2017 Bird-a-thon for the Boston Nature Center

On Saturday May 13th I joined two other birders for a full day of birding to support the Boston Nature Center’s Bird-a-thon (BAT) team.  The time frame for Bird-a-thon is 24 hours, and some of our team started at 6 PM Friday night; I was home cooking supper during their local excursion to Millennium Park. It’s good that they went because more than a half dozen of our total recorded birds were Friday night finds that we didn’t see on Saturday.

We left Boston at 6 AM and hit our first stop, Wompatuck State Park, before 7.  This huge park in Hingham is often a great location for migrating warblers in mid May, but the crazy spring weather has thrown the migration off.  Many of the 20 or so warbler species that can be seen there were missing.  We did get some though, including the uncommon Bay-breasted Warbler.  I have never been able to get a good image of this bird- they’re often high in the canopy- so I borrowed one from a friend who is an excellent birder and photographer:

Bay-breasted Warbler- Ted Bradford

A great shot of the striking Bay-breasted Warbler- Photo courtesy of Ted Bradford

We birded sections of this 3200 acre park for more than two hours and picked up more than 40 species, a pretty good haul in spite of the cold and dreary weather.  Some of the birds we ticked off were heard but not seen; this is one of them:


Winter Wren at Ward’s Pond on the Emerald Necklace. This tiny bird is secretive and hard to photograph.

And here is it’s lovely song:

Sound recording courtesy of Lang Elliott NatureSound Studio

We moved on to another great birding locale in southeastern Massachusetts, World’s End.  This peninsula that juts out into Boston Harbor is part of the new Boston Harbor Islands National Park.  It’s tree-lined carriage paths were designed by Emerald Necklace landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted as part of a planned housing development, which thankfully was never built.  It is now owned by the Trustees of Reservations which will preserve it’s biodiversity in perpetuity.  Because of it’s extensive ocean front we looked for water birds, and we found some:


The perspective in this image exaggerates the size difference in the two egrets found in our area. The Great Egret, front right, is a little over a foot taller than the Snowy Egret, but size distinctions are often misleading as long necked birds appear short when crouched down searching for food.  The key to identification is the black bill and yellow “slippers” of the Snowy, compared to the yellow bill and all black legs of the Great Egret.

A species we unexpectedly saw at World’s End was a sea duck:


Male Common Eider. These salt water waterfowl are more common in winter but they have recently begun breeding in Boston Harbor

After picking up another 15 species we moved on to Ferry Hill Thicket in Marshfield, a small spot surrounded by development that was quite productive for us last year.  Not so this year; we got only one new bird there, a House Wren which we heard but never saw.

Our final stop in the south was Mass Audubon’s Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary also in Marshfield.  I love this place!  It has nearly every habitat one can imagine; vast meadows and open fields, woodland, a small pond, a river and a marsh, all maintained  to suit wildlife. There are a number of “target birds” that birders seek here.  The Bobolink, an open field migrant, was abundant and very vocal; their song is accurately described as bubbly.  When seen, they stand out in the open fields:


A male Bobolink, showing his golden crown.

We also got another raptor to add to our list of five for the day, Osprey:


Ospreys arrive from the south around mid-March, and because of the installation of platforms for nest building they have become a common sight along the New England coast.

We were disappointed that the Purple Martins that are attracted to this site because of gourd nest holders had not yet arrived.  Nonetheless we added another 15 species to our growing list, and together with a number of species that we saw at multiple locations, our list had grown to 80!

We had some time left before the official end of the BAT competition when we returned to Boston, so we headed for the summit of Mission Hill.  I described this urban hot spot in last year’s BAT post; it has been very active with “good” birds this spring.  The hour was late and the wind had picked up however, so both sections of this complex were quiet. We did get a common sparrow that somehow we had missed all day, White-throated Sparrow:


Male White-throated Sparrow.  This was one of only four of the 17 possible sparrows we tallied for the BAT.

As we were heading back to the car our youngest member spied something high up in a tree.  Small, like a warbler, but chubbier and with a white eye spectacle. Blue-headed Vireo!


Blue-headed Vireo. This vireo was once lumped with two others as Solitary Vireo, but DNA studies in 199o’s lead to the three types being split into three distinct species.

So we ended up seeing three of the six possible vireos in this region.  It was a fine way to end a long day.

Overall it was a very successful Bird-a-thon. The real point of the day, after all, is to raise money for Audubon, and for the wonderful programs that the Boston Nature Center in Mattapan provides for people of all ages, especially kids.  Our small team raised over eighteen hundred dollars so far, a good share of the funds raised by BAT for the BNC. Thanks to all who contributed; if you you would like to do so now here’s a link to my giving page.

My last walk of the season will be this Saturday May 20th beginning at the Arboretum main gate at 8:00 AM.

Good Birding!

Spring Arrivals on the Necklace

It was cooler this morning than yesterday but 15 birders turned out for a walk around Leveret Pond and on to Olmsted Park and Ward’s Pond and back.  The walk was promoted by the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance which works tirelessly to maintain the natural beauty of this section of the Emerald Necklace.  As we gathered near the parking area off Pond Street we watched two species of swallow cruise over the pond:


Northern Rough-winged Swallows uncharacteristically at rest. Note the smaller brown body with white breast and the lengthy folded wings.


