For the Birds: In the world of mallards

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

Mallards sit on a branch overhanging a pond in New England.

Mallards sit on a branch overhanging a pond in New England. Photo by Chris Bosak

 

For just a moment, I was in their world.

As I stood there I could see nothing but branches, sticks and stubborn brown leaves that refused to fall off the low trees. Then I crouched like a baseball catcher and there they were: a flock of mallards taking a mid-day break in the tangled trees growing out of a small pond.

Normally mallards would not make for a memorable birdwatching outing, but this time was different.

A fairly busy road was no more than 50 yards away, and my car was about 50 feet away, but I felt as if I was visiting the ducks’ world. The area was thickly wooded and a dark canopy of towering branches hung over the pond’s edge, adding to the feeling of seclusion. It was as if the world was reduced to the woods, the mallards and me.

It was a neat sensation, one that I’ve experience only a handful of times before — usually in extreme northern New Hampshire.

It was the way the mallards acted. They didn’t flee when my feet crunched the crispy leaves as I approached. They didn’t plop into the water and swim away slowly when I crouched for my view. They stirred only slightly as I settled in for a closer look and found a more comfortable position. (The catcher’s stance lasts only so long these days for me.) Most importantly, the mallards didn’t approach me looking for a handout. That definitely would have ruined it.

I watched as the mallards simply went about their day. The average person would have been bored silly in about 30 seconds, but I was fascinated.

A drake had the best seat in the house, hogging a gnarled tree all to himself. Just off to the right was a leaning tree with half a dozen mallards sitting next to each other. Four of them were sleeping, heads turned around with their bills nestled into their backs — eyes closed. The two wakeful mallards paid no attention to me. At least eight other mallards occupied trees or branches in the same area.

Looking back, it would have been even more memorable had the birds been wood ducks or hooded mergansers — both of which were also at the pond that day — but I can’t complain about the mallards. Besides wood ducks or mergansers would have been long gone at the first snap of a twig.

Another drake swam onto the scene. It bypassed the crowded leaning tree and tried to join the male that was sitting alone. Big mistake. The duck leaned forward, hissed and snapped at the newcomer, shooing him away. It found a place nearby to roost.

A minute or two later, one of the hens left the crowded tree, took a few graceful paddles through the shallow water and climbed aboard the gnarled tree with the ornery male. The male shifted slightly, but let the hen stay. After about three minutes, the drake’s charitable mood changed and he nipped at the female, sending her away.

The mallards’ mid-afternoon break outlasted mine. I was already late for work and, knowing that, the feeling of being in a different world faded away.

It was back to the real world. But I had the dirty pants and muddy shoes to prove that I had been elsewhere.

Advertisements

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

Latest For the Birds column: Be prepared for snowstorms by filling birdfeeders

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.

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in several New England newspapers. (Note the date of the Great Backyard Bird Count has passed for this year.)

When I know a major snowstorm is coming, I want to be well prepared.

That does not include a trip to the grocery store to buy milk, bread, bottled water or any other essentials like that. That stuff I can get after everything is plowed or dug out — usually the next day.

For me, being prepared means making sure my camera batteries are charged, lenses cleaned and storage card emptied. It also means making sure the feeders are full before the storm hits. Perhaps I’ll add a few special treats for the birds in preparation for the snow.

The latest predicted snowstorm did not disappoint. It was supposed to start overnight, and it did. Thankfully I had filled the feeders before going to bed. I woke up to several inches of fresh snow and nonstop action at the feeders.

Juncos were the most prolific bird of the day. They typically hang around the ground seeking seeds, but with snow covering the ground, they perched on feeders alongside the chickadees, titmice and nuthatches.

It was a great storm, and the snow fell all day. Other than a snowshoe hike with the boys, I kept an eye on the feeders most of the day. Nothing too unusual showed up, but the falling snow made for a spectacular scene.

Several New Hampshire readers sent me photos of the birds they saw that day. A collection is available on my website, www.birdsofnewengland.com. If you took any bird photos that day and haven’t shared them with anyone yet, feel free to send them to me at bozclark@earthlink.net. I’ll add them to collection for the world to see.

Speaking of sharing bird sightings, the 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up this weekend, taking place Friday, Feb. 17 to Monday, Feb. 20. It is your chance to contribute to a data base of winter bird sightings. The data is used to track bird populations and identify potential problems before they become irreversible.

All it takes is 15 minutes (or longer, of course) of counting birds and entering your checklist online at www.birdcount.org. You can count the birds alone or with a group, in your backyard or in the woods, for 15 minutes or all four days. It’s that easy. Checklists must be submitted online, however.

“The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way to introduce people to participation in citizen science,” Gary Langham, the Audubon Society’s vice president and chief scientist, said in a news release. “No other program allows volunteers to take an instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations that can contribute to our understanding of how a changing climate is affecting birds.”

The project is growing quickly. In the first year, 13,500 checklists were submitted from the U.S. and Canada. Last year, nearly 164,000 checklists were submitted from more than 100 countries.

It’s a fun project, too, and a good way to introduce children to the joys of birdwatching and citizen science.

Get out there and count.

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: Return of the juncos

Photo by Chris Bosak A junco looks for seeds on a dried up plant at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., in Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A junco looks for seeds on a dried up plant at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., in Jan. 2015.

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 was wondering when the first one would show up. Mid to late October is typically when the Dark-eyed Juncos start showing up throughout the southern half of New England, but I hadn’t seen one yet and October was quickly fading away.

Eventually I noticed something that looked out of place on a low branch of a hemlock that juts into my backyard. Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice and White-breasted Nuthatches had launched an all-out assault on my feeders in the morning and never stopped as the sun continued to get higher in the sky.

