For the Birds: Towhees aplenty on walk

 

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Towhee perches on a branch in Ridgefield, Conn., April 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee perches on a branch in Ridgefield, Conn., April 2017.

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

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I was on a tight schedule so I planned a quick out-and-back bird walk, instead of trying to tackle the entire several-mile loop.

The entire walk on the “out” portion was quiet with not a single bird seen or heard. I found that very peculiar considering it was the middle of April when the spring migration should be heating up. No warblers, no vireos, no regular birds. It was a drizzly day, so perhaps that had something to do with keeping the birds hunkered down.

The “back” portion of the trip started in similar fashion. No birds to be seen, no birds to be heard.

Then, deep in the woods, I heard a familiar call. It was a sharp and fairly loud two-syllable call. It was an eastern towhee. Based on where the sound was coming from, there was no way I was going to find it. I could have tromped through the brush and woods, but I didn’t want to risk being covered in ticks. It’s early spring, and I’ve already found several ticks on my clothes and a few attached to my body. In fact, that started back in February.

I’ve heard from several sources that the conditions are right for a bad tick season, so be careful out there. Check your clothes and self frequently.

It turned out it was no big deal that the towhee alluded me as several other towhees made their presence known as I made my way back. These towhees were much closer and some were even cooperative for the camera. From my experiences, that is pretty rare for a towhee — although the breeding season makes birds, and other creatures, do strange things sometimes.

By the end of the walk, I had seen about eight towhees. Only one of the birds was a female, and she stayed out of range of the camera. I did bring her in with my binoculars and got good looks at her. A male was close by, singing and calling. It was likely her mate.

Like many species, eastern towhees are sexually dimorphic, meaning males and females differ in appearance. But unlike many bird species, female towhees, in my opinion, are just as handsome as the males.

While the males are decorated with black, reddish-brown and white plumage, the females are light brown and white. Both have a similar pattern with white bellies and rufous-colored flanks. The males also have red eyes, which I always find cool.

As I mentioned before, time was short on my walk but the towhee sightings extended the walk — I’ve never been one to leave cooperative birds because of being in a rush. Two towhees in particular were cooperative and allowed me to grab some shots of them. Neither was overly cooperative, but each offered a few seconds worth of perching on an obvious, unobstructed branch. Towhees are infamous for hiding among the thick brush.

The walk ended void of any other bird sightings. No warblers, no vireos, no tanagers or grosbeaks. Just towhees. I’ll try again on a sunnier day.

Lots of towhees on a rainy day

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Towhee perches on a branch in Ridgefield, Conn., April 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee perches on a branch in Ridgefield, Conn., April 2017.

I spent some of the rainy Saturday at Bennett’s Pond in Ridgefield, Conn. I didn’t see or hear a single warbler, but I did see and hear several eastern towhees. It is a great bird with interesting plumage and a unique song.

Formerly called the rufous-sided towhee, this bird has light brown/reddish flanks. Its call is a loud and quickly uttered “tow-hee” and its song is the famous “drink-your-teaaa!” They are more often seen on the ground, scratching in the leaves to uncover food. The male is pictured in this post. The female, which I couldn’t photograph yesterday but did see, is also a handsome bird with white and reddish light brown plumage.

They were passing through in large numbers Saturday. I hope at least a few of them stick around locally to nest. It’s a great bird to see in summer when the birding can get a little slow.

You can even see the little rain drops on this guy.

Here’s one of him singing: Drink-your-teaaa!

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Towhee sings from a perch in Ridgefield, Conn., April 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee sings from a perch in Ridgefield, Conn., April 2017.

 

Eastern Towhee under feeder, nice start to 2015

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Towhee searches a garden for food in Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee searches a garden for food in Jan. 2015.

This weekend I was looking at the regular visitors to my birdfeeders, which in my case include Tufted Titmice, Black-capped Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker and White-throated Sparrow (at least this time of year). Then I noticed another bird on the ground under the feeder: a male Eastern Towhee. Towhees are not typical feeder birds and this bird wasn’t necessarily around the feeder looking for sunflower seeds. It scratched under leaves and sticks in the garden for other seeds and any insects that may still be around. Towhees also eat berries during the winter.

Most towhees have flown south by now, but a few are still around trying to stick out the New England winter. I remember seeing several last winter, too.

I’ve been seeing more and more towhees over the last few years. Hopefully that means they are doing well overall as a species.

An Eastern Towhee in the garden in January: Not a bad way to start 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Towhee searches a garden for food in Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee searches a garden for food in Jan. 2015.

What will this late-fall/early-winter bring?

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Towhee calls from his perch at Selleck's Woods in Darien, Conn., April 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee calls from his perch at Selleck’s Woods in Darien, Conn., April 2014.

For years I’ve struggled to get decent shots of Eastern Towhees. Either I couldn’t find them or they remained in thick brush, rendering them unphotographable (but safe from predators, which I guess is way more important than me getting a photograph of one.)

But last fall and early winter, I saw plenty of towhees. The best part is they occasionally came out into the open to be photographed. It was one of the highlights of last fall/early winter. Then, remember, the Snowy Owls came in force into New England.

What will this year bring? I guess we have to wait and see. If you see something interesting out there or you’ve taken a neat photo of a bird (or other wildlife), drop me a line at bozclark@earthlink.net. I’d love to put more photos on my “Reader Submitted Photos” page.

