End of Year Musings in the Emerald Necklace

2015 was a year of record breaking weather.  The year started off with a series of overwhelming snowstorms that put much of the area in weather lock-down and wreaked havoc in nature.  Vulnerable avian species, especially species that have moved north as the climate warmed, experienced heavier than usual winter die off.  I usually have one or two Carolina Wrens at my feeders in winter; this year none showed after the storms hit, and I didn’t see or hear one throughout the spring and summer anywhere in the area.  Finally one appeared last month:

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This disgruntled Carolina Wren had seen enough of cold winter weather.

The unusually cold weather may have brought us the best bird for the year, a Black-backed Woodpecker in Forest Hills Cemetery.  Another rarity was a Grasshopper Sparrow, first found by Paul Peterson in late December 2014, which lingered more than a month into 2015 in an overgrown field near the Boston Nature Center.

Grasshopper Sparrow

This “documentation” shot of a Grasshopper Sparrow barely shows the white eye-ring and streaked upper body of this sparrow, uncommon in Massachusetts.

There were two notable sightings in the waterfowl category in 2015.  Gadwalls appeared on both Leverett and Jamaica Ponds in the Necklace.  I spotted one on Dawson Pond in the Arnold Arboretum as well:

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Gadwall, male. The black tail, white wing speculum and chestnut back are distinctive.

Gadwalls are regular inhabitants of coastal marshes like Plum Island in Newburyport, but they are rarely seen in our local ponds.

At least a few Wood Ducks appear nearly every winter on one or more of the waterways in the Emerald Necklace. This year was the first time that breeding was confirmed however;  a family of seven ducklings and their mother was discovered on Leverett Pond (again by the illustrious Paul Peterson) in late July.

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Family of Wood Ducks on a dead tree limb on Leverett Pond; the adult female is at far left.

The male of this species may be the most colorful duck in the region:

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Male Wood Duck sitting on the snow in February 2015

As 2015 comes to a close, we should note the death of a Great Blue Heron that gave pleasure to many visitors at the Arnold Arboretum this year.

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Juvenile Great Blue Heron on Rehder Pond at the Arnold Arboretum, a few weeks before it was killed by two unleashed dogs.

This bird had become accustomed to the many people who stopped to watch it hunt for prey in the pond. That no doubt made it easier for two unleashed dogs to attack and kill it in late July.  This quickly mobilized the Arboretum administration to begin a sustained educational and enforcement program aimed at unleashed dogs and their owners;

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Great Blue Herons have been drawn to the easy fishing on the ponds at the AA for years, and I hoped another heron would quickly replace “Baby Blue”, as a group of school children nicknamed the bird this summer.  I did hear a second hand report of one being seen at the ponds, but never saw or confirmed that.  Let’s hope for next spring.

Speaking of spring, unseasonably warm days in December fooled some local trees into early bloom, and even brought out pollinators:

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Out of season bloom on a Fugi Cherry in the Rose Garden attracted a hardy honey bee on December 15th!

Finally, the 43rd Boston Christmas Bird Count (BCBC) was conducted this year on Sunday December 20th, in comfortable weather.  I have discussed past BCBC’s in posts in 2014  and in 2013.

This year the Jamaica Plain group of six birders had to hustle to cover all of the Emerald Necklace and adjacent areas of Forest Hills Cemetery and the Boston Nature Center in Mattapan that are traditionally birded for the count.  The early “owlers” heard or saw three Eastern Screech-owls between 4:30 and 7:00 AM, better than last year.  Here is a photo of that species, taken in the Arboretum back in January:

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This Rufous Morph Eastern Screech-owl has returned for the third year to the same roost hole where it suns itself on cold winter mornings.

During the day our group found two of the three Red-breasted Nuthatches that were seen in the entire 15 mile diameter Boston circle.  The conifer section of the Arboretum is a good place to find these little relatives of the much more common White-breasted Nuthatch.

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Red-breasted Nuthatch atop a spruce in the Arboretum.

Overall, the JP sector group produced 47 species for the count; the BCBC tallied 114 species, about average for a BCBC in recent years.  The only other highlight for our local group was the discovery of a huge flock of at least 2,000 Common Grackles at the Mass Audubon Nature Center. Normally only a few of these birds- common in the warmer months- are found during the BCBC (only four in 2014).  When seen in the sunlight, they are striking birds:

Common Grackle, showing the iridescent sheen of it’s feathers and the yellow iris.

Here is the full list of all the birds tallied this year in the Boston count:

Greater Boston Christmas Bird Count, Dec 20, 2015, Bob Stymeist, compiler

114 species (+3 other taxa) plus nine Count Week (CW) birds

NOTE: The Swainson’s Hawk is the first for a Christmas Count in New England. We had all time high counts for: Red-throated Loon, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Common Raven, Eastern Towhee, and Common Grackle. Carolina Wrens took a big hit with 48 reported down from an all time high of 176 last year before the snows came!

