For the Birds: Waiting for warblers

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

Photo by Chris Bosak A Pine Warbler sits on a deck railing in New England this fall.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Pine Warbler at feeder in Danbury, Conn., fall 2015.

Finally, I thought, a warbler singing in the backyard.

It’s been a long winter and the pine warbler I usually hear by the end of the first week of April never materialized. The first week of April turned into the second week and still no warblers to be seen or heard — at least on my end.

One cool, but bright morning last week, I stepped out onto the deck to fill the feeders and heard a high-pitched, soft and somewhat melodic tune coming from a giant oak. Surely a warbler, I thought, but I wasn’t sure which one.

I grabbed the binoculars, which always hang at the ready just inside the door. Now to find the little bugger. The leaves haven’t popped yet, so this shouldn’t be too tough, I told myself. It was more difficult than I thought, of course, but I finally zeroed in on a little bird high up on the trunk.

As you can probably tell from the build-up, it wasn’t a warbler at all. It was a brown creeper — a small, brown bird seen on tree trunks throughout New England, mostly in the fall, winter and spring. Usually the birds are silent as they look for insects by starting at the bottom of a tree trunk and working their way up.

In fact, I think this may have been the first time I consciously heard the song of a brown creeper. The website AllAboutBirds.org describes the song, sung only by males, as such: “His song is a jumble of high, thin notes that lasts up to 1.5 seconds. It’s sometimes likened to singing the phrase, ‘beautiful trees.’”

You’d think after all these years of birdwatching, I would know all the songs of warblers and be able to distinguish between warblers and non-warblers. There are many types of warblers, however, and I know a lot of the songs, but not all of them. Plus, this song was very warbler-like, as I mentioned. Also — my final excuse, I promise — it’s been 11 months since we’ve heard warblers singing and my birding-by-ear is rusty. It’s only average to begin with, so this guy definitely fooled me.

Not that I’m complaining that it was a brown creeper. I find them extraordinarily interesting birds, despite their small size and rather non-descript appearance. I like how they work up the trunk of a tree and then fly down to the base of a nearby tree to start again.

I’m still waiting on that first warbler, but I’m confident they will arrive soon. As usual, the sightings will start as a trickle — pine warbler here, palm warbler there — and then become a fantastically overwhelming phenomenon of tiny, colorful birds in the trees.

Get your ears ready.

Note: Since this column was originally written, I’ve seen palm and pine warblers. Rejoice!

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Singing yellowthroat makes quick appearance

Photo by Chris Bosak A common yellowthroat sings from a branch at Happy Landings in Brookfield in spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A common yellowthroat sings from a branch at Happy Landings in Brookfield in spring 2017.

While looking for bobolinks (more on those guys later) at Happy Landings in Brookfield, Conn., the other day, this common yellowthroat made a quick appearance. As yellowthroats often do, it disappeared as quickly as it appeared. It sang a quick tune “witchity, witchity, witchity” and ducked back into the brush.

I’ll take a quick sighting over no sighting at all any day.

For the Birds: A migratory turn of events

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

Photo by Chris Bosak A chestnut-sided warbler sings from a lower perch in Ridgefield, Conn., during the spring of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A chestnut-sided warbler sings from a lower perch in Ridgefield, Conn., during the spring of 2017.

My birdwatching fortunes this spring migration made an abrupt turn for the better last week.

The cool, wet weather – in addition to working and coaching youth baseball – had limited my time looking for birds. When I did get out there, the birdwatching was relatively slow: a towhee here, a thrush there.

I love my towhees and thrushes, of course, but the day of seeing a flurry of spring migrants had escaped me. The dry spell ended during a walk in the woods last week.

The woods themselves were alive with the sounds of ovenbirds, thrushes and even barred owls, which often sing during the day.

The ubiquitous “teacher-teacher-teacher” call of the ovenbird reminded me of a spring camping trip I did with the boys about five years ago. We canoed to a site on Grout Pond in Green Mountain National Park in southern Vermont. Once settled we walked through the woods and ovenbirds seemingly surrounded us the entire way.

