For the Birds: Pausing for horned larks

Photo by Chris Bosak A horned lark looks for food in New England, February 2021.

The crossbills were going to have to wait. I wasn’t about to just walk past a field full of horned larks.

Last week, I wrote about my trip to see red crossbills. The target birds were clearly being seen close by as a crush of photographers and birdwatchers were standing on a boardwalk huddled together as much as possible in these days of socially distancing ourselves. I knew the crossbills were there, but to get there I had to walk along the edge of a field where about a dozen horned larks were hopping about looking for food.

One of the larks made the temptation even greater as it flew in closer to the edge of the field where I walked. It proved to be too much as I stopped my progress toward the crossbills and kneeled down to get a better angle of the lark that was now well within photographic range. The lark looked for food and in doing so, kept inching toward me. I held my ground and put the crossbills on hold.

Eventually, the larks flew off as one to the far end of the field. OK, crossbill time, I thought — just as the crossbills flew away from their convenient spot next to the boardwalk. As I wrote last week, the crossbills settled in a tree not far away and offered plenty of quality time to the photographers and birdwatchers, this time including me. Horned larks are named for the horn-like feathers that sometimes stick up from either side of the birds’ heads. The “horns” were not out on the birds I photographed, but the birds still proved to be handsome photographic subjects.

From a distance, horned larks are not much to look at. They are small birds and appear to be rather bland as you see them from across a field. Many people may see them and not give them a second look.

Closer inspection yields a bird that is mostly white underneath and brown above with decorative yellow and black markings on its face, throat and head. Females are similarly patterned but overall more dull in color.

Horned larks are year-round residents in parts of New England, but they are seen most frequently during the winter. They favor open, barren areas so look in low-cut fields and on beaches for the best chance to spot them. Even snow-covered fields are good places to look as larks seek out seeds that still cling to the grasses that poke above the snow or have been blown on the snow’s surface.

Despite favoring open spaces, they can be difficult to spot. In the winter, the grass and weeds are brown, as is the sand, making it a perfect camouflage for the bird. Usually, it’s their movement that betrays them as they are constantly moving around. They typically gather in fairly large flocks as well, making them easier to find.

Winter can sometimes be a difficult season to get through, but larks are one more reason to get out there and make the most of it.

More horned lark photos

Photo by Chris Bosak A horned lark looks for food in New England, February 2021.

As promised, here is another post on the horned larks I saw the other day. This post will be more photo-heavy. One quick word on horned larks: They get their name from the horn-like feathers that sometimes stick up from their heads. They aren’t visible on the photos Continue reading

Distracted by horned larks

Photo by Chris Bosak A horned lark looks for food in New England, February 2021.

Horned larks are sparrow-sized birds that live year-round in parts of New England, but are mostly seen in the winter. They prefer open, barren areas, so you’re not likely to see them in the woods. Check open areas with short grass or no grass (a beach for instance) for your best chance at finding them. I found these birds in a snow-covered field at Hamonasset State Park in southern Connecticut last week during my trip to see the crossbills. More horned lark posts coming soon.

Photo by Chris Bosak A horned lark looks for food in New England, February 2021.

Winter baths and drinks for birds

Photo by Chris Bosak A northern mockingbird drinks from a birdbath in New England, January 2021.

We all know it’s important to offer water as well as food for our feathered friends. It can be discouraging, however, to watch a birdbath day after day and not see any birds using it. They typically aren’t as busy as birdfeeders with a constant stream of birds using it. Factor in the sub-zero temperatures Continue reading

Snowy and lucky morning

My first bird walk of the new year proved to be a good one. A fresh but thin blanket of snow covered southern New England on Monday morning making for a quintessential winter scene. I got up with the sun and headed to the nearest park. As I walked along a trail, a large flock of small birds settled into the tall, leafless trees around me. Before I could lift my binoculars to see what they were, they descended upon the berry-covered brush on either side of the trail. Cedar waxwings, lots of them — at least 100. Usually when something like this happens, I don’t have my camera with me for whatever reason. I was prepared this time. A good start to 2021.

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

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.

Chickadees and sumac, Part II

Photo by Chris Bosak A black-capped chickadee eats staghorn sumac berries in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., February 2020.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about coming across a sumac patch being invaded by black-capped chickadees. I included only one photo with that post, which is not like me at all. So, here are some more photos from that day.

Photo by Chris Bosak A black-capped chickadee eats staghorn sumac berries in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., February 2020.
Photo by Chris Bosak A black-capped chickadee eats staghorn sumac berries in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., February 2020.

For the Birds: Chickadees, sumac and disc golf

Photo by Chris Bosak A black-capped chickadee eats staghorn sumac berries in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., February 2020.

The temperature when we started our walk was a whole 1 degree Fahrenheit. That number, however, was slowly climbing and there wasn’t a hint of wind to speak of. The sun was shining brightly, and the sky was as blue as you can imagine. In other words, a perfect day to spend several hours outside.

I was visiting my brother in upstate New York near the Vermont border, and two other brothers from out of town were there as well. Paul and I took a relatively short and absolutely birdless walk before returning to Gregg’s house. We both commented on how the single-digit temperatures were having little effect on us because it was a deadly calm day. So why go back inside just because the walk is over?

Gregg lives near an expansive field bordered by woods so Paul opened the hatch to his car and broke out a bag of flying discs. One of his hobbies is disc golf and he’s always Continue reading

For the Birds: New England’s unpredictable winters

Photo by Chris Bosak A young Cooper's Hawk eats a squirrel in southern New England in Feb. 2015.
Photo by Chris Bosak A young Cooper’s Hawk eats a squirrel in southern New England in Feb. 2015.

Ah, a New England winter. There’s nothing like it.

Zero degrees one day and mid-50s a few days later. Arctic chill to pleasant spring-like weather in the blink of an eye.

Personally, I enjoy both extremes of a New England winter. I’ve said before that one of the great things about being a birdwatcher is that the hobby can be enjoyed regardless of the weather: hot, cold, rainy, snowy. The biggest impact weather — temperatures, anyway — has on birdwatching plans is whether or not the ponds will be frozen.

In the extreme cold, everything is frozen. Small ponds, large lakes and wide rivers are frozen solid. When that happens, I do my birdwatching at home and in the woods. (Lately, it’s been mostly at home, to be honest.) The feeders get particularly active in bitterly cold weather as birds feed with a sense of urgency to fuel up for the cold night ahead. All the birds you’d expect to see over the course of a winter sometimes show up in one day, especially in extreme weather. Cardinals, blue jays, mourning doves, juncos, white-throated sparrows, house finches and, of course, titmice, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers can all show up on those days. Who knows? A pair of Carolina wrens may even show up.

Those types of frenetic feeder days are often accompanied by a visit from an opportunistic sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawk, but I haven’t seen them around Continue reading

A look back at winter birding article

Story in Special Places, the magazine of The Trustees
Story in Special Places, the magazine of The Trustees

With the year’s first major snowfall to hit New England over the next two days, here’s a look back at an article I did a few years ago for The Trustees, a Massachusetts-based conservation organization. Check out the group here to learn more about the good things it does.

Here’s a link to the story, if you can’t read the attached document.