This weekend I led two walks on the Emerald Necklace- at the Arnold Arboretum and nearby Leverett Pond and Olmsted Park- to try to find some early birds in the spring migration. In many ways the walks were similar; we missed the recurrent rains of this wet spring, but the weather was less than perfect for both walks. Despite that, about 20 birders joined each walk and we ended up seeing about the same number of species on each.

On Saturday April 27th, accompanied by 19 birders and my co-leader Brendan Keegan, we walked from the main entrance of the Arboretum to the top of Bussey Hill and back through the Shrub & Vine Garden to our beginning. There had been heavy rain overnight and the temperature was 40 with brisk winds- not an auspicious beginning. As we headed down the road we heard one of our two woodpecker species on the walk:

Red-bellied Woodpecker

We heard an early arriving migrant sparrow in several locations but never got a good look at one. Here’s what we missed:

The Chipping Sparrow’s song is a rapid series of chip notes

As we approached a wet spot on the right of the road I told the group that an exciting duck had been spotted there earlier in the week; could it still be there?

Male Wood Duck sitting on a branch in the Leitneria Swamp in the Arboretum

Not only was one present, there were two pair! Everyone had good looks at these beauties.

I predicted that this might be our best bird of the walk, and unfortunately I was right. We ascended the path to the top of Bussey Hill where the wind was howling, and although I had seen three species of early spring warblers there earlier in the week there were none today. Here’s a shot of one that I had seen two days earlier, in better weather:

The Pine Warbler has a song very similar to the Chipping Sparrow

We ticked off a few more species but were disappointed with the lack of warblers. Here is our list for the walk:

Arnold Arboretum, Suffolk, Massachusetts
Apr 27, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:55 AM
BBC walk, overcast, windy, 48
19 species

Canada Goose 1
Wood Duck 4 (2 pair)
Mallard 2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 1
Mourning Dove 8
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 4
Blue Jay 5
Tufted Titmouse 1
American Robin 25
European Starling 5
American Goldfinch 9
Chipping Sparrow 4
Song Sparrow 3
Brown-headed Cowbird 2
Common Grackle 9
Northern Cardinal 2
House Sparrow 4

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (


On Sunday I moved farther down the Emerald Necklace to lead a walk at Leverett Pond/Olmsted Park for the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance. Two dozen folks showed up ready for a nice walk and hopefully some good birds. Although the weather was somewhat better than it had been for Saturday’s walk, birds were not easy to come by. The “target bird” for Leverett is Wood Duck. I had scouted for the walk twice in the pervious week and had not seen one! But one of my reliable birders reported that he had seen one on his way to the walk. Sure enough we followed him to tiny Willow Pond and found not one but a pair:

This shot of a pair of Wood Ducks shows why they are so sought after. The male is spectacular, but the more subtle female is equally lovely.

As we looked across Leverett Pond there were a number of swallows flying back and forth just above the water hunting insects. Most were Tree Swallows but a keen eyed birder spotted one with an orange breast- a Barn Swallow!

This Barn Swallow in flight has a forked tail

The male Tree Swallow has a white breast and belly contrasting with its blue wings and a shorter notched tail

We had great looks at a Red-bellied Woodpecker and a bunch of Northern Flickers. Four of the flickers were paired up on the ball field grass. From a distance it was hard to tell whether we were watching males in territorial battle or males displaying for a female but they were having at it with gusto!

Male Northern Flicker showing his black mustache, lacking in females

We proceeded through Olmsted Park to Ward’s Pond and then returned. The birding was slow, but we did find a couple of new birds. Two Double-crested Cormorants were in Leverett Pond; one was perched on a dead snag holding out its wings:

Cormorants often stand in the sun with their wings spread out to dry. They have less preen oil than other birds, so their feathers can get soaked rather than shedding water.

We were about to finish another weekend walk without a single migrating warbler when someone spotted, and correctly identified, one;

Male Yellow-rumped Warbler. If you look closely at this bird you can see its yellow rump, giving it its name as well as its nickname- butterbutt. They are one of the earliest and most numerous migrants and don’t nest locally, passing north and west to breed.

Our complete list for the walk:

Olmsted Park–Leverett Pond, Suffolk, Massachusetts, US
Apr 28, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM
BBC walk sun and clouds, 48
23 species

Canada Goose 7
Mute Swan 2
Wood Duck 2 pair, Willow Pond
Mallard 4
Mourning Dove 1
Double-crested Cormorant 2
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 6
Warbling Vireo 1
Blue Jay 6
Tree Swallow 8
Barn Swallow 1
Tufted Titmouse 4
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
American Robin 20
European Starling 15
Song Sparrow 1
Red-winged Blackbird 2
Common Grackle 15
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1
Northern Cardinal 1
House Sparrow 30

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

I’m hoping that the migration will have picked up by the weekend when I’ll lead two more Arboretum walks:

Saturday, May 4 Peters Hill

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 5 Bussey Brook Meadow

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

Bob Mayer, Jamaica Plain Jamaica Plain((617) 522-0157

Good Birding!