For the Birds: Goldfinches brighten the landscape

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

Photo by Chris Bosak An American Goldfinch rests on a sunflower in New England.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An American Goldfinch rests on a sunflower in New England.

N othing cheers up a day like a goldfinch. Those little, bright bursts of yellow are always a welcome site at your feeder, bird bath or perched on a flower in your garden.

I especially appreciate goldfinches in the dead of summer. I remember taking a walk a few years ago on one of those classic hot, humid days in August. It was the middle of the afternoon and, not surprisingly, I was finding very little in terms of wildlife. Dragonflies were dancing all over the place, but even the butterflies seemed to be hiding from the heat.

Suddenly, I heard the cheerful song of a goldfinch in flight coming up from behind me. I turned just in time to see the bright yellow bird perch on the top of a thistle flower. The pink-and-purple flower rocked back and forth as it reacted to the weight of the tiny bird. When the flower settled, the goldfinch went about its business of picking at the flower.

I watched the scene briefly, and continued my walk. About five minutes later, I heard the bird again. I looked up to see it fly over my head and disappear into the distance. Despite its tiny size — about 5 inches — the goldfinch is an easy bird to identify in flight. It flies quickly in an undulating fashion — like a roller coaster with small rises and falls — usually uttering its potato-chip, potato-chip song as it bounces up and down.

I didn’t see any other birds on that walk, but the single goldfinch perched on the flower made it all worthwhile.

Goldfinches also score points with me as they are frequently seen in my garden. I’ve seen goldfinches perched atop coneflower and black-eyed Susan flowers, picking away at the seeds. I’ve also seen them on sunflowers.

Goldfinches, of course, are also reliable feeder birds, often occupying every perch of a tube feeder. I love to see all six perches of my blue tube feeder occupied by the bright yellow birds.

Goldfinches will eat sunflower seeds and will visit platform or tube feeders. A sure way to attract goldfinches is to offer Nyjer in a tube feeder specifically designed for the tiny seeds. Do not try to use thistle seeds in a regular feeder as the tiny seeds will spill through the holes.

“Sock” feeders stuffed with thistle seeds are a good alternative.

Goldfinches visit feeders at any time of the day. It’s interesting to note that goldfinches move on frequently so the birds you see at your feeder in the evening are not likely the same ones you saw in the morning.

Goldfinches are found throughout the country and many remain in New England through the winter months. They are not the flashy yellow birds we love so much in the summer, though. We still love them in the winter, of course, but they are much duller, often appearing olive or brownish.

It’s fun to see the splotchy male goldfinches in the early part of spring as they slowly regain their bright yellow plumage. Only the males are bright yellow. Females are a duller yellow.

They also have black caps and black wings with white stripes. My brother Ed and his wife, Debbie, are big Pittsburgh Steelers fans, so the goldfinch is a favorite in that household.

Of course, you don’t have to be a Steelers fan to appreciate the beauty of a goldfinch. The bright yellow speaks for itself. Throw in a purple or pink flower and you’ve got real proof that Mother Nature likes her colors.

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For the Birds: Brown thrasher — talkative entertainer

Photo by Chris Bosak A brown thrasher checks out its surroundings in New England.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A brown thrasher checks out its surroundings in New England.

It’s usually not easy and this time was no exception. It took a little coaxing to get the bird to show itself.

Eventually the brown thrasher flew out of the thicket and landed at the top of a tall shrub to check out its surroundings and sing a few notes. Once a brown thrasher gets going vocally, it rarely lacks for something to say. It can go on and on for hours.

This bird, however, instead of breaking into its incredible repertoire of songs and mimicry, simply repeated its nonmusical call note.

 I watched for a long time as the bird afforded me a close view. From my experiences, brown thrashers are usually skittish, but every so often one will allow for long observation. Another problem is, I don’t find them often enough. A few times a year is about the extent of my brown thrasher sightings.

Many conservationists worry about the status of the brown thrasher. Most would agree that the population is in decline, but the extent to which is up for debate. From my experiences, I’ve never had much luck finding them, so it’s hard for me to form an opinion based on my own anecdotal evidence.

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No dancing bear, a real one at a Dead tribute show 


My friend Steve and I were headed to the Forever Grateful show in Danbury, Connecticut, on Saturday.

We hadn’t seen each other in a while so we caught up at my place and hung out for a while. Then we stopped at a bar for a quick drink before heading to the festival at the west campus of Western Connecticut State University. Parking, of course, was a minor issue at the venue as we drove around the lot looking for a space. Eventually we turned around and headed back out of the venue to grab the nearest on-road parking spot, leaving a sizable walk for us to get to the show.

The reason I got into so much detail is because the timing of this had to be just perfect. If we hadn’t stopped at the bar, or if we had found parking immediately, we would have missed it.

As we headed to the security area, and there were, I’m guessing, Continue reading

One Simple Step Can Improve the Health and Vigor of Your Lawn

Fall lawn fertilization is the first step in growing a healthy lawn next year.

Fall lawn fertilization is the first step in growing a healthy lawn next year.

By Melinda Myers

Do just one thing this fall and you can improve the health and vigor of your lawn.  Fall fertilization helps lawns recover from the stresses of summer and provides needed nutrients to grow deeper roots and a denser stand of grass. And that means fewer weeds and a healthier lawn that’s more resistant to drought, insects and diseases.