It was a highlight of an otherwise, let me say difficult, camping experience. The wood was wet and wouldn’t burn, and rain fell throughout most of the cool day and cooler night. A steady wind made fishing impossible. The boys – then nine and five – fought and bickered the entire time.

I’ve had plenty of great camping experiences with the boys, but this was not one of them. I did have those ovenbirds, though.

Back to my walk Continue reading

How’s your warbler season going?

Photo by Chris Bosak A chestnut-sided warbler sings from a lower perch in Ridgefield, Conn., during the spring of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A chestnut-sided warbler sings from a lower perch in Ridgefield, Conn., during the spring of 2017.

We are heading to a point on the calendar where the spring warbler migration should be hitting its peak before trickling off as we head into the later weeks of May. The weather has been so cool and wet that many birders are wondering where the early part of the spring migration went.

I am included in that group as, between coaching youth baseball teams and having rain put a damper on birdwalks, my spring migration season has barely started .. and it’s already mid-May.

I did have a good walk recently with sightings of chestnut-sided warblers, blue-winged warblers, ovenbirds, wood thrushes, eastern towhees, and — to top it off — a male scarlet tanager. I also hear barred owls calling in the distance.

How is your spring migration season going? Let me know what you’re seeing out there.

A few singing warblers

Photo by Chris Bosak  An American redstart sings from a perch in New England in spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An American redstart sings from a perch in New England in spring 2017.

It’s warbler season (despite the below-normal New England temperatures) so I may as well post a few photos of these little birds …

Hopefully there will be more to come.

Photo by Chris BosakA chestnut-sided warbler sings from a perch in New England in the spring of 2017.

Photo by Chris BosakA chestnut-sided warbler sings from a perch in New England in the spring of 2017.

Latest For the Birds column: Watching warblers, of course

Photo by Chris Bosak A Palm Warbler perches among pussy willows at Selleck's Woods in Darien, Conn., April 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Palm Warbler perches among pussy willows at Selleck’s Woods in Darien, Conn., April 2016.

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

Warblers steal the show in spring migration, and rightfully so. They are colorful, cute, sing interesting songs and are plentiful in our woods in April and May.

Other songbirds are a blast to watch in the spring, too, of course. Birds such as orioles, tanagers, grosbeaks and towhees capture our attention and make us nudge anyone standing close by to make sure they see it too. Less colorful birds such as chipping sparrows, kingbirds, phoebes and vireos enhance our spring as well.

But it’s the little warblers that get most of the attention during the spring migration.

I love warblers for all the same reasons that everybody else does, but I think there’s another reason we appreciate these neotropical migrants so much. Warbler watching, like birdwatching in general, can be as easy or as difficult as you want to make it.

Someone can choose to see and appreciate the small birds flitting around the trees, but not care to identify them — easy and totally acceptable.

Others may choose to identify only a few, perhaps the ones they see often in their yard — relatively easy and also perfectly acceptable.

Continue reading

Latest For the Birds column: I knew there had to be Indigo Buntings there

Photo by Chris Bosak An Indigo Bunting perches in a tree in Ridgefield, Conn., spring 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Indigo Bunting perches in a tree in Ridgefield, Conn., spring 2016.

Did I make these sightings happen? Probably not, but it was pretty strange nonetheless.

I was checking out a new birding spot, Bennett Pond State Park in Ridgefield, that a few people had told me about. They told me about the pond, which had beaver and Wood Ducks, and told me how to get there. To paraphrase, they said: “Walk to the field, into the woods and you’ll get to the pond.”

I love ponds. They are perhaps my favorite habitat to explore, especially if there are swamps nearby, too. But the word that really stuck out to me was “field.” I know where plenty of ponds are, but fields are becoming a scarce resource these days. Just ask all of the bird species that are in peril because they rely on fields.

Of course I took the wrong trail to get to the pond. I read the trail map wrong (what else is new?) and ended up taking a very wooded trail. The trail was pleasant enough and I heard some good birds — Ovenbird, Veery, Wood Thrush, Worm-eating Continue reading