Happy and Cold New Year!

The weather folks are claiming that this Saturday will be the coldest day so far this winter.  Sunday morning at 9AM, the scheduled kickoff for the January Winter Bird Walk in the Arboretum, is predicted to be minus 3, with winds at 10-12 mph.  Therefore I’m postponing the walk until Sunday January 14th, same time, same station.  Let’s hope for winter, not arctic, weather.

Even though it has been nasty cold, I have gotten out briefly and seen and photographed a few birds. Yesterday I sought a rarity that has been hanging out in a park near Carson Beach in South Boston since Christmas- Ross’s Goose.  This is the first Suffolk County record ever for this small goose that closely resembles another locally rare goose- Snow Goose. They are differentiated by the Ross’s smaller size, shorter bill, and the absence of a “grin patch” .

Snow Goose, left, showing a black patch on a longer bill, compared to the Ross’s Goose on right with smaller bill and no “grin”.

Who knew geese could grin?  In any case my wife drove as we circled Moakley Park and I quickly spotted the bird, hanging out with a small flock of much larger Canada Geese on the barren field:

Ross’s Goose. A small white goose with black primaries and tiny triangle pink bill. These geese are common in California, but very rare on the Atlantic Coast.

Here is another shot of the bird after it took flight.

In this image you can see the black primary wing feathers and barely see the reddish legs.  The bird was a lifer for me!

I also checked out the local ponds on the Emerald Necklace.  Jamaica Pond is down to a small swimming pool of open water with four swans and a few other winter waterfowl; not clear how much longer they can hold out there.  Leverett Pond, as usual, was partly open at its northern end and held a few very photographable ducks.

Male Northern Pintail, aptly named.

Another image of the pintail, above a common but lovely male Mallard.

And I can never get enough of the spectacular Wood Ducks; there were at least 6 still surviving in the open patch.

Male Wood Duck.

Note the iridescent sheen on the crest and the subtle patterns on the breast and side. And what eyes!

While I have your attention, the annual Boston Christmas Bird Count was held in relatively balmy weather (highs nearing thirty!) on December 17, 2017.  The seven people in the Jamaica Plain sector tallied 48 species.  Here is the list for the entire Boston count (thanks Bob Stymeist):

The 45th Greater Boston Christmas Count was held Sunday December 17th.  124 birders recorded 115 species and an additional five species during the Count Week.  There was one new species, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird added to the overall list which is an amazing 231 species!

