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:

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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:

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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:

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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 http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S29833318

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

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

Good Birding!

A Nice Finish for the last Spring Walk

Two dozen birders joined me on a beautiful morning for a walk from the main gate to Bussey Hill and back at the Arnold Arboretum.  As the passerine migration begins to subside we were hoping for some warbler action, but it was not to be.  A number of nesting Yellow Warblers were seen and heard throughout the walk, but the only other warbler was an American Redstart at the top of the hill.

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American Redstart, male. The bird we had today was a less colorful female.

One member of the group heard a Common Yellowthroat, another warbler that nests in the Arboretum, but as no one else heard it, we kept with the “two observers must see or hear for it to count” birding rule.  Warbling Vireos, a bird better heard than seen, were heard frequently, and seen less so:

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The Warbling Vireo makes up for it’s drab appearance with a delightful song.

Here is a recording of this bird’s song:

Sound recording courtesy of Lang Elliott NatureSound Studio

Even more common than the vireos were Baltimore Orioles, and we saw several of their hanging nests:

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Male Baltimore Oriole at nest. These woven nests are so sturdy they often last through the  entire year.

Speaking of nests, we saw a number of robin nests; then we watched this bird fly to it’s nest hole, pause briefly and call, then disappear into the hole!

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Male Red-bellied Woodpecker at nest hole

As we walked up the grassy southern slope to the top of Bussey Hill, we spotted two flycatchers in the same tree; Eastern Phoebe and Eastern Kingbird.  I posted images of these birds on my blog last week.  At another location, two members of the group heard the distinct call of a different flycatcher, the Eastern Wood-pewee.  These birds stay in the deep woods where they are usually identified by their song:

Sound recording courtesy of Lang Elliott NatureSound Studio

In a nearby tree we found a flock of Cedar Waxwings, dressed for a formal occasion:

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Cedar Waxwing in it’s pristine plumage.

I had taken the group to the Explorer’s Garden near the top of the hill because I had had some good migrating birds there two days before.  Today the only warbler was the Redstart mentioned earlier.  I listened for the song of the Scarlet Tanager, but heard nothing.  Then as we prepared to descend the hill I heard it. Then I saw it!

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Scarlet Tanager, male.

This bird was a “lifer” for many in the group.  Beyond that it was all downhill ornithologically as well as topographically .  Except for the Wood Thrushes calling in the North Woods:

Sound recording courtesy of Lang Elliott NatureSound Studio

Here is the complete list for the walk:

Arnold Arboretum, Suffolk, Massachusetts, US

May 21, 2016 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

2.0 mile(s), 63 and overcast

34 species

  • Canada Goose  2
  • Red-tailed Hawk  2
  • Herring Gull  2
  • Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  4
  • Mourning Dove  3
  • Chimney Swift  4
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker  2
  • Downy Woodpecker  2
  • Northern Flicker  1
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee  1
  • Eastern Phoebe  1
  • Eastern Kingbird  2
  • Warbling Vireo  4
  • Blue Jay  3
  • Tree Swallow  2
  • Black-capped Chickadee  2
  • Tufted Titmouse  3
  • Wood Thrush  2
  • American Robin  40
  • Gray Catbird  2
  • European Starling  4
  • Cedar Waxwing  8
  • American Redstart  1
  • Yellow Warbler  5
  • Chipping Sparrow  2
  • Song Sparrow  4
  • Scarlet Tanager  1
  • Northern Cardinal  2
  • Red-winged Blackbird  10
  • Common Grackle  20
  • Brown-headed Cowbird  2
  • Baltimore Oriole  8
  • American Goldfinch  1
  • House Sparrow  20
  • View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S29834917

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

This was my last public bird walk this spring.  Stay tuned for the fall!

Good Birding!

