Actually NEAR, but I wanted to draw you all in.  This was the view out the window of my house Sunday morning :

P1090438Trying to fight off major SAD, I thought I’d lay out a photo display of what we are all waiting for, beginning in a few weeks and running into April.  I’m focusing on flora, but can’t resist a few birds as well. I took all of these images in the Arnold Arboretum in recent years.

When the snow abates, we will see evidence of spring on the ground and in the trees, even in February.  Here is a very early example:


Skunk Cabbage Symplocarpus foetidus. True to it’s latin name, the flower (seen left below) puts out a fetid odor; attracting ground beetles that act as pollinators while bees are dormant.

Pussy Willows begin to show themselves in February as well. Here is one type:


Rosegold Pussy Willow Salix gracilistyla

And here is a neat black form, also found along Meadow Road in the Arboretum:


Salix gracilistyla var. melanostachys

Even more typical flowering plants can bloom in February.  I took this image on this very date in 2012.  I hope it isn’t in flower today!


Japanese Apricot Prunus mume in the Rose Garden

The landscape can be quite altered in spring.  This is what Faxon Pond looked like on April 1, 2010


Heavy spring rains caused major flooding of the man-made ponds at the Arboretum in 2010. With all this snow we could have a repeat this year.

These next bulbs incorporate snow in their common names, hinting at their early display:

G of Snow  Chionodoxa #2

Glory of the Snow Chionodoxa sps.


Snowdrops Galanthus sps.

Soon some of the lawns below Bussey Hill will look like this:


Crocus sps. on the lawn below Bussey Hill

The earliest migrating birds appear in the cattail marsh along Meadow Road in February.


Male Red-winged Blackbirds establishing territory in the marsh.

But it will take at least another month for this beauty to show itself!


Male Eastern Bluebird, preening

By April, many flowering trees will erupt into bloom.  Maples are not known for their floral display, but up close their early blooms can be spectacular:


Silver Maple Acer saccharinum

Another April bloomer, with tiny but magnificent flowers, can be seen beyond the Tilia collection along Meadow Road:


Japanese Cornel Dogwood Cornus officinalis

This early March flowering shrub was cloned at the Arnold Arboretum in 1928, and was given the name “Arnold Promise:

Arnold Promise Tree #2

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ in bloom on March 2, 2002.

Here is it’s lovely flower close up:

H. x intermedia "Arnold Promise

Another early bloomer, fragrant as is the Witch Hazel above, is the Spicebush:


Japanese Spicebush Lindera obtusiloba, showing it’s handsome bark as well as it’s inflorescence.

Early spring can bring out beauty in emerging leaves as well; here are two examples:


Mountain Ash Sorbus sp. near Dawson Pond


Fragrant Winterhazel Corylopsis glabrescens

At the Rose Garden, April really brings in the color:


Formosan Cherry Prunus‘Okame’


Tokyo Cherry Prunus X yedoensis


Sargent Cherry Prunus Sargentii

All those blossoms bring out the insects:


Honeybee on clethra sps.

Which bring in the birds:


Yellow Warbler, male

Can spring be that far away?  My spring series of bird walks will begin on Saturday April  18th beginning at the main gate at 8AM.  See the AA website for more information.

In the meantime, stay warm!



Birdy, it’s cold outside

Saturday was the annual January Arnold Arboretum bird walk and 30 people signed up on the Arboretum website.  When I awakened and saw the temperature at 12° F, I wondered if anyone would show up.  I got to the main gate at 9AM (Temp 16° F) and was greeted by 19 bundled-up birders, eager and ready to go!  Our first stop was the feeders next to the Hunnewell Building; maintained with funds from the 1912 Edward Whitney Bird Fund (more about that in a future post).  There was little bird activity in the trees and bushes on the grounds, but the feeders were hopping!  Nothing special; but this group of mostly beginning birders were delighted with close-up views of House Finches, American Goldfinches, cardinals and four sparrow species.  I also discussed the “magic halo” I put around the feeders in December; it was doing it’s job.  All the House Sparrows were on the ground waiting for cast-offs from the birds at the feeders.

