Skylar’s Great Adventure

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter…to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated by a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life.  John Burroughs

The little Great Horned Owlet that fell out of the tree at Fresh Pond on April 12th is being celebrated  in Kim Nagy and my new children’s book Skylar’s Great Adventure.  This drama so captured the hearts of the community that it was featured on the front page of the Cambridge Chronicle (story by editor Amy Saltzman).
Kim and I thought that it would make a perfect book for kids.  So we went to our go-to guy, book designer Steve Gladstone, the integral part of our Dead In Good Company book project, to get the Skylar project rolling.
SKYLAR’S GREAT ADVENTURE  is now available on Amazon, and soon in Mass Audubon shops and local book stores.  If you have kids and grand kids and young nieces and nephews, please share with them this warm, exciting story of the brave little Fresh Pond owlet’s perilous journey.
Every year there are surprise out-of-range birds that appear around here.  On a couple of occasions the MacGillivray’s Warbler, a magnificent Western bird, has found itself in Boston, once in the Fenway area  and another time at the Arlington Reservoir.  And there was the Townsend’s Warbler, another Western bird, that made an appearance here in recent years.  Probably one of the most exciting out-of-range visitors was the Red-footed Falcon that brought hundreds of birders to Martha’s Vineyard in 2004.  So it happens.  Up to now I think the Red-footed Falcon has been the most famous unlikely visitor.  But it looks like a new champion has arrived.  A Great Black Hawk, a native of Mexico, Central America and South America,  as far as northern Argentina, has found a winter home in Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine.  This seems to be a record.  I’ve read no other reports of this bird having been anywhere near here – ever.  It was first spotted in Biddeford, Maine in August but has settled into Deering Oaks Park for the past couple of weeks.  At times there have been two hundred or more birders and photographers on hand to watch this bird – one photographer flew in from California to see this hawk, I was told.   I was there to enjoy this wonder on Monday, December 3rd.  There were maybe twenty-five birders and photographers present for the few hours I was there.  Which was fine.  It gets a bit difficult to maneuver with two or three hundred watchers following the same bird.  I expect the large contingent of birders and photographers converge on the park on weekends.  
This hawk is a beauty.  Striking colors, Somewhat Red-tailed Hawk-ish, 
Great Black Hawk, Portland, Maine.  Photos by John Harrison.
It’s been very active in the park, flying from tree to tree, giving photographers plenty of opportunities to catch flight shots.  This is a perfect way to close out 2018, which has been a terrific year in our pursuit anyway.  But undoubtedly this Great Black Hawk is the greatest hit of the year.  Here is a video look at this now-famous Maine visitor.  
The Peregrine Falcon Monitoring Group reception and awards ceremony at Hunt’s Photo in Melrose on Sunday, November 4th, was a tremendous success.  The framed photos in the exhibit were open for bids with all proceeds going to the Mass Audubon Blue Hills Trailside Museum.  Craig Gibson, the monitoring group organizer, addressed the audience with opening remarks  and introduced the day’s speakers, Norm Smith of the Blue Hills Trailside Museum, Tom French of Mass Fisheries and Wildlife, Mark Wilson of Eyes On Owls, Shawn Carey of Migration Productions, Chris Guinto of Hunt’s Photo, Canon Rep Steve Golding
and photographer Jim Renault.
Craig Gibson (L) and Mark Wilson.                    Mark Wilson, Tom French and Jim Renault.
Mark Wilson, Norm Smith and Shawn Carey.   Craig Gibson and Ray Brown of the Talkin’  
                                                                               Birds radio show.  Photos by John Harrison.
The winners of the photo contest were announced as part of the reception.  There was a first, second and third place winner and three runners-up.  There was also a viewers-favorite award, announced by Canon Rep Steve Golding.  Nancy Brules Gower was winner in this category and
received Canon binoculars as her prize.
  (L) Nancy Brules Gower receives viewers-favorite award
  from Canon rep Steve Golding.  Photo by John Harrison.
The third place contest winner was Ken Proulx,  second place was Greg Ohanian
(L to R) Mark Wilson, Shawn Carey, Chris Guinto   (L to R) John Harrison, 2nd place winner  and 2nd place winner Ken Proulx.                            Greg Ohanian and photographer John                                                                                               Blout.
and first place Leigh Scott.
First place winner Leigh Scott with her winning photograph and with Tom French.  Photos by John Harrison.
Chris He (third from left), second runner-up.    John  Blout (third from left), first runner-up.
Photos by John Harrison.
Chris He (third from left), 2nd runner-up.          John Harrison (third from left) third runner up.  Photo by John Harrison.                              Photo by Kim Nagy.
Norm Smith with Peregrine Falcon.                       Ray Brown (L) and Norm Smith.           
Photos by John Harrison.
As we do every year on Columbus Day weekend, photographer Kim Nagy and I attend the Spring Pond Farm Wool Arts fair at the Alpaca farm in Greenfield, NH Ray and Deb Cilley, our gracious hosts, open their farm to this event every year, enabling people to get an up-close-and-personal look at the mild-mannered Alpacas and to shop at the vendors’ stalls at the event.
Kim Nagy and Ray Cilley of Spring Pond Farm in Greenfield, NH and the Alpacas of the farm.  Photos by John Harrison. 
Alpacas at Spring Pond Farm.  Photos by John Harrison.
Highland Cattle, Spring Pond Farm.  Photos by John Harrison.
And we even had an introduction to the world of drones by Cesar Queiroz.  He skillfully maneuvered a Go-Pro camera-attached drone over the farm.  With a small tablet he was able to precisely guide the camera over us and around the farm, taking sharp photos and video at his command.
Thanks to Cesar’s demonstration it is easier to understand why Amazon – and other companies – are thinking of some day using drones to deliver packages and for other uses.
Drone demonstration by Cesar Queiroz at Spring Pond Farm, Greenfield, NH.  Photos by John Harrison.  In the second photo, on the right, is Prof. John Amaral.  Thanks Deb and Ray Cilley for once again sharing your world with us…..
Of course, the season wasn’t without some of the wonderful usual suspects.  A juvenile Cooper’s Hawk has been hanging around Mount Auburn Cemetery and gave us some exciting moments.
And an adult Cooper’s Hawk was perched on a Weeping Beech early one morning.
Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photos by John Harrison.
Adult Cooper’s Hawk, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photos by John Harrison.
Barred Owl, Salisbury Beach State Park.  Photos by John Harrison.
Screech Owl, Fresh Pond.  Photos by John Harrison.   We had some nice looks at Yellow-rumped Warblers and Golden-crowned Kinglets at Salisbury, Mount Auburn and the Mystic Lakes.
Yellow-rumped Warbler with bee, Salisbury Beach State Park.  Photos by John Harrison.
Golden-crowned Kinglet, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photos by John Harrison. And once, while watching these at Salisbury Beach, a Snowy Owl flew into the marsh, far away, but a Snowy is a Snowy and always a sight for sore eyes.
Snowy Owl, Salisbury State Beach.  Photos by John Harrison.
 There have been a few Snowy Owl close encounters at Salisbury, Hampton and Plum Island so we’re hoping that this is going to be another exciting Snowy Owl season.  Snow Buntings, an annual winter favorite at Plum island and Salisbury, were right on time.
Snow Buntings, Salisbury Beach State Park.  Photos by John Harrison.
We’ve had some nice looks at Screech Owls in Waltham and I even had a life-bird, Common Redpolls, at Plum Island along the Hellcat Trail boardwalk.
Screech Owls, Waltham.  Photos by John Harrison.
Common Redpolls, Hellcat Trail, Plum Island.  Photos by John Harrison.  The Blackpoll Warblers at the Mystic Lakes were still enjoying berries on the trees near Sandy Beach in late October and a few even well into November.
Blackpoll Warbler, Mystic Lakes.  Photos by John Harrison.
Juvenile Cedar Waxwings, Brookline.  Photos by Kim Nagy.  
It’s been a fantastic season with much to be thankful for…….Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.  We await the surprises of 2019!

