Dragonflies are everywhere!

My last post on the Odonata insect family focused on those who like to hang out close to ponds or other open water.  If you missed that piece, go back and read about the interesting life cycle of these fast-flying carnivores.  Some species roam away from water and can be seen hovering or zipping around open fields in search of prey.  One of the commonest genera are the meadowhawks.


Meadowhawk species- probably Ruby Meadowhawk, male
Photo: Bob Mayer

Meadowhawks are small; only a little over an inch in body length.  They are often seen perched and some, like the one shown above, are brightly colored.  Another closely related species is the White-faced Meadowhawk:


Meadowhawk species, probably White-faced Meadowhawk, female.

All meadowhawk females are yellow or beige, and distinguishing the species is often impossible without capture and careful examination.

Another odontate, this time in the damselfly group, is the Ebony Jewelwing:


Ebony Jewelwing, male. They are most likely to be found at forest edges near streams.
Photo: Andrew Joslin

An early summer wanderer is the Painted Skimmer:


Painted Skimmer, male
Photo: Bob Mayer

These striking orange odes can be seen regularly along the stream bed adjacent to Hemlock Hill Road in the Arboretum. In this same area I found another dragonfly species, back in 2009:


Mocha Emerald, female.
Photo: Bob Mayer

While Mocha’s are often reported in other areas of Massachusetts, my sighting was a first for Suffolk County I think, and I have yet to see it again in the Arb.

Dragonflies show seasonal variation; one of the latest to fly is the Shadow Darner:

Male Shadow Darner Aeshna umbrosa. This genus of large odentata is hard to identify to species in the field.
Photo: Bob Mayer

When not in flight, they tend to perch hanging vertically, as in the image.  That, and their large size of nearly three inches, helps to identify Aeshna genera.

The last large dragonfly seen commonly in the Arboretum- also a late flyer- is the Common Green Darner:


Common Green Darner, female
Photo: Bob Mayer

I have seen these big fellows all over the Arboretum, as late as October.  So keep your eyes open for dragonflies anywhere in the landscape.

On Sunday August 17th I’ll be leading a walk around the ponds at the end of Meadow Road in the Arboretum, beginning at 1:00 PM.  We’ll be looking for all kinds of invertebrates and observing what plants they favor for food or just as a place to rest.  In addition we will look at the giant cicada killers that breed and nest in that area.  I hope you can join me.

Enjoy the summer!

Spring Migration Winding Down

The last of a series of spring bird walks in the Arnold Arboretum attracted over thirty participants in very nice early summer weather.  We also saw some birds although we had no migrant species.

Early on, our youngest birder spotted something  at the top of a conifer; I was ready to pass it off as a common Chipping Sparrow but she commented that it seemed too big. She was right; it was an Eastern Kingbird.  This large member of the flycatcher family gave everyone good looks.


Eastern Kingbird. The terminal white band on the tail is distinctive.
Photo: Bob Mayer

Our other flycatcher was not as cooperative.  High up in some fully leafed out trees, we first heard the “wheep” call of a Great-crested Flycatcher.  After some searching, most of us got some fleeting looks as it moved about the canopy at the top of Peters Hill.


Great-crested Flycatcher. Note the long rusty tail.
Photo: Bob Mayer

Our only other bird of note was a nice male Orchard Oriole. Baltimore Orioles are quite common in the Arboretum during the spring and summer.  Orchards also nest here, but they are seen much less frequently.


