Twenty-three people joined me on this gray morning for a walk on Peters Hill in the Arnold Arboretum, looking and listening for birds. It was slow going, with no fall warblers seen and several winter species still to arrive. Our only unusual bird was seen by part of the group before it flew off; a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, showing the yellow cast on the breast, the distinct white shoulder patch and the red throat and crown characteristic of the species.
The other woodpecker was seen near the end of the trip; fortunately it stayed long enough for most to see it:
Male Red-bellied Woodpecker. This woodpecker is more common than the Sapsucker seen above, as it has moved up from southern areas over the last several decades due to global warming.
Far and away the most common species we saw was the American Robin; most were feasting on the abundant fruit on crabapples and hawthorns on the hill.
The American Robin has an estimated global population of 320 million, almost exclusively in North America.
We also saw several flocks of House Finch feeding actively on the fruit trees.
This photo of three House Finches shows the strong color differences between the drab gray female, left and the rosy red males.
Some in the group saw the other common resident finch in the Arboretum, American Goldfinch.
American Goldfinches lose their bright yellow coloration in the fall and winter.
We finished the walk with some good views of Northern Mockingbirds.
Northern Mockingbirds have long tails, and show distinctive white wing patches in flight.
Based on my scouting expeditions on Peters Hill before this walk, I knew the birding was not likely to be great, so I brought along a “prop” I found the day before:
In the closeup images of this Baltimore Oriole nest you can see the incredibly intricate weaving of the outside fibers and the rusty grass lining inside. How the female bird manages to put this nest together in about a week, and have it hold up through the bustle of four young birds plus herself for at least a month, defies understanding.
My other Arboretum bird walk scheduled two weeks ago was cancelled due to rain, and today we ended in misty rain as well. Despite the limited species seen, and the weather, it appeared that most of the birders enjoyed themselves. Here is our list for the walk:
On Sunday December 10th I will lead a walk along some of the ponds of the Emerald Necklace:
This 90-minute walk will focus on waterfowl and other winter species in the ponds and adjacent woods of the Emerald Necklace. Suitable for beginning birders as well as more experienced birders. The walk is co-sponsored by the National Park Service/Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance and the Emerald Necklace Bird Club. Meeting Place: Parking lot for Daisy Field, Olmsted Park on Willow Pond Road, between Pond Avenue and the Jamaicaway. 9:00 AM to 10:30 AM.
In my last post on the evolution of the Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars I also included three images of a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird that I photographed on the same Harlequin Glorybower bush that harbored the Pipevine butterfly. A keen 11 year old observer from Maine contacted me, kindness of her grandmother, to point out something in the images I had completely missed. On the left side of the pictures the head, thorax and powerful front leg of a Praying Mantis are clearly visible:
The Praying Mantis and the Ruby-throated Hummingbird appear to be staring each other down.
This young naturalist took it one more step; she expressed worry that the hummer might fall prey to the preying Praying Mantis, and asked Grandma to query me on that issue. As I read the email I mused that a child would be so naive as to think that a feisty hummingbird could possibly fall victim to a fierce, but much smaller, insect. Then I read on; for backup she pointed me to a recent article in the New York Times:
I heartily recommend that all readers of this blog read this Science Times piece, not only for the raft of fascinating information about these critters, and the complete confirmation of my friend’s fears, but also to view spectacular photos of exotic mantid species worldwide.
Speaking of mantid pictures, this is the second time in a week that I have stumbled on, or been led to, a Praying Mantis in a photo I took when I hadn’t noticed it in the field:
With this photo I was documenting a Painted Lady Vanessa cardui butterfly, one of hundreds migrating through Boston right now, on a Butterfly Bush at the Boston Nature Center. Only when I got home and uploaded the image on my computer did I notice the Praying Mantis Mantis religiosa above. Camouflage or inattention?
As to your concern, Grace, I can’t say for sure that the hummingbird survived to fly south sometime last week, but I do know it flew away from the predator while I was present. And as the NYT article reports, predation of birds by Praying Mantises is pretty rare; they are prowling around in flowering bushes looking primarily for more reasonably sized fare- bees, wasps and probably butterflies!
Thank you for drawing all of this to my attention.
Those of you who are birders know that the spring migration in Boston this year has had its up and downs. The lingering cold and inauspicious winds kept the migrants back, and to some extent moved them inland. Then this past week there was a sudden weather shift, and the warblers and other migrants fell from the skies! Today’s walk in the Arnold Arboretum was back to high 50’s temperatures with unfavorable northeast headwinds. But it was sunny and 43 birders of all ages enjoyed the beauty of the landscape and some nice birds, even though the viewing was less than optimal with trees fully leafed out.