Block (Island) Party

  Birds are a miracle because they prove to us there is a finer, simpler state of being which we may strive to attain.  Douglas Coupland
 The Tree Swallow invasion at Plum Island occurred right on time.  Actually, for me, a week earlier than ‘right on time.’  Last year my first look at the Tree Swallows at Plum Island was on August 15. This year my first look was on August 8th. As it was last year, when I passed parking lot #1, they were there by the thousands, covering the road at times and erupting from the trees along the road.  It’s a sight that you never get used to. 
Tree Swallows, Plum Island.  Photos by John Harrison.
In addition to seeing the Tree Swallows that day, there were also shore birds in the marsh along the road, including a nice, close look at some Sanderlings.  
Sanderlings, Plum Island.  Photos by John Harrison.
Here are a few videos of the Tree Swallows:  
 We had many opportunities to watch and photograph the Waltham Bald Eagles.  The two adults and their one fledgling did a lot of flying for us and we even caught them on the ground a few times.  They would often sit atop of a tall pine and perch for a long time.  We knew if we were patient they would eventually take off and our patience rewarded us with some magnificent take-off moments.
Bald Eagles takeoffs.  Photos by John Harrison.
Bald Eagle fledgling.  Photos by John Harrison.
Here are some video of the fledgling on the ground  drinking and walking around and on tree limbs. 
  Our magical Peregrine Falcon summer wound down in August.  We were seeing less and less of the four fledglings, which was as it should be.  They gave us an exciting season and in the fall they disperse to find their own territories.  We wish these fledglings luck.   We’ll never forget this magnificent Peregrine season.  A special shout-out and thank you to Peregrine Whisperer Craig Gibson.  He formed the Peregrine Monitor Group to watch, photograph and chronicle the Peregrine season.  The twenty members of the group submitted photographs and each member will have a photo in an exhibit at Hunt’s Photo in Melrose.  Bids can be placed on these photos, the proceeds benefiting  Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum,  The opening reception of this exhibit will be at Hunt’s Photo on Sunday, Nov. 04, 2018 from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Peregrine Falcon Fledgling.  Photo by Craig Gibson.   Hunt’s Photo Benefit Auction announcement.
  On Sunday, August 12th, as we were waiting for the Peregrines to show themselves, we heard some noises from one of the nearby dumpsters that sounded like animal noises.  We carefully looked into the dumpster and there were two Raccoons at the bottom.  It was easy enough for them to drop down into the dumpster, but they were unable to get out.  We put a couple of wooden pallets that were next to the dumpster into it so the Raccoons could climb out, which they quickly did.  But as this was going on, the two Raccoons were fighting with each other. 
Raccoons at the Woburn cliffs.  Photos by John Harrison.
In late August in Gloucester we had some exciting looks at Otters.  In past years we could always count on watching Little Blue Herons, especially juveniles, at this pond with only an occasional look
at the Otters.
 Otters in Gloucester.  Photos by John Harrison.
Little Blue Heron adult in Gloucester.  Photos by John Harrison.
 September started off with a bang.  A gray morph Screech Owl was back in the same tree cavity at Mount Auburn Cemetery where we enjoyed it last year.  We figure it’s the same one but of course we can’t be sure.  It was molting when we first discovered it and looked kind of goofy.  But after a couple of weeks the molt was over and it looked really good.
Screech Owl, Mount Auburn Cemetery, molting, early September.  Photos by John Harrison.
Screech Owl, Mount Auburn Cemetery, after molt.  Photos by John Harrison. This one was seen several times at that part of the pond and it (or another one?) was seen at Willow Pond.
Barred Owl, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photos by John Harrison. we had a couple of encounters with a juvenile Cooper’s hawk at a few locations in the cemetery.
Cooper’s Hawk, juvenile, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photos by John Harrison.
Green Herons, Black’s Nook, Fresh Pond, Cambridge.  Photos by John Harrison. 
In the midst of all of this end-of-season activity, photographer Jim Renault and his family went to Scotland for a week.  He sent me a photo of a quite striking bird that looked to me like a warbler.  Jim informed me that it was a European Robin.  Something is definitely lost in the translation when comparing American Robins and European Robins.  Kind of like the comparison of Cedar Waxwings and Bohemian Waxwings. We imported some European Starlings at one time in our history and now there are zillions of them.  Why haven’t any of these magnificent European Robins been brought here?  It would be nice to have both varieties (though our own Robins would be jealous of their European cousins).  Once back home, Jim caught a couple of Blackpoll Warblers, a Kingfisher and a Great Crested Flycatcher at Sandy Beach, Mystic Lakes at the beginning of October.
