For the Birds: Flickers everywhere up north

My destination was the northern part of Maine. I’m talking way north. Get to Baxter State Park and keep going for several more hours.

I drove pretty much through the night to get there. I took a few half-hour breaks to sleep and then continued on my way. I have been to northern New Hampshire dozens of times, and I have been to the middle of Maine many times. I’ve always wanted to see what Aroostook County was all about so I took the opportunity to head up there and finally see for myself.

I settled at the border town of Fort Kent where only the St. John River separates the U.S. from Canada. 

Wildlife, of course, was the driving force behind the decision to drive up there. The boreal forest, to me anyway, is a magical place filled with so many interesting creatures. Moose are my favorite creatures, but things like lynx, loons, eagles, grouse, boreal chickadees, Canada jays, and other specialty species unique through the habitat are also a draw.

Some species, such as spruce grouse, I have never seen, and some animals, such as moose, I haven’t seen in a few years. I figured heading up to the extreme northern part of Maine would give me a good chance at finding both of those animals. I drove along the roads the Internet told me to drive on and added many more miles on unmarked dirt roads and came up empty. I logged thousands of steps through the forest to no avail. 

No moose, no spruce grouse. Moose, of course, are dwindling in numbers because of winter ticks and brainworm, but I was hoping to get lucky and be far enough north where the species may not be as heavily impacted. In talking to several locals, moose numbers are hurting just as much up there as they are throughout New Hampshire. I can remember seeing a dozen or more moose on a single trip to northern New Hampshire in the late 1990s. Not so much anymore. 

As far as spruce grouse go, I am starting to give up. When I was a beginning birdwatcher living in the Monadnock Region, I could have sworn I saw one in Pisgah State Park, but I have no proof and certainly can not swear by the identification. Pisgah is well south of where spruce grouse are typically seen. 

While the wildlife sightings proved to be more scarce than I thought, it wasn’t a complete washout. In the few days I was up there, I did find about a dozen ruffed grouse, several white-tailed deer, a red fox, a Canada jay, a wood duck, a few golden-crowned kinglets, and dozens and dozens of white-throated sparrows.

One other species really stole the show, however. This bird was everywhere up there. They were frequent sightings on the dirt roads, and there were so many of them on the grass in the yard behind my cabin that they reminded me of robins in the spring.

They were northern flickers and at one point I counted 11 of them in the yard, sharing the space with just as many blue jays. Northern flickers are large woodpeckers, but they spend most of their time on the ground searching for ants and other insects. You know it is a northern flicker when it flies off and shows a large white rump patch. We have the yellow-shafted variety in New England. Out West, the red-shafted is the predominant northern flicker.

Northern flickers are one of the few migratory woodpeckers. They do not travel extremely long distances and usually settle in the Carolinas or a bit farther south. I wonder if some of the birds I had seen had nested farther north in Canada and were starting their migration or if they were all residents. 

I do know that northern New Hampshire has a healthy population of northern flickers as well. I will always remember the sight of a red fox trotting down Route 3 in Pittsburg, NH, with a northern flicker and its mouth.

I threw a few nuts and seeds out the back door of the cabin to try to lure the blue jays and flickers closer. It took a few days, but they eventually warmed up to the idea and came to eat the treats.

I see plenty of flickers and blue jays in southern New England, but they were a nice treat to watch in northern Maine as well. Like many animal species, the blue jays looked a little more sturdy up there. White-tailed deer seem to be a little more sturdy in northern New England as well.

I didn’t get my moose or spruce grouse, but you can bet I’ll try again next year. The boreal forest always beckons.

For the Birds: Scarlet tanagers can be elusive

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

This has been the first spring/summer since I can remember in which I have not seen a scarlet tanager. I was hot on the trail of a few in the spring, but I never did spot the birds.

Granted, my birding this year has been hampered by foot ailments, but I have still spent enough time out there that I feel I should have seen one or two of these beauties.

