This weekend I led walks in two different sectors of the Arnold Arboretum.  On Saturday, 33 people assembled at the Peters Hill Gate on a chilly morning, hoping for some early migrants.  I schedule my walks months ahead, so it is always chance whether the migration will coincide with the walks; the cool weather in the past few weeks combined with unfavorable winds slowed the movement of birds this year.  We had only one warbler on this walk and saw no orioles or other migrants that can arrive by the first of May.  On the other hand I had the pleasant sighting of several good birding friends who were helpful in flushing out the birds we did see.  One was an old friend who used to co-lead walks with me a few years ago when he was a staffer at the Arboretum;  he has gone on to work at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, NY.  What a pleasure it was to see him!

We began the walk by seeing and hearing some common seasonal species, Chipping Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird and Tree Swallow:

Chipping Sparrow

Male Red-winged blackbird, displaying his red and yellow epaulettes


Male Tree Swallow at nest box

It was great to see Tree Swallows on some of the nest boxes at the top of Peters Hill; House Sparrows have been invading them in recent years.

As we proceeded down the hill and along the perimeter walkway we picked up more species, including our only warbler, a Yellow Warbler.


Singing male Yellow Warbler

This was my FOY (first of year) Yellow Warbler.  Soon they will become commonplace, especially in the Bradley Rosaceous Collection  near the ponds in the main section of the Arboretum. Most of the warblers that pass through during the spring will continue north to northern New England, and Canada to breed; the Yellow Warbler is one of the few that actually nests here.

Female Yellow Warbler at nest with several chicks

After crossing Bussey Street we walked a forested path parallel to South Street to the South Street Gate and continued in the woods along Hemlock Hill Road, but saw little avian activity.  As we walked back to the Bussey Street Gate where we began, a keen- eared birder heard a high pitched twittering warble, much too high for my aging ears. A Pine Siskin was calling from the top of a big conifer!

Pine Siskin. Note the very sharp bill and yellow cast to the wings and tail.

Given the date, this was the most unusual bird of the walk. These “winter finches” are usually long gone by now; perhaps the cold winter and spring kept them around.  We later saw a small flock flying among the cone-bearing conifers, their favorite food source.

After the walk ended, several hangers on were lucky to see our only raptors on the walk.  Two Cooper’s Hawks were funnelling overhead.  A minute later they were joined by an adult Red-tailed Hawk…  and then they were all gone.  Nice finish to a pleasant walk.

Here is the list of birds identified on the walk:

  • Arnold Arboretum, Peters Hill and Hemlock Hill areas
  • May 2, 2015 8:00 AM – 9:50 AM
  • Protocol: Traveling
  • 1.5 mile(s)
  • Comments:     39-45, sun and clouds

26 species

  • Canada Goose  5
  • Double-crested Cormorant  6
  • Cooper’s Hawk  2
  • Red-tailed Hawk  1
  • Herring Gull  2
  • Mourning Dove  5
  • Downy Woodpecker  1
  • Northern Flicker  2
  • Blue Jay  5
  • Tree Swallow  6
  • Black-capped Chickadee  2
  • Tufted Titmouse  1
  • White-breasted Nuthatch  1
  • American Robin  20
  • European Starling  2
  • Yellow Warbler  1
  • Chipping Sparrow  15
  • Song Sparrow  1
  • White-throated Sparrow  3
  • Northern Cardinal  3
  • Red-winged Blackbird  12
  • Common Grackle  20
  • Brown-headed Cowbird  4
  • Pine Siskin  6
  • American Goldfinch  4
  • House Sparrow  10

On Sunday morning a group of 26 joined me at the South Street Gate for a casual walk through Bussey Brook Meadow and Marsh.  This walk was co-sponsered by the Brookline Bird Club and the Arboretum Park Conservancy.  I discussed the interesting history of this area in a previous post last spring.

The area is a special place for birds and other fauna- many thickets, brambles, downed trees, and spontaneous wetlands- in contrast to the manicured habitat of the Arboretum proper.  We were hoping that brief southwest winds overnight might have brought in some new migrants; it was not to be.  We saw several  warblers high up in deciduous trees just leafing out, but the distance and back-lighting only allowed us to tease out a Yellow Warbler.

The highlight of the walk turned out to be evidence of nesting by several resident and one migrant species.  The migrants were a pair of Tree Swallows occupying a nest box.


Tree Swallow in nest box

Shortly thereafter we found another cavity nester, Northern Flicker:

Male Northern Flicker at nest hole

I told the group that this nest hole, in an old Catalpa tree, had different tenants last year:


Red-bellied Woodpecker at same nest hole one year earlier

It looks like the flickers gained control before the Red-bellied Woodpeckers did, or else the woodies have gone elsewhere (we did not see or hear one on the walk).

We also found, low down, some regular nests which provided good looks of a female Northern Cardinal on her nest and of two American Robins also sitting on eggs:

American Robin on nest

And yes, the eggs really are robin’s egg blue:


We ended the walk with a sighting of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. These flitty little birds are hard to see and even harder to photograph; they never sit still!  Here is a shot of one showing the identifiers; broken white eye-ring, white wingbars, and a hint of the crown that gives the bird it’s name (not visible unless the bird is excited);


Ruby-crowned Kinglet

By the time we ended the walk the temperature was above 50; beginning to feel like real spring!  Here is the list from Bussey Brook:

  • Arnold Arboretum, Bussey Brook Meadow and Wetland
  • May 3, 2015 8:00 AM – 9:40 AM
  • Protocol: Traveling
  • 1.0 mile(s)
  • Comments:     45-50, sun and clouds

21 species (+1 other taxa)

  • Red-tailed Hawk  1
  • Herring Gull  1
  • Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  6
  • Mourning Dove  3
  • Downy Woodpecker  2
  • Northern Flicker  2 one at nest hole
  • Blue Jay  3
  • Tree Swallow  2 nest box
  • Black-capped Chickadee  2
  • Tufted Titmouse  2
  • White-breasted Nuthatch  1
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
  • American Robin  15 2 on nests
  • European Starling  2
  • Yellow Warbler  1
  • warbler sp.  3
  • Chipping Sparrow  3
  • Song Sparrow  4
  • Northern Cardinal  2 1 on nest
  • Red-winged Blackbird  5
  • Common Grackle  25
  • House Sparrow  4

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

On Saturday May 16, I will be doing the Mass Audubon Bird-a-thon for the Boston Nature Center.  If you wish to contribute to our effort you can do so at:

My next, and last, spring Arboretum walk will be on Saturday May 30, starting from the Main Gate at 8AM.

Good Birding!