European Robin.  Photo by Jim Renault.          Kingfisher.  Photo by John Harrison
Blackpoll Warblers (L), Great Crested Flycatcher (R).  Photos by Jim Renault.
On September 21st photographer Kim Nagy and I boarded the high-speed ferry at Port Judith, RI for the thirty minute ride to Block Island  (New Shoreham, RI). 
High Speed Ferry, Port Judith, RI.  Photos by John Harrison.
Kim Nagy aboard High Speed Ferry, Port Judith, RI.  Photos by John Harrison.
It’s a well known birders’ location with fall migrant and shore bird activity.  Kim Nagy had explored Block Island last September and had many opportunities to photograph the warblers that were passing through.  So she knew where we would find these birds.  As soon as we arrived we made our way – by taxi –  to Andy’s Way beach for shore birds.  At first we were disappointed.  It was low tide, the best time to catch shore birds.  But there was no sign of them.  We wandered around for a while and then noticed a pair of Oyster Catchers fly to the edge of the water, not far from us.
Oyster Catchers, Andy’s Way Beach, Block Island.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
We were able to watch them for almost an hour before they flew to another part of the beach, too far away for photographs. also had several Semi-palmated Plovers at this beach. Another surprise was thousands of Tree Swallows.
  Tree Swallows, Block Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.    Kim photographing Tree Swallows.           Photo by John Harrison.                                                                                     .
That, however, was all we were able to find on the beach.  In 2017 at this beach Kim Nagy also had Black-bellied Plovers and other species but we didn’t see them this time.  We were very fortunate to .
have Block Islander Bill Lambert as our guide.
Our very excellent guide Bill Lambert and Kim Nagy.  Clay Head Bluffs.  Photos by John Harrison.
He took us to Kim Gaffett’s beautiful home, with a great ocean view, about a half mile or more along a rough unpaved road.  Kim is a Master Bird Bander of the Block Island Bird Banding Station and is a naturalist at the TNC Block Island Program.  Without Bill I doubt that we would have managed to get to this house.  Kim and her assistant, Rachel, had waited for us to get there so we could watch them band a few birds – a couple of Red-eyed Vireos (one of my favorite species), three Catbirds and a Dark_eyed Junco.
 Bander Kim Gaffett and her assistant Rachel with banded birds about to be released.  Photos by John Harrison.
It was fascinating watching this activity.  They catch these birds in the mist nets around the property and then band and release them.  This helps us learn more about birds and their activities and therefore enables us to discover their travel patterns and do things to help them.
Red-eyed Vireo being released.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Kim Gaffett is dedicated to this process and has been an important Block Island scientist.  And for us, witnessing this process was an education.  While there we all took a walk along the path over Clay Head Bluffs. It was perfect habitat for warblers and last year Kim saw many of them along this path but as Kim Gaffett explained, the wind lately hadn’t been right to bring down the migrants so we didn’t get to see even one.  But watching the banding was enough to satisfy us.  Next year we’ll visit Block island again and maybe we’ll have better luck with migrants.  Here’s a look at the banding experience.  ;
Block Island is also well known for its magnificent sunrises and sunsets.  While Bill Lambert was driving us to a great sunset location, he twice discovered deer along unpaved roads.  He was a fantastic spotter.
 Deer spotted by Bill Lambert, Block Island.  Photos by John Harrison.
Unfortunately clouds had moved in and the sunset wasn’t what we had hoped, but the moon-rise was good and we caught a good sunrise on another beach that morning.  Block Island is Rhode Island’s answer to Cape Cod and Plum Island and I look forward to our visit next year.
   The new season and fall migration are upon us.  Some of the ‘confusing fall warblers’ have begun filtering in.  The Blackpoll Warblers have been at the Mystic Lakes berry trees already and Yellow-rumped Warblers are being seen in increasing numbers there too.
Backpoll Warbler (L) and Yellow-rumped Warbler (R) Mystic Lakes.  Photos by John Harrison.
Mount Auburn Cemetery is welcoming migrants as well.  I saw my first fall Black-throated Green
Warbler on Indian Ridge on Friday, Oct. 5th.
 Black-throated Green Warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Indian Ridge.  Photos by John Harrison.
Of course, once fall migration is in full swing, the question we birders ask is “When will the first Snowy Owl sighting occur?
 Snowy Owl, Salisbury Beach, March, 2018.  Photo
 by John Harrison.
If this year’s Snowy Owl season is anything close to last year’s, we have a lot to look forward to.  Our collective fingers are crossed!
Sunrise on Block Island.  Photos by John Harrison

