Catbirds of summer

Photo by Chris Bosak A gray catbird perches on a branch in New England, July 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

What would summer be without catbirds? A lot less interesting, that’s for sure.

The bird above is doing its cat-like call. The bottom photo shows the rusty spot under the tail, which is not often seen.

Photo by Chris Bosak A gray catbird perches on a branch in New England, July 2020. Merganser Lake.

For the Birds: Grosbeaks delay closing

Photo by Chris Bosak A rose-breasted grosbeak perches on a branch in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.

So much for taking a break from feeding the birds. 

I mentioned in last week’s column that I had taken down my feeders for the summer as my visits had dwindled to a few species. I also mentioned that I continued to maintain a large platform feeder on my deck to keep those few birds happy. Well, that platform feeder is busier than ever. 

One day last week, while working from home and using the outdoor table on my deck as my office for the day, I watched as chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, catbirds, cardinals, blue jays, house finches, downy woodpeckers and red-bellied woodpeckers helped themselves to the offerings. 

The feeder, which is nothing more than a large, flat board I found in the basement, is big enough to hold a variety of foods: sunflower seeds, mealworms, suet nuggets and thistle seeds. I nailed a few small branches around the edge of the board to keep the seeds in place during windy days.

I was already pleasantly surprised by the variety of birds that were coming when a male rose-breasted grosbeak landed on the board. Thankfully, I had the foresight to bring the camera out to the table with me. I was quite sure the strikingly beautiful bird would take off as soon as I lifted my arms to grab the camera off the table as I was sitting only 9 or 10 feet away from the feeder. 

Slowly I moved my arms and watched as the black-and-white bird with a bright red triangular bib looked back at me. I was relieved when the bird looked away and started grabbing sunflower seeds. Still, I couldn’t risk double-checking my camera settings or autofocus point and I started photographing away. The settings were fine, luckily, and I got some nice, full-frame shots of the handsome songbird.

What also made the day special was that many of the birds that visited, especially the chickadees, titmice and downy woodpeckers, were first-year birds still gaining their adult plumage. The young woodpeckers usually arrived with a parent and watched and learned. It was amazing to think that some of these birds were born only a few weeks prior. I hope they visit for years to come and can avoid the many dangers birds face as they grow.

So I guess my summer feeding break isn’t going to pan out, which is fine with me. I’ll continue to enjoy the show as long as it lasts.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Rose-breasted Grosbeak visits a homemade platform feeder in Danbury, Conn., on May 6, 2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Rose-breasted Grosbeak visits a homemade platform feeder in Danbury, Conn., on May 6, 2016.

First hummingbird shots of the year

Photo by Chris Bosak A female ruby-throated hummingbird visits a flower in New England, July 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

Not sure what took so long, but here’s my first hummingbird post of the summer.

Photo by Chris Bosak A female ruby-throated hummingbird visits a flower in New England, July 2020.

Insect close-up

Photo by Chris Bosak A grasshopper stands on a leaf in New England, July 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

This insect and I had a fun battle of wits the other night. I was trying to get a macro photo of it, which requires getting very close to the subject. Every time I got close, it turned to the face the other direction. It didn’t fly or jump or crawl away, just turned its body to mess up my angle. The bug clearly underestimated my persistence as I stuck with it and managed a few decent shots.

I’m not sure what this insect is. I’m guessing some sort of grasshopper or cricket, but I’m certainly no expert on bugs. Anybody know for sure?

Photo by Chris Bosak A grasshopper stands on a leaf in New England, July 2020. Merganser Lake.
Photo by Chris Bosak A grasshopper stands on a leaf in New England, July 2020. Merganser Lake.

More rose-breasted grosbeak close-ups

Photo by Chris Bosak A rose-breasted grosbeak perches on a branch in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

I posted one close-up shot of a rose-breasted grosbeak last week, but of course, I have more shots. So here’s a couple more.

Photo by Chris Bosak A rose-breasted grosbeak perches on a branch in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.
Photo by Chris Bosak A rose-breasted grosbeak perches on a branch in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.

