For the Birds: New Year’s birding resolutions

Photo by Chris Bosak
Blue-headed vireo, Pillsbury State Park, N.H., June 2019.

Last year at this time I wrote about my New Year’s resolutions to help birds. They largely focused on citizen science projects I would either undertake for the first time or continue to be involved in.

Looking back, I could say that I did fairly well with my resolutions. Some of them, however, like most resolutions, just never came to fruition.

I did participate in a number of citizen science projects. I have done the Christmas Bird Count and the Great Backyard Bird Count for many years continuously. This past year was no exception.

Also, last year was the second year of the three-year Connecticut Breeding Bird Atlas, an ambitious project to document what birds are breeding in that state. I have an adopted area and look forward to this spring to add to my breeding bird list. I also beefed up this past year my contributions to eBird, a free app in which all reported sightings are entered into a massive database.

I fell short in a few areas. I never did take the steps to join Project FeederWatch, which I had vowed to do. Maybe this year.

I will take a slightly different approach to my bird New Year’s resolutions this year. I will continue to do the citizen science projects, of course, but will also add some resolutions of a different sort.

I have been thinking about and being encouraged to write a book or two about my birding adventures. I haven’t done so after all these years because I wasn’t Continue reading

One final 2019 birding highlight

Photo by Chris Bosak
A rose-breasted grosbeak eats safflower seeds from a feeder in Danbury, Conn., May 2019.

I promise, here’s the last 2019 birding highlight that didn’t make my Top 10 list. This usually does make my yearly Top 10 list, but other highlights nudged it out this year. Last year was another great year of feeding birds and watching birds in my back yard proved to be a highlight once again. So here’s to those backyard feeder birds. OK, now on to 2020.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A blue jay checks out a box for peanuts in New England, fall 2019.

Another 2019 birding highlight left off the list

Photo by Chris Bosak A young pileated woodpecker knocks on a fallen tree trunk as it looks for insects, Danbury, Conn., summer 2019.

I couldn’t let this 2019 birding highlight go unrecognized. I, like everyone else, love any pileated woodpecker sighting. This sighting was in my backyard and featured a male adult teaching a young pileated how to look for food. Here’s the original post with more information.

Here’s the link to my 2019 top 10 list.

Photo by Chris Bosak A pileated woodpecker feeds a youngster, Danbury, Conn., summer 2019.

Top highlight left off the Top 10 list

Photo by Chris Bosak An osprey eats a catfish at Cayuga Lake State Park, October 2019.

Here’s another 2019 highlight that could have easily made my Top 10 list, which I posted a few days ago. During an early September camping trip with three college friends in the Finger Lakes region of N.Y., we were treated to a sighting of an osprey eating a catfish. Wayne noticed the spectacle first and pointed it out to the rest of us as we were, coincidentally, having our breakfast.

Later in the day, we walked to the nearby beach and saw a few snow geese. It seemed early for snow geese sightings, but I didn’t complain as they are hard to come by in New England.

More leftover highlights to come …

Photo by Chris Bosak Snow geese at Cayuga State Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y., fall 2019.

For the Birds: Top 10 birding highlights of 2019

Photo by Will Bosak Kingbird rescue, Danbury, CT, 2019.

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

It’s time for my favorite column of the year. This is the time when I look back on the past year and give my top 10 birding highlights. Every year, I struggle to narrow it down to 10, but I will do my best and perhaps put a few honorable mention moments on my website in the next few days.

10. I visited my brother in Naples, Fla., in April and, of course, birds were everywhere. Waders such as egrets, herons, limpkins, and ibis were the dominant species. We have our fair share of waders in New England, for sure, but they are more numerous and more brave in the Sunshine State. I enjoy my visits to Florida, but always long for New England when I’m away.

9. A solid bald eagle sighting has to make this list. A summer canoe trip to the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area in Wurtsboro, N.Y., yielded just that. We saw the female and male, but the young eagles that locals said were around escaped us. The comeback of the bald eagle is a great conservation story. I hope it continues.

8. One last sighting outside of New England … Last winter was the Year of the Barred Owl, or so it seemed. People were seeing barred owls all over the place, day and night. My son and I were driving to Hoosick Falls, N.Y., last February to see another one of my brothers when, about half an hour shy of our destination, sure enough we saw a barred owl perched on a wire hanging over Route 22. The next morning, we saw another barred owl perched on a Welcome to New York sign. The photo was taken from the Vermont side of the sign so, technically, it was a New England sighting.

7. The Christmas Bird Count is always on this list somewhere. My CBC birding partner Frank and I found 52 species, totaling nearly 2,000 individual birds. The birds, the camaraderie, and feeling of doing good for conservation make the Christmas Bird Count a special event each year.

6. This year, after many years of procrastination and talking myself out of it, I tried my hand at selling some of my photography as Christmas cards. I was a vendor at a few craft fairs and did pretty well. The selling part was great, but talking to people about the photography and turning them on to birds was the real highlight. I’ll try again next year and try to figure out how to sell them online.

5. This spring, small flocks of common mergansers made their home for a few days at a small pond adjacent to a nearby shopping destination. I love my common mergansers and my sightings are typically of huge flocks hundreds of yards away. To see a few up close and personal was an unexpected treat, if only for a few days.