Plant native trees, shrubs, flowers for the birds

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Towhee eats a crab apple during a cold winter day at Weed Beach in Darien, CT., Jan. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee eats a crab apple during a cold winter day at Weed Beach in Darien, CT., Jan. 2014.

I’m far from a landscaping expert. Anyone who has seen my jungle of a garden in the summer can attest to that. But I do know that using native trees, shrubs, bushes and flowers are the way to go.

Whether they are planted with the intent to attract birds or not, using plantings that are native to your area reduces the risk of potentially using an invasive exotic species that will eventually overtake native species. It also is better for the native insect population because in many cases the insects can not feed off the non-native plants, thereby reducing the number of insects that serve as valuable food for birds. Reducing the number of insects may sound like a good thing at first, but we’re not talking about pest insects such as mosquitoes, we’re talking about insects that you probably never see, but have high value to birds.

There are a million other reasons to use native plantings and a million great options for doing so. Again, I’m not a landscaping expect, but a simple internet search of “planting native species [enter your state here]” will lead you in the right direction.

Quickly though, here are a few suggestions of native plants that have worked well for me – coneflower [great for goldfinches and other small birds], black-eyed susan, crab apple, sunflowers, and bee balm.

Feel free to comment below to say which native plants work well for you in regards to attracting birds.

Thanks for visiting http://www.Birdsofnewengland.com

Towhees and thrasher in the snow

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Towhee eats a crab apple during a cold winter day at Weed Beach in Darien, CT., Jan. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee eats a crab apple during a cold winter day at Weed Beach in Darien, CT., Jan. 2014.

It was bitterly cold, but bright and sunny. Perfect day for a quick bird walk. Perfect day for a long bird walk, too, but I had limited time before my son Will’s basketball game, so it had to be a quick one.

After seeing a few Fox Sparrows at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., as soon as the walk started, the only species I could find was White-throated Sparrow. And there were lots of them. I love my White-throated Sparrows, of course, so I’m not complaining. My eyes, however, were darting around the brush for other birding goodies.

Trudging through the snow and doing my best to ignore the

More photos below, click on “continue reading.”

Continue reading

Latest For the Birds column: Tracking down a towhee

Here’s my column from this week in The Hour and Keene Sentinel.

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Towhee at Selleck's/Dunlap Woods in Darien, Nov. 2013.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee at Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods in Darien, Nov. 2013.

 

It was one of those walks I probably shouldn’t have taken. I had only a smidgen of wiggle room if I wanted to arrive at an appointment on time. The woods beckoned, however, and I’ve always felt that a few minutes in the woods was better than no minutes in the woods. The danger, of course, is that I find it very difficult to spend only a few minutes in the woods. One good bird to follow and there goes my couple of minutes. Oh well, I figured, it’s cold and breezy. The birds will be hunkered down and making themselves scarce. I can knock out a quick walk no problem. The plan was working Continue reading

Eastern Towhee highlights quick morning walk

towhee1

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee at Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods in Darien, Nov. 2013.

A quick walk at Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods in Darien this morning yielded a few surprises, such as a Hermit Thrush, a few kinglets and this very vocal Eastern Towhee.

A Blue Jay mimicked a Red-shouldered Hawk and plenty of American Robins ate berries along the trail. White-throated Sparrows were in abundance, too.

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Towhee at Selleck's/Dunlap Woods in Darien, Nov. 2013.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee at Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods in Darien, Nov. 2013.

This particular towhee was very vocal, which is how I found it in the first place. It didn’t sing its “drink your tea” song, of course, but gave itself up by constantly uttering its “chwink” or “tow-hee” call over and over.

Let me know what you’re seeing out there at bozclark@earthlink.net. Also submit a photo for my “reader submitted” photo page.

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Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Towhee at Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods in Darien, Nov. 2013.

First post for the new BirdsofNewEngland.com

Green Heron in southern Connecticut, November 2013.

Green Heron in southern Connecticut, November 2013.

Welcome to the new http://www.birdsofnewengland.com. It will be similar to the former website with lots of bird photos and stories from my travels around New England. It will have a different look, however, and new features, such as a video page and “reader submitted” photos page. Feel free to submit photos you have taken of birds or other wildlife in New England (or beyond.)

So let’s just jump right into the first post.

November has been a great month for birdwatching so far, at least from my perspective in southern New England. On the first Sunday in November, I spotted a Green Heron at Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods, a Darien Land Trust property. I’ve seen plenty of Green Herons at this property before, but never in November _ or even October or late September for that matter. It was interesting to see the crow-sized wader surrounded by fall foliage.

Green Heron in Southern Connecticut, November 2013.

Green Heron in Southern Connecticut, November 2013.

The Green Heron sighting followed an hour-long stretch whereby I sat in a dried-out swampy area and watched as Golden-crowned Kinglets, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers hopped along the ground among the weeds and grasses looking for seeds. Previous highlights that weekend included an Eastern Towhee, Brown Creeper and Winter Wrens.

Thanks for checking out the new http://www.BirdsofNewEngland.com. Check back often for updates and new stories and photos. Remember to send in your photos and I’ll add them to the “reader submitted” page. Send the photos or other suggestions to bozclark@earthlink.net