For the Birds: Brown creeper highlights the fall

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

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.

The fall migration is miraculous when you consider the thousands of miles birds fly from their breeding grounds to their winter havens. It’s also miraculous in its ability to stir excitement into the hearts and bones of otherwise completely normal adult human beings.

Well, “completely normal” may be pushing it with some birders I’ve come across, but you know what I mean.

Take the other day for instance. I was relaxing on the patio toward the end of a long day when a sight literally lifted me off my seat and drew me closer.

Bald eagle? Brown pelican? Some sort of rare bird not seen in generations?

No, it was a brown creeper. Brown creepers are just as their name suggests they are. For one, they are indeed brown. For another, they creep. They creep up trees looking for insects hidden among the bark. When they reach a point where they think they’ve exhausted a tree’s food supply, they fly quickly to the bottom of the nearest tree and start the creeping all over again.

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A few hoodies to end the year

Photo by Chris Bosak A Hooded Merganser swims in a pond in Danbury, Conn., Dec. 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Hooded Merganser swims in a pond in Danbury, Conn., Dec. 2016.

Here’s a nice male Hooded Merganser I spotted at a pond in Danbury, Conn., on the second-to-last day of 2016. Goodbye 2016. Let’s see what 2017 brings us.

Happy New Year and thanks for supporting http://www.BirdsofNewEngland.com in 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Hooded Merganser swims in a pond in Danbury, Conn., Dec. 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Hooded Merganser swims in a pond in Danbury, Conn., Dec. 2016.

Latest For the Birds column: Red-breasted Nuthatch right on cue

A Red-breasted Nuthatch perches near a birdfeeding station in Danbury, Conn., Oct. 2016.

A Red-breasted Nuthatch perches near a bird feeding station in Danbury, Conn., Oct. 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.

I wrote three weeks ago about my affinity for the nuthatches we see in New England.

In the middle and southern parts of the region we see white-breasted nuthatches much more frequently than its smaller cousin, the red-breasted nuthatch. The latter variety, however, is seen more often in the northern reaches of New England.

The red-breasted nuthatch does show up at feeders in the middle and southern parts, especially in fall and winter, but not too often and in varying degrees depending on the year. In fact, the little birds will venture all the way to Florida during winter migration.

With that said, I was happy to receive an email from Dean a few days after that column appeared.

“You mentioned red-breasted nuthatches, which reminded me that I have not seen one in years,” Dean wrote from his Marlborough, Conn., home. “They are such cute little birds. Then two days after your article what shows up but an RBN at the feeder.”

A few days after Dean wrote me that email, I was sitting on my deck watching my feeders. It was an unending flurry of black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches and downy woodpeckers. I got so tuned into seeing those species that it didn’t immediately register in my brain that a new arrival had appeared.

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A few book ideas for last-minute shoppers

Photo by Chris BosakCover of Water Babies by William Burt.

Photo by Chris Bosak Cover of Water Babies by William Burt.

I’m not sure if they can still be ordered online and arrive in time for Christmas, but here are some book ideas for those last-minute shoppers with a birder on their list. A simple Internet search of the title will yield plenty of ways to find the books.

In my “Bird Book Look” posts, I don’t give full reviews but rather post a photo of the cover and include a little information about the book. On occasion I offer a little personal insight.

Two bonuses on this post (hey, it is almost Christmas): I’ll include four books; and the photos were taken by my fireplace with a fire going _ my favorite way to read.

Here are the books.

The book pictured above is Water Babies by William Burt, a Connecticut-based nature photographer. I am also a Connecticut-based nature photographer, but I have never had the opportunity to meet William. Perhaps some day.

Duck, of course, are a favorite of mine so I love this book. It is a photo book with a lot information about the birds and the quests to photograph them on their breeding grounds. As the title suggests, it is mostly photos of baby ducks and other water birds.

Here’s the description from Amazon:

“Never-before-seen photographs of baby birds of the marshlands from a noted birding photographer

Naturalist William Burt is known for seeking out wild places and elusive birds―and none fit the bill quite so well as the creatures featured in this book. This may well be his break out book, featuring the downy young of the wetlands, Continue reading

Merganser Lake: Warblers at the feeder

Photo by Chris Bosak A Pine Warbler visits a feeder in New England in fall 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Pine Warbler visits a feeder in New England in fall 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Pine Warbler visits a feeder in New England, fall 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Pine Warbler visits a feeder in New England, fall 2015.

Never at any of my former homes where I’ve maintained birdfeeders had I seen a warbler at the feeder. A few weeks at Merganser Lake and today alone I had three.

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Who doesn’t love chickadees?

Photo by Chris Bosak Black-capped Chickadee at backyard feeder, Oct. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Black-capped Chickadee at backyard feeder, Oct. 2014.