As we moved on, the birding went from active to nearly absent.  We picked up a Northern Mockingbird in the Leventritt gardens that responded to my pishing:


Northern Mockingbird. This is a year-round species in the Arboretum.                                        Photo: Bob Mayer

We circled down Bussey Hill Road to the ponds which were solid ice.  I showed the group last winter’s roosting hole for an Eastern Screech-owl, but it was vacant.  As we walked past the hole however, a passerby reported there had been an owl in the hole earlier in the morning.  Arboretum birders, keep on the lookout!  We did find some open water farther along on the way back and there were several species in and around that “seep”, including about six of the more than 30 Mourning Doves we admired:


Mourning Dove, another year-round local bird.                                                                                    Photo: Bob Mayer

We finished up the walk studying a group of sparrows working the grass along the roadway.  At first these birds were hard to see even though they were only 20 feet or so from the road; they blended in very well in the spotty snow-covered off-brown grass.  Most of the birds were already on our list, but one “little brown job” stood out; plain gray breast with a single central spot, black tail, prominent rusty cap.  It was our only American Tree Sparrow.


American Tree Sparrow. This is a winter sparrow, departing in the early spring and replaced by a common summer sparrow with a rusty cap- the Chipping Sparrow.                                                      Photo: Bob Mayer

We ended up with exactly the same number of bird species as there were people in our hardy group. Here is the list:

Arnold Arboretum, Suffolk, US-MA
Jan 11, 2015 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM
Protocol: Traveling
2.0 mile(s)
Comments:     16-20, sunny
20 species

Red-tailed Hawk  1
Herring Gull  6
Mourning Dove  30
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  1
Blue Jay  4
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Tufted Titmouse  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  3
American Robin  5
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  8
American Tree Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  6
White-throated Sparrow  12
Dark-eyed Junco  8
Northern Cardinal  5
House Finch  18
American Goldfinch  6
House Sparrow  4

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S21296939

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

As the trip ended I mentioned that there was a very rare bird in a locale less than a mile from the Arboretum.  Some birders already knew about the Black-backed Woodpecker in Forest Hills Cemetery.  First found by Paul Peterson, a famous local birder, he posted the bird on January 6th.  There has been only a dozen reports of this species in the entire state in the last 40 years, and only four since 2000!  Dozens of birders looked for it through the week, without success.  On Friday morning however, another expert birder re-found it.  I headed to the cemetery that afternoon and joined more than 20 birders searching in vain for the bird; several had been there for more than two hours!  I left and went to the Arboretum to fill the feeders in preparation for the Saturday walk.  At about 3:30 PM I returned and found a very excited crowd getting excellent views of the target bird. Here is a photo of the woodpecker, marred by low light as it was taken late in the day:


Black-backed Woodpecker, male.  Note the completely black back and the yellow, rather than red, topknot.                                                                                                                                                          Photo: Bob Mayer

Someone from the Arboretum walk group joined me to try for this bird at the cemetery.  To our delight, when we arrived there were several birders watching the woodpecker.  Experts on this species (seen rarely high in the mountains of New Hampshire, and uncommonly in the boreal and coniferous forests of Canada) predict that this bird may remain for weeks.
He has found a grove of dying hemlocks riddled by insects, just the thing for a hungry woodpecker!  The local list-servers, Massbird and BostonBirds, provide directions to the site in the cemetery, just off Magnolia Avenue.

Good luck, and Good Birding!


