Song sparrow: Always a willing subject

Photo by Chris Bosak A song sparrow perches on a branch at Happy Landings in Brookfield, CT, spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A song sparrow perches on a branch at Happy Landings in Brookfield, CT, spring 2017.

Just like waders (herons and egrets) are good subjects for beginning nature photographers because of their size, abundance and relative approachability, the song sparrow is a good subject for photographers taking that next step into this highly addictive hobby.

Obviously they don’t have the size of waders, presenting more of a challenge to the photographer, but they are abundant and typically make their presence known when they are around. They are quite vocal and curious, often taking a perch near you when you walk through their habitat, which is typically shrubby areas near woods.

They aren’t the most colorful birds out there, but they are handsomely decorated with a variety muted tones.

To identify the song sparrow, look for the spot on the chest. (Not to be confused with the smaller chest spot on the tree sparrow.)

 

Good spring for rose-breasted grosbeaks

Photo by Chris Bosak A female rose-breasted grosbeak eat seeds at a platform feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female rose-breasted grosbeak eat seeds at a platform feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in spring 2017.

I didn’t see my first one until May 17, but since then I’ve seen a good number of rose-breasted grosbeaks — always a welcomed sighting in the spring. The male is the flashy bird with black-and-white plumage and signature upside-down bright red triangle on his chest. The female is more muted in color, but still a handsome bird to see at the feeder. They both have large bills (they aren’t called grosbeaks for nothing) and easily crack the sunflower seeds offered at feeders.

I’ve also seen them at suet feeders, so those of us who feed birds into the summer (or year-round) can attract them with a variety of foods. Many people stop feeding birds in the spring. I don’t blame those who have bears to worry about, but those who stop feeding birds once the winter ends miss out on birds such as rose-breasted grosbeaks.

Above is a shot of the female at the feeder. Check out the sizable bill on her. Below is the male and female. Not a great shot, I know, but interesting to see them together. Another female was at the feeder seconds before this shot, but the female shown chased her away.

Photo by Chris Bosak A male and female rose-breasted grosbeak eat seeds at a platform feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A male and female rose-breasted grosbeak eat seeds at a platform feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in spring 2017.

A few singing warblers

Photo by Chris Bosak  An American redstart sings from a perch in New England in spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An American redstart sings from a perch in New England in spring 2017.

It’s warbler season (despite the below-normal New England temperatures) so I may as well post a few photos of these little birds …

Hopefully there will be more to come.

Photo by Chris BosakA chestnut-sided warbler sings from a perch in New England in the spring of 2017.

Photo by Chris BosakA chestnut-sided warbler sings from a perch in New England in the spring of 2017.

Latest For the Birds column: Watching warblers, of course

Photo by Chris Bosak A Palm Warbler perches among pussy willows at Selleck's Woods in Darien, Conn., April 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Palm Warbler perches among pussy willows at Selleck’s Woods in Darien, Conn., April 2016.

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

Warblers steal the show in spring migration, and rightfully so. They are colorful, cute, sing interesting songs and are plentiful in our woods in April and May.

Other songbirds are a blast to watch in the spring, too, of course. Birds such as orioles, tanagers, grosbeaks and towhees capture our attention and make us nudge anyone standing close by to make sure they see it too. Less colorful birds such as chipping sparrows, kingbirds, phoebes and vireos enhance our spring as well.

But it’s the little warblers that get most of the attention during the spring migration.

I love warblers for all the same reasons that everybody else does, but I think there’s another reason we appreciate these neotropical migrants so much. Warbler watching, like birdwatching in general, can be as easy or as difficult as you want to make it.

Someone can choose to see and appreciate the small birds flitting around the trees, but not care to identify them — easy and totally acceptable.

Others may choose to identify only a few, perhaps the ones they see often in their yard — relatively easy and also perfectly acceptable.

Continue reading

Latest For the Birds column: Be prepared for snowstorms by filling birdfeeders

Photo by Chris Bosak A Brown Creeper finds food at the base of a tree during a cold snap in February 2016, Danbury, Connecticut.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Brown Creeper finds food at the base of a tree during a cold snap in February 2016, Danbury, Connecticut.

