For the Birds: One of those May walks

Sometimes you just have to be patient. I tell myself that every year but rarely, if ever, do I heed my own advice.

I am so eager for the spring migration to hit full swing that I start tromping through the woods starting in mid-April expecting to see all the explosive colors of the northward songbird migration through New England.

Walk after walk in late April and early May yields some great birds but not the full-on spring spectacle. Finally, one day in mid-May, I get that walk I have been waiting for with colorful birds all around. Patience is key, sure, but that’s easier said than done. 

That walk happened for me the other day when I got up early and hit the nearest park. The action started right away with an eastern towhee. It was one of the few towhees I saw on the walk compared to the dozens of towhees I had seen during my late April walks. Most of the towhees have either moved north or settled into their nesting season and are remaining quiet and out of sight.

Then I heard a familiar song from the tree above me. The distinctive “chick-bree” call could only be a scarlet tanager. Despite their awesome coloration, male scarlet tanagers can still be difficult to find among the leafed-out canopy. I had little trouble finding this guy, however, as he flew from one tree to the next revealing its impossibly red plumage in the golden morning light of the rising sun.  

As I continued down the trail, the colors continued: the beautiful red upside-down triangle of the rose-breasted grosbeak, the electric orange of the Baltimore oriole, the dazzling blue of the indigo bunting, the bright yellow of the blue-winged warbler and the slightly darker yellow of the yellow warbler. Bobolinks and red-winged blackbirds brought life to the meadow. 

The great sightings didn’t stop with the colorful birds as there were plenty of “dull” birds to see as well. Among the highlights were yellow-billed cuckoo, field sparrow and ovenbird. And lots of catbirds. Lots and lots of catbirds. 

The sounds of the birds add to the magic. The insect-like buzzy song of the blue-winged warbler and tropical-like odd song of the cuckoo stood out among the rest.

It was the walk I had been anticipating for nearly a year. I enjoy New England year-round and each month has its special gifts for birdwatchers, but that mid-May walk when everything comes together never gets old.

If only the magic lasted longer. It’s called the peak of migration for a reason. Just as it has to build to its high point, so too will it now taper off as birds continue to push north or settle into nesting and go quiet.

Enjoy these days while they last. The color and variety are spectacular and unmatched by any other time of year. 

A return to the Christmas Bird Count

Photo by Chris Bosak — American wigeon, Christmas Bird Count, Westport (CT) Circle, 2022.

It was an abbreviated Christmas Bird Count for me this year due to nagging foot problems and family obligations. I’ll take it, though, as I missed last year completely due to the foot problems. Progress is good.

Frank, Tom and I packed a lot into the time we did have together. Tom and I ducked out early, and Frank birded until dark. I was there for a good cross-section of water and land hot spots. Some highlights included 3 warbler species (pine, yellow-rumped and Nashville), red-breasted nuthatch, American wigeon (close views), common goldeneye, common and red-throated loon, and American pipit.

Click here for more information about the Christmas Bird Count, one of the longest-running wildlife censuses in the world.

Here are a few more photos from the day. It was good to be back out there. Hopefully next year I’ll be back at full strength.

Photo by Chris Bosak — Red-breasted nuthatch, Christmas Bird Count, Westport (CT) Circle, 2022.
Photo by Chris Bosak — Red-shouldered hawk, Christmas Bird Count, Westport (CT) Circle, 2022.
Photo by Chris Bosak — Hooded mergansers, Christmas Bird Count, Westport (CT) Circle, 2022.

For the Birds: The magic of fall in New England

Photo by Chris Bosak A palm warbler stands on a stone wall in New England, October 2021.

People love fall for a variety of reasons.

Cooler temperatures, Halloween decorations, fall foliage, football, and, of course, pumpkin spice. Everybody claims to hate pumpkin spice, but they wouldn’t make it if people weren’t buying it.

For me, I love fall for the bird migration – obviously. I particularly like finding fall warblers. It is especially rewarding when I stumble across a small flock of fall warblers.

Palm warblers and yellow-rumped warblers are the prime candidates to find in small flocks. Such was the case the other day when I found a group of about a dozen palm warblers eating seeds from the dying weeds and flowers in a meadow.

Large flocks of yellow-rumped warblers are fairly common to come across as well. Just be on the lookout as you never played know where you will find them. I have usually found them eating small berries of some sort.