2014 Boston CBC – good weather, fair birding in the JP sector

This year’s Boston Christmas Bird Count went off without a hitch on Sunday December 12th; last year’s count had to be postponed because of a bad snowstorm.  No weather problems this year, but the birding did not match the weather.  This was the 114th CBC in the Jamaica Plain sector.  We fielded eight birders to work the birding hot spots from the Landmark Center on the Riverway up the Emerald Necklace thru Franklin Park, including Forest Hills Cemetery and ending up at Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center in Mattapan.  A hardy (or foolish) threesome from the group began at 4:30 AM seeking owls; they then joined the others at Jamaica Pond at 7:00 AM and we finished up at 3:00 PM.  Later that evening a final listing of all the birds seen in the 15 mile diameter Boston circle was compiled.

The Jamaica Plain species count was 49 for the day.  The species with the highest numbers in JP was Canada Goose –1169 to be exact.  Most of those were found on the golf course in Franklin Park; local golfers will not be happy to hear that!  We also tallied 82 robins, 59 chickadees and 45 doves.  Some of our “best” birds were a Gadwall duck and a House Wren, both in Franklin Park.  Other “good” birds were seen in the Arnold Arboretum.  Oddly, three of them were found within six feet of each other;  Orange-crowned Warbler, Hermit Thrush and Gray Catbird. Catbirds are a very common migratory bird in Boston during the spring and summer, but by early fall they all head south . All but this one- it was the only catbird seen in Boston in this year’s CBC!  Stragglers like this have a very tough haul to reach the spring sunshine; he or she will probably perish over the long cold winter.  That tempers the excitement of finding an out-of-season bird.

Just as there were some great finds in JP, there were unexpected misses as well.  Most surprising, the two hours of “owling” in the early dawn came up empty.  We seldom fail to find at least a few Eastern Screech-owls and Great Horned Owls on the JP CBC.  This doesn’t mean they weren’t there, just that they didn’t respond to imitations of their calls or show themselves in the developing light.  One of our group, who lives on the edge of Forest Hills Cemetery, actually heard two Great Horned Owls calling to each other just two days after the Sunday count.  Note that this year Boston had an all time high count for Great Horned Owl- 18.

Below is the official list of birds recorded in the full Boston Count. I have highlighted some of the special birds that our local group added to the count.  All of this information will be compiled into a data set for all of North America and much of Central and South America.

The CBC provides highly significant information on those bird species that are increasing in number or becoming endangered, as well as showing geographic shifts in response to climate change or habitat loss.

Here is the BCBC list and summary, compiled by Bob Stymeist who has been leading this effort for many years:
Greater Boston Christmas Bird Count

The 42nd Greater Boston Christmas Bird Count (CBC) (actually the 114th- Belmont, Jamaica Plain and Winchester have been covered since the very first CBC in 1900!)  was held yesterday  with very nice weather conditions. We recorded 120 species and so far there were an additional NINE species that were seen within count period.  We added ONE new species to the overall list- a Semipalmated Plover that was found and photographed on Thompson Island, this brings the total number of species seen on the Boston CBC to 229!
We had all time high counts for: Cackling Goose-2, Northern Shoveler-11 Ruddy Duck-310, Wild Turkey-125, Common Loon-107, Peregrine Falcon-11, Great Horned Owl-18, Downy Woodpecker-382, Northern Flicker-46, White-breasted Nuthatch-358, Carolina Wren-115, House Wren-3, Winter Wren- 11, and Orange-crowned Warbler-8

There were many highlights and as always the case a few birds that were surprisingly missed: Cackling Goose 2 at Clay Pit Pond, Belmont, Harlequin Duck in Winthrop, the Barrow’s Goldeneye from Deer Island, Rough-legged Hawk 2 from Saugus, the Semipalmated Plover on Thompson Island, 14 Snowy Owls (13 at Logan, 1 in Saugus), House Wrens in three areas, and an Indigo Bunting in Newton. Big misses were; Lesser Scaup, Sanderling, and Bonaparte’s Gull.

