For the Birds: Cedar waxwings’ timely appearance

Photo by Chris Bosak A cedar waxwing looks for berries in a park in New England, January 2021.

With the tendinitis in my foot acting up again, I wasn’t sure how long of a walk I would be able to bear. I had to give it a shot, however, as a few inches of light, fluffy snow had fallen overnight and made the landscape irresistible for anyone with a camera.

As luck would have it, I didn’t have to go very far to get some nice bird photos. I started down a path bordered by thick brush on both sides when I saw a swarm of birds land in a nearby leafless tree. My initial thought was that they were starlings as this flock rivaled in number the large groups of starlings you often see. Something didn’t look quite right, however. They weren’t acting like starlings and they weren’t the right shape.

How cool would it be if they were cedar waxwings? I asked myself. About 10 seconds later the flock descended, one by one, upon the bushes on both sides of me. Suddenly, I was surrounded by cedar waxwings picking off the leftover berries in the bushes.

It is usually about this time when things like this happen that I kick myself for not having my camera with me. This day, however, I was prepared and had my trusty Canon in tow.

The waxwings proved to be tricky photo subjects even though they were plentiful and close. They didn’t sit still for long and the thick brush made it more difficult as most of the birds remained obscured by branches. Occasionally, one would rise to the top of a bush and give me a fleeting opportunity for a nice photograph.

It was the largest flock of cedar waxwings I had seen in a long while. I would estimate the number to be around 100. I checked closely for any tagalong Bohemian waxwings but did not spot any of those larger cousins of the cedar waxwing.

After about 10 minutes, the waxwings gathered in another nearby tree and soon after that flew off to parts unknown. It was then I noticed the other birds around. A decent number of robins were also picking through the leftover berries. Robins are known as a harbinger of spring, but some robins, of course, stick with us through winter.

Then a hermit thrush popped out of the brush to check me out. It hopped to a nearby branch, and then another. Then it skulked back into the thick brush. A hermit thrush is another good winter sighting in New England as most of them have flown south by the end of fall.

Satisfied with the day’s effort and wondering when my foot was going to give out, I headed back to the car eager to check out the waxwing photos on the back of the camera. I was happy with the results even though there weren’t any prize winners among the photos. I was just happy to get some decent shots to mark and memorialize the day. Here’s hoping for more successful bird outings for us all.

For the Birds: NH Christmas Bird Counts record many firsts

Photo by Chris Bosak A boreal chickadee in Pittsburg, NH, summer 2010.

It was a year of firsts and high numbers for many Christmas Bird Counts across the Granite State.

Significant firsts included boreal chickadees on the Peterborough-Hancock Count, a red-headed woodpecker and long-tailed duck in Keene, and a gray catbird in Laconia. Not to mention the sage thrasher found in Hinsdale during the Brattleboro count.

Keene, part of the original Christmas Bird Count in 1900, boasted a record 62 species of birds found. That topped the previous record of 61, which had been recorded four times. A patch of open water on Spofford Lake helped that total as six waterfowl (including the long-tailed duck) and a common loon were spotted there. The long-tailed duck, formerly called oldsquaw, is more often associated with salt or brackish water.

The Christmas Bird Count is the nation’s longest-running community science bird project. It was originally proposed by Frank Chapman, who encouraged people to count birds instead of kill them during the traditional Side Hunt. In 1900, the first CBC took place and included 27 birdwatchers in 25 different areas. There are now hundreds of areas covered throughout North America and thousands of volunteers doing the counting. There are more than 20 counts in New Hampshire alone and a few Vermont counts that include parts of the Granite State.

Phil Brown, the compiler (or organizer) of the Keene Count, said the 9,478 individual birds counted on that overcast day in December was also a record high. While red-headed woodpecker and long-tailed duck showed up for the first time, yellow-bellied sapsucker, swamp sparrow and rusty blackbird made their second or third appearances.

The Keene count also included unusually high counts of red crossbills, white-winged crossbills, evening grosbeaks and pine grosbeaks. Other highlights included a great-horned owl, red-shouldered hawk, common goldeneye, fox sparrow, northern shrike, two hermit thrushes and three northern flickers. There were also 16 barred owls found.