Clearly this bird on the hemlock was not one of those three species. I had seen enough of those birds to be able to identify them in my sleep.

Obviously, the bird was a Dark-eyed Junco. It was an adult male Continue reading

Latest For the Birds column: Hummingbirds are classic backyard entertainment

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovers near a feeder in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovers near a feeder in Danbury, Conn., summer 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.

..

The smallest of birds often provide the biggest entertainment.

I’m talking about hummingbirds, of course, and they are big, big on personality even if they are small in stature, weighing in at about an eighth of an ounce. Yes, a small fraction of an ounce, which is the smallest American standard of weight. Thank goodness for the metric system so we can put a whole number on this tiny dynamo. Hummingbirds weight about 2 or 3 grams, about the same as a penny. Not a handful of pennies or five pennies — one penny.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated Hummingbird eats at a feeder in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird eats at a feeder in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016

I have been enjoying immensely watching hummingbirds this spring and summer at my backyard feeder and in the garden now that the flowers have bloomed – at least those that the deer didn’t get to. The only problem is that “my” hummingbirds are very territorial. Usually I see only one male at or near the feeder with the occasional female showing up, too. That was especially true this spring. They are not quite as territorial now, but are still very feisty toward other hummingbirds that show up.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the fall as last year the feeder was dominated by one female. She tolerated nothing from other hummingbirds, even those that dared fly over the house in the general vicinity of the feeder. Will the male remain and dominate, or will he fly off and the female dominate? Or will the male stick around and the female push him out? Or will they tolerate each other and share the sugar water, which is my hope. Or … OK, enough ors for now. As I said, we’ll see what happens.

If you don’t have hummingbirds that act like they own the feeders, you have a greater likelihood of seeing hummingbirds in late summer or fall because of simple mathematics. In the spring the adults pass through or settle in our area. In late sum Continue reading

Tricky fall migration

Photo by Chris Bosak A female Common Yellowthroat perches in a tree in West Norwalk late this summer.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female Common Yellowthroat perches in a tree in West Norwalk late this summer.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, CT) and The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.)

I’ve mentioned before that the fall migration, for the most part, is less ballyhooed by the birding community.

There are many reasons for this. The spring migration is so eagerly anticipated because it follows winter (usually a harsh one in New England) and birders are itching to see signs of rejuvenation in the natural world. The early flowers do a good job of heightening our spirits, but there’s nothing like the birds’ returning to really get us out of the winter doldrums.

The spring migration is also marked with a wide variety of colorful birds, most notably the warblers and other songbirds that pass through in April and May. The males are in their bright breeding plumage and singing their hearts out. The females are not as brightly colored and not as vocal, but are still a sight for sore eyes in the spring. The birds have a real sense of urgency in the spring migration, too. They need to get to their breeding grounds to get a good nesting spot and get down to th Continue reading

Photo for next For the Birds column

Photo by Chris Bosak A Least Tern flies over its nesting grounds at Milford Point in Milford, CT, in June 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Least Tern flies over its nesting grounds at Milford Point in Milford, CT, in June 2014.

Here’s a sneak peek at the photo that will accompany my next For the Birds column that will appear in The Hour (Norwalk, CT) tomorrow (Thursday, July 10) and The Keene Sentinel on Monday, July 14. Check those newspapers’ respective websites to see the column soon.

If you live in New England and your local newspaper does not carry “For the Birds,” give the editor a call and suggest that they pick it up. They can contact me via this website. Thanks!

An interview with David Allen Sibley

Example of Sibley guide's second edition.

Example of Sibley guide’s second edition.

David Allen Sibley, the renowned birdwatcher and field guide author/artist, was kind enough to grant me and The Hour an interview about his recently released second edition of The Sibley Guide to Birds. I picked him up at the train station, drove to The Hour offices in Norwalk, and did the interview. I was hoping for some time to do some birdwatching, but alas, time was tight and it just didn’t happen. Not really anyway (read the column ((link attached)) for more details.)He sat down with The Hour photographer Erik Trautmann and me and I fired a bunch of random birding questions at him. We started, of course, with the field guides but then, as my interviews normally do, we headed off in all kinds of directions.It was a great time and I’m glad David took the time to do the interview in our office. Click here for the column and accompanying video of a portion of the interview. I will add to this website more audio of the interview in the coming days.

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

 

Birds and the cold and snow

Photo by Chris Bosak Purple Sandpiper on rocky island off the coast of Darien, CT. (Dec. 2013)

Photo by Chris Bosak
Purple Sandpiper on rocky island off the coast of Darien, CT. (Dec. 2013)

Here we go again. Another snowstorm is due to hit New England tonight. That mean’s slippery roads and canceled school (if you’re a pessimist) or sled riding and canceled school (if you’re an optimist or kid).

It also means another tough night for our birds. But don’t fret, the birds will be just fine. They’ve been surviving our winters for years and years and will continue to do so.

Here’s my latest For the Birds column about how birds survive winters such as this:

Granted it’s been only three winters since The Hour has moved its offices to East Norwalk along the Norwalk River, but this is clearly the longest the river has been frozen over in that time. Instead of seeing rippling water and the accompanying ducks, geese and swans I usually see, for the last few weeks I’ve looked out the window and seen only a wide, serpentine-like expanse of white. Yes, this winter has been a tough one in New England. Extended freezing temperatures, short thaws (if any at all) and lots of snow. Humans can simply crank up the heat in their cars and homes if they are cold. But what about the birds? How do they survive tough winters like this? Birds and other animals have been surviving harsh winters for eons. True, a small percentage of birds will perish during the winter. This is particularly true of individual birds of a species that typically heads south for the winter. Most Great Blue Herons move south for the winter. Some stick around New England and brave the cold.

To read the rest, click here.