Greater Boston Christmas Bird Count- Bob Stymeist, compiler

  • Greater White-fronted Goose 1  Jamaica Pond
  • Snow Goose 2  Bear Creek
  • Brant  17
  • Canada Goose  8702
  • Mute Swan  81
  • Wood Duck  23  22 Leverett Pond
  • Gadwall  3  2 Jamaica Pond
  • American Wigeon  5  1 Jamaica Pond
  • American Black Duck  371
  • Mallard  2266
  • Northern Shoveler  6
  • Northern Pintail  1
  • Green-winged Teal  5
  • Ring-necked Duck  75
  • Greater Scaup  402
  • Lesser Scaup  5  1 Jamaica Pond
  • King Eider  1  Deer Island
  • Common Eider  508
  • Surf Scoter  241
  • White-winged Scoter 193
  • Black Scoter  73
  • Long-tailed Duck  89
  • Bufflehead  305
  • Common Goldeneye  78
  • Barrow’s Goldeneye  1 Orient Heights Beach
  • Hooded Merganser  398
  • Common Merganser  190
  • Red-breasted Merganser  261
  • Ruddy Duck  49
  • Ring-necked Pheasant  1
  • Wild Turkey  119
  • Red-throated Loon  45
  • Common Loon  26
  • Pied-billed Grebe  CW
  • Horned Grebe  35
  • Red-necked Grebe  6
  • Double-crested Cormorant  15
  • Great Cormorant  1
  • Great Blue Heron  55
  • Turkey Vulture  1
  • Northern Harrier  3
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk  6
  • Cooper’s Hawk  26
  • Bald Eagle  3
  • Red-shouldered Hawk  3 New High
  • Red-tailed Hawk  104
  • American Coot  88
  • Killdeer  1
  • Sanderling  1
  • Dunlin  6
  • Ring-billed Gull  1887
  • Herring Gull  3597
  • Iceland Gull  1
  • Greater Black-backed Gull  270
  • Razorbill  2
  • Rock Pigeon  1396
  • Mourning Dove  763
  • Eastern Screech-Owl  49
  • Great Horned Owl  11  1 Forest Hills Cemetery
  • Snowy Owl  12
  • Barred Owl  4
  • Long-eared Owl  CW
  • Short-eared Owl   3
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird  CW (new to count)
  • Belted Kingfisher  19
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker  78
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  5 1 Arnold Arboretum
  • Downy Woodpecker  240
  • Hairy Woodpecker  15
  • Northern Flicker  21
  • Pileated Woodpecker  1
  • American Kestrel  4
  • Merlin  1
  • Peregrine Falcon  11
  • Blue Jay  796
  • American Crow  311
  • Fish Crow  1
  • Common Raven  11  Tied High Count
  • Horned Lark  194  New High Count
  • Black-capped Chickadee  788
  • Tufted Titmouse  429
  • White-breasted Nuthatch  251
  • Brown Creeper  16
  • Winter Wren  7
  • House Wren  CW
  • Carolina Wren  47
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet  110
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet  11
  • Hermit Thrush  7 1 Arnold Arboretum
  • American Robin  502
  • Gray Catbird  8
  • Brown Thrasher 1
  • Northern Mockingbird  102
  • European Starling  3042
  • American Pipit  14  New High Count
  • Cedar Waxwing  31
  • Lapland Longspur  2
  • Snow Bunting  88
  • Orange-crowned Warbler  2
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler  8
  • Wilson’s Warbler 1
  • Yellow-breasted Chat  1
  • Eastern Towhee  2
  • American Tree Sparrow  136
  • Chipping Sparrow  CW
  • Grasshopper Sparrow  1 Mt Hood
  • Savannah Sparrow  3
  • Fox Sparrow  4
  • Song Sparrow  458
  • Swamp Sparrow  9
  • White-throated Sparrow  316
  • White-crowned Sparrow  1
  • Dark-eyed Junco  1165
  • Northern Cardinal  466
  • Red-winged Blackbird  139
  • Rusty Blackbird  1
  • Common Grackle  102
  • House Finch  278
  • American Goldfinch 414
  • House Sparrow 3043

I hope many of you will join me and my co-leader Brendan Keegan, who will discuss how birds utilize the woody plant collection in the AA as we walk, on Sunday January 14th, beginning at 9 AM from the front gate.

Good Birding!

First Snow begins a Duck Walk on the Emerald Necklace

I always like to lead walks focusing on waterfowl.  The birds are pretty predictable, and often allow for good looks for everyone.  I had scouted for this walk several times in the last week, and all the ducks and other waterfowl I had seen were on full display this morning.  The weather was not as bad as had been predicted but did make for some slow and careful walking for the sixteen of us that spent more than two hours on the walk.

We started by circumnavigating Leverett Pond and by the end had six species of ducks plus a few other birds.  This pond has become a regular home to Wood ducks; recently they have bred here and in the winter months more that 50 have been recorded.  Today we had great looks at a smaller number:

The male Wood Duck is one of the most spectacular ducks in the world.

One in our group asserted that the female was equally lovely, if not more so. She has a point:

Female Wood Duck

Mixed in with the large flotilla of ducks on the pond were several Hooded Mergansers, cavorting with each other:

Hooded Mergansers often display and perform for each other; but their actions are not just for play, mating season is on the way.

The male of this species is stunning when he raises his crest:

Male Hooded Merganser, the smallest of the three mergansers that can be seen locally.

Other ducks of note included Ring-necked Ducks:

The taxonomists who discovered and named this duck in the nineteenth century were working from museum specimens where the brown collar on the bird was visible. Thus they gave it the ring-necked designation rather than ring-billed; a much better name when seen in the field.

The female is less distinctly marked, but still has the telltale bill marking:

A pair of Ring-necked Ducks

We located a few American Black Ducks among the simillarily feathered female Mallards:

American Black Duck; darker and a bit larger than the Mallard female, and with a greenish-yellow bill. Note also the bright blue speculum on the wing without a white lining.

This fuzzy shot of a female Mallard shows the different bill color, the overall lighter appearance and the white lining on the wing speculum.

Finally, one sharp observer noticed a peculiar looking Mallard among the rest:

This male Mallard has a white breast area; indicating that it has some domestic duck genes in it’s pedigree.