Fertilize around Labor Day as the temperatures begin to cool and lawns start spreading outward instead of growing upward. Continue to leave clippings on the lawn. They return nutrients, moisture and organic matter to the soil.  Consider it free fertilizer applied every time you mow the lawn.

One fall application will give low maintenance lawns the nutrient boost they need. You’ll have a healthier lawn with minimal care.

Increase the quality and improve the lawn’s ab Continue reading

Another (and closer) shot of the heron

Photo by Chris Bosak Great blue heron at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, CT.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Great blue heron at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, CT.

The consensus seems to be the bigger (or closer) the better. So here’s another shot of the heron that I didn’t include in the previous post. You ask for it, you get it at http://www.BirdsofNewEngland.com. Thanks for your feedback!

Great blue heron at Merganser Lake (lots of shots)

Photo by Chris Bosak A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

It’s always nice when a bird is patient enough to let you experiment with different angles and magnifications. That was the case with this great blue heron I saw on Merganser Lake (really Lake Waubeeka) in Danbury, Conn., on Tuesday evening.

I know the photos are all very similar, but what magnification do you like?

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Cicada emerges from exoskeleton

Photo by Chris Bosak A cicada emerges from its nymph exoskeleton on a tree in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A cicada emerges from its nymph exoskeleton on a tree in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

This one was all Will.

I was throwing the football around with Will, my 10-year-old, when he suddenly stopped by a tree and said: “Dad, come check this out.” He had found a cicada emerging from its nymph exoskeleton. In all my years, I’ve never seen this before. I’ve seen dozens of exoskeletons lying round but long after the cicada had emerged and started making its trademark noises from the trees.

This was also like no other cicada I had ever seen before. To be clear, I’m no expert on cicadas. Far from it. But I’ve seen plenty of them over the years. This one had green wings, really cool aqua-green wings. And green legs to boot. Perhaps they will change to clear wings after it is in the world a little longer, but at that moment anyway, it had green wings.

Will took a bunch of photos with my phone while I rushed for my camera and macro lens. His photos came out pretty well, too. I’ll include one at the bottom.

Nature has surprises around every corner. Sometimes it takes a 10-year-old to find them.

Photo by Chris Bosak A cicada emerges from its nymph exoskeleton on a tree in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A cicada emerges from its nymph exoskeleton on a tree in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

Here’s Will’s iPhone shot. Not bad.

Photo by Will Bosak A cicada emerges from its nymph exoskeleton on a tree in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

Photo by Will Bosak
A cicada emerges from its nymph exoskeleton on a tree in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

Gardening with Melinda: Enjoy an Attractive and Convenient Composting Station

By Melinda Myers, LLC Decorative fences are an effective way to hide composting stations conveniently tucked behind gardens in the landscape.

By Melinda Myers, LLC
Decorative fences are an effective way to hide composting stations conveniently tucked behind gardens in the landscape.

By Melinda Myers

Make recycling green debris into compost convenient and attractive. Create a space you and your neighbors will appreciate. And locate composting in a convenient area that is easy to access and manage, so you are more likely to do it.

You’ll quickly recoup your initial investment of time and money.  Spend less time hauling the materials to the recycling center and money spent on soil amendments.

Most importantly, you’ll boost the health and beauty of your landscape while helping the environment.

Start by looking for spaces in the landscape or garden where compostable materials can easily be moved into the bin, pile turned, and the finished compost Continue reading

What’s an eastern wood-pewee look like anyway?

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern wood-pewee perches on a branch in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An eastern wood-pewee perches on a branch in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

I stepped out onto the back deck this morning, coffee in one hand and a freshly cleaned and filled hummingbird feeder in the other. The din of a distant interstate highway and the song of an eastern wood-pewee were the only sounds I heard. The high-pitched “pe-weee” is ubiquitous in the summer in my woods. On mid-summer afternoon walks, sometimes that song is the only sign of birdlife to be experienced.

But while the eastern wood-pewee is often heard in New England woods, it isn’t seen as often. The woods are thick with vegetation and leaves in the summer, providing cover for the birds. Lighting is poor in the woods as those same leaves block the sun from illuminating the scene. Finally, eastern wood-pewees are small, nondescript birds. They don’t exactly stand out in a crowd.

So for the casual birder, and even some more experienced ones, eastern wood-pewees are often heard and rarely seen. Earlier this year, I found a stunned pewee on my front porch. It had hit my storm door and fell to the ground. Luckily it was only stunned and I picked it up, held it in my hand for a few minutes and watched it fly off to a nearby perch. As it collected its wits on the branch for a few moments, I had the opportunity to grab a few photos of it before it flew off to parts unknown.

I posted a few months ago a few photos of the bird while it was in my hand. Click here for that posting. Here are a few photos of an eastern wood-pewee in a more natural setting. Now you can see why they are so tough to find in the shaded woods.

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern wood-pewee perches on a branch in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An eastern wood-pewee perches on a branch in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron preening

Photo by Chris Bosak  A yellow-crowned night heron preens in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A yellow-crowned night heron preens in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2017.

Birds preen to keep their feathers clean, strong and in order. The barbs sometimes come unattached and, amazingly enough, they can reattach the barbs with their bills.

Here’s a shot of a yellow-crowned night heron caught in the act.