Springtime brings mostly bird questions to the Naturewatch mailbox:
Q: Several days ago an American redstart landed in my lilac bush. I was wondering, how common are they in the Berkshires? -- N. B., Lenox
A: This conspicuously colored warbler is very common, although it is rarely noticed by the average non-birder. Males are coal-black with bright orange markings, while females and young are a subdued yellow on gray. Look for them in open deciduous woods, although they may be found anywhere there are trees or shrubs. These are active little birds, hoping from branch to branch searching relentlessly for insects.
Q: I just saw my first indigo bunting this week at 6 a.m. He was with his mate. What I wanted to know is just how often are these beautiful birds seen in the Berkshires? What an awesome sight. -- Judy, Pittsfield
A: For anyone knowing where to look and what to listen for, they are often seen, and more often heard. More common in uplands than valleys; look for them along edges of roads, fields, woods. They love edges. I often find these "blue canaries" on shrubby, young growth hillsides. Migrating buntings are at, or just past, their peak about now, and nesting birds should be on their breeding sites. They sing from dawn to dusk from the highest perch they can find. Learn their song to learn just how common they are. Males are a brilliant blue all over (no brick-red breast like the bluebird), while females are a dull gray brown. In poor light the males look more like females, losing their brilliant blue color. They are sometimes seen at bird feeders.
Q: Do you know what they are planning to do with the large enclosed space at Springside Park? Community garden? -- Lisa, Pittsfield
A: According to Jim McGrath, Pittsfield's Open Space and Natural Resource program manager, "It is a Chestnut seed orchard. [We are] working with The American Chestnut Foundation."
Note: We will have more on this subject in an upcoming Naturewatch.
Q: I wanted to share a recent bird watching experience here in Cheshire. While sitting in the yard at Cheshire Lake, we noticed a small bird with orange on it. Too small to be an oriole, we watched it flit about after bugs, noting it's bright orange and black markings. We looked it up and it was an American Redstart! The next day around the same time we saw a small bird that had black and white stripes all over its body hopping up and down on a fallen tree. Again, we looked it up and it was a Black and White Warbler. Two birds in as many days that we had never experienced before. So amazing! We were wondering if you had any other sightings of these two birds here in Cheshire? -- Mary and Paula, Cheshire
A: Yes, many, but that does not lessen the significance of your sightings.
Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email Naturewatch@live.com