and started walking through a field at Huntington State Park in Redding, Connecticut, Monday evening. I noticed something walking through the field parallel to my path about 50 yards to the east. As you can see from the photo, it was a bobcat, a photographic target of mine for years. Finally, I had found one. I can understand why some people mistakenly think they see a mountain lion when, in fact, they see a bobcat. It was much larger than I thought it would be. I’ve heard bobcats described as looking like “large house cats.” I don’t believe that does the bobcat justice. I have a fairly large house cat at home and this bobcat was much, much larger. More photos to come … of course.

For the Birds: Crossbills worth the chase

Photo by Chris Bosak A red-winged crossbill eats seeds from a cone at Hammonasset State Park, February 2021.

I’m usually not one to chase birds. Over the years, I have made a few exceptions when the bird is not terribly far away.

By “chasing birds” I mean getting in your car and driving to where a rare bird has been spotted. Some people love chasing birds and will drive hours to see the rarity, which is perfectly fine if that is their thing. It just has never been my thing. It makes sense that chasing birds and listing birds go hand in hand. If you are a big lister, then you are probably a chaser. If you are not a big lister, which I am not, then you are probably not a big chaser. The only list I half-heartedly keep is a yard list, and there is no need for chasing with a yard list.

I do, however, like to photograph birds and it is always exciting to add a photo of a new bird. That has been the driving force behind the few times I have chased birds. Last weekend was one of those occurrences. I had been reading about a flock of relatively tame red crossbills that had been seen daily about an hour from my house.

I was up early one weekend morning, so I decided to take a little drive. I figured it was a better use of my time than lying in bed trying in vain to fall back asleep.

I arrived at the park’s parking lot to see a large group of birders standing on a boardwalk. Many had big, fancy cameras on sturdy tripods, others had smaller cameras slung around their necks, and some had only binoculars. It was obvious that they were all there to see the crossbills. At least I didn’t have to go looking for the birds, I thought.

On the way to the boardwalk I was distracted by a flock of horned larks in an open area. I stopped and grabbed a few photos of these birds before heading over to the boardwalk. As I took a few steps toward the boardwalk, I saw a flock of small birds flying out of the spruce tree near the birders. Oh no, there go the crossbills, I thought. Thankfully, they didn’t go far and settled into another evergreen about 30 yards away. I followed the crowd of birders to a spot near, but not too near, the tree in which the birds had settled.

I watched as several male and female crossbills of various ages and plumage variations moved around the tree to find cones. Crossbills get their name because their bills are crossed at the tips, which makes it easier for them to access the seeds inside tough spruce and pine cones. I could hear them scrape the cones with their bills to get to the morsels inside.

About 20 minutes later, the flock moved over to another tree, this time closer to the parking lot. Again, the crowd of birdwatchers followed these tiny celebrities and kept a respectable distance away from the birds.

The birds flew off again about 10 minutes later. This time, I did not follow the crowd but rather got back into my truck and headed home. The photos I got were rather disappointing, but I’m happy I made the trip anyway. I have always been fascinated by crossbills and was happy to get to see them. I did manage to get a few nice photos of the larks, however.

Red crossbills are a northern bird that sometimes irrupt into New England and farther south following available food sources. In this winter of irruptions, I guess it’s not surprising that crossbills are in the move.

For the Birds: Bluebirds and winter

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern bluebird braves a New England winter and visit a backyard for mealworms, winter 2020.

It’s been another great winter for bluebirds. I haven’t been lucky enough to attract them to my new house yet, but I have seen them several times out in the field and while driving along side roads.

I’ve heard from several readers who have seen these cheerful birds as well, and that’s always good to see.

I remember years ago when I was new to birding and I came across a small group of bluebirds at Surry Dam while snow fell all around. I was surprised and excited to see them. I thought bluebirds were long gone by the time winter came around in New England. I took a few photos (this was back in the days of film) and anxiously awaited the results from the lab. The photos were pretty terrible as I recall, but the day still sticks out in my head as a great birding day.

I, like most birdwatchers I would imagine, like to research new findings. I think curiosity about the natural world is a prerequisite for being a birder. I found out that the sighting wasn’t particularly rare and that many bluebirds, indeed, stay around for the winter. It didn’t Continue reading

Horned lark: The demise of a morsel

Photo by Chris Bosak A horned lark looks for food in New England, February 2021.

Not sure what this morsel of food is (or was) but the horned lark took care of it in one bite. (OK, so it’s not as exciting as a hawk eating a squirrel or an eagle eating a fish, but it’s still a bird eating Continue reading

Making the trip to see crossbills

Photo by Chris Bosak A red crossbill eats seeds from a cone at Hammonasset State Park, February 2021.