Raptor Rapture

Subtle as a harrier, soft-winged as an owl, but flicking along at twice their easy speed, she was as cunning as a fox in her use of cover and camouflage.  She clings to the rippling fleece of the earth as the leaping hare cleaves to the wind.  THE PEREGRINE,  J. S. Baker

  As the 2018 warbler season subsided and the Great Horned Owlet in Cambridge prevailed and was in the tall pines with mom and dad,  the rest of the raptor season began. To end the Fresh Pond owlet saga, Cambridge Park Ranger Tim Puopolo presented his finale, The Owlet Debriefed, at the Fresh Pond facility on Saturday, June 30.  It was a thorough rendering of this compelling story.  Ranger Puopolo’s presentation was passionate and informative and was a fitting end to the story.   We thank Ranger Puopolo for his efforts throughout the owlet’s perilous journey.  
Cambridge Park Ranger Tim Puopolo sums up the Fresh Pond owlet drama in his excellent presentation, The Owlet Debriefed, Saturday, June 30, 2018.  Photos by John Harrison.
  The raptor season after the Fresh Pond Owlet was a raptorpalooza!  The Woburn Peregrine Falcon female was sitting on eggs – in a new nest on another part of the cliffs, better for them and closer for us.  Once the eggs hatched and we were able to see into the nest, we were able to ascertain that there were four chicks.  Fantastic.  As the Woburn Peregrine drama was unfolding, we had two Barred Owl chicks to watch at nearby Horn Pond in Woburn.  They were in a tree cavity close to the path with no obstructions.  As if that wasn’t enough to keep us busy, we had one Bald Eagle chick hatch in Waltham.  Once the Eaglet was present, we were able to watch the parent Eagles come to the nest regularly to feed the hatchling.  So we then had three exciting birds of prey nests to watch.  But that’s not all.  Soon we had four hatchling American Kestrels in Medford.  That prolific adult pair of Kestrels was back in action, as they have been for the past few years.  For birders and photographers to have Peregrine, Bald Eagle, Barred Owl and Kestrel chicks to watch at the same time is a bonanza.  Really, too much of a good thing.  It became a case of too many nests, not enough time.  
  Making regular visits to these nests became our daily activity.  Once the Peregrine chicks began showing
themselves, the Woburn cliffs was the primary meeting place.  That’s where the ‘action’ was!
The chicks in early June.  Photos by John Harrison.
I would usually get to the cliffs around 6am, finding a few photographers there already.  This year the nest was in a different part of the cliffs.  A much better position for us than the nest the previous two years.  It was lower and much more visible.  This nest was used four years ago but they tried the other nest for three years after that.  Two years ago,  when there was one chick,  Tom French of Mass Fisheries and Wildlife declined banding the lone chick because he felt that getting to that nest was too precarious and dangerous.  He had no problem with the new nest and on June 18th banded all four chicks.  This was such a rare thing for us to witness.  One of Tom French’s staffers, Jesse Caney,  rappelled down the cliff with a sack.  As
Jesse Caney places the four chicks in a sack then rappeles to the ground.  In the left image the adult Peregrine is near Jesse.  Photos by John Harrison.
While this was happening, the parent Peregrines were frantic.  They were flying around buzzing the staffer, who was wearing a hard hat and sun glasses.  You can see and hear the parents in these two videos.  Jesse carefully placed the chicks in the sack, one by one, and then lowered the sack to the ground where Tom French and Travis Drudi were waiting.  We gathered around and were able to watch  as each chick was banded, on each leg,  We were even able to touch the chicks.  Such a privilege. 
Photographer Kim Nagy touches one of the Peregrine chicks (L) and Kim with Jesse Caney of Mass Fisheries and Wildlife (R).  Photos by John Harrison.
Peregrine chick after being banded (L) and Travis Drudi of Fisheries and Wildlife showing one of the chicks.  Photos by John Harrison.
Tom French interview with WBZ as Dave Goodine watches the Peregrines (L) and Tom French with Peregrine chick as Ursula Goodine of Eastern MA Hawk Watch looks on.  Photos by John Harrison.
Tom French applies bands to the Peregrine chicks.  Monday, June 18, 2018.  Photos by John Harrison.
After banding them they made the return trip to the nest.  They were carefully placed back in the nest and Jesse continued up to the top of the cliffs.  Ten minutes later the mother Peregrine was in the nest with the chicks as if nothing had happened.  Here are videos of the actual banding. ;  Once the four chicks fledgled, activity around the cliffs was. well, bonkers.  They landed on telephone poles and had prey brought to them by the parents and they engaged in mock-combat above us, bumping each other, locking talons and catching food dropped in the air by the parents.  It was exhilarating to watch. 
Peregrine fledgling with prey and Peregrine father and fledgling flying.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Peregrines flying and engaging in mock-combat.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Peregrine with prey being followed by fledgling and chase action.  Photos by Jim Renault.
We should get to enjoy these Peregrine fledglings through August.  Once they learn to hunt on their own, the parents will disperse them to find their own territories.  I can’t imagine another Peregrine family anywhere in the world followed so closely and completely as this Woburn family.
