Late Fall Walk in the Arnold Arboretum

Seven birders joined me on this lovely but chilly morning for a walk to the ponds and back through the Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden, searching for late migrants and resident bird species.  Not many migrants spotted, but we did see a couple of nice birds and fully enjoyed the great weather.

One of our group, using a 600mm long lens as both camera and spotting scope,  located a woodpecker he couldn’t identify.  After some study we determined it to be a young Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (YBSA).  Toward the end of the walk this same man found and photographed yet another juvenile YBSA; as it was more than a half mile from our first sighting it was likely a different bird (sibling?)  This was our only woodpecker on the walk, but a nice one!  Here are images of a young, not so fancy sapsucker, and the beautiful adult of the species:


Juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on a snag. The white band on the wing is distinctive, although the bright red patterning on the adult has not yet developed.


Adult Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on a yew branch, showing the pattern of bark penetration unique to this species.

We continued along Meadow Road, picking up some fairly common birds for the Arboretum.  American Robins were everywhere, feasting on the abundant fruits of the season, especially the juicy berries of the Asian Corktrees.


American Robin. The ubiquity of this bird can cause us to miss how handsome they are up close.

We spent some time searching for birds near the three man-made ponds landscaped into the property by Fredrick Law Olmsted at the end of the nineteenth century.  During the drought of late summer two of the ponds nearly dried up, leaving only Dawson Pond as habitat for local aquatic life. Today all the ponds were back after the recent rains.  There were no waterfowl,  but as we rounded a pond we heard a distinctive call:

Recording courtesy of Lang Elliott NatureSound Studio

Flying back and forth over Dawson Pond we saw the bird, a Belted Kingfisher!  Kingfishers are never far from open water, and they usually seek greater bodies than the Arboretum has to offer.  Perhaps the concentration of fish brought on by the dry summer brought this one in. In less than a minute, it flew off to the north. They are striking birds:


This distant image of a Belted Kingfisher shows it to be a female, from the brown belly band.

The remainder of the walk turned up some other familiar birds.  We ended up with five sparrow species, including the photo of a Swamp Sparrow taken by another photographer in the group. He spotted the bird just before the walk began, and shared it with all of us.   It is quite colorful for a little brown job:


Swamp Sparrow. The rusty-brown cap, gray face with black malar stripe, and rust spot on the wing help to identify this uncommon sparrow.

Here is our final list:

Arnold Arboretum, Suffolk, Massachusetts, US
Oct 10, 2015 8:00 AM – 9:40 AM
Protocol: Traveling
2.0 mile(s)
Comments:     55, sunny
18 species

Mourning Dove  6
Belted Kingfisher  1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  2
Blue Jay  4
Black-capped Chickadee  3
Tufted Titmouse  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  3
American Robin  50
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  6
Chipping Sparrow  5
White-throated Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  3
Swamp Sparrow  1
Northern Cardinal  3
Common Grackle  15
American Goldfinch  8
House Sparrow  15

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

My next scheduled bird walk will be on Sunday December 6th, beginning at 9:00AM at the MBTA Longwood Green Line parking lot on Chapel Street in Brookline.  We will look for resident land birds and waterfowl along the Riverway area of the Emerald Necklace.  I hope the current construction in the area won’t be too much of a distraction.

Good Birding!

Spring Series Finale at the Arnold

On Saturday morning I led the last of five spring bird walks at the Arnold Arboretum; 46 people showed up to get a glimpse of the tail end of the migration and enjoy the beautiful weather and some spectacular trees.  I began the walk with my docent hat on; discussing the Tuliptree in full bloom in front of the main gate. What a lovely flower this Asian x American cross was displaying:


Tuliptree Liriodendron tulipifera x L. chinense 584-81-A

By then we had heard or seen several birds, including a flyover Great Blue Heron.  As we did the circle up to the Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden, past the lilacs and down to the ponds and back, we ticked off many of the resident birds and nesting migrants to be seen late in the spring.  I had been seeing and hearing lots of Baltimore Orioles since the first of May, and several sharp-eyed birders were able to locate three active nests.  Such lovely birds; and so talented in their nest-building skills:


Male Baltimore Oriole at hanging nest


Baltimore Oriole, male

Orioles were the bird of the day. We tried to find the other, much less common, oriole found in the Arboretum, but didn’t succeed.  If we had it would have looked like this:


Male Orchard Oriole. Note the chestnut color replacing the vivid orange of it’s cousin the Baltimore Oriole above.

