Arboretum Walks Begin!

Saturday April 18th marked the first of a series of spring bird walks in the Arnold Arboretum.  We got off with a bang, the weather was fine, and after this dreadful winter the birders came out in droves; over forty people joined the group.  After first checking the feeders, where there was only a White-breasted Nuthatch, we moved down Meadow Road and found several Tree Swallows checking out the birdhouses on the grassy slope:


Two male Tree Swallows inspecting a nest box.

This is the earliest swallow species of spring, arriving from Central America and Mexico a little more than a week ago.  We now have 15 nest boxes placed around the grounds and many of them will play host to Tree Swallows this spring.

As we continued the walk we began to grow our list of woodpeckers.  We ended up with four species, although two were only heard and none gave us great views. The best sighting was two Hairy Woodpeckers chasing each other around in a territorial or mating display.  This species is uncommon in the area so it was a nice find.

We headed up the grass slope above the Forsythia Path to the top of Bussey Hill; I was determined to find the first warbler of the year for the group.  We entered a group of White Pines where this early arrival likes to hang out; appropriately called the Pine warbler.


Pine Warbler. These warblers are heard more than seen as they spend much of their time high up in conifers. This one was nice enough to come to ground for a photo op.

As we approached the area another recent arrival, a Chipping Sparrow, posed for us and sang its trill; a call so similar to the Pine Warbler that even seasoned birders can confuse them.


Chipping Sparrow



Chipping Sparrow recording courtesy of Lang Elliott NatureSound Studio

Now ready to seek out our target bird, we looked, listened, and even played a Pine Warbler recording- without response.  We moved on with regret, but within 100 yards one of our group heard what she thought might be the bird; its trill is shorter, slower, and softer than that of the Chippy.  Sure enough, we all heard and then saw our only warbler in this early walk!

Pine Warbler recording courtesy of Lang Elliott NatureSound Studio

As we returned to the main gate we ticked off a number of other resident and early migrant species. Here is our total list for the walk:

Arnold Arboretum, Suffolk, US-MA
Apr 18, 2015 8:00 AM – 9:30 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.5 mile(s)
Comments:     51, sun and clouds
31 species

Canada Goose  4
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Herring Gull  2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  4
Mourning Dove  5
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1 heard
Downy Woodpecker  1
Hairy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  2 heard
Blue Jay  4
American Crow  1
Tree Swallow  5
Black-capped Chickadee  3
Tufted Titmouse  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
American Robin  30
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  2
Pine Warbler  1
Chipping Sparrow  4
Savannah Sparrow  1  seen just before the walk
Song Sparrow  2
White-throated Sparrow  1
Dark-eyed Junco  1
Northern Cardinal  4
Red-winged Blackbird  12
Common Grackle  6
Brown-headed Cowbird  8
House Finch  2
American Goldfinch  10
House Sparrow  1

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

The next two Arboretum walks will be back- to- back two weeks from now.  On Saturday May 2nd the walk will begin at the Peters Hill Gate at 8 AM. The next morning I’ll lead a walk for the Arboretum Park Conservancy in Bussey Brook Meadow and Marsh beginning at the South Street Gate and also at 8 AM. Both walks are free and birders at all levels are welcome.  The migration should be in full swing by then!

Good Birding!

Birding an Urban Oasis

I led my first spring bird walk on Friday April 17th at the Boston Nature Center Wildlife Sanctuary in Mattapan.  It was raining when I arrived and I was about to call the walk off but others showed up so we decided to make a go of it until the rain became unpleasant. We headed to the Clark-Cooper Community Gardens hoping to locate the monogamous pair of killdeer that have nested there in recent years, and were not disappointed.  The birds were quite agitated with our approach and one began the “broken wing display” for which these shorebirds are famous.  Killdeers do this to draw predators away from their nests; just when the predator closes for the kill the bird “recovers” and flies away. Because Here is a link to such a display I found on YouTube.  Our bird was more dramatic in her distraction routine than the video.  None of us had witnessed this so clearly before. After a minute or so we withdrew so as to not disrupt the nesting activity.

Against predictions, the rain stopped so we continued our walk.  At the beginning of the Snail Trail we spotted a lovely Hermit Thrush:


Hermit Thrush

This is the only thrush (other than the ubiquitous robin) likely to be seen this early in the spring; it’s rusty tail, contrasting with a brown back, is distinctive.  As we continued we noted that the grounds were full of the sights and sounds of Red-winged Blackbirds.  Most were males which arrive each spring nearly a month ahead of their eventual mates.  We saw only one female, a drab bird looking a bit like a big, dark sparrow.

Most of the other birds we saw were regulars for this time of year.  Seeing a Mourning Dove on nest was a treat; while this is not today’s nest, it gives one a sense of what we saw (no young yet):


Mourning Dove nest with 3 young. This nest was in the Arnold Arboretum last year. The nest of this bird is a flimsy one, built of sticks.

Mass Audubon Boston is especially known for its regular flock of Wild Turkeys, but oddly  we saw none.  On my scouting walk the day before, this guy looked me over:


Wild Turkey. This bird appears to be a young male. Seen just off the boardwalk on the Fox Trail.

Here is the list of birds seen or heard today:

Boston Nature Center Wildlife Sanctuary, Suffolk, US-MA
Apr 17, 2015 7:00 AM – 8:30 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.5 mile(s)
Comments:     51, overcast, light rain
24 species

Canada Goose  3
Mallard  3
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Killdeer  2
Herring Gull  3
Mourning Dove  2
Northern Flicker  1
Blue Jay  5
Tree Swallow  2
Black-capped Chickadee  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
Hermit Thrush  1
American Robin  35
European Starling  4
Chipping Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  6
White-throated Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  3
Red-winged Blackbird  20
Common Grackle  5
Brown-headed Cowbird  1
House Finch  3
American Goldfinch  4
House Sparrow  2

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center is a special place for experiencing nature close up within the urban environment.  They have many programs focused on kids including a certified pre-school, school vacation and summer day camps, and other activities year around.  They deserve everyone’s support.  One way is to support the Center’s Bird-a-thon team, which will join other Mass Audubon birding groups throughout the Commonwealth, competing to see and hear as many birds as possible beginning at 6PM Friday May 15th for the next 24 hours.  I’ll be part of the Boston team, and if you want to support the wonderful work of the sanctuary, here is a link to my FirstGiving Page for the event.  Thanks.

I’ll be doing a series of spring walks in the Arnold Arboretum, beginning tomorrow, April 18th at 8AM and starting for the Main Gate of the Arboretum on the Arborway.  Hope to see you there!

Good Birding!