Peregrine fledglings bathing.  Photos by John Harrison.
Peregrine fledgling in flight with prey and fledgling being harassed by Mockingbird.  Photos by John Harrison.
Peregrine fledglings with prey.  Photos by John Harrison.
  Local ‘Peregrine Whisperer’ Craig Gibson, who has been following several Peregrine nests in the area for many years,  including Woburn, organized a Peregrine monitoring group for the Woburn Cliffs Peregrine activity.  The group, consisting of about twenty of us photographers, submit our photographs and observations of the daily Peregrine activities.  In this way we learn more about this species.  The group’s efforts will culminate in an exhibit of its photographs at Hunt’s Photo and video
in Melrose in the late fall.
 Peregrine photographers at the Woburn cliffs.  Photos by John Harrison. 
  The Barred Owl pair at Horn Pond and their two owlets kept us busy from mid to late May.  This was 
another close, unobstructed nest for us to watch.
 Barred Owl chick, Horn Pond, Woburn and Barred Owl fledgling in flight.  Photos by John Harrison.
This family had many watchers and photographers observing them day after day.  They were unperturbed.  We watched the two owlets grow and within a couple of days of each other they both fledged.  We were able to find them for a couple of days after fledging in the nest-tree area but after that they were enjoying the forest around them and there was only a fleeting glimpse now and then.  
  In Waltham we began watching the Bald Eagle chick toward the end of May.  It didn’t move from the nest for a few weeks.  We wondered if it was ever going to fledge.  Meanwhile we had some great encounters with the adult Bald Eagles in the trees around the nest.  Occasionally one of the adults would be on an unobstructed branch, with the blue sky behind it.  That was perfect for a takeoff sequence.  
Adult Bald Eagle takes off after being harassed by Mockingbird.  Photos by John Harrison.
Bald Eagle in flight near nest.  Photos by John Harrison.
However, when  one of the adults was comfortably perched on a branch, it might not move for hours!  After the first hour you felt invested and were determined to wait until it took off.  After another hour resolve might fade.  Sometimes we would wait and other times we would throw in the towel and leave.  But if we waited and it took off toward us, it was always well worth the wait.  Sometimes after a couple of hours it would turn around and fly away from us.  We would sigh but we understood that that’s the business we’re in. Finally the hatchling Eagle fledged.  Even after fledging it wasn’t very active.  We would watch it for an hour or two and it would suddenly fly from the nest in a circle and come right back to the nest.  To capture action from this 
Eagle in flight often required a long wait.
 Bald Eagle fledgling in flight.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Bald Eagle fledgling in flight, Tues. July 31, 2018.  Photos by John Harrison.
Peregrine fledgling.  Photos by John Harrison.
But on the other hand, to capture adult Bald Eagles or fledglings in flight was worth waiting for. On July 31, after watching it for a half hour, the fledgling even squawked for me.  Another half hour after that it took off, circling the area once, giving me a nice fly-over opportunity.
The four Medford Kestrel chicks were very active toward the end of June.  On my first visit to the park, on June 26, I found all four chicks flying around and landing on the light poles and telephone poles, as we witnessed in past years.  I watched the parents bringing prey to the chicks on these poles.   On subsequent visits, as the chicks grew, they would land on the ground foraging for
beetles, moths, dragonflies and other insects.
 Kestrel fledgling eating moth (L) and pair of fledglings on light pole.  Photos by John Harrison.
Peregrine in flight above grass and landing on light pole with prey.  Photos by John Harrison.
They will do this in addition to the prey that the parents bring.  Once they learn to hunt, the visits to the ground for insects, etc., would slow down.  Last year this Kestrel pair had a second clutch of two chicks.  A second clutch for this species is rare so we were appreciative to have another chance with these Kestrel adults and their second brood.  We’re not expecting a second brood this season, though it’s a possibility, since the pair accomplished this feat once already.
  On July 7 photographer Kim Nagy and I made our annual visit to Star Island of the Isles of Shoals to see the nesting Great Black-backed Gulls.  We were right on time.  There were many gull chicks
to watch as we walked on the cliffs.
 Great Black-backed Gull chicks and mother.  Star Island.  Photos by John Harrison.
Kim Nagy with a Great Black-backed Gull chick behind her and photographing the gulls on the cliffs.  Photos by John Harrison.
When we did this last year we got caught in a thunder storm as we watched the gulls.  It was great watching them on a cool day with a blue sky.   And Star Island is a pleasant place to spend a day.  This year we took the ferry from the  Rye, NH marina.  This is a shorter trip than from Portsmouth, NH. 
  Raptor breeding season pretty much shuts down in August and we look toward the shore birds at Plum Island – and the spectacular Tree Swallow migration.  Looking up into a sky filled with Tree Swallows everywhere you look is a sight that never gets old.  It’s wondrous and it will be happening soon.  And after that fall migration will be upon us.  There’s no end to this great season, which is just fine with us…….
The Tree Swallows of Plum Island, August 2017.
Photo by John Harrison. 

