For the Birds: Summer’s last grasps

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

Photo by Chris Bosak An osprey eats a catfish at Cayuga Lake State Park, October 2019.

Summer is hanging on, if only by a thread.

It’s always fun to see the nutty people who refuse to dig into their long-dormant jeans pile and insist on wearing shorts even when the temperature dips into the 40s. I see one of those yokels every time I walk past a mirror.

In the natural world, some flowers are still putting on a show, but it’s mostly the late bloomers such as goldenrod and asters. Some, but not many, traditional summer bloomers are toughing it out, but store-bought mums are the most commonly seen flowers these days.

The other day I walked past a pollinator garden and a monarch caterpillar stuck out like a sore thumb on the top of a milkweed plant. I hope the caterpillar does what it has to do quickly before the prolonged deep freezes come. It also made me think of all the fields that have been cut down already and I wonder how many monarch caterpillars lost their homes because of it.

Eastern phoebes, which are one of our first migrants to appear in spring with their late March arrivals, are still seen from time to time. I saw a few perched over a pond and bobbing their tails last week. The tangle of brush a few yards away from the pond was teeming with white-throated sparrows, however; a sure sign of fall and pending winter.

I had another exciting reminder of summer during a recent camping trip I took with some long-time friends. We were having breakfast at the picnic table when Wayne pointed to a distant snag and asked: “Is that a hawk or what?”

We grabbed the binoculars and trained them on an osprey eating a fish. We closed in on the dead tree for a closer look and noticed the bird was eating a fair-sized catfish. No blackened seasoning was necessary as the “fish hawk” tore through the skin and into the meat of the fish. Anyone who has ever caught a catfish knows how tough that skin is. The osprey didn’t struggle in the least.

I attended a presentation last week by Alan Poole, the author of two books on osprey. His latest book is “Ospreys: The Revival of a Global Raptor.”

Poole noted interestingly that an osprey has self-sharpening talons. The hard upper part of the talon, or claw, grows at a faster rate than the softer under part of the talon, leaving the large bird of prey with sharp claws at all times.

The osprey we watched did not push the timetable too far, but most ospreys in New England and nearby states have started their journey south by the end of September. Ospreys are not like most hawks and eagles whereby some individuals remain north throughout winter. All ospreys go south so to see one in October is a nice treat for a birdwatcher.

Poole noted that, while ospreys do mate for life, they go on separate migratory journeys.

Much of Poole’s presentation focused on the amazing comeback of the osprey population. After being nearly wiped out in the 1950s due to heavy pesticide use, the osprey has made a remarkable comeback and is now flourishing in North America and northern Europe, as well as on their winter grounds in South America and Africa.

The population turnaround is welcomed news considering the study released a few weeks ago that shows that North America has lost 29 percent of its birds in the last 50 years.

Poole concluded his presentation with this: “Ospreys are a good example that we can get things right if we pay attention and get organized.

Advertisements

Osprey eats catfish

Photo by Chris Bosak An osprey eats a catfish at Cayuga Lake State Park, October 2019.

There is more coming on this story next week, but here are a few photos of an osprey eating a catfish. Some longtime friends and I went camping a few weeks ago and spotted this exciting scene.

Photo by Chris Bosak An osprey eats a catfish at Cayuga Lake State Park, October 2019.

My top birding moments of 2015

Here is my latest column for The Hour (Norwalk, CT) and Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.) It’s my favorite column of the year to write: my top 10 list.

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.

Not sure how it happened so quickly, but it’s time for me to write another year-end birding column. Each year at about this time I sit down and think about my top 10 birding experiences of past year. It’s not necessarily about the best birds I’ve seen, but rather the birding moments that most impacted me in one way or another.

What will be missing from this year’s list for the first time in about 10 years is my Thanksgiving “Duck Hunt” with my boys. The hunt is an annual tradition whereby we wake up early on Thanksgiving and visit a bunch of beaches and fresh-water bodies of water to count duck species. We try to get 10 species, but for me, the real thrill is being out with the boys looking for birds. This year I was so sick I couldn’t even get out of bed so we put the annual “duck hunt” on hold. Perhaps I’ll revisit it for another occasion. Maybe for the Great Backyard Bird Count. Or maybe just some random day this winter.

So here’s what did make the list …

10. Having the featured photo on The Birding Wire. The weekly e-newsletter features a photo in each edition and in early December it featured my photo of Pine Warblers squabbling at my suet feeder. I look at The Birding Wire each week, so it was neat to see my work as one of the featured items.

9. Having chickadees eat out of my hand. I noticed that each time I took down the feeders to fill them at my new house the chickadees would still land on the pole that holds the feeders, even though I was only a few feet away. I decided to hold off on putting the feeders back up immediately and instead extended my arm and held a handful of sunflower seeds out for the birds. They hesitated, but eventually landed and happily (if not nervously) took a seed and flew off.

8. A week-long summer camping trip with the boys. We went to the northern most part of New Hampshire and took the most remote site we could find. Gray Jays visited the camp and a Common Loon swam in the pond near the site. Of course, the call of the loon echoing at night capped off the experience.

7. Seeing a Bald Eagle nest off the coast of Norwalk. Ultimately the nest at Chimon Island did not result in young eagles being fledged, but it was still a thrill knowing they were out there. The unsuccessful nesting attempt is not surprising as many first-year nests fail. The nest still stands

Click here for the rest. 

Continue reading

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.

Osprey flying with fish in talons

Photo by Chris Bosak An Osprey flies with a fish at Milford Point in Milford, CT, June 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Osprey flies with a fish at Milford Point in Milford, CT, June 2014.

I saw the shadow in the sand and knew it was something big. I wheeled around and saw the Osprey flying with the fish and scrambled to try to get the bird in the view finder of my camera. I didn’t nail the photo by any stretch of the imagination, but the scene was pretty neat so I figured I’d share the subpar photo anyway.

This Osprey was photographed at Milford Point in Milford, CT, on Monday, June 16. It was flying the large fish back to its nest not far from the beach. The fish was plucked from Long Island Sound.

Osprey catch their fish and in midair adjust the catch in their talons to make it more aerodynamic.