Male Tree Swallow, showing the iridescent blue head, back and wings and white breast.

We noted the steadier flight of the Tree Swallows versus the more active wing beats of the less common  rough-wings.

As we circled around to the Boston side of this boundary pond we looked across to one of the small islands and located a Black-crowned Night-Heron sitting stock still in a brush tangle; what a stunning bird!

B-C Nightheron #3

Black-crowned Night-Heron

At the end of the walk someone in the group located it again, this time from the Brookline side- and much closer- allowing for great looks.  We also had a Great Blue Heron that flew past us at Leverett; we later caught up with it on the edge of tiny Willow Pond.


The Great Blue Heron is larger and taller, and much more common on this stretch of the Necklace. Notice the showy black feather plume off the head of this adult bird compared to the white plume on the Night-Heron

This area is usually good for woodpeckers but we saw none and heard only one Northern Flicker. I wish we had seen it:


There are two “races” of the Northern Flicker, Red and Yellow Shafted, referring to the color of the wing feather shafts. Can you tell which one this is?

Warblers were equally hard to find; we had several Yellow-rumped and one lovely Black and White Warbler that we saw in the thickets on the way up to Ward’s Pond and again on the path as we returned:


Black and White Warblers are usually found on the trunk or main branches of a tree rather than out in the foliage as they search for little creatures hiding in the bark.

Throughout the walk we enjoyed the calls of Baltimore Orioles and Warbling Vireos.  The latter bird does not match it’s singing brilliance:

when finally visualized:


Drab is an unkind but nonetheless accurate description of this little bird.

No bird walk in this locale would be complete without sighting a Wood Duck,  and we watched a pair from a distance and later very close up:


A pair of Wood Ducks, female in front

Leverett has become a true mecca for this most beautiful duck, especially in winter.  In the last several years they have breed on these ponds; let’s hope that will happen again this year!

WODU family LP

A female Wood Duck and two of her ducklings on Leverett Pond in 2016.

Here is the complete list of birds from the walk:

Olmsted Park–Leverett Pond, Suffolk, Massachusetts

Apr 30, 2017 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

Comments:     48-52, sunny

29 species

  • Canada Goose  6
  • Wood Duck  2 
  • Mallard  12
  • Double-crested Cormorant  1
  • Great Blue Heron  1
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron  1
  • Red-tailed Hawk  1
  • Ring-billed Gull  2
  • Mourning Dove  1
  • Northern Flicker  1
  • Warbling Vireo  6
  • Blue Jay  3
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow  4
  • Tree Swallow  6
  • Black-capped Chickadee  2
  • White-breasted Nuthatch  1
  • American Robin  35
  • Gray Catbird  2
  • European Starling  7
  • Black-and-white Warbler  1
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler  2
  • Chipping Sparrow  1
  • White-throated Sparrow  2
  • Song Sparrow  1
  • Northern Cardinal  5
  • Red-winged Blackbird  10
  • Common Grackle  25
  • Baltimore Oriole  5
  • House Sparrow  6

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36418547

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

Next weekend I will be leading two more walks in the Arboretum.  I hope you can join me.

Good Birding!

Spring Bird Walks Begin!

The spring birding season is starting up and early migrants are arriving.  Here is one I saw yesterday:


Eastern Phoebe is one of the earliest migrants to arrive and is easily identified by its drab appearance and its “tail bobbing” habit.

I will be leading walks for the Arnold Arboretum, the Brookline Bird Club and other organizations in the Emerald Necklace on several dates in April and May. Here is the current list:

Saturday, April 29

Arnold Arboretum, Boston. 

A 90-minute walk suitable for beginners as well as more experienced birders. See the arboretum website for directions or to download a checklist of birds.

Meeting Location: Main Gate off the Arborway, park along Arborway 8:00 AM to 9:30 AM. 

Sunday, April 30

Leverett Pond/ Olmsted Park.

This walk is sponsored by the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance and is geared toward beginning birders as well as those more experienced.  In addition to migrant and resident land birds we will be looking for waterfowl that have lingered from winter or may be nesting near the ponds.

Meeting location: Parking lot on the Brookline side of Leverett Pond near the Brook House and Route 9.  8:00 AM to 9:30 AM

Saturday, May 6

Arnold Arboretum, Boston.  

A 90-minute walk suitable for beginners as well as more experienced birders.See the arboretum website for directions or to download a checklist of birds.

Meeting Location: Peters Hill Gate on Bussey Street 8:00 AM to 9:30 AM. 

Sunday, May 7

Bussey Brook Meadow, Arnold Arboretum, Boston. 

The Arboretum Park Conservancy and the BBC are sponsoring this 90-minute walk in the Bussey Brook area of the Arboretum. The walk is suitable for beginning birders as well as those more experienced.

Meeting Location: South Street gate to the Arboretum, on South Street, where there is limited parking. Also accessible from Forest Hills T Station path from Washington Street 8:00 AM to 9:30 AM. 

Saturday, May 20

Arnold Arboretum, Boston. A 90-minute walk suitable for beginners as well as more experienced birders.  See the arboretum website for directions or to download a checklist of birds.

Meeting Location: Main Gate off the Arborway, park along Arborway 8:00 AM to 9:30 AM.

Bob Mayer, (617) 983-3330


I hope you will be able to attend some of these free walks.

Good Birding!