4. Barred owls were not the only species garnering attention last winter. Pine siskins were plentiful throughout New England and farther south and I certainly played host to more than my fair share. They stuck around for a long time, too, and visited daily in rain, sleet, snow and sun.

3. I started a new job a few months ago and, of course, I figured out a way to feed the birds out the window near my desk. I found a large, curled oak leaf, rested it on the flat top of a yew bush, and threw in some shelled sunflower seeds. I fill it daily and watch the juncos, white-throated sparrows and song sparrows partake.

2. I was sitting at my computer, probably writing a bird column or something, when my youngest son, Will, came charging up the driveway and into the house. He had been fishing with some friends at the nearby lake. “Dad, there’s a bird stuck on fishing line. I feel so bad for it.” I put the canoe on the car and rushed to the lake. An eastern kingbird tangled in fishing line was dangling helplessly from a tree over the water. Long story short, Will and I paddled out to the bird, untangled it and set it free. The full story, including when Will and I swamp the canoe in mucky water and the bird poops on my head, is archived on my website. Visit www.birdsofnewengland.com and put “kingbird” into the search field. I was proud that Will felt compelled to leave his friends and come get me to help a bird in despair.

1. The top highlight of the year is a morning I spent with three loons at Pillsbury State Park, near Lake Sunapee. The three-day camping trip was marred with rain on two of the mornings, but the middle morning featured a beautiful sunrise and mirror-like water with fog lifting. I saw the loons in the distance and stopped paddling. Eventually, they worked their way over to me and gave me fantastic views. Patience certainly paid off that morning.

I hope everyone had a terrific 2019. Best wishes for an even better 2020. I look forward to sharing more bird stories in the year to come.

Photo by Chris Bosak A common loon swims at May Pond in Pillsbury State Park in New Hampshire in June 2019.

For the Birds: Christmas Bird Count is always a highlight

Photo by Chris Bosak
Common loon in winter plumage on Long Island Sound.

The birding had been slow — not dreadfully slow, but slower than usual, for sure — when we rolled up beside some evergreens in a front yard. We noted a flurry of activity (finally) and stopped for a closer inspection.

A half-dozen juncos flitted close to the ground, flashing their white-edged tails. Suddenly, a yellow bird flew from one tree to another. Any yellow bird that is not a goldfinch is cause for “ID at all costs” during a Christmas Bird Count. Not that goldfinches aren’t welcomed species, but they are rather expected to be seen in New England in December. Other yellow birds, not so much.

It landed just long enough for us to get a decent look and for Frank to get a few good-enough photographs. It was a warbler, for sure. We immediately thought orange-crowned warbler as they are the warblers most often seen during a New England Christmas Bird Count. Frank inspected the photos on his camera — something that wouldn’t have been possible 20 or 25 years ago — and determined it was a Nashville warbler instead. In the flurry, we also noted a ruby-crowned kinglet scurry from one bush to another. All the while, a Carolina wren belted out a song from a telephone wire across the street. As a birdwatcher, you love those flurries. You really love them during a Christmas Bird Count.

Frank and I cover a coastal area of Connecticut and have done so for going on 20 years. For that area, we finished the Count with 52 species and close to 2,000 birds. Not bad, not great. We’ve had better years, to be honest.

The Christmas Bird Count is an annual citizen science project that has grown from 27 participants in the inaugural Count in 1900 to now more than 75,000 participants each year. Keene was one of the original 25 Count areas. The data is used by ornithologists and other scientists to track long-term trends of bird populations.

Yes, it’s scientific and for a great cause. But, really, most people do it because it’s great fun. It’s an excuse to take a December day and watch birds from sunrise to sunset (even longer for the owlers.) It does, however, become a responsibility for participants. You don’t want to miss a day and let down the birds or your fellow birders.

Weather plays a big role in the amount of fun you have. Here in New England, a mid-December day can be 50 degrees or zero degrees. It can be sunny, cloudy, rainy, snowy, or any combination thereof. I’ve done Counts in blizzards and I’ve done Counts when it feels like early September.

This year’s Count was cloudy, cold and breezy. I’ll take it. It could have been a lot worse. The breeziness may have kept some birds hunkered down, but I don’t think the lack of birds we saw was due to the weather, except for the freshwater ponds. We visited a few ponds that had been frozen a few days prior to the Count so most ducks flew off for open water. We did see a lot of gadwall, a few ring-necked ducks and hooded mergansers, and, of course, tons of mallards.

We had other successes, too, such as the Nashville warbler and kinglet. Other highlights included several hundred brant, a gray catbird, a peregrine falcon and seven common loons on Long Island Sound.

Frank and I discussed the demise of the monk parakeet. We used to count dozens of the bright green birds along the coast and this year we had only one fly over our heads. Its squawking alerted us to it. Monk parakeets, of course, are not native to New England, but an escaped shipment from JFK Airport decades ago led to an established colony along the Connecticut coastline. They used to thrive here; now, they are all but gone. They build huge, heavy nests made of sticks on utility poles, so we concluded that the utility companies must have had something to do with their disappearance. That’s just a guess, however.

Want to get involved with a Count in your area? Most local Counts have been done already this year, but start planning now for next year. Do an Internet search for “How do I join the Christmas Bird Count” and the first result will be a link to the National Audubon Society’s CBC page. You can also check out historic local results from your area.

If you do sign up, be prepared to have fun. Just be ready to bundle up.