The scarlet tanager is one of the most sought-after species in New England in the spring. Their electric red bodies with contrasting black wings make it one of our most unique and beautiful birds. The problem with tanagers is that they mostly hang around the tops of tall trees. Even a bird as bright as a teenager can remain hidden in a full canopy of oak or maple leaves.

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For the Birds: Chipping sparrow the source of the chirping

Photo by Chris Bosak A chipping sparrow perches on a garden stake in New England, July 2020. Merganser Lake.

The chirping was coming from the small tree right next to me. That much was clear. What wasn’t clear was where the bird was exactly or what type of bird it was. 

I looked among the leaves for a minute or two to no avail. Then the bird jumped down to a dead branch just above eye level. It was a chipping sparrow. If it had been singing instead of chirping/calling I would have recognized it without having to see it. I can recognize many calls or chips but apparently not the chipping sparrow’s.

I was glad the bird hopped down to offer a good look. Too many times to count I’ve zeroed in on a bird following its song or call only to have the bird eventually fly off with me never having seen it or identified it. It’s one of the more frustrating things when it comes to birdwatching. 

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Common yellowthroat, just because

Photo by Chris Bosak — Common yellowthroat in New England, spring 2022.

Here’s a shot of a male common yellowthroat. They are a common warbler that nests throughout most of the U.S. and into Canada. They migrate south in the fall, but in my observations, stick with us a little longer than many of the warblers.

For the Birds: The colors you’ll see

Photo by Chris Bosak An indigo bunting perches in a tree in New England, July 2021.

I’m not going to try to emulate Dr. Seuss, but I think he would have drawn plenty of inspiration from a walk in the woods in New England in May.

His classic “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!” comes to mind, but only altered to “Oh, the Colors You Can See.”

A recent walk made me think of this. The majority of the walk was along a wide dirt path with shrubby habitat on both sides. Beyond the thickets on one side was a large field and beyond the thickets on the other side were deep woods. It is perfect habitat for a bird walk.

The first bird I saw was a male eastern towhee. It was once called rufous-sided towhee because of the unique dark orange color of its sides that complement the otherwise white and black plumage of the bird. The bird’s red eyes are visible when it approaches among the shrubs closely enough. I did not see a female towhee on this particular day, but they are lighter brownish-orange where the male is black.

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A walk among bobolinks

Photo by Chris Bosak — Bobolink in New England, May 2022.

One of the highlights of the post-spring migration rush in New England is to visit a field in New England where bobolinks nest. Luckily, I have one fairly close to where I live — Happy Landings in Brookfield, Connecticut. The bobolinks’ bubbly song (which reminds me of R2-D2) fills the air as red-winged blackbirds and yellow warblers provide an apt auditory background. Here are a few shots of a recent walk in the field.

Photo by Chris Bosak — Bobolink in New England, May 2022.

Photo by Chris Bosak — Bobolink in New England, May 2022.

Photo by Chris Bosak — Bobolink in New England, May 2022.

For the Birds: Patience is key to spring migration

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Phoebe perches on a branch in Selleck's Woods in Darien, Conn., in late March 2015.
Photo by Chris Bosak A red-winged blackbird sings from the top of a tree at Happy Landings in Brookfield, Conn., spring 2017.

Late March and early April can be a tough time for birdwatchers as we are in the slow build up to spring migration.

The spring migration actually starts sometime in February when the first male red-winged blackbirds arrive. It’s a nice sight (and sound) when they return to our swamps, but it’s pretty much just a tease as we know winter will continue, and it will be several weeks until other birds start to show up.

American woodcocks and eastern phoebes return to New England around the middle of March. A few weeks later, ospreys arrive. The build up can be excruciatingly

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The day after the storm, take 1

Photo by Chris Bosak A song sparrow perches on a fence post the day after a snowstorm in New England, Jan. 2022.

Here are a few photos from the calm after the storm. It’s still bitterly cold in New England, but the sun is shining brightly.

Photo by Chris Bosak A song sparrow perches on a fence post the day after a snowstorm in New England, Jan. 2022.
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