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.
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.
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
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
As promised, here are some more red crossbill Continue reading
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 …
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 email@example.com 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.
Of course I’m posting a few more snowy bird photos. I hope everyone is safe and enjoying the scenery.
We swat them, stomp them, spray them, do anything we can to keep them away from us. We are annoyed by them, vilify them, wish them away, and created a multi-billion dollar industry to get rid of them. But we can’t live without them.
No, I’m not talking about the Kardashians. I’m talking about insects.
A summary of several recent independent studies has revealed that insects are dying a “death by a thousand cuts,” according to the world’s top insect experts and that the earth is losing 1 to 2 percent of its insects each year. The news isn’t entirely surprising, but it’s always good to be reminded of the fragile state of our environment from time to time.
According to the studies — and the summarizing article led by University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner — climate change, insecticides, changes in agriculture and light pollution are major contributors to the marked decline of our insects. Some scientists refer to it as the “insect apocalypse,” and in some respects, that sounds about right.
Why am I writing about insects in a column about birds? Because Continue reading
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 Continue reading