In Peterborough, birdwatchers tallied 52 species (the record is 55) and more than 6,000 individual species. The highlight of the count was the first-ever recording of a boreal chickadee for the Peterborough-Hancock CBC. In fact, two were found on count day. Record-high numbers of red crossbills, white-winged crossbills, northern cardinals, red- and white-breasted nuthatches, titmice, merlin, red-shouldered hawks and Cooper’s hawks were also found.

Pam Hunt, compiler for the Laconia count, was surprised it took this long to find a gray catbird on a count that has been going on for 70 years. But it’s finally in the books. Laconia birders found a total of 57 species, aided by some open water that yielded several waterfowl, including 12 bufflehead.

Congratulations and thanks to all the birders who participated in the Christmas Bird Count. These birdwatchers make a significant contribution to the study of bird populations. If you missed the CBC, don’t forget about the Great Backyard Bird Count coming up in February.

Christmas Bird Count photos

Photo by Chris Bosak A northern shoveler swims on the Norwalk River in New England, December 2020.

It was a gray day that turned into a snowy day that turned into a misty, gray day. The weather never fails to be part of the story of a Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in New England. Yesterday (Sunday) was the annual CBC in my area and, as usual, I covered the Norwalk (Conn.) coastline and parts inland with Frank Mantlik, one of Connecticut”s top birders. We tallied 61 species, which will be combined with the other birds spotted by the Count’s other teams. Highlights included northern shoveler, northern pintail, prairie warbler, pine warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, northern harrier, merlin and horned lark. Full story coming in my For the Birds column. In the meantime, here’s what the Christmas Bird Count is all about.

Photo by Chris Bosak A red-tailed hawk perches on the top of a pine tree in New England, December 2020.
Photo by Chris Bosak A prairie warbler perches on a cement barrier at a waste water treatment center in New England, December 2020.
Photo by Chris Bosak A northern pintail drake swims in a pool of water with Canada geese in New England, December 2020.
Photo by Chris Bosak A northern shoveler swims on the Norwalk River in New England, December 2020.

For the Birds: More traditional gifts for your birder

Photo by Chris Bosak A spotting scope will help birders pick out ducks, like this northern pintail drake.

Last week I offered some suggestions on donating to conservation organizations to help out these important groups during this season of giving. Many of these organizations are hurting this year due to the cancellation of so many revenue-producing programs.

This week, I’ll offer some tips on getting more traditional holiday gifts for your birder. A gift list for birdwatchers has to start with optics. Technically, no equipment is needed to go birdwatching. You can simply head to the woods or look out your window and scan for birds. Realistically, however, you need a few essentials, namely binoculars and a field guide. If you have a budding birdwatcher on your list, an inexpensive pair will likely suffice. More experienced birders will appreciate better-quality optics.

With optics, as with most things, you get what you pay for. A $15 pair of binoculars will serve you just fine, but a $150 pair will seem like a different world. A really great pair of binoculars will set you back hundreds of dollars, but they will last Continue reading

For the Birds: Giving back to nature

Photo by Chris Bosak Monarch, Brookfield, CT, summer 2019.

It’s the season of giving, and this year nonprofit organizations need your support more than ever.

COVID-19 changed everything. Aside from the horrendous physical toll it has taken on so many, businesses have closed and many people are struggling to make ends meet. Nonprofit organizations are not immune to this downturn. Those that specialize in land conservation or nature are just as impacted as the rest of them.

Many of these organizations rely on programming, events, summer camps or other activities that require people to be in close proximity to each other to help pay the bills. COVID put a hard stop on that. As a result, these organizations are out the revenue that these events would have brought in. Many have turned to virtual events, but they don’t have the Continue reading

Siskin and others

Photo by Chris Bosak A pine siskin perches on a log in New England, November 2020.

I never did post this photo of a siskin that visited a few weeks ago. It showed up on the same day that the purple finch did. The finch stayed for only about an hour, while this siskin remained for a few days before disappearing. Here’s the story regarding those visits.

Here are a few more recent shots from this fall …

Photo by Chris Bosak A red-bellied woodpecker perches on a log in New England, November 2020.

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