A clinic on some shorebirds

Olmsted’s original plan for the Emerald Necklace was to extend it from Franklin Park to the coast, probably near Castle Island and Pleasure Bay in South Boston.  I went there today because a friend had posted on BostonBirds that he has seen some late fall shorebirds on the rocks along the causeway that separates Pleasure Bay from the Boston Harbor.  It is always windy along the coast, but today was especially so; I had to hold onto my hat most of the time.  I walked along the causeway toward “Mother’s Rest”, checking the rocks on both sides for these little guys that collect at high tide when the nearby exposed sandy beaches are covered.  I first spotted three Ruddy Turnstones sunning themselves on the less windy ocean side:


Ruddy Turnstones. Note the straight gray-black bill and the reddish legs characteristic of these birds.

I ran into another birder coming from the opposite direction and we compared notes. She had seen some waterfowl but no shorebirds, so I told her where to look for the Turnstones.  As I moved on I glanced at the rocks on the windier bay side and Bingo:


A large group, sometimes called a “flight” or “fling”, of Dunlin holding forth in the wind.

The birds kept moving about, making an exact count difficult, but I estimated over 100.  I called out to my new birding colleague and she came back to admire the group.  After a bit I proceeded along the path, seeing nothing but several “rafts” of Common Eiders bouncing in the ocean waves.


Part of a flotilla of aptly named Common Eiders. They are sexually dimorphic, the males being much more dramatically plumaged than the rust-brown females.

These salt water loving ducks can be seen year around in Boston Harbor, but are much more plentiful in the winter.

When I returned to the area where the Dunlins had been spotted the other birder had been studying the group and had noticed two other species admixed w the Dunlins. Can you spot them?


There are 30 Dunlins in the image, along with two Ruddy turnstones and two Purple Sandpipers.

Here is a closeup of a few Dunlins:


Dunlins. Note the thin decurved black bill (seen especially well in shadow), the black legs and the drab color with clear white belly. In breeding plumage these birds have a large black belly patch, and are more colorful overall.

And here are a couple of close-ups of the least common species present, Purple Sandpiper:


Purple Sandpiper. This shorebird also has a somewhat down-curved bill, black with a yellow/orange base, and notably yellow legs.


The difference in the color and thickness of the legs and feet and the darkness of the plumage is seen clearly in this shot of a Purple Sandpiper, left and a Dunlin.,right.

And here is an image of a Dunlin alongside of a Ruddy Turnstone:


Note the difference in body color and, especially, leg and foot color, of these two species. The smaller, straighter bill of the Ruddy Turnstone is not visible in this resting bird.

All of these three species of shorebirds can be seen in the fall in Massachusetts.  They are not displaying their breeding finery, as they all breed far north of us in Alaska, Northern Canada, Hudson Bay and even Greenland.   The usual experience of seeing these birds is from a considerable distance as they forage along the sandy shore, or as flocks in flight:


At one point many of the Dunlins took flight, but were too close to capture other than in this blurry image.

Because it is hard to get photos of these shorebirds up close, I thought this little “clinic” on them and their identification was worth posting.  Here is the answer to the quiz posted above:


Among the many Dunlins are two Purple Sandpipers, circled in red, and two Ruddy Turnstones, in green.  Had you spotted them?

I have one more walk scheduled for 2016, Sunday December 11th.  I’ll begin the new year in the Arboretum on Sunday January 8th. See the end of my last post for details and directions.

Good Birding!

An October Bird Walk

This morning twenty people faced 40 degree fall weather for a bird walk in the Arnold Arboretum.  Most were local folks but we had a visitor from London and a newly arrived transplant from North Carolina.  She was especially pleased when we heard the clarion call of a Carolina Wren:

We were never able to tease it out of the thick underbrush at the edge of the property; too bad as it is a striking little bird:


Carolina Wren, with downturned bill.

Another “good” bird was only seen by a few people, one of whom was a very competent birder. It was a Red-breasted Nuthatch!


Red-breasted Nuthatch. In contrast to the Carolina Wren, above, this bird has a straight, almost upturned bill.

This is the much less common cousin of the White-breasted Nuthatch, but for some reason “RB Nuts”  are being seen a lot this year.

Our first bird on the walk was a migrant straggler:


Gray Catbird. Most of these common summer migrants have left by late October, heading as far south as Central America.

We saw only one migrating fall warbler and it was too high up and fast moving for a positive identification.

In the lilac collection we came upon several flocks of House Finches, the most numerous bird on the walk.


House Finch, male

We did see one new arrival; a species seldom seen in summer but common in fall and winter:


White-throated Sparrow, Male

When I played it’s melancholic song it perked right up!

