For the Birds: Micro-level horror show in the garden

Photo by Chris Bosak A tomato hornworm is covered in braconid wasp larvae on a tomato plant in New England, August 2020.

(Note: This post has been updated from its original content to correct information about the hummingbird moth caterpillar.)

I was all set to follow my last column about fall migration with a closer look at some of the songbirds, including warblers, that are heading south now and will be for the next several weeks.

That column has been put on hold as I saw something in the garden last week that just can’t wait. Experienced vegetable gardeners have likely seen this before, but it was a first for me and I was amazed at the gruesome details when I researched it online.

First, a little background. It is a first-year garden plot. I dug it during April at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Northeast. More than anything else, it was a diversion from the nuttiness going on in the world; something to keep my mind and body occupied during quarantine. I’ve never had a green thumb and I had little hope in the garden ever yielding impressive crops.

As it turns out, my pessimism was warranted. Once the leaves popped on the giant oaks that surround my property, the garden didn’t stand a chance. Tomato plants require how much sunlight? Continue reading

Birds and salvia Part 2

Photo by Chris Bosak A white-breasted nuthatch eats sunflower seeds near salvia blooms in New England, September 2020.

As promised, here are a few more shots of birds near my salvia blooms. Click here for the original post if you missed it.

Photo by Chris Bosak A tufted titmouse eats sunflower seeds near salvia blooms in New England, September 2020.

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Birds and salvia Part I

Photo by Chris Bosak A red-bellied woodpecker stands on a deck railing next to salvia blooms in New England, September 2020.

A few years ago I purchased a few bunches of coneflower late in the season and they made for a perfect setting for bird photos on my deck in the fall. This year, the salvia I purchased early this spring has grown enough to make a nice setting for birds eating seeds off the deck railing. The hummingbirds like the salvia too! Click here for one of those coneflower photos. Click here for some hummingbird drinking from salvia shots.

I’ll post a few more salvia shots tomorrow.

Photo by Chris Bosak A black-capped chickadee eats sunflower seeds near salvia blooms in New England, September 2020.

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A few hummingbirds – while they last

Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbird hovers around salvia blooms in New England, September 2020.

The hummingbirds that haven’t flown south yet will likely do so soon. Here are a few shots of “my” hummingbirds that are still hanging around.

Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbird hovers around salvia blooms in New England, September 2020.
Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbird hovers around salvia blooms in New England, September 2020.

For the Birds: Feeling a lot like fall

Photo by Chris Bosak A Bald Eaglea fies over Little Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., Sept. 2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Bald Eagle flies over Little Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., Sept. 2016.

There have been a few mornings recently that have felt an awful lot like fall. Cool temperatures, low humidity, the occasional falling leaf.

The bird world is following suit in New England, ever so slowly. I’ve seen a few passing warblers in the backyard over the past few weeks and the hummingbirds are feeding with an added urgency to fatten up for their journey south.

I’m not trying to rush the end of summer, and we still have a few weeks until it is officially over. The end of August and beginning of September is a fun transition time in the bird and nature world. A walk through a New England meadow this time of year yields butterflies, dragonflies and all sorts of crazy-looking insects that make you think of summer. Then, you notice the goldenrod in bloom and a hawk soaring overhead reminiscent of fall.

The fall migration starts as early as July when young shorebirds work their way southward along the New England coast. It really begins in earnest in the middle of September when the hawk migration gains a head of steam. September is when a visit to a hawk Continue reading

Random happy bird photo

Photo by Chris Bosak A downy woodpecker grabs seeds amidst salvia in New England, September 2020.

Here’s a random happy bird photo to kick off your Labor Day Weekend. It’s a female downy woodpecker between salvia stalks. Salvia is an annual that is good for attracting hummingbirds with their red, tubular flowers. Have a great long weekend!

For the Birds: When birds choose ‘your’ flowers

Photo by Chris Bosak An American goldfinch looks for seeds atop a coneflower in New England, summer 2020.

There are few things more satisfying to the backyard birdwatcher than having a bird eat seeds or fruits from something planted by the birdwatcher’s own hands.

Well, that’s my opinion anyway and it was made clear the other day when a small flock of American goldfinches descended upon my small patch of purple coneflowers for a late afternoon meal.

That opening statement comes with some qualifications, most importantly if you want the birds to be eating the seeds or fruits. I don’t know why anyone would mind birds eating seeds from a flower garden. I also don’t know why anyone would mind birds eating fruits from, say, dogwood trees, crabapple trees or winterberry bushes.

If, however, the fruit is being grown for human consumption, such as cherries or blackberries, then I can understand how there would be frustration on the part of the gardener.

I used to live in an apartment owned by a family that grew some fruits and vegetables on the property. Year after year, the cherries never got to see the light of the kitchen as birds, mostly starlings, ate the fruits before they were ready to be picked. My landlord was mighty frustrated and tried everything to prevent it from happening. He tried noise deterrents and scary-looking balloons, but the starlings were unfazed by it all.

So, yes, there are exceptions to my opening statement, but edible fruits aside, I stand by it. I always get a thrill in late summer or early fall when the goldfinches perch precariously atop the coneflower and pick out the tiny seeds. As the fall progresses, I can usually find a few kinglets (ruby-crowned and golden-crowned) among the sedum.

Sunflowers are great for attracting birds, which makes sense since the best and most versatile feeder food is sunflower seeds. Goldfinches and downy woodpeckers are the most reliable customers when I grow sunflowers.

I love any hummingbird sighting, but there is something more satisfying about seeing one feed from a plant growing in the garden or hanging near the deck than drinking from a feeder.

I’ve never had much luck growing berries, but one house I used to live in had a wild black cherry tree in the front yard. I used to love to watch the robins attack the tree every fall. I would always hope cedar waxwings would come too. To my knowledge, they never did and the robins did a pretty good job of stripping the tree of all its fruits.

Planting native flowers, bushes and trees is a welcomed trend among homeowners and landscapers. It is helping birds, pollinators and other native wildlife even as we continue to take away their natural habitat.

It is exciting to see these plants come back year after year. It’s even better when you see the plants supporting other native wildlife.

Photo by Chris Bosak An American goldfinch looks for seeds atop a coneflower in New England, summer 2020.