  1. Brant  46
  2. Canada Goose  6857
  3. Mute Swan  66
  4. Wood Duck  34 (30 of these were at Leverett Pond in JP)
  5. American Black Duck  458
  6. Mallard  2167
  7. Northern Shoveler  7
  8. Northern Pintail  4
  9. Green-winged Teal  50
  10. Canvasback  1
  11. Redhead  3
  12. Ring-necked Duck  126
  13. Greater Scaup  130
  14. Common Eider  950
  15. Surf Scoter  303
  16. White-winged Scoter  118
  17. Black Scoter  11
  18. Long-tailed Duck  57
  19. Bufflehead  616
  20. Common Goldeneye  108
  21. Common x Barrow’s Goldeneye (hybrid)  1
  22. Hooded Merganser  310
  23. Common Merganser  202
  24. Red-breasted Merganser  574
  25. Ruddy Duck  100
  26. Wild Turkey  73
  27. Red-throated Loon  66
  28. Common Loon  58
  29. Pied-billed Grebe  5
  30. Horned Grebe  36
  31. Red-necked Grebe  51
  32. Double-crested Cormorant  48
  33. Great Cormorant  1
  34. Great Blue Heron  34
  35. Northern Harrier  7
  36. Sharp-shinned Hawk  6
  37. Cooper’s Hawk  22
  38. Bald Eagle  3 (1 in JP sector)
  39. SWAINSON’S HAWK- juvenile Bear Creek, Saugus  NEW to COUNT
  40. Red-tailed Hawk  96
  41. Rough-legged Hawk  CW Bear Creek
  42. American Coot  73
  43. Sandhill Crane CW flyover on Center St. JP
  44. Killdeer  1
  45. Lesser Yellowlegs  1-only 2nd record- last 1984
  46. Ruddy Turnstone  4
  47. Sanderling  50
  48. Dunlin  213
  49. Purple Sandpiper  5
  50. Thick-billed Murre  CW
  51. Black Guillemot  CW
  52. Ring-billed Gull  1340
  53. Herring Gull  2102
  54. Lesser Black-backed Gull  2
  55. Great Black-backed Gull  158
  56. Great-Black-backed X Herring Gull hybrid 1 photos
  57. Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  81
  58. Mourning Dove  52
  59. Eastern Screech-Owl  32 (3 in JP sector)
  60. Great Horned Owl  13
  61. Snowy Owl  11- ten at Logan Airport
  62. Barred Owl  3
  63. Belted Kingfisher  14- Tied High Count
  64. Red-bellied Woodpecker  101-New High Count
  65. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 2
  66. Downy Woodpecker  331
  67. Hairy Woodpecker  24
  68. Northern Flicker  20
  69. Pileated Woodpecker  CW- Middlesex Fells
  70. American Kestrel  5
  71. Merlin  2
  72. Peregrine Falcon  9
  73. Blue Jay 689
  74. American Crow  144
  75. Fish Crow  6
  76. Common Raven  11-New High Count
  77. Horned Lark  58
  78. Black-capped Chickadee  1049
  79. Tufted Titmouse  391
  80. Red-breasted Nuthatch  3 (2 in conifers in AA)
  81. White-breasted Nuthatch  424- Tied High Count
  82. Brown Creeper  7
  83. Winter Wren  2
  84. Carolina Wren  48
  85. Golden-crowned Kinglet  18
  86. Ruby-crowned Kinglet  2 (1 in AA)
  87. Hermit Thrush  12
  88. American Robin  1973
  89. Gray Catbird  5
  90. Northern Mockingbird  96
  91. European Starling  3355
  92. American Pipit  1
  93. Bohemian Waxwing  1- Lexington
  94. Cedar Waxwing  18
  95. Lapland Longspur CW
  96. Snow Bunting  32
  97. Orange-crowned Warbler  1
  98. Common Yellowthroat  2
  99. Palm Warbler CW
  100. Pine Warbler  1
  101. Yellow-rumped Warbler  4
  102. Wilson’s Warbler CW Victory Gardens
  103. Yellow-breasted Chat  2
  104. American Tree Sparrow  202
  105. Chipping Sparrow  1
  106. Clay-colored Sparrow  1 Lexington Community Gardens
  107. Dark-eyed Junco  1376
  108. White-crowned Sparrow  1 Amelia Earhart Dam
  109. White-throated Sparrow  556
  110. Savannah Sparrow  7
  111. Savannah Sparrow (Ipswich)  1
  112. Fox sparrow 6
  113. Song Sparrow  599
  114. Swamp Sparrow  15
  115. Eastern Towhee  6 New High Count
  116. Northern Cardinal  432
  117. Dickcissel  1- Allandale Woods
  118. Red-winged Blackbird  32
  119. Rusty Blackbird  6
  120. Common Grackle  2017 (2014 in JP sector)
  121. Brown-headed Cowbird  1
  122. Baltimore Oriole CW
  123. House Finch  409
  124. Pine Siskin  1
  125. American Goldfinch  592
  126. House Sparrow  3940

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3

I will be leading a walk in the Arnold on Sunday January 10th from 9 to 10:30 AM beginning at the main gate off the Arborway, for those anxious to get going on their 2016 year lists!

Happy New Year and Good Birding in 2016!