Thanks to the over 115 birders who canvassed the area to make the count successful. 120 species plus nine additional birds seen during count week but not on count day

Brant  61
Cackling Goose  2
Canada Goose  5417
Mute Swan  68
Wood Duck  4   2 Leverett Pond
Gadwall  8  1 Scarborough Pond, Franklin Park
American Wigeon  4
American Black Duck  561
Mallard  2041
Northern Shoveler  17
Northern Pintail  1
Green-winged Teal  11
Canvasback  1
Ring-necked Duck  190
Greater Scaup  315
Lesser Scaup  CW (Count Week)
Common Eider  1487
Harlequin Duck  1     Winthrop
Surf Scoter  548
White-winged Scoter  534
Black Scoter  82
Long-tailed Duck  42
Bufflehead  629
Common Goldeneye  157
Barrow’s Goldeneye  1     Deer Island
Hooded Merganser  372
Common Merganser  323
Red-breasted Merganser  282
Ruddy Duck  310
Ring-necked Pheasant  CW  Watertown
Wild Turkey  125
Red-throated Loon  62
Common Loon  107
Pied-billed Grebe  8  6 Jamaica Pond
Horned Grebe  121
Red-necked Grebe  7
Northern Gannet  3
Double-crested Cormorant  46
Great Cormorant  2
Great Blue Heron  38
Black-crowned Night-Heron  CW
Northern Harrier  2
Sharp-shinned Hawk  5
Cooper’s Hawk  21
Bald Eagle  2
Red-tailed Hawk  107
Rough-legged Hawk 2
American Coot  176  44 Jamaica Pond
Semipalmated Plover  1
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Ruddy Turnstone  2
Dunlin  54
Purple Sandpiper  5
Wilson’s Snipe  1
Black Guillemot  2
Ring-billed Gull  1512
Herring Gull  2845
Iceland Gull  CW
Lesser Black-backed Gull  1
Great Black-backed Gull  270
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1710
Mourning Dove  704
Eastern Screech-Owl  23
Great Horned Owl  18
Snowy Owl  14- 13 at Logan, 1 in Saugus

Barred Owl  2
Belted Kingfisher  9
Red-bellied Woodpecker  51
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  2
Downy Woodpecker  382
Hairy Woodpecker  34
Northern Flicker  46
American Kestrel  4
Merlin  4
Peregrine Falcon  11
Monk Parakeet  CW
Blue Jay  617
American Crow  385
Fish Crow  36  35 Franklin Field
Common Raven 1
Horned Lark  59
Black-capped Chickadee  1044
Tufted Titmouse  327
Red-breasted Nuthatch  3  2 Arnold Arboretum
White-breasted Nuthatch  358
Brown Creeper  21
House Wren  3     1 Franklin Park
Winter Wren  11
Marsh Wren  1
Carolina Wren  176
Golden-crowned Kinglet  18
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  2
Eastern Bluebird  3
Hermit Thrush  18 1 Arnold Arboretum
American Robin  3388
Gray Catbird  1 Arnold Arboretum
Northern Mockingbird  118
European Starling  5850
American Pipit  CW
Cedar Waxwing  24
Lapland Longspur  1
Snow Bunting  67
Ovenbird  1
Orange-crowned Warbler  8 1 Arnold Arboretum
Palm Warbler  1
Pine Warbler  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  15
Eastern Towhee 3
American Tree Sparrow  205
Chipping Sparrow  2
Field Sparrow  CW
Savannah Sparrow  11
Fox Sparrow  3
Song Sparrow  440
Swamp Sparrow  23
White-throated Sparrow  563
Dark-eyed Junco  1178
Northern Cardinal  400
Indigo Bunting  1
Red-winged Blackbird  37
Common Grackle  4
Baltimore Oriole  CW
House Finch  279
Purple Finch  1
Common Redpoll  19
Pine Siskin  13  6 Forest Hills Cemetery
American Goldfinch  472
House Sparrow  4244

Good Birding and Happy Holidays!