For the Birds: Halloween in nature

Photo by Chris Bosak Praying mantis at Highstead in Redding, CT, summer 2019.

A little late for Halloween, but whatever …

I’ve always liked Halloween. It’s kind of a silly holiday if you think about it, but maybe that’s why I like it so much.

As a kid, trick-or-treating was the highlight of Halloween, of course. It was fun to find a costume and dress up, but it was mostly about the candy back then. As I got in my late teens and 20s, Halloween parties become the highlight of the season. I’ll don’t think I’ll expand on that one. We’ve all been there.

Even as an adult I still like Halloween. I don’t trick-or-treat, and I don’t party as much, but I still like the imagery and aura associated with the holiday. “It feels like Halloween tonight,” I find myself saying on many walks in the fall. Something about those chilly nights with clouds and a bright moon remind me of being a kid trick-or-treating or taking my boys around the neighborhood when they were younger.

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Squirrels: Don’t fight them, feed them

The following article and photos provided by Cole’s Wild Bird Products

Countless backyards are battlegrounds between die-hard homeowners and squirrels fighting over bird feed. Squirrels need not be an inevitable element of bird feeding; even though keeping squirrels out of bird feeders is an age-old problem, there are ways to thwart these thieves.

One common tactic is stocking feeders with seed squirrels dislike, such as safflower, nyjer, white proso millet and seed infused with capsaicin, a compound derived from hot peppers that makes mammals’ tongues smart. An option like Cole’s Hot Meats features nutritious sunflower meats infused with fiery habanero chili peppers. They’re a no waste, no mess feed, birds enjoy but squirrels’ dislike.

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For the Birds: Patience pays off again

Photo by Chris Bosak A yellow-rumped warbler eats poison ivy berries in New England, fall 2021.

Any birdwatcher knows that patience and faith are perhaps the two most important components to a successful bird walk.

I started a recent walk with high hopes, as I always do, but as the morning went on and no birds were to be found, I started to lose hope of seeing anything. To compound matters, the field at the park had recently been mowed for the first time of the year, making bird encounters even less likely.

It still would have been a pleasant walk because the autumn morning chill had given way to a beautiful and warm sunny day. But with fall migration in full swing, I was disappointed in the birding results.

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For the Birds: Efts and mushrooms make for a very orange walk

Photo by Chris Bosak An eft works its way across a path in New England, fall 2021.

Orange was the color of the day during a recent morning walk in the woods.

It had rained overnight and the trails were damp in most places and puddled in others. I got a flash of excitement when I saw my first eft. Then I saw another. Then another. Efts were underfoot on every fifth or sixth step.

Efts are eastern newts in the terrestrial stage. Some are brownish but most are bright orange and, despite their small size, very visible on paths in the woods. They can be found any day from late spring into fall, but damp weather is when you are most likely to find them, even if you aren’t looking for them.

Newts have four distinct stages, or life cycles. Females lay eggs on aquatic vegetation in the spring. A month to five weeks later, the eggs hatch and the newts live in water for a few months. At this larval stage, they are less than 1 inch long and have feathery gills. In the fall, they shed their gills, crawl onto land and live as efts for about three or four years. They spend New England’s harsh winters hibernating under logs or rocks.

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For the Birds: Big news week for the birds

Photo by Chris Bosak Yellow-rumped Warbler in Selleck’s Woods, Darien, Conn., April 2014.

Note: This column was originally published in newspapers on Oct. 4.

There was a lot of environmental and bird-related news to come out of Washington this past week.

In case you missed it, the big news was that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials declared the ivory-billed woodpecker extinct. The “Lord God Bird’s” removal from the endangered species list is surprising only because officials are reluctant to declare species extinct. It’s such a powerful word that carries with it such finality it’s a tough tag to put on something.

The dreaded label was also placed on 22 other species of wildlife, including eight freshwater mussels. Sadly, but not surprisingly, 11 species from Hawaii and the Pacific Islands have been declared extinct. That includes many birds.

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Palm warblers out in force

Photo by Chris Bosak A palm warbler stands on a stone wall in New England, October 2021.

Three species dominated the count total on my morning bird walk today. White-throated sparrows were plentiful and it was great to hear their song again. Yellow-rumped warblers were plentiful, as they often are this time of year. Palm warblers were numerous as well and a flock of five kept me company near a stone wall at Huntington State Park. The fall warbler migration is bittersweet. It’s great to see them, of course, but the crisp air reminds me they will be gone soon and a long winter looms. At least winter is good for birdwatching too.

Photo by Chris Bosak A palm warbler stands on a stone wall in New England, October 2021.

For the Birds: Fall’s magic

Fall is an exciting time for birdwatching with hawkwatches, the southern warbler migration, and, later in the fall, the waterfowl migration.

Early fall holds many non-bird surprises in nature as well. On recent walks, I have seen dozens of monarchs and other butterflies. When I walk through fields, I am constantly on the lookout for monarch caterpillars on milkweed plants. Rarely am I lucky enough to spot one, but it does happen on occasion. The other day happened to be one of those occasions.

Monarchs are struggling as a species as habitat loss, pesticides and, potentially, climate change have played a heavy toll on their numbers, particularly out West. I did read an article recently that said the numbers may be rebounding, however. That would be great news.

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Watch where you step

Photo by Chris Bosak An eft works its way across a path in New England, fall 2021.

If you’ve spent any time in the New England woods in the spring, summer or fall after a rain, you’ve certainly come across an eft or two (probably way more than that.) They wander onto hiking trails and can be quite numerous the day after a rain. I came across several during a recent walk at Huntington State Park in SW Connecticut. Notice the different colors of the two efts pictured. The eft is the terrestrial stage of the eastern newt. The four stages of the newt are described succinctly in the following post by author David George Haskell.

Photo by Chris Bosak An eft works its way across a path in New England, fall 2021.