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in several New England newspapers. (Note the date of the Great Backyard Bird Count has passed for this year.)

When I know a major snowstorm is coming, I want to be well prepared.

That does not include a trip to the grocery store to buy milk, bread, bottled water or any other essentials like that. That stuff I can get after everything is plowed or dug out — usually the next day.

For me, being prepared means making sure my camera batteries are charged, lenses cleaned and storage card emptied. It also means making sure the feeders are full before the storm hits. Perhaps I’ll add a few special treats for the birds in preparation for the snow.

The latest predicted snowstorm did not disappoint. It was supposed to start overnight, and it did. Thankfully I had filled the feeders before going to bed. I woke up to several inches of fresh snow and nonstop action at the feeders.

Juncos were the most prolific bird of the day. They typically hang around the ground seeking seeds, but with snow covering the ground, they perched on feeders alongside the chickadees, titmice and nuthatches.

It was a great storm, and the snow fell all day. Other than a snowshoe hike with the boys, I kept an eye on the feeders most of the day. Nothing too unusual showed up, but the falling snow made for a spectacular scene.

Several New Hampshire readers sent me photos of the birds they saw that day. A collection is available on my website, www.birdsofnewengland.com. If you took any bird photos that day and haven’t shared them with anyone yet, feel free to send them to me at bozclark@earthlink.net. I’ll add them to collection for the world to see.

Speaking of sharing bird sightings, the 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up this weekend, taking place Friday, Feb. 17 to Monday, Feb. 20. It is your chance to contribute to a data base of winter bird sightings. The data is used to track bird populations and identify potential problems before they become irreversible.

All it takes is 15 minutes (or longer, of course) of counting birds and entering your checklist online at www.birdcount.org. You can count the birds alone or with a group, in your backyard or in the woods, for 15 minutes or all four days. It’s that easy. Checklists must be submitted online, however.

“The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way to introduce people to participation in citizen science,” Gary Langham, the Audubon Society’s vice president and chief scientist, said in a news release. “No other program allows volunteers to take an instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations that can contribute to our understanding of how a changing climate is affecting birds.”

The project is growing quickly. In the first year, 13,500 checklists were submitted from the U.S. and Canada. Last year, nearly 164,000 checklists were submitted from more than 100 countries.

It’s a fun project, too, and a good way to introduce children to the joys of birdwatching and citizen science.

Get out there and count.

Latest For the Birds column: Owls of winter

Jeannie Merwin of Marlow got this shot of a Barred Owl in her yard. She said the owl returns to her yard every January.

Jeannie Merwin of Marlow got this shot of a Barred Owl in her yard. She said the owl returns to her yard every January.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers:

I’ve never had great luck finding owls, but I always enjoy hearing when other people do.

Such was the case last week when New Hampshire resident Jeannie Merwin let me know that the Barred Owl that returns to her yard each year on Jan. 1 was a few days late and arrived on Jan. 4. She sent a great photo of the beautiful bird and added another photo of the owl with a Downy Woodpecker and Black-capped Chickadee also in the frame. So much for the big, bad owl.

Imagine having an owl show up at your yard like clockwork each year. I would look forward to it months ahead of time.

Barred Owls are one of New England’s most common owls, along with Great-horned Owls and Eastern Screech Owls. In my years of watching birds in this region, I’ve had decent luck finding Barred Owls, poor luck finding Great-horned Owls and almost no luck finding Eastern Screech Owls. Lucky and observant birdwatchers may also find Northern Saw-whet Owls and Barn Owls in New England.

Winter brings sightings of Snowy Owls, Long-eared Owls and Short-eared Owls and the very rare sightings of Great Gray Owls or Northern Hawk Owls. I’ve seen my share Continue reading

Latest For the Birds column: Notes from New England readers

Photo by Chris Bosak American Robin in Selleck's Woods in fall 2013.

Photo by Chris Bosak
American Robin in Selleck’s Woods in fall 2013.