Early in the walk several small flocks of Cedar Waxwings flew by; a couple of them stopped for a distant look. Here’s a close-up:


Cedar Waxwing

We heard two vireo species in the fully leafed out trees– Red-eyed and Warbling – but never saw one.  The song of the Warbling Vireo is frequently heard in the Arboretum, where they nest every year. Here is a recording of it:

Warbling Vireo recording courtesy of Lang Elliott NatureSound Studio

Red-bellied Woodpeckers were also heard in several locations.  It is a bird worth searching for:


Male Red-bellied Woodpecker

We also inspected several of the fifteen nest boxes that are scattered about on the AA grounds.  In one of the boxes in Leventritt Garden we caught a House Wren peering out of the hole before it flew.


House Wren on a Honey Locust tree

We didn’t disturb the nest, but here is what we might have seen if we had:


House Wren nestlings. The stick nest is typical of the species. This image was taken in 2006 during a survey of nest boxes. No birds were harmed during this survey!

Here is today’s eBird list:

Arnold Arboretum, Suffolk, Massachusetts, US
May 30, 2015 8:00 AM – 10:20 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.5 mile(s)
Comments:     BBC Walk. 58-70 sun and clouds
31 species,  all species not seen by all

Canada Goose  2
Great Blue Heron  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1
Mourning Dove  5
Chimney Swift  2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  1
Warbling Vireo  4
Red-eyed Vireo  1
Blue Jay  1
Tree Swallow  3
Black-capped Chickadee  1
Tufted Titmouse  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
House Wren  1
American Robin  25
Gray Catbird  5
Northern Mockingbird  2
European Starling  5
Cedar Waxwing  16
Yellow Warbler  4
Chipping Sparrow  3
Song Sparrow  3
Northern Cardinal  2
Red-winged Blackbird  10
Common Grackle  20
Baltimore Oriole  10
American Goldfinch  2
House Sparrow  9

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

Those who joined the walk, and who scan this list carefully, will note the absence of a bird we thought we identified. High up in a tree I spotted a small bird which I initially thought was a flycatcher in the Empid. group.  As some of us zeroed in on the distant bird we thought it showed a yellow rump before it flew, and declared it a Yellow-rumped Warbler.  I commented that this was unusual since this warbler, common during the migration, should be long gone farther north by now.  When I put the bird in the eBird system it brought me up short; “details please”, as this would be a rare sighting in Suffolk County at the end of May.  They wanted a full description of the sighting, or a photograph.  I  reflected on the sighting and decided that in fact we had not seen this bird well enough for a certain identification, and deleted the bird from our list.  Birding operates mostly on the honor system and most birders are honest.  Like the cruiser sitting at the traffic light, eBird helps to keep us that way.

At the start of the walk, to whet the group’s appetite, I mentioned a Scarlet Tanager had been sighted close to our start just two days earlier.  We didn’t see it, but here is an image I took two weeks ago in nearby Franklin Park:


Male Scarlet Tanager in Franklin Park

Maybe next year!

This was the last spring walk for the season.  Check the Arboretum website later in the summer for the fall schedule of walks.

Good birding!

P.S –  For Bird-a thon 2015 I went out with two other birders and tried to find as many species as possible in several locations south of Boston. Out final tally was 77 species; not great, but not bad for a hard days birding. Thanks to all of you who contributed to my First Giving page for the Boston Nature Center.  Many kids will thank you too, as they enjoy nature in the city at their summer camps this year!

Back-to-back Spring Bird Walks in the Arboretum

This weekend I led walks in two different sectors of the Arnold Arboretum.  On Saturday, 33 people assembled at the Peters Hill Gate on a chilly morning, hoping for some early migrants.  I schedule my walks months ahead, so it is always chance whether the migration will coincide with the walks; the cool weather in the past few weeks combined with unfavorable winds slowed the movement of birds this year.  We had only one warbler on this walk and saw no orioles or other migrants that can arrive by the first of May.  On the other hand I had the pleasant sighting of several good birding friends who were helpful in flushing out the birds we did see.  One was an old friend who used to co-lead walks with me a few years ago when he was a staffer at the Arboretum;  he has gone on to work at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, NY.  What a pleasure it was to see him!

We began the walk by seeing and hearing some common seasonal species, Chipping Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird and Tree Swallow:


Chipping Sparrow


Male Red-winged blackbird, displaying his red and yellow epaulettes


Male Tree Swallow at nest box

It was great to see Tree Swallows on some of the nest boxes at the top of Peters Hill; House Sparrows have been invading them in recent years.

As we proceeded down the hill and along the perimeter walkway we picked up more species, including our only warbler, a Yellow Warbler.


Singing male Yellow Warbler

This was my FOY (first of year) Yellow Warbler.  Soon they will become commonplace, especially in the Bradley Rosaceous Collection  near the ponds in the main section of the Arboretum. Most of the warblers that pass through during the spring will continue north to northern New England, and Canada to breed; the Yellow Warbler is one of the few that actually nests here.