I highlight the Black-capped Chickadee as the second in a series of photos of our common backyard birds here in New England. This series of photos will focus on the birds we commonly see at our feeders. Can you ever see enough chickadee photos?

Kicking off a celebration of our common backyard birds

Photo by Chris Bosak A Tufted Titmouse perches on a branch of a fading sunflower before heading to a nearby birdfeeder.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Tufted Titmouse perches on a branch of a fading sunflower before heading to a nearby birdfeeder.

This photo of a Tufted Titmouse is pulling double duty. It accompanied my latest column in The Hour (Norwalk, Ct) and The Keene Sentinel (Keene, NH), which may be found here.

It is also being used on this post to kick off a celebration of our common backyard feeder birds. This is a great time of year for feeding birds as the feeders are active with titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals and other birds. Under the feeder, birds such as White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos have returned. So to celebrate that, I’ll post a series of photos highlighting some of our more common, but beloved, backyard birds.

No seagulls, just gulls

Here’s my latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour newspaper (Norwalk, Ct.) and The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.) This one deals with the various gulls (not “seagulls”) that we see in New England.

Want to see For the Birds in your local paper? Contact the editor and make the suggestion.

……

Photo by Chris Bosak A Laughing Gull stands on a piling at a boat dock along the Norwalk River, Sept. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Laughing Gull stands on a piling at a boat dock along the Norwalk River, Sept. 2014.

Watching gulls is either one of the easiest things to do or most difficult things to do when it comes to birdwatching.

On one hand, you can go to the beach (or parking lot or dump) and see all the gulls you want. You are 100 percent guaranteed to see them any time of day and any time of year.

On the other hand, gulls can be endlessly challenging for birders, to the point that expert birdwatchers are the only ones who can be certain what they are looking at — and even then maybe not so much.

Like many aspects of birding, it’s as easy or as difficult as you want to make it. You can roll into a parking spot at the beach, pull out a stale loaf of bread and be surrounded by gulls in seconds. (Not that I’m condoning feeding birds bread.) That is certainly birdwatching, whether you care to identify the species of hungry gulls or not.

Or you can find a group of gulls and inspect them to see if any rare species are mixed in among the common species. That sounds easy, but can be extremely difficult, if not next to impossible. It’s not as if the common species are blue and the rare species are yellow. In many cases they look identical with only very subtle differences. It’s like trying to find Waldo but only every other person in the picture wears glasses, blue jeans, and has a red-and-white sweater and hat on.

So is that simply a flock of Herring Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls, or is there a first-year Iceland Gull mixed in there somewhere? Or perhaps is there a hybrid of some sort among the flock.

(Since I used the word “flock” in that previous paragraph twice, now seems to be a good time to address the obvious question. “Flock of Seagulls” is technically not correct since there are no birds that are actually called “seagulls.” They are simply gulls. With that said, good luck getting the song “I Ran” out of your head for the rest of the day. Sorry about that. Whatever you do, don’t go to YouTube and search for that song. The outfits and haircuts are too much. Some things should just stay in the 80s.)

Anyway, New England features several common gulls that may be easily found. The most common gull on a beach depends on exactly where you are in New England. Ring-billed Gulls and Herring Gulls are the predominant gulls in the Norwalk area. Herring Gulls are the large ones while Ring-billed Gulls are smaller and have a black ring around their bills. Greater Black-backed Gulls are also common around here. They are the very large gulls with dark backs. Laughing Gulls, which feature black heads, are also common throughout much of New England, but not seen as often in the Norwalk area as the others I mentioned. Laughing Gulls show up more around here in late summer and early fall.

The less common gulls that show up on occasion — and discernable only by experienced birders in many cases — include Lesser Black-backed Gull, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, and Bonaparte’s Gull. Picking out these species is difficult because they look pretty much the same as the other gulls with white heads, chests and bellies, and darker backs.

Adding to the confusion is that gulls of the same species can look very much different depending on age and time of year. Young gulls are often brown and/or heavily speckled. So even if you’re looking at 100 Herring Gulls many of the birds may look very different.

Yes, digging deep into gull watching is not for the faint of heart or those short on patience. If all gets too much, keep trying and don’t run away from the challenge. After all, when it comes to breaking down a flock of gulls, do you really want to say “I Ran. (So Far Away.)”

There I go again — back to the 80s.

Are birds in our future? State of the Birds 2014 Report

Photo by Chris Bosak A Piping Plover preens at Milford Point in spring of 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Piping Plover preens at Milford Point in spring of 2014.

The State of the Birds 2014 report was released this week. It is a comprehensive look at how our bird populations are faring and how they might fare in the future. It’s fascinating stuff and a must read for anyone interested in birds and conservation.

Here’s my column on it, with input from Connecticut Audubon officials. 

Visit www.stateofthebirds.org for the full report.