Bussey Brook Meadow and the Arboretum Park Conservancy

On Sunday morning I led a walk along Blackwell Path in the newest section of the Arnold Arboretum, Bussey Brook Meadow.  This 24 acre parcel, connecting the main section of the Arboretum with the Forest Hills MBTA Station, is watched over by the Arboretum Park Conservancy (APC).  Years ago the area was a Boston city dump.  In 1996 the APC persuaded Harvard to  protect the land through indenture, denying the MBTA’s plan to take it for a bus garage.  They then raised money to build a lovely footpath from a gate on Washington Street across from the T station to the Arboretum’s original gate on South Street.  In 2002, Mayor Thomas Menino celebrated the Grand Opening of the Bussey Brook Meadow and the Blackwell Path.

It has always been much less managed than the rest of the Arboretum. Recently that longstanding neglect has been turned into a research opportunity.  Researchers at Harvard and other local universities are using this site to study the effects of invasive species on the overall ecology of the land.  This makes it a special place for birds that appreciate brushy thickets and overgrown marshy areas.

We had a good turnout for the walk and saw and heard some nice birds.  Very high up in the canopy some sharp-eyed birders saw a Chestnut-sided Warbler:


Male Chestnut-sided Warbler
Photo: Bob Mayer

Most of the other warblers we ticked off on the list were heard rather than seen, except for the common Yellow Warblers which were everywhere; some working on  nest building.


Female Yellow Warbler at nest.
Photo: Bob Mayer

Of course we saw and heard several Baltimore Orioles, as they have nested here for years.


Baltimore Oriole at nest.
Photo: Bob Mayer

One of our group spotted a large woodpecker entering a nest hole in a big catalpa tree.  We later confirmed that it was a Red-bellied Woodpecker nest. This lovely bird was uncommon in Boston as recently as 15 years ago. A southern species, it has moved north gradually as the climate has warmed  and it is now a year around resident in the Arboretum.


Male Red-bellied Woodpecker. It really should be called red-headed, but that moniker was already claimed.
Photo: Bob Mayer

Here is the list of birds seen or heard on the walk:

Arnold Arboretum, Suffolk, US-MA
May 18, 2014 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Bussey Brook Meadow, BBC/APC walk, sunny 60
30 species

Red-tailed Hawk  1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  2
Mourning Dove  2
Chimney Swift  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  1
Warbling Vireo  3
Red-eyed Vireo  1
American Crow  2
Tree Swallow  2
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Tufted Titmouse  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
American Robin  10
Gray Catbird  8
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  4
American Redstart  1
Northern Parula  3
Yellow Warbler  5
Chestnut-sided Warbler  1
Black-throated Green Warbler  1
Chipping Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  4
Red-winged Blackbird  6
Common Grackle  6
Baltimore Oriole  5
American Goldfinch  3
House Sparrow  4

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S18447385

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

The next time you take the Orange Line to Forest Hills, cross over Washington Street and follow Blackwell Path through South Street Gate to the Arboretum.  I guarantee you’ll see some birds no matter what time of year.

My last spring bird walk in the Arboretum will be on Saturday June 7th beginning at the Peters Hill Gate at 8AM.  Join me if you can.

Good Birding!



A well-attended Walk on the Other Side

Unless you live in adjacent Roslindale, or are a dog walker, you may not be that familiar with Peters Hill, Hemlock Hill and the conifer section of the Arnold Arboretum.  This morning I led a bird walk in that area and way too many people turned out!  Of course I was delighted to see so many folks embrace my passion early on a Saturday morning.  A group that large is tough to manage however, especially when you are trying to get everyone “on” a bird that is flitting about in the canopy.  The warm and dry weather brought birders out, and while the turnout of migrant birds was not as strong at the turnout of birders, we had a great walk.

Early on we visited some nest boxes near the top of the hill.  House Sparrows were harassing the Tree swallows, but some boxes had been claimed by the swallows:


Male Tree Swallow at nestbox
Photo: Bob Mayer

These nest boxes have had good success since being erected eight years ago. They have been mostly used by Tree Swallows but Eastern Bluebirds have nested there as well. Lately the invasive House Sparrows have sadly become more dominant.

As the walk proceeded down the hill we ran into a group of early migrants, including this pretty warbler:


Male Yellow-rumped Warbler.
Photo: Bob Mayer

The yellow patch at the base of the tail for which this species is named isn’t visible in the photo. When this bird flew however, everyone saw why it is nicknamed “butter butt”.

Also in the group was a Black and White Warbler:


Black and White Warbler
Photo: Bob Mayer

This species is almost always on the trunk or a large limb rather than out in the canopy where most warblers are seen.

As we left Peters Hill we saw two Northern Flickers chasing each other.  It is always a nice woodpecker to observe.


Female Northern Flicker making an entrance to a nest hole
Photo: Bob Mayer

We left Peters Hill and proceeded over to and up Hemlock Hill where the earliest warbler species to arrive almost every spring hangs out.  These birds are more often heard than seen.


Pine Warbler
Photo: Bob Mayer

We compared the similar calls of this warbler and the very common Chipping Sparrow. They can be tough to tell apart, but the different habitats that these two species prefer helps.

We finished off the walk in the conifer area across from Hemlock Hill.  Three days before the walk, on a tip from another birder, I had found this fur ball high up in a huge fir tree:


Great Horned Owl fledgling
Photo: Bob Mayer

I searched the tree wondering where the adult, that usually guards such young birds, might be.


Adult Great Horned Owl. The horns (actually feather tufts) are very prominent in this image
Photo: Bob Mayer

If looks could kill I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now!  This is the first successful nesting of this owl species in the Arboretum in more than a decade as far as I am aware.

Unfortunately, as we walked up to the location where I’d seen the owls, a huge, silent, gray bird flew out and away up the hill.  Our large group had spooked the adult; we weren’t able to locate the youngster.

Overall, our species list was not that impressive. The morning was such a wonderful intro to a very long awaited spring however that I think everyone was glad they made the effort.  Here is the list:

Arnold Arboretum, Suffolk, US-MA
May 3, 2014 8:00 AM – 10:20 AM
Protocol: Traveling
2.0 mile(s)
Comments:     BBC Walk, Peter’s Hill, sun and clouds, 60
31 species

Canada Goose  2
Double-crested Cormorant  40     funnelling high up
Cooper’s Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Mourning Dove  5
Great Horned Owl  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  2
Blue-headed Vireo  1
Blue Jay  5
Tree Swallow  6
Black-capped Chickadee  1
Tufted Titmouse  4
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Hermit Thrush  1
American Robin  20
Black-and-white Warbler  3
Palm Warbler  2
Pine Warbler  2
Yellow-rumped Warbler  7
Black-throated Green Warbler  1
Chipping Sparrow  25
Song Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  3
Red-winged Blackbird  6
Common Grackle  15
Brown-headed Cowbird  1
American Goldfinch  3
House Sparrow  4

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S18194201

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

My next walk on Peters Hill will be on Saturday June 7 starting again at 8 AM.  I’ll be doing a walk in the Bussey Brook Meadow section of the Arboretum on Sunday May 18 at 8, starting from the South Street Gate.

Those of you who follow my blog may be interested in my participation in this year’s Bird-a-thon, birding for the Boston Nature Center. You can read more about that, and pledge your support if you wish; here is the link.

Good Birding!