For the Birds: 2020’s Top 10 birding highlights

Photo by Chris Bosak A pileated woodpecker works over a tree in New England, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

It may have been a disastrous year in most regards, but one bright spot is the connection with nature many people made while dealing with the pandemic and associated quarantines, isolation and soul-searching.

Bird-feeding stores reported increased sales as people stuck at home turned to the hobby as a much-needed escape. Nature preserves closed their visitor centers, but most of the trails remained open and people flocked to them to ward off cabin fever.

I worked from home for most of the year and, while I missed seeing my co-workers, I did enjoy watching my backyard bird-feeding station daily as the seasons changed. I never realized how much you miss when you go about your regular routine.

With that in mind, here are my top 10 bird/nature watching highlights of 2020. Feel free to send me an email with some of your highlights.

10. Warblers in the snow

A rare overnight snowfall in early May dropped a coating of snow that lasted until about noon. It provided a short window to see warblers and other migratory songbirds in snow. I managed a few photos of an ovenbird and blue-winged warbler.

9. Love birds

I watched several birds at my feeding station feeding seeds to their mates. Cardinals, blue jays and rose-breasted grosbeaks were among the species I saw.

8. Goldfinches on coneflowers

It’s always fun to watch birds at your feeder, but it’s even more exciting when they grab seeds from flowers in your garden. In early fall, I watched a flock of American goldfinches devour seeds from dead coneflower heads.

7. Pileated works over hemlock

My yard has a lot of dead or dying hemlocks. The downfall of the eastern hemlock is a sad one, for sure. The carnage has been somewhat of a boon for woodpeckers and other cavity-nesting birds, however. One morning, I watched as a pileated woodpecker tore apart the base of a dead hemlock and picked out morsels to eat.

6. Planting a garden

The April quarantine had me searching for a new hobby so I dug up a patch of earth and planted a garden. It didn’t produce very well but it made for some interesting nature sightings as warblers and other birds perched on the fence and garden spiders built their webs among the pepper plants. Seeing a tomato hornworm (a large green caterpillar) covered in braconid wasp larvae was perhaps the most interesting sighting of them all.

5. Christmas Bird Count surprises

The CBC provides some surprise sightings each year. This year it was a prairie warbler, pine warbler, northern pintail and northern shoveler.

4. Florida wildlife

I visited my brother in southern Florida this fall and took a few walks in nearby parks. White ibis were extremely abundant and other wading birds were frequent sightings as well. Of course, alligators were the highlight and we saw several.

3. Busy fox

I watched a fox parent busily hunt for its family every day for a few weeks in the spring. It would trot through my backyard to start the hunt and run back through about an hour later with a mouth full of chipmunks, mice and voles. Amazing.

2. Return to Pittsburg

I visited northern New Hampshire for the first time in a few years and was rewarded with a sighting of a cow moose with twins feeding on the shore of a pond. Moose are my favorite animal and it breaks my heart to see their population depleted because of winter ticks and brain worm. Moose sightings used to be a given up there. Now they are few and far between.

1. Feeder watching

This makes my Top 10 list every year, but this year it tops the list because of the extra time I had to observe the backyard birds. I had regular visits from bluebirds throughout late winter and spring, as well as sporadic visits from yellow-rumped warblers, pine warblers, Baltimore orioles and rose-breasted grosbeaks. Of course, the regular backyard feeders filled in the slow moments and entertained me all year.

Happy New Year, everyone, here’s to normalcy in the year ahead!