Male Orchard Oriole. This species is identical to it’s more common cousin, the Baltimore Oriole, except for the darker, rusty breast and back rather than the orange color of the Baltimore.
Photo: Bob Mayer

Here is the list of birds seen:

Arnold Arboretum, Suffolk, US-MA
Jun 7, 2014 8:00 AM – 9:35 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.3 mile(s)
Comments:     sunny, 74,  AA/BBC walk, Peters Hill
27 species

Great Blue Heron  1
Herring Gull  2
Mourning Dove  3
Chimney Swift  8
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  2
Great Crested Flycatcher  1
Eastern Kingbird  1
Warbling Vireo  2
Blue Jay  4
Tree Swallow  6
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Tufted Titmouse  1
American Robin  30
Gray Catbird  3
European Starling  4
Yellow Warbler  3
Chipping Sparrow  20
Song Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  1
Red-winged Blackbird  3
Common Grackle  15
Orchard Oriole  1
Baltimore Oriole  3
House Finch  1
American Goldfinch  2
House Sparrow  7

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S18714976

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (http://ebird.org)

Over the summer I intend to report signs of avian nesting in the Arboretum,  and pick up on other fauna that can be seen during the birding doldrums of June and July.  Stay tuned!

Bussey Brook Meadow and the Arboretum Park Conservancy

On Sunday morning I led a walk along Blackwell Path in the newest section of the Arnold Arboretum, Bussey Brook Meadow.  This 24 acre parcel, connecting the main section of the Arboretum with the Forest Hills MBTA Station, is watched over by the Arboretum Park Conservancy (APC).  Years ago the area was a Boston city dump.  In 1996 the APC persuaded Harvard to  protect the land through indenture, denying the MBTA’s plan to take it for a bus garage.  They then raised money to build a lovely footpath from a gate on Washington Street across from the T station to the Arboretum’s original gate on South Street.  In 2002, Mayor Thomas Menino celebrated the Grand Opening of the Bussey Brook Meadow and the Blackwell Path.

It has always been much less managed than the rest of the Arboretum. Recently that longstanding neglect has been turned into a research opportunity.  Researchers at Harvard and other local universities are using this site to study the effects of invasive species on the overall ecology of the land.  This makes it a special place for birds that appreciate brushy thickets and overgrown marshy areas.

We had a good turnout for the walk and saw and heard some nice birds.  Very high up in the canopy some sharp-eyed birders saw a Chestnut-sided Warbler:


Male Chestnut-sided Warbler
Photo: Bob Mayer

Most of the other warblers we ticked off on the list were heard rather than seen, except for the common Yellow Warblers which were everywhere; some working on  nest building.


Female Yellow Warbler at nest.
Photo: Bob Mayer

Of course we saw and heard several Baltimore Orioles, as they have nested here for years.


Baltimore Oriole at nest.
Photo: Bob Mayer

One of our group spotted a large woodpecker entering a nest hole in a big catalpa tree.  We later confirmed that it was a Red-bellied Woodpecker nest. This lovely bird was uncommon in Boston as recently as 15 years ago. A southern species, it has moved north gradually as the climate has warmed  and it is now a year around resident in the Arboretum.


Male Red-bellied Woodpecker. It really should be called red-headed, but that moniker was already claimed.
Photo: Bob Mayer

Here is the list of birds seen or heard on the walk:

Arnold Arboretum, Suffolk, US-MA
May 18, 2014 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Bussey Brook Meadow, BBC/APC walk, sunny 60
30 species

Red-tailed Hawk  1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  2
Mourning Dove  2
Chimney Swift  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  1
Warbling Vireo  3
Red-eyed Vireo  1
American Crow  2
Tree Swallow  2
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Tufted Titmouse  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
American Robin  10
Gray Catbird  8
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  4
American Redstart  1
Northern Parula  3
Yellow Warbler  5
Chestnut-sided Warbler  1
Black-throated Green Warbler  1
Chipping Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  4
Red-winged Blackbird  6
Common Grackle  6
Baltimore Oriole  5
American Goldfinch  3
House Sparrow  4

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S18447385

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (http://ebird.org)

The next time you take the Orange Line to Forest Hills, cross over Washington Street and follow Blackwell Path through South Street Gate to the Arboretum.  I guarantee you’ll see some birds no matter what time of year.

My last spring bird walk in the Arboretum will be on Saturday June 7th beginning at the Peters Hill Gate at 8AM.  Join me if you can.

Good Birding!