The Heroic Little Owlet of Cambridge

 The bird is the wild element we crave that erases the highway and the sadness of modern life.  Jonathan Rosen, The Life of the Skies   

  The winter season ended as it had begun – with the Snowy Owls.  Especially the one at Salisbury that we named STAR GUY because of its star-like tendencies.  It seemed to like people and ‘performed’ for birders and photographers day after day, even landing on the ground now and then,  It was a glimpse into this species unlike any other.  We had plenty of opportunities to see it fly and were able to watch it take prey occasionally. The antics of this owl even eclipsed the memorable Salisbury Snowies of 2014.  STAR GUY was a singular sensation.  The night before the temp reached the 80’s, STAR GUY was on his way back to the Arctic.  Snowy Owl with prey ) 
Snowy Owls, Salisbury Beach State Park.  Photos by John Harrison.
Snowy Owls, Salisbury Beach State Park.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Photographer Kim Nagy (L) and photographer Peter Lewicki (R), Salisbury Beach State Park.  Photos by John Harrison.
  As is said, when one door closes, another opens.  In this case the other door was once again owls.  This time with the pair of Great Horned Owls at Fresh Pond in Cambridge.  This pair successfully fledged two owlets last year and had another two born in March of this year.  One of those two fell out of the nest early and didn’t survive.  The  remaining owlet, on April 12th, also fell out of the nest.  However, it was a bit older and stronger and instinct kicked in and its wings opened as a parachute and the little owlet made a soft landing on its feet, seemingly unhurt. 
Great Horned Owlet, Fresh Pond, Cambridge, the day it fell from the nest, April 12th (L) and on April 17th (R).   Photos by John Harrison.
 It sat on the ground, day after day, looking around curiously.  It didn’t seem hurt but we couldn’t be sure.  At this point, birder Susan Moses surrounded the area with ‘caution’ tape to keep watchers from getting too close and a sign was posted for dog walkers to keep their dogs leashed because of the ‘grounded owl.’ .
Fresh Pond Owlet site.  Photos by John Harrison.
This worked well and everyone could watch the owl without being too close to cause it undue stress.  And of course the parent owls were always up in trees nearby keeping watch over their kid.  If any predator were to get close to this owlet, day or night, the fierce adult owls would have dealt with it.  It was therefore safe to gain strength day by day without fear until it could ultimately fly on its own.  Slowly it moved and  five days later, on April 17th, was sitting calmly at the base of a tree about a city block in distance from where it fell on April 12th.   The following morning,  April 18th,  the owlet was on a branch four or five feet above the ground.  This was a good sign that it was progressing as it should.  
Owlet on April 18th, with mother owl on a tree above watching.  Photos by John Harrison.
Mother owl in flight with prey (L) and mother about to feed prey to the owlet (R).  Photos by Jim Renault.
 Certainly mom and dad were encouraging their owlet to move overnight.  Great Horned Owls are nocturnal so there was certainly much activity night after night getting the owlet stronger.  Two weeks after the fall from the nest, April 26th, it was obvious that the owlet was getting stronger.   