An Urban Wild in the Arnold Arboretum

On Sunday May 15 I led a bird walk in Bussey Brook Meadow in the Arboretum.  As usual, the walk was hosted by the Arboretum Park Conservancy (APC), an organization that is largely responsible for creating a safe connecting link from the Forest Hills MBTA Station to the South Street Gate into the main area of the AA.  The APC continues to maintain, in conjunction with the Arnold administration, this very naturalized area.  Currently they are part of a larger community group that is planning a new bike and walking path which would connect the Roslindale commuter rail station to the Forest Hills T, running along the railroad tracks and through Peters Hill and Bussey Brook Meadow.  With some luck, and of course some public and private funding, this extension of Boston green space could be completed in two years!

But our business on Sunday was birds.  26 people turned out at 8 AM and we scoured the trees and bushy tangles of this urban wild trying for almost two hours to find them. This is spring migration so we wanted to see some warblers, but that turned out to be difficult.  At the beginning of the walk we could see a lot of action high up in the trees just leafing out, but getting on the birds long enough to identify them was tough.  All we could tick off was a Black and White Warbler:

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Black and White Warbler. This early migrant is most often seen climbing on the trunk and major tree limbs searching for insects.

Our only other warbler on the walk was the fairly common Yellow Warbler, which nests here.  I think our best bird was a very cooperative Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  Someone first heard the high pitched nasal buzz of the bird, then we located it bouncing around in a vine-covered small tree.

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The field marks for the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher are it’s relatively long tail and distinct eye ring. As it’s name suggests, it flits about catching tiny bugs.

The bird stayed close for some time giving everyone good looks.  We later watched another bug catching bird doing it’s thing, an Eastern Kingbird:

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Eastern Kingbird. This large flycatcher is easily identified by it’s dark gray head and body, white breast and white-tipped tail.

As the walk progressed we saw several of these birds. We also had another flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, at the end of the walk.

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The Eastern Phoebe is a very early migrant. Smaller than the Eastern Kingbird, it has a habit of bobbing it’s tail, a good field mark.

We saw and heard many Baltimore Orioles, a welcome spring visitor.

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Baltimore Oriole, male

On a scouting trip earlier in the week I located a new oriole nest just above the path, but today it couldn’t be found; perhaps a victim to strong winds lately.  We did however find an active robin nest, and watched two Mourning Doves building a nest as well.  The diverse habitat of Bussey Brook Meadow and marsh provides nesting territory for at least two dozen species of birds.  In addition, nest boxes erected there are regularly used by Tree Swallows; we watched a pair enter and leave one box:

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A male Tree Swallow pauses before entering the box

After the formal walk ended several of us walked down the edge of the meadow, along the route of the proposed Roslindale/Forest Hills path mentioned above.  There we heard a Wood Thrush calling from the woods across the road on Hemlock Hill.  What a lovely sound:

Sound recording courtesy of Lang Elliott NatureSound Studio

Here is the list of birds we identified on a lovely Sunday morning walk:

Arnold Arboretum, Suffolk, Massachusetts, US

May 15, 2016 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

32 species

  • Red-tailed Hawk  1
  • Herring Gull  2
  • Mourning Dove  6
  • Chimney Swift  3
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker  2
  • Downy Woodpecker  5
  • Northern Flicker  1
  • Eastern Phoebe  1
  • Great Crested Flycatcher  1
  • Eastern Kingbird  3
  • Warbling Vireo  1
  • Red-eyed Vireo  1
  • Blue Jay  7
  • Tree Swallow  2
  • Black-capped Chickadee  4
  • Tufted Titmouse  2
  • White-breasted Nuthatch  1
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
  • Wood Thrush  1
  • American Robin  8
  • Gray Catbird  7
  • European Starling  5
  • Black-and-white Warbler  1
  • Yellow Warbler  1
  • Chipping Sparrow  2
  • Song Sparrow  7
  • Northern Cardinal  5
  • Red-winged Blackbird  6
  • Common Grackle  14
  • Baltimore Oriole  6
  • American Goldfinch  5
  • House Sparrow  4

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S29674323

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

The final spring walk in the Arnold Arboretum will take place next Saturday May 21st, beginning from the main gate in front of the Hunnewell Building at 8:00 AM. Hope to see you there.

Good birding!