I’m not much of a “chaser,” which is a birder who will travel great lengths to see a rare bird that has been spotted. But … I’ve always been fascinated by crossbills and a flock of them has been seen regularly about an hour away — at Hammonasset State Park. I was up early today and decided to make the trip. It was worth it as the birds put on a show for many birdwatchers and photographers. The red crossbills flitted from one evergreen to the next, pausing to find seeds among the cones. Crossbills get their name for their crossed bills (makes sense, right), an adaptation that allows them to dig out and crack seeds from pine and spruce cones.

More to come …

Photo by Chris Bosak A red crossbill eats seeds from a cone at Hammonasset State Park, February 2021.
Photo by Chris Bosak A red crossbill eats seeds from a cone at Hammonasset State Park, February 2021.

For the Birds: Time to count the birds

Photo by Chris Bosak A fox sparrow perches on the snow in Danbury, Conn., Nov. 16, 2018.

It’s time to help the birds again.

As usual, New Hampshire Audubon’s Backyard Winter Bird Survey and the Great Backyard Bird Count take place on the weekend so you can kill two birds with … oh wait, bad expression. You can help two birds (really all of them) with one walk in the woods. New Hampshire Audubon’s Backyard Winter Bird Survey takes place Saturday, Feb. 13, and Sunday, Feb. 14. Your job is to count birds on those days and submit your results (species and number of individual birds) to the organization to help biologists better understand what is going on with our winter birds. These annual snapshots of data give biologists a broader picture of bird populations and behavior. It helps ornithologists better understand and perhaps find patterns in the winter irruptions of finches and other northern birds. Irruptions are when food scarcity up north drives birds down to New Hampshire and farther south.

This fall and winter have been particularly strong for red-breasted nuthatches. I have two of them visiting every day, and many readers have emailed me to say these cute little birds are visiting them as well. Real data on these birds will be critical to get when submitted by participants of the survey.

Other irruptive species include pine siskin, common redpoll, purple finch, evening grosbeak, pine grosbeak, red-winged crossbill, white-winged crossbill and snowy owl. Are these birds visiting your backyard or favorite place to walk in the woods? Let the New Hampshire Audubon biologists know. Count the common birds as well, of course. That data is just as valuable to have.

The survey is open to everyone, regardless of skill level. Spend an hour or 30 hours counting the birds that weekend and submit your results online at the New Hampshire Audubon website. You may also receive a hard copy of the reporting form and instructions by emailing your name and address to bwbs@nhaudubon.org or calling 224-9909.

While you’re out there (or in there if you’re watching backyard feeders) counting birds, you may as well submit your results to the Great Backyard Bird Count, too. The GBBC started in 1998 as a relatively small initiative to get a snapshot of winter bird populations across the country. It has mushroomed into a global phenomenon with more than 160,000 checklists turned in online worldwide last year. According to GBBC officials, it created the “largest instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations ever recorded.”

The GBBC runs from Friday, Feb. 12, to Monday, Feb. 15. Again, all skill levels are welcome, participation is free and no set time commitment is required. Visit www.birdcount.org for more information and instructions on how to submit results.

What will show up on New Hampshire checklists? It’s hard to say. It’s been a strange winter with a sage thrasher being seen regularly in Hinsdale, boreal chickadees being found on Mount Monadnock far from their northern range, a red-headed woodpecker frequenting Keene and evening grosbeaks showing up everywhere in the Granite State. Have your say and participate in the NH Audubon Winter Bird Survey and GBBC.

I heard from some readers this week who will have some interesting sightings to submit if the birds stick around for a few more weeks. Mimi from Troy reported seeing double-digit numbers of blue jays, chickadees and juncos, as well as several white-breasted nuthatches, red-breasted nuthatches, cardinals, mourning doves, hairy woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, evening grosbeaks and three eastern bluebirds. The bluebirds have been eating mealworms and suet.

Brian from Keene sent some great photos not related to the winter surveys, but as a follow up to last week’s column about the importance of saving native insects. I had mentioned that fish feed on insects and birds such as herons feed on the fish, hence the important, but sometimes indirect, role insects play in helping birds. Brian sent some photos he took a few years ago of a great blue heron eating grasshoppers. It reminded me of when I watched a green heron eating dragonflies near a pond several years ago. Mark your calendars for next weekend, and let me know what you find out there.

A few more snow photos

Photo by Chris Bosak A dark-eyed junco visits a backyard in New England, January 2021.

Of course I’m posting a few more snowy bird photos. I hope everyone is safe and enjoying the scenery.

Photo by Chris Bosak A song sparrow visits to a New England backyard, January 2021.