 

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.), The Keene (NH) Sentinel and several Connecticut weekly newspapers.

………………

Catching up on some news from For the Birds readers.

Carol wrote in to share a story about a backyard spectacle she witnessed at her new home.

Her new place overlooks a pond surrounded by trees and from her living room window she peers down on two dogwood trees and an adjacent white pine. In early fall, the dogwoods were “both laden with berries,” she wrote.

One day she noticed movement between the pine and dogwoods and inspected the situation. She saw close to a dozen American Robins moving from tree to Continue reading

Latest For the Birds column: The flurry will come

Photo by Chris Bosak A female Belted Kingfisher leaves its perch near a small pond along the Golden Road in Maine.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female Belted Kingfisher leaves its perch near a small pond along the Golden Road in Maine.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.), The Keene (NH) Sentinel and several Connecticut weekly newspapers.

…..

A lot of birdwatching is standing around looking at nothing. It’s also a lot of walking around looking at nothing.

Let me rephrase that. A lot of birdwatching is standing or walking around looking at things other than birds. No matter where you are, there is always something to look at — even if it is the trees, shrubs and flowers in the habitat in which you are seeking birds. I think it is an essential part of being a birdwatcher to appreciate the “less exciting” things in nature.

To be a birdwatcher you also need very heavy doses of patience and faith.

You could walk around your favorite woods Continue reading

Latest For the Birds column: Fall brings beauty beyond birds

Photo by Chris Bosak Fall colors abound at a cemetery in Darien, CT, Nov. 2013.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Fall colors abound at a cemetery in Darien, CT, Nov. 2013.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.), The Keene (NH) Sentinel and several Connecticut weekly newspapers.

….

The other day I woke up to a gray, drizzly day. The bright yellow birch leaves popped in contrast to the dark evergreen branches of the hemlocks.

The weight of the overnight rain and persistent drizzle was enough to cause hundreds of those leaves to break free from their boughs and sway their way to the ground. It was a sight to behold and merely a precursor of what autumn will show us over the next few weeks.

A bright yellow carpet now forms the first layer of color on the floor of the woods in my front yard. The leaves of the oaks and maples in that patch of woods will form subsequent layers.

I love fall in New England. I think just about every New Englander feels the same way. Yes, it means winter is coming next, but it also means a bird migration, pumpkin festivals, apple picking, cool dips in your favorite lake, Halloween decorations, no more mosquitoes and, of course, the aforementioned remarkable fall foliage.

Leaves take center stage during a New England autumn, but there are plenty of other natural wonders to amaze us in September, October and November. Many of these spectacles have nothing to do with birds, or animals of any sort for that matter.

I was driving my son Will home from his soccer practice last Friday and a brilliant harvest moon seemed to follow us from above the hills. It is full moons like that one that inspire so many poems, folktales, and legends about the moon. It had me on the roof trying to finally get a decent photo of a full moon. I failed again, but had fun trying and will try again on the next full moon.

Fall is a great time to walk around a meadow. The various daisies and milkweeds that dominate the meadows in the summer start to give way to goldenrod and purple asters. There’s nothing like cutting through a field covered in goldenrod. Whatever the background may be – barn, covered bridge, trees or pond — it is enhanced by the sweeping deep yellow shades of the goldenrod.

The moon, the leaves, the flowers … nature never fails to delight us in the fall.

Now you add in the animal kingdom. I’ve written in previous weeks about the spectacular hawk migration that takes place in the fall and the various songbirds that visit our yards on their way south. The meadows I mentioned before burst with life as butterflies and other insects can’t resist those goldenrod flowers as they fuel up for whatever winter has in store for them.

Fall is also my favorite time to visit moose country in northern New England. They are not easy find in the fall – sadly, they are never easy to find these days – but if you come across a bull moose with a fully grown set of antlers and have fall colors as the backdrop, it’s a scene you’ll never forget. I’ve seen it several times, but still get the itch to return up north every fall.

Even if the search for moose, or whatever might be your target, comes up empty, you’re still surrounded by those stunning colors nature grants us.

I know I’m preaching to the choir, but New England really is something special in the fall.