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.

Sixth (and final) hummingbird photo in series; and latest For the Birds column

Photo by Chris Bosak A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird takes off from a perch in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird takes off from a perch in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2014.

This final photo in the hummingbird series comes with a bonus, the latest For the Birds column, which also happens to be about hummingbirds. I hope you enjoyed the series and thanks for checking out http://www.BirdsofNewEngland.com

Last week, I wrote about the hummingbirds visiting my feeder this summer. Hummingbirds, however, are much too interesting to be limited to one column.

This week, I’ll focus on facts about these tiny dynamos. Fun facts, of course, not just any old boring facts.

Before those facts, let me start with this … I ended my column last week by requesting from readers input about which flowers attract their hummingbirds.

I received an email from Carol, who relayed some interesting information. In addition to the flowers I mentioned in my last column, Carol said at her place pink phlox, gladiolas, perennial sweet peas, coleus flowers and morning glories do the trick.

“My special joy is watching them fly through the sprinkler and seeming to really enjoy their own personal showers. They are really amazing creatures,” Carol wrote.

Marsha wrote to say that petunias and fuchsia hanging in a basket bring the little birds in. She added, however, that neighbor’s feeders are busy, but they tend not to visit hers. Sometimes the bird world is unpredictable, even frustrating.

She also wrote to say she was disappointed that the birds are aggressive toward each other instead of playful. Then she summed up all of nature very succinctly: “Oh well, I guess it can’t be Disney all the time.”

Very well put, Marsha.

Pam from Walpole added trumpet vine and blue lobelia to the list.

Donna, who has a place on Granite Lake, wrote to say her hummingbirds are attracted to a hanging tri-level flower pot arrangement with mellow yellow cuphea.

Stephen sent in a picture of a bird on his hummingbird feeder. It was a downy woodpecker, not a hummingbird. That is not a common occurrence, but not terribly rare either. Woodpeckers, warblers, thrushes and some other species can sometimes be spotted at hummingbird feeders. Remember, Baltimore orioles can be attracted to a nectar feeder as well, but with a different mixture of water and sugar. Hummingbird nectar is four parts water to one part sugar; oriole nectar is less sweet at eight parts water to one part sugar. You may also need a special oriole feeder.

Now for some of those facts I promised — in no particular order.

There are more than 300 hummingbird species, and each one makes different humming noise with its wings. Imagine being so good at birdwatching you tell each one by the humming of its wings. Hey, many birders know the woodpecker species from its knocking, so why not?

Of those more than 300 species, only eight regularly breed in the U.S. — and only one east of the Mississippi River. Most hummingbirds are tropical and do not migrate. They are strictly a Western Hemisphere bird so don’t go to Europe, Asia or Africa and expect to see hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds can flap their wings up to 90 times per second — and even faster during courtship.

Many birds can hover, but hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards.

Hummingbirds double their weight before taking off for their incredible migration over the Gulf of Mexico.

Hummingbirds have tiny feet and far fewer feathers (only about 1,000) than most birds to help them fly easier. By comparison, the Mallard has about 12,000 feathers.

If you started putting ruby-throated hummingbirds on a scale (for whatever reason) you would have to place 150 of them for it to read one pound.

Hummingbirds are aggressive not only toward other hummingbirds but also birds such as hawks, blue jays and crows. In other words, don’t mess with a hummingbird.

 

Latest For the Birds column: Up to the roof to get close to a Scarlet Tanager

Photo by Chris Bosak A Scarlet Tanager sings in a tree in Danbury, Conn., July 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Scarlet Tanager sings in a tree in Danbury, Conn., July 2016.

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.

Thankfully the trees are fully leafed out. My neighbors probably would have started to wonder about me. Of course, that process likely started long ago.

I found myself standing on my roof, camera in hand, keeping an eye on a male scarlet tanager that was singing his heart out among the oaks.

I had noticed the brilliant red-and-black bird a few days before. I was writing at my computer at home when I spied him through the window eating berries from those ubiquitous wild raspberry bushes, which are really invasive wineberries from Asia. The bird was impossible to miss with that beaming red plumage that puts cardinals to shame. (No offense to our beloved cardinals.) The tanager was gone by the time I opened the front door for a better look.

Continue reading

Birding quiz: Name the bird pictured

IMG_8845

Yes, my homemade backyard feeder did it again, drawing in another interesting bird.

So here’s a quick bird identification quiz. Seasoned birders will get it immediately. Intermediate birders may take a second, but will eventually get it. Beginning birders, if they haven’t seen one before, may be surprised at the answer (which is coming up tomorrow morning.)

Do you know it already? Awesome.

Need a hint? That’s fine, too. Here are a few hints:

It’s not a big sparrow.

It looks nothing likes its male counterpart.

Look at the bulky bill.

Send your guesses (or requests for more hints) to bozclark@earthlink.net, or just lock in your guess in your head and wait for the answer tomorrow.

Thanks for playing along.

 

Osprey with fish. Can you name the fish?

Photo by Chris Bosak An Osprey carries a fish along the Norwalk River in Norwalk, CT, summer 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Osprey carries a fish along the Norwalk River in Norwalk, CT, summer 2015.

I’m pretty good with my birds, but only very average with my fish. I got this photo of an Osprey carrying a fish along the Norwalk River on Friday, Aug. 28, 2015. I was photographing a young Osprey on a sailboat mast when this older Osprey flew by with its prey. The younger Osprey looked up and gave a look as if to say: “I wish I could do that.” The youngster will learn soon enough.

It looks like a fairly good-sized fish, but honestly my fish ID skills are not up to par. Who knows what it is? Thanks for your input.

Eastern Kingbird expels a pellet (coughs up an exoskeleton ball)

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Kingbird regurgitates a pellet in Stamford, Conn., May 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Kingbird regurgitates a pellet in Stamford, Conn., May 2015.

Ever eat an insect and notice how hard the outer shell, or exoskeleton, is?

I hope you answered no to that question. I certainly haven’t. But you can imagine that if you ever did bite into an insect it would be crunchy, kind of like eating a lobster without removing the meat from the shell first. You can also imagine that the exoskeleton would be difficult, if not impossible, to digest.

So how does that undigested shell come out? Everyone knows that owls regurgitate pellets of undigestible material, such as beaks, bones, feathers, claws and fur. Not as commonly known, however, is that many insectivores (things that eat insects) regurgitate pellets as well.

I was aware of this, but never witnessed it until the other day when I was watching an Eastern Kingbird. It was perched in a small tree at Continue reading