As we finished the walk we picked up a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk moving about over the wet meadow near the main entrance, thus managing to see at least as many bird species as there were participants in the walk.

Here is the list:

Arnold Arboretum, Suffolk, Massachusetts, US

Oct 8, 2016 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

Comments:     overcast, 46 F

20 species (+1 other taxa)

  • Red-tailed Hawk  1
  • Herring Gull 1
  • Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  2
  • Mourning Dove  1
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
  • Downy Woodpecker  1
  • Blue Jay  5
  • American Crow  1
  • Black-capped Chickadee  4
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
  • Carolina Wren 1
  • American Robin  15
  • Gray Catbird  1
  • Northern Mockingbird  1
  • warbler sp. (Parulidae sp.)  1
  • White-throated Sparrow  1
  • Song Sparrow  3
  • Northern Cardinal  3
  • House Finch  25
  • American Goldfinch  3
  • House Sparrow  10

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S31943584

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

This is my last bird walk in the Arboretum this year. We will kick off 2017 with a winter walk, starting from the main gate, on Sunday January 8th and beginning at 9 AM.  I will also be doing a waterfowl walk on Sunday December 11th; here is the announcement for that:

Emerald Necklace Ponds, Boston/ Brookline.This 90-minute walk will focus on waterfowl and other winter species in the ponds and adjacent woods of the Emerald Necklace.  Suitable for beginning birders as well as more experienced birders.  The walk is co-sponsored by the National Park Service/Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance and the Emerald Necklace Bird Club.  Meeting Location: Parking lot for Daisy Field, Olmsted Park on Willow Pond Road, between Pond Avenue and the Jamaicaway, 9AM to 10:30 AM

Here is one species we should see on that walk:


Male Wood Duck

I hope some of you will be able to attend.

Good Birding!

Early fall Arboretum walk, and some notable sightings of the summer

This morning I was met by 13 birders for a walk around Peters Hill in the Arnold Arboretum.  At 51 F the chill was evident, but the sun was out and a brief overnight rain promised a turnout from the birds.  It was not to be.  We walked much of the morning birdless.  Desperate for some sign of life, we visited the small herd of rental goats being used to weed out some invasive plants on the slope near the railroad tracks:


The herd taking a break from “goatscaping ” a patch of invasives.

Finally we hit an active patch and got a few resident birds.

W-B Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch in it’s characteristic upside down pose on a tree branch


Male Red-bellied Woodpecker, a formerly Southern species now firmly in place in New England.

We also had a Downy Woodpecker in this area near The Walter Street “Berrying” Ground, one of Boston’s 15 historic cemeteries:


One of thirteen gravestones in the The Walter Street Burying Ground; that of Thomas Bishop, who died on June 29,1727 at age 82.

Our only fall migrant was too high in the canopy to positively identify, so it had to be recorded only as warbler sps.

Here is the list for the walk:

Arnold Arboretum, Suffolk, Massachusetts, US

Sep 24, 2016 8:00 AM – 9:30 AM

Comments:     sunny, 50

16 species (+1 other taxa)

  • Red-tailed Hawk  1
  • Herring Gull  1
  • Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  6
  • Mourning Dove  1
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
  • Downy Woodpecker  2
  • Northern Flicker  1
  • Blue Jay  10
  • White-breasted Nuthatch  2
  • American Robin  8
  • Northern Mockingbird  1
  • European Starling  12
  • warbler sp. (Parulidae sp.)  1
  • Northern Cardinal  3
  • Common Grackle  2
  • American Goldfinch  4
  • House Sparrow  7

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S31730454

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

There have been a few unusual birds close by but outside the Emerald Necklace recently; Millennium Park in West Roxbury.    I caught this big raptor sitting on a dead tree near the edge of the Charles River:


One of a pair of Bald Eagles that have been seen quite regularly in Millennium Park.  A nest has not been located nearby; perhaps next year?

This majestic bird is seen infrequently near Jamaica Pond.  So glad that Ben Franklin, who had so many great ideas, did not succeed in his effort to have the Wild Turkey named the national bird!

By far the rarest bird to appear this September at Millennium was this dainty creature:


Red-necked Phalarope on the water’s edge near the canoe ramp on the Charles River.

An interesting factoid about this shorebird is that the females are more brightly plumaged than the males and, appropriately, it is the more camouflaged males who incubate the clutch!  This bird stayed only a few days; it was the first recorded sighting of the species in Suffolk County.  Red-necked Phalaropes spend most of their lives on the pelagic open ocean, breeding near the Arctic Circle and wintering on tropical seas.

I will lead a second Arboretum bird walk on Saturday October 8th beginning at 8 AM in front of the Hunnewell Building.  Hope to see you there.

Good Birding!