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For the Birds: Love those cooperative birds

It is hit or miss when it comes to photographing birds. It is mostly miss, but that just makes the hits even more rewarding.

Once in a great while, I have come across very cooperative birds. One of the more memorable times took place on a small lake in New Hampshire where a great blue heron stalked its prey on the shoreline as I silently approached in my canoe. The bird never broke its glance on its prey as my canoe drifted into range.

There have been a few times when a loon, or a loon family, has approached me in my canoe. Talk about a wonderful experience, especially when they sing or call from close range. There is no better wilderness experience than that.

Feeder birds can often make for a similar experience, but there is nothing like finding a cooperative bird in the wild. This particularly goes for birds that you otherwise wouldn’t see in your backyard. These moments come along often when I visit family in Florida, but New England birds are much more challenging.

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Common yellowthroat, just because

Photo by Chris Bosak — Common yellowthroat in New England, spring 2022.

Here’s a shot of a male common yellowthroat. They are a common warbler that nests throughout most of the U.S. and into Canada. They migrate south in the fall, but in my observations, stick with us a little longer than many of the warblers.

Yellow warbler: an all-time favorite

I’ve always loved Yellow Warblers from the first time I saw (and heard) one. They are one of the more ubiquitous warblers in New England from the time they arrive in early May until the time they leave in the fall. In between, they raise families throughout our region and delight birders with their bright plumage and cheerful song (sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet).

For the Birds: May is prime time

Where to begin? May is a firestorm of birding activity in New England.

I’ll recap a few of my recent highlights and then expand, where necessary or otherwise interesting, in subsequent columns.

A warbler by any other name: Many warblers actually have the name warbler in their name. Yellow warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, worm-eating warbler and so on. Many, however, don’t have warbler in their name. Common yellowthroat, American redstart to name a few.

A few warblers don’t have warbler in their name and look like they belong in the thrush family. The ovenbird and waterthrushes (northern and Louisiana) could easily pass for thrushes with their brown bodies and spotted chests. Heck, the waterthrushes even have thrush in their name. But they are all, indeed, warblers.

That warrants a column unto itself. I’ll dig into that in the coming weeks.

Dueling grosbeaks: I heard a rose-breasted grosbeak singing in a tree during the tail end of one of my recent walks. I paused enough to find its perch. As soon as I spotted the beautiful bird, another male rose-breasted grosbeak dive-bombed the original bird, and they started chasing each other through the woods. The action caught the eye of a third male grosbeak and that one joined in the chase as well. That was a first for me. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, with their white wing bars, are just as impressive-looking in flight as they are perched.

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For the Birds: Warblers return

The warblers are back and delighting, confusing, and frustrating birdwatchers throughout New England.

Warblers are small, usually colorful, passerine (perching) birds that migrate into New England every spring. Many nest here while others continue north to nest in Canada. In the fall, they head to points south such as southern U.S., the Caribbean, Central America or South America. The odd warbler shows up on New England Christmas Bird Counts from time to time, but for the most part, they are gone before the snow starts to fly. 

To me, the quintessential warbler is the yellow warbler. It is small, brightly colored, numerous throughout the region and sings its ubiquitous song (“sweet sweet I’m so sweet”) over and over from the brush. It is all yellow with some rusty streaking on its chest and belly.

Warblers come in all colors, however. Many are mostly yellow and many others have flashes of yellow in their plumage. Some are black and white, and some are mostly brownish. A few are mostly blue. It’s no wonder that the spring migration, highlighted by warblers, is the favorite time of year for most birdwatchers.

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A few birds from a late-April morning walk: field sparrow, eastern towhee, bald eagle

Photo by Chris Bosak – Field sparrow, April 2022.

Not as many migrants as I expected, but a good walk nonetheless at Huntington State Park in Redding, Conn. I heard only one warbler (black-and-white), but I have heard and seen dozens of eastern towhees over the last two days. It’s (arguably) the best time of year to be out there. No excuses! (I’m talking to myself too). The bald eagle flyover was a bit of a surprise, hence the lousy photo.

Photo by Chris Bosak – Eastern towhee, April 2022
Photo by Chris Bosak – Bald eagle, April 2022
Photo by Chris Bosak – field sparrow, April 2022.