For the Birds: Disappearing insects are cause for alarm

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

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 Continue reading

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 Continue reading

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