For the Birds: Sometimes change is good

Photo by Chris Bosak A downy woodpecker eats suet nuggets from a tube feeder in New England, summer 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A downy woodpecker eats suet nuggets from a tube feeder in New England, summer 2018.

Sometimes you have to adjust, even in the world of bird-feeding.

Three mornings in a row I went into the backyard to fill the feeders for the day and noticed the hummingbird feeder on the ground. Two of those days the cap to the feeder had been jarred loose.

Clearly, it was time to make an adjustment, so I moved the feeder a few feet away to the clothesline — out of reach of whatever was knocking it down. It was, as I suspected, a raccoon, as revealed by game-camera footage.

The slight change of location has made a tremendous difference. It used to hang from one of the arms of the pole system, sharing space with two other feeders and a potted snap dragon flower. Hummingbirds came to the feeder, but it was dominated by a male and the larger birds that visited the other feeders often scared away the tiny hummingbirds.

The other morning, I headed toward the backyard and noticed three hummingbirds near the feeder. One was on the feeder and two were perched on the c Continue reading

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For the Birds: Readers take over again

Photo by Chris Bosak A scarlet tanager perches in an oak tree in Danbury, Conn., spring 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A scarlet tanager perches in an oak tree in Danbury, Conn., spring 2018.

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

The colors just keep on coming this spring.

I’ve been lucky enough to see two indigo buntings, three rose-breasted grosbeaks (although two were males fighting each other), a scarlet tanager, at least three Baltimore orioles, a pair of ruby-throated hummingbirds and a handful of warblers in my yard so far this spring. It’s been a welcomed color bonanza after a long winter.

Now that Memorial Day has passed and we are unofficially in summer, let’s look at what some readers have seen.

Carol from the Monadnock Region sent a photo of an oddly colored hairy woodpecker. Instead of the traditional white and black, this one was black and yellowish brown. A reader from Connecticut sent me a similar photo a few years ago.

My guess is that it is a normal hairy woodpecker with a pigment abnormality. Pigment abnormalities show up in birds every so often, such as orange house finches or white robins. Leucism and albinoism are extreme forms of pigment abnormalities, but more subtle color variations occur.

Don watched as an eagle eyed a pair of common mergansers on Granite Lake. He wondered if the eagle would try to take one of the ducks, but a loud noise distracted the eagle and it flew off. Eagles, which often scavenge for food, can take birds as big as common mergansers.

Norma from Spofford had an indigo bunting visit her feeders this spring. She has been in Spofford for nearly 40 years and has seen buntings only a handful of times.

It’s also been a colorful spring for Lenny of Greenfield, who has seen orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks and cardinals. A special treat was seeing the oriole and grosbeak at the feeder at the same time.

Dean in Marlborough reported visits from pileated woodpeckers, indigo buntings, cardinals and eastern bluebirds. Another colorful yard in the Monadnock Region.

Lida from Harrisville had a male and female oriole come to her table to feast on oranges. Another reader suggested using grape jelly to attract orioles.

I tried to attract orioles with both oranges and grape jelly this spring, to no avail.

Eric in Surry noticed the usual changing of the guard for ground-feeders as the juncos left and chipping sparrows arrived, with about a two-week overlap. He has also noticed a few warbler species, including a pine warbler carrying nesting material. The material was hair he leaves out for the birds after brushing his dog. He has also seen chickadees, phoebes and nuthatches grab some of the hair.

He had another interesting bird sighting this spring; shortly after filling in small holes in his yard, a Cooper’s hawk swooped in to grab a chipmunk. Eric has also seen a blue-gray gnatcatcher and heard an eastern whip-poor-will. It’s been years since I’ve heard a whip-poor-will so I’m glad someone is still hearing them.

Spring migration is winding down, but not over. Soon, it will give way to nesting season. Let me know what you are seeing out there in this exciting time of the year for birdwatching.

Latest For the Birds column: Tale of two birdwatching days

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

Photo by Chris Bosak
Snow Bunting at Norwalk’s Calf Pasture Beach, March 26, 2013.

I had two very different birdwatching experiences on consecutive days recently. Both of them were great, of course, but very, very different.

Let’s start with a Wednesday outing. I had some rare time to myself, so I was going somewhere. I didn’t care how cold it was outside, I was getting out of the house.

I had read the previous day on the Connecticut Rare Bird Alert Web site that short-eared owls were being seen at Silver Sands State Park in Milford. I’ve never had much luck finding owls, but figured I’d give it a shot. Maybe this was the day my luck would change. Snowy owls are being seen in larger-than-normal numbers this year, too, so my chances were doubled.

Armed with a heavy winter coat, hat and oversized dorky mittens, Continue reading

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