On Saturday, April 28th, a milestone was reached for the owlet.  We watched it take its first short flight. 

The owlet learning to fly.  Photos by John Harrison.

Mother and owlet together, May 3rd.  Photos by Kim Nagy.

On Friday, May 11th, the mother and owlet were together way up in a pine, triumphant after the month-long perilous journey.  In coming days the owlet will be harder and harder to find, which is as it should be.  As I have observed through the years, birds of prey are attentive parents.  The mother and father owls  were watching their offspring 24 hours a day.  They fed it over night and kept it from harm.  Therefore many of us had the rare good fortune to watch this drama unfold.  It is reminiscent of that other great Cambridge birds of prey drama, the Red-tailed Hawks, Buzz and Ruby, of 185 Alewife in 2010 and 2011.  The Cambridge Chronicle related the story of our heroic little owlet in its May 3rd edition.

  While watching our owlet drama unfold we would occasionally see a warbler land on a nearby tree.  The owlet fell from the nest on April 12th, which is the time of year when the early arrival spring migrants, the warblers, begin filtering in.  When May began, our owl-watching usually coincided with visits to Mount Auburn Cemetery to see if any warblers had arrived.  I would check on the owlet around 6:30am then go to Mount Auburn for a while and then go back to the owlet after leaving Mount Auburn.  The usual suspect warblers were arriving right on time – Yellow-rumped’s, Black-throated Blues and Greens, Chestnut-sided’s, Magnolias, Yellows, Pines, a couple of Blackburnians and a couple of Cape May’s.  I was lucky enough to catch a half hour with a Scarlet Tanager on May 9th, but missed the rare Cerulean Warbler that wowed a bunch of watchers a few days before early in the morning.  My one and only Cerulean was at Mount Auburn Cemetery in April of 2009.  It is uncommon around here.
Black & White Warbler (L) and Scarlet Tanager (R), Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photos by John Harrison.
The elusive Cerulean Warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery, April 2009.  Photos by John Harrison.
  We had another uncommon visitor in late April and early May at the Arlington Reservoir,  A 1st year male Blue Grosbeak, which attracted birders from all over.  The bird pretty much stayed at the water’s edge on one path at the reservoir so was relatively easy to find day after day. 
Blue Grosbeak, Arlington Reservoir.  Photos by John Harrison.
  Plum Island was awash with warblers on Saturday, May 5th.  Photographer Kim Nagy and I intended to go to Hellcat Trail to look for them there but there was so much going on at various points along the road – especially the usually exciting S-curve area – that we didn’t get to Hellcat until a couple of hours later.
Prairie Warbler (L) and Black & White (R), Plum Island.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Magnolia Warbler (L), Black-throated Blue (R), Plum Island.  Photos by John Harrison.
Northern Parula (L), Yellow-rumped Warbler (R), Plum Island.  Photos by John Harrison.
  On May 9th and 10th photographer Kim Nagy was at Magee Marsh in Oak Harbor, Ohio on the southern shore of Lake Erie.  It is one of the premiere spring migration locations in the country.  She had many exhilarating moments at the marsh, adding several new species to her long list,
Magnolia Warbler (L), Bald Eagle nest, (R), Magee Marsh.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Blue-winged Warbler (L), American Redstart (R), Magee Marsh.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Yellow Warbler (L), Scarlet Tanager (R), Magee Marsh.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Cape May Warbler (L), Blackburnian Warbler (R), Magee Marsh.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Prothonotary Warbler, Magee Marsh.  Photos by Kim Nagy.