Crazy year of bird feeding with many firsts

Photo by Chris Bosak A yellow-rumped warbler and pine warbler share a suet feeder in New England, April 2020. Merganser Lake.

I cut back on my bird feeding last week as my visitors have dwindled to a handful of species.

I am still putting out enough to keep those birds coming back and happy, but I retired many of the feeders until the fall. A big, homemade platform feeder is still on the deck keeping the downy woodpeckers (family of four), cardinals, catbirds and house finches around.

At my previous houses, by this time of year only house finches would be coming around so I would stop feeding altogether in the summer. With the nice variety of birds still coming around, I will continue to throw out a little seed and suet.

Taking down some of the feeders made me think about what a strange year it has been for feeding birds, at least in my yard. I have been feeding birds for decades now and this year marked several firsts. It started in February with the eastern bluebirds. I have never had bluebirds at my feeding station before this year, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to see them arrive. They showed up every day from February until the end of May and even brought their youngsters around for most of May. I still don’t know exactly where they nested, but it must have been somewhere fairly close. It was surprising because there isn’t what I would consider typical bluebird nesting habitat anywhere in my neighborhood.

I have seen catbirds at my feeders before, but only on rare occasions and it has been years since the last time. This spring and summer, however, I am getting at least two different catbirds visiting every day eating suet. They are bold and noisy, belting out their cat-like mew from mere feet away from me. Speaking of suet, it was the attraction that lured my first Baltimore orioles. I have tried for years to attract orioles with all of the things that are supposed to attract them, such as grape jelly, orange halves and nectar (similar to hummingbird food but less sugar). No luck. This year, they visited for several days in late April and early May and always went right for the suet. I hear them calling from high in the treetops on occasion still, but I haven’t seen them at the feeders since early May.

I’ve also never had robins at my feeder before. This year, they visit daily to grab a few mealworms. Mealworms were the main food source that kept the bluebirds coming back as well.

Earlier in the spring, I had daily and frequent visits from pine warblers and yellow-rumped warblers. I have had pine warblers in the past, but that was about three years ago. I had never had yellow-rumped warblers before this year and several showed up daily for weeks on end.

After all these years of feeding birds, it seems strange to get so many first-timers and ones I hadn’t seen in so long all in the same year. Could it be that they have been coming all these years and I just never noticed because I’ve been going off to work every day? Has the opportunity to work from home allowed me to see things that I’ve been missing previously? I don’t think that is the case as even in years when I am going to work daily, I still have mornings, evenings and weekends to stare at my feeders.

There must be another explanation. But what is it?

I don’t know the answer, but I will think of some theories as the summer wears on and the birding continues to be relatively slow. At any rate, I am not complaining, of course, it has been great to see all these new birds in the yard.

Bonus close-up of rose-breasted grosbeak

Photo by Chris Bosak A rose-breasted grosbeak perches on a branch in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

Here’s a random close-up of a rose-breasted grosbeak. Why not?

Photo by Chris Bosak A rose-breasted grosbeak perches on a branch in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.

Not a bird, but still welcome: striped skunk

Photo by Chris Bosak A striped skunk visit a backyard in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

I have two skunks that visit my yard each night. They are both striped skunks and one looks very much the part, as if it stepped out of a field guide. The other, shown above and below, is predominately white. Both are welcome, of course. As long as they stay out of my garden.

Photo by Chris Bosak A striped skunk visit a backyard in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.

Next wader up: Yellow-crowned night heron

Photo by Chris Bosak A Yellow-crowned Night Heron in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2017.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Yellow-crowned Night Heron in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2017.

The yellow-crowned night heron resembles the black-crowned night heron (featured a few days ago) with a few differences. The yellow-crowned night heron has a skinnier neck, for one. Just like the great egret may be found on the coast or inland, while the snowy egret tends to hug the coast; black-crowned night herons are more likely to be found away from the coast than yellow-crowned night herons.