Female Yellow Warbler at nest with several chicks

After crossing Bussey Street we walked a forested path parallel to South Street to the South Street Gate and continued in the woods along Hemlock Hill Road, but saw little avian activity.  As we walked back to the Bussey Street Gate where we began, a keen- eared birder heard a high pitched twittering warble, much too high for my aging ears. A Pine Siskin was calling from the top of a big conifer!


Pine Siskin. Note the very sharp bill and yellow cast to the wings and tail.

Given the date, this was the most unusual bird of the walk. These “winter finches” are usually long gone by now; perhaps the cold winter and spring kept them around.  We later saw a small flock flying among the cone-bearing conifers, their favorite food source.

After the walk ended, several hangers on were lucky to see our only raptors on the walk.  Two Cooper’s Hawks were funnelling overhead.  A minute later they were joined by an adult Red-tailed Hawk…  and then they were all gone.  Nice finish to a pleasant walk.

Here is the list of birds identified on the walk:

Arnold Arboretum, Peters Hill and Hemlock Hill areas
May 2, 2015 8:00 AM – 9:50 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.5 mile(s)
Comments:     39-45, sun and clouds
26 species

Canada Goose  5
Double-crested Cormorant  6
Cooper’s Hawk  2
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Herring Gull  2
Mourning Dove  5
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  2
Blue Jay  5
Tree Swallow  6
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Tufted Titmouse  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
American Robin  20
European Starling  2
Yellow Warbler  1
Chipping Sparrow  15
Song Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  3
Northern Cardinal  3
Red-winged Blackbird  12
Common Grackle  20
Brown-headed Cowbird  4
Pine Siskin  6
American Goldfinch  4
House Sparrow  10

On Sunday morning a group of 26 joined me at the South Street Gate for a casual walk through Bussey Brook Meadow and Marsh.  This walk was co-sponsered by the Brookline Bird Club and the Arboretum Park Conservancy.  I discussed the interesting history of this area in a previous post last spring.

The area is a special place for birds and other fauna- many thickets, brambles, downed trees, and spontaneous wetlands- in contrast to the manicured habitat of the Arboretum proper.  We were hoping that brief southwest winds overnight might have brought in some new migrants; it was not to be.  We saw several  warblers high up in deciduous trees just leafing out, but the distance and back-lighting only allowed us to tease out a Yellow Warbler.

The highlight of the walk turned out to be evidence of nesting by several resident and one migrant species.  The migrants were a pair of Tree Swallows occupying a nest box.


Tree Swallow in nest box

Shortly thereafter we found another cavity nester, Northern Flicker:


Male Northern Flicker at nest hole

I told the group that this nest hole, in an old Catalpa tree, had different tenants last year:


Red-bellied Woodpecker at same nest hole one year earlier

It looks like the flickers gained control before the Red-bellied Woodpeckers did, or else the woodies have gone elsewhere (we did not see or hear one on the walk).

We also found, low down, some regular nests which provided good looks of a female Northern Cardinal on her nest and of two American Robins also sitting on eggs:


American Robin on nest

And yes, the eggs really are robin’s egg blue:

P1310250We ended the walk with a sighting of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. These flitty little birds are hard to see and even harder to photograph; they never sit still!  Here is a shot of one showing the identifiers; broken white eye-ring, white wingbars, and a hint of the crown that gives the bird it’s name (not visible unless the bird is excited);


Ruby-crowned Kinglet

By the time we ended the walk the temperature was above 50; beginning to feel like real spring!  Here is the list from Bussey Brook:

Arnold Arboretum, Bussey Brook Meadow and Wetland
May 3, 2015 8:00 AM – 9:40 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
Comments:     45-50, sun and clouds
21 species (+1 other taxa)

Red-tailed Hawk  1
Herring Gull  1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  6
Mourning Dove  3
Downy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  2 one at nest hole
Blue Jay  3
Tree Swallow  2 nest box
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Tufted Titmouse  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
American Robin  15 2 on nests
European Starling  2
Yellow Warbler  1
warbler sp.  3
Chipping Sparrow  3
Song Sparrow  4
Northern Cardinal  2 1 on nest
Red-winged Blackbird  5
Common Grackle  25
House Sparrow  4

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

On Saturday May 16, I will be doing the Mass Audubon Bird-a-thon for the Boston Nature Center.  If you wish to contribute to our effort you can do so at:

My next, and last, spring Arboretum walk will be on Saturday May 30, starting from the Main Gate at 8AM.

Good Birding!

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