Arboretum Bird Walk, Saturday April 27, 2013

The first walk of the spring season was a wash out, but the weather was glorious this morning and brought out nearly 40 people of varying experience levels for a nice walk in sections of Peters Hill and Hemlock Hill.  We didn’t turn up any rarities but did see and hear lots of the birds expected this early in the spring migration.  Highlights were Pine Warblers along side of Chipping Sparrows, providing a great comparison of these two sing-a- likes.  Pine Warbler, whose call is shorter, more melodic and “rounder” than the Chipping Sparrow, is the first migrant warbler to arrive in Boston, usually in early April.


Pine Warbler
Photo: Bob Mayer


A sharp-eyed member of the group spotted a Red-breasted Nuthatch on a tree trunk at the top of Hemlock Hill allowing for close up looks at this uncommon little bird.


Red-breasted Nuthatch
Photo: Bob Mayer

Another bird of note was a Brown Thrasher.  These migrant members of the Mimidae family arrived in the Arboretum just this week from more southern states.  The bird we saw was perched high in a maple tree and while it was easily heard repeating it’s two or three phrase call it was difficult to see well.  Up close it is a striking bird:


Brown Thrasher
Photo: Bob Mayer

Thrashers share their family with the more common Northern Mockingbird, a year round resident and famous mimic, and the Gray Catbird, which will not arrive in Boston for another week or so.

We ended up the walk with the discovery of many owl pellets on Hemlock Hill, but couldn’t find the owl. Instead the group was regaled with stories of the one-eyed Great Horned Owl mother and her two owlets that fledged recently at Forest Hills Cemetery.   One person said she felt like she was back at scout camp!  A good time was had by all.  The full list of birds:

Arnold Arboretum, Suffolk, US-MA
Apr 27, 2013 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.8 mile(s)
Comments:     BBC walk on Peters Hill and Hemlock Hill- 60°, sunny
23 species

Red-tailed Hawk  2 at walk’s end
Mourning Dove  3
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2 heard
Downy Woodpecker  1 heard
Northern Flicker  1 heard
Eastern Phoebe  1
Blue Jay  2
American Crow  1
Tree Swallow  4
Black-capped Chickadee  4
Tufted Titmouse  2
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
American Robin  30
Brown Thrasher  1
Pine Warbler  3
Chipping Sparrow  20
Song Sparrow  1
Northern Cardinal  4
Red-winged Blackbird  8
Common Grackle  12
Brown-headed Cowbird  7
American Goldfinch  1
House Sparrow  2

View this checklist online at report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

The next walk of the series will start from the main gate of the Arboretum off the Arborway on Saturday May 11 at 8AM.  Don’t miss it!  Baltimore Orioles guaranteed!

Good birding!











New Great Horned Owl Nesting!

In my last post on Owls in the Arboretum I commented that after the death of a patriarch male Great Horned Owl in 2008 there had been no reported nests of this species in the Emerald Necklace.  Recently however I was told of a nest in Forest Hills Cemetery, technically not part of the necklace but very close by.  Great Horned Owls have nested in this magnificent garden cemetery off and on for years; the most recent nest was in 2010.  I went to the area reported and quickly spotted the nest:


Great Horned Owl with owlet. Note the absent left eye in the adult female.
Photo: Bob Mayer

The site of this nest is exactly the same as a Great Horned nest in 2006.  Owls frequently use old nests of Red-tailed Hawks and may re-use them for several years.  Farther down on the tree there was a second owlet that had either fledged or had fallen out of the nest:


A furry Great Horned owlet out of the nest in Forest Hills Cemetery. At last report this baby is being fed by the parents and is doing well.
Photo: Bob Mayer

There is a great back story to this discovery.  The mother owl was well known to birders in Franklin Park where she was regularly seen for at least five years and was probably one of the females that the now deceased “Ben Franklin” had as part of his harem.  One-eyed owls are at less of a disadvantage than similarly damaged hawks. The hawk’s eyes are on the side of the head so their visual field is severely compromised with a missing eye. Owls, that have both eyes forward on the skull, seem better able to adapt to this significant loss.  In any case this female owl has been so successful that she was used in past years as a foster mother for owlets found on the ground in other locations and taken to Mass Audubon for rehabilitation by placing the abandoned youngster in her nest.

After a few more weeks these young owls will be cut off from parental care and protection and will disappear into the forest canopy.  Hopefully one of them may choose to nest in the Arboretum in future years.