The Snow(y) Season

 The great trick of birdwatching, which gives it such large application, is holding things in balance.  It is seeing infinity in the common.  Jonathan Rosen, The Life of the Skies
  Last time, four nor’easters ago(!), we had had some good luck with our favorite Snowy Owls, mostly in Rye, NH but also in Hampton, NH,  Salisbury and Plum Island.  In the past month, despite the weather onslaught, we’ve had even more Snowy Owl opportunities and a few other surprises.   Our favorite Snowy Owl, Rocky of Rye Beach, has been there for us on almost every Saturday that we’ve searched for him.  Sometimes it’s on a nearby roof and sometimes in the marsh across from the beach parking lot and sometimes on the rocks on the beach.  One morning in the middle of the week I pulled into the parking lot and looked across toward the water and could see Rocky perched on a park bench.  I was able to snap some close photos and videos until after an hour it took off and landed on what has become its favorite roof, next to a chimney surrounded by a grate. It remained on that roof, quite comfortable, and after an hour and a half I left Rye for Hampton, figuring that Rocky might sit on that roof all day.
                                                Rocky on park bench at Rye Beach.  Photo by 
                                                John Harrison.
                                                Rocky on park bench at Rye Beach.  Photo by
                                                John Harrison.
                                                Rocky takes off from park bench at Rye Beach. 
                                                Photo by John Harrison.
                                                Rocky on his favorite roof next to Rye Beach.  
                                                Photo by Kim Nagy.
                                         We also had Rocky take off for us from the Rye marsh on another Saturday morning, flying up to a telephone pole very near us.  It remained on that pole for only a few minutes and took off to a roof.   Rocky was really active that morning, finally flying to the top of a pine before we said goodbye.
                                                 Rocky lands on roof near Rye Beach.  Photo by 
                                                 John Harrison.
                                                 Rocky on roof near Rye Beach.  Photo by John
                                                 Rocky on roof near Rye Beach.  Photo by John
                                                 Rocky takes off from telephoner pole near Rye
                                                 Beach.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
  The Hampton Beach Snowy Owl, though not as dependable as Rocky, has been relatively easy to find now and then. ;  One morning it was perched on the roof of the beach buildings.  Another morning it was perched on a dune very close, unobstructed, with the cobalt blue sky behind it.  As it sat on the dune, a juvenile Bald Eagle flew over.  The Snowy looked up and followed the eagle with its eyes.  We thought it might be uncomfortable enough to take off because of the eagle, but it stayed put and we had a nice opportunity to photograph the gliding eagle.
Snowy Owl sees Bald Eagle, Hampton Beach.   Snowy Owl, Hampton Beach, Photo by John
Photo by Kim Nagy.                                                Harrison.
Immature Bald Eagle watched by the Snowy Owl, Hampton Beach.  Photos by John Harrison.
On another Snowy search at Hampton Beach a couple of Snow Buntings hopped around on the snow near the dunes.
Snow Bunting, Hampton Beach.  Photos by John Harrison.
                                                 Photographer Kim Nagy watches a Snowy Owl 
                                                 on a dune along Hampton Beach.  Photo by John
                                                                                                                                    Watching a Snowy Owl on the dune along 
                                                 Hampton Beach.  Photo by John Harrison.
  It seems that most of our recent surprises have been discovered while looking for our Snowies.  While tooling around Salisbury Beach State Park we came upon a group from Mass Audubon photographing a brilliant Merlin perched on a tree.  It stayed on that tree for about thirty minutes, giving us ample time for photographs and videos and it even gave us an indication when it was about to take off and we were ready for that. 
                                                 Merlin takes off at Salisbury Beach State Park. 
                                                 Photo by Kim Nagy.
                                                 Merlin at Salisbury Beach State Park.  Photo by
                                                 John Harrison.                           
  In 2014 most of the Snowy Owl encounters occurred at Salisbury Beach State Park.  If we didn’t see at least three of them on any visit, it wasn’t a good day.  This year Salisbury hasn’t been a good site for Snowies.  Mostly there have been sightings far into the marsh.  But on Tuesday, March 20, on my way back from Rye and Hampton, I drove along the causeway at Salisbury and quickly noticed several cars parked along the road, always a good sign, and as I got closer I could see the form of the owl relatively close in the marsh.  I was able to acquire video of the owl eating snow and preening and scratching.  The hoped-for takeoff didn’t occur, but catching it eating snow was a coup.   
Snowy Owl, Salisbury Beach State Park, Tuesday, March 20, 2018.  Photo by John Harrison.
  On another one of our Saturday morning Snowy Owl expeditions we found one on a telephone pole along 1A in Hampton.  We spent some time with that owl and continued on toward Rye.  Just a minute further along 1A photographer Kim Nagy spotted a Cooper’s hawk perched on a tree,  We were able to photograph that for a minute or so before it took off like a bullet.
 Cooper’s Hawk.  Photo by Kim Nagy.               Cooper’s Hawk.  Photo by John Harrison.
On the way back from Rye we drove the loop around the Salisbury reserve.  We parked and walked to the beach to see if the seals were on the rocks.  The tide was low so the rocks were visible and there were many seals sunning themselves on the rocks and doing other ‘seal stuff.’  They’re always fun to watch.   After Salisbury our final stop, usually, is at Plum Island.  Kim Nagy caught a look at ‘The Gray Ghost,’ the adult Harrier Hawk, on Saturday, March 10.  This is the iconic bird of Plum Island, always sought by birders.  And the juvenile Red-tailed Hawk was on hand, giving us a nice fly-over, hovering right above us.  There were also Red-breasted Mergansers in the pools along the road.
Harrier Hawk, Gray Ghost, Plum Island.  Photo    Seals, Salisbury.  Photo by John Harrison.
by Kim Nagy. 
Red-breasted Merganser and juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, Plum Island.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
  Plum Island has yielded other great moments this season.   Of course the juvenile Red-tailed Hawk is seen often along the bridge road as well as in the reserve itself.  On February 24th as