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

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

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

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

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!

Birding the Hood

On Sunday morning 28 neighbors met at my home on Sumner Hill in Jamaica Plain for some casual urban birding.  I have a little game I play with myself; trying to find more bird species than there are birders on my walks.  The last time I did a walk for the Sumner Hill Association there were over fifty people and we got only 14 species.  This year we beat the record, but again didn’t come close on my game.

Starting in our side yard, we listened for bird song, and saw a few birds as well.  Everyone got a good look at a Gray Catbird, true to it’s name it is all gray except for a rusty patch under the tail:


Gray Catbird showing off it’s butt. The official name is undertail coverts.

As the group moved on I noticed that we had several very young people among us; and some of them were into birds.  A next door neighbor arrived with her twin daughters who had just graduated from college in western Massachusetts. They had not spent all their time on the textbooks; they knew their birds.  Even more impressive, several youngsters still in grade school were using their binoculars with dexterity.  And one ten year old clearly had some grownup birding chops.  Turns out his Grandma is the editor of a distinguished birding journal,  and he told me he started birding when he was three!

We continued down to the Southwest Corridor, which runs along the Green Line and Commuter Rail tracks and forms the southern  boundary of our neighborhood.  A birding friend had told me that she was seeing Baltimore Orioles in the area, so I had some hopes of finding one.  No luck.  But we did pick up a Chipping Sparrow along the way:


Chipping Sparrow. This seasonal sparrow arrives in April, breeds in the area, and is gone south by November.

We listened to it’s trill, but it wouldn’t reveal itself.  We got the non-native urban birds, plus some other year round birds. Our ten year old prodigy thought he heard a Red-bellied Woodpecker.  Too eager perhaps?  No, in fact when we put out an iPhone call it responded for many to hear.  Here is it’s call:

Sound recording courtesy of Lang Elliott NatureSound Studio

And here is an image of this lovely, once southern ,woodpecker- now commonplace in Boston:


Red-bellied Woodpecker, male.  Twenty years ago a sighting of this species would have drawn birders from all over New England; now it nests regularly on the Emerald Necklace.

After admiring a few more Northern Cardinals, the new college graduates saw a White-breasted Nuthatch in a big oak on the street.  Regrettably, it flew before others could see it; here is what it would have been:

W-B Nuthatch

The White-breasted Nuthatch is the commonest nuthatch in this area. Look for it moving along a tree trunk, seeking out tiny insects to eat.

Here is our meager list for the walk:

Sumner Hill JP, Suffolk, Massachusetts, US

May 22, 2016 8:30 AM – 10:00 AM

16 species

  • Herring Gull  2
  • Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1
  • Mourning Dove  2
  • Chimney Swift  4
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
  • Blue Jay  3
  • American Crow  3
  • Tufted Titmouse  1
  • White-breasted Nuthatch  1
  • American Robin  25
  • Gray Catbird  4
  • European Starling  2
  • Chipping Sparrow  1
  • Northern Cardinal  5
  • Common Grackle  1
  • House Sparrow  20

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

Hey, Sumner Hill isn’t Mount Auburn Cemetery.  But it’s still a great place for a Sunday bird walk!

Good Birding!