At this point the group had milked Leverett Pond for all there was, so we walked the half mile or so to Jamaica Pond, where I had seen some other species on my scouting runs. Before I could point out a bird sitting at the end of the small island in this large kettle pond, a birder called out “cormorant”!  She was right, but instead of the common summer resident on the pond, Double-crested Cormorant, this one had been identified a week ago as a Great Cormorant, rare on the pond.  Here is a “documentation” shot of it (read not very good photo but suitable to identify the bird):

This juvenile bird shows the white belly and a bit of the white and yellow patches beneath the gray bill; all features that separate it from a juvenile Double-crested Cormorant. This species is usually found on salt water along the northern New England coast.

Our next new sighting looked something like this:

I asked the group what was especially notable about these small ducks.  “The pointed tails”, several responded, setting me up to identify them by their colloquial name, “stifftail”. Ruddy Ducks breed in northwestern North America, but some faithfully migrate to Jamaica Pond every fall and stay as long as there is open water.  On closer inspection, they are a well-patterned bird:

A male Ruddy Duck, top, with two females below, in non-breeding plumage. No, they don’t always have their tails in the air.  Note also the blue-gray coloration of the male’s bill.

Last year a single male Ruddy remained on Jamaica Pond until June, and though there were no females present, he converted to breeding plumage (hope springs eternal):

Male Ruddy Duck in breeding plumage, showing why they are called “ruddy” and also displaying it’s “cartoonishly bold, sky-blue bill

The other reliable winter visitor to Jamaica Pond is the American Coot:

Note the lobed toes and sharp white beak on this American Coot, in contrast to the webbed feet and broad bill on duck species.

While coots do walk on land, as seen above, they are most often seen bobbing about in the water:

Coots are common on the pond in winter, but this season they were joined by an uncommon freshwater bird:

This female Gadwall has been hanging out with a raft of coots for at least two weeks. She can be easily dismissed as a female Mallard, but is smaller, and has an orange edge on a slim bill and a patch of white on her secondary feathers.

Gadwall are relatively common in coastal areas like Plum Island, but are rare on the necklace.  In April 2015, a male of this subtle species showed up on one of the small ponds in the Arnold Arboretum:

Male Gadwall, left, next to a female Mallard on Dawson Pond. Note the identifying black tail, not seen on the female of the species.

There was one more type of waterfowl I had located earlier on the pond, and I hoped to show it to the group.  We found it, but it was on the far side from where we were viewing so people had to take it mostly on faith. Here are two shots I got of this Common Loon just the day before, when it was a bit more cooperative:

Common Loon, showing an all white breast and belly

You can barely see the striped pattern and the large bill in this distant image of a Common Loon.

I can’t leave you hanging without a better image of these impressive birds:

Common Loon in winter plumage.

We headed back to our starting place, tired but pleased with a lovely winter walk in the season’s first snow. Here are the eBird lists for out two locations:

Olmsted Park–Leverett Pond, Suffolk, Massachusetts, US

Dec 10, 2017 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM

Comments:     BBC walk, 30, sunny, snow covered

12 species (+1 other taxa)

  • Canada Goose  30
  • Wood Duck  9
  • Mallard  60
  • Mallard (Domestic type)  1
  • American Black Duck  4
  • Ring-necked Duck  10
  • Hooded Merganser  8
  • Red-tailed Hawk  1
  • Herring Gull  2
  • Mourning Dove  1
  • Blue Jay  1
  • Tufted Titmouse  1
  • House Sparrow  6

Jamaica Pond, Suffolk, Massachusetts, US

Dec 10, 2017 10:15 AM – 11:00 AM

Comments:     BBC walk. 30,sunny, snow covered

12 species

  • Mute Swan  3
  • Gadwall  1     continuing female w coots
  • Ring-necked Duck  1
  • Hooded Merganser  1
  • Ruddy Duck  22
  • Common Loon  1
  • Great Cormorant  1
  • Red-tailed Hawk  2
  • American Coot  11
  • Ring-billed Gull  25
  • Herring Gull  5
  • House Sparrow  4

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S41008358

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

This was my last walk of the year.  On Sunday January 7th I will be leading a walk in the Arboretum beginning at 9 AM from the man gate on the Arborway, where we can all start our Year List for 2018!  I hope you can join me.

Good Birding!


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!