My co-leader Patrick brought his thirteen month old daughter, in carrier, who claimed the prize for youngest. In keeping with Patrick’s interests, her middle name is Wren! Next youngest was an energetic five year old who liked to hold hands as we walked; I didn’t complain! We also had a teenager from New Jersey, a solid young birder who helped me locate several birds. Not surprising that he has a passion for birding; his mother’s name is Robin!
As we waited for the 8:00 AM starting gun we ticked off a stunning male cardinal in full song and a couple of Cedar Waxwings in a nearby tree:
Cedar Waxwings always look ready for a grand occasion.
We checked out feeders in two locations and found little, but our first warbler did appear, an American Redstart:
Redstarts are noisy and visually noticeable as they flit through the trees and bushes. It is one of the more common wood warblers in the spring migration, and some stay and nest here.
We heard several other warblers on our walk but got to see only one other, the Yellow Warbler. They are just beginning to build nests in the Rose Garden section of the Arb; soon there will young to feed:
Female Yellow Warbler at her active nest.
Our only thrush on the walk gave us a bit of a puzzle. Seen clearly on the path ahead, it had a very faintly spotted breast (not Wood), same color of back and tail (not Hermit), and no distinct eye ring or spectacles (not Swainson’s), so even though it seemed more gray-brown than rusty in low light, we settled on a Veery.
The Veery is in the thrush family and has an incredible, two-toned song. Veerys winter solely in Brazil.
As we walked along Oak Path up to the top of Bussey Hill the group gained familiarity with the sing song cadence of the Red-eyed Vireo, but we never saw one clearly:
The Red-eyed Vireo can be distinguished from other members of this group by absence of wing-bars and the long white eyebrow and dark eye-line. It is heard much more often than seen.
The flycatcher family was also evident on the walk. I heard a Great-crested Flycatcher but couldn’t locate it. Eastern Wood-peewees were calling from several locations, and we finally saw one:
Eastern Wood-peewee, backlit
Sound recording courtesy of Lang Elliott NatureSound Studio
And someone in the crowd located an Eastern Kingbird at the top of a tall deciduous tree:
Eastern Kingbird. Kingbirds nest in the Arboretum yearly. They can be identified by their solid white breast and white terminal tail band, especially in flight.
Several birders remembered that we saw a Scarlet Tanager last year on a similar walk; they wanted a re-run. I had heard and seen tanagers on Bussey Hill twice this week, but today couldn’t produce one. Here’s one I captured four days before the walk:
Male Scarlet Tanager. Where was he today??
The Arboretum is first and foremost a tree museum, so I couldn’t resist pointing out a famous tree in Explorers Garden atop Bussey Hill:
Dove Tree, Davidia involucrata. The other common name for this unusual tree is Handkerchief Tree, for obvious reasons when in bloom.
Ned Friedman, the Director of the Arboretum, has just written about this historic tree on his blog, check it out! As we headed back to the main gate we passed the Black Locust near the ponds where an Eastern Screech-owl has sunned itself most days for the last four winters. A few months ago I posted some new information on this owl. Was she pregnant? Ten days ago I was coming down Meadow Road from the ponds and checked the roost hole. I saw an owl in the hole, but when I got my bins on it it seemed different:
Eastern Screech-owlet(s). If you look closely you can detect another eye behind and to the right of the gray bird. Possibly the mother- or a second baby?
About a minute later momma popped into view!
Female red phase Eastern Screech-owl
The size of our group made it hard to stay in touch with everything that was going on. Patrick had, along with several others, heard the distant sound of a Black-billed Cuckoo. I missed it, but we added it to our list. When the walk was finished a young couple who bird regularly in the Arboretum told me about a bird they had both studied while on the walk but couldn’t identify. After a few questions, I showed them a photo of a female Orchard Oriole. Bingo, they both agreed that was their bird!
Orchard Orioles are much less common than Baltimore’s in the AA, but they breed here every year. As is generally the case in the avian world, the female is much less showy than the male.
I checked off one more species. The general rule for counting a bird is that at least two persons in the group have to have seen or heard it definitively.
Looking over the reports of the five walks this spring, including one at Leverett Pond/Olmsted Park, 57 species were seen overall, by over 150 people, although many of them were repeaters. Lots of fun for a lot of folks! I hope to see many of you in the fall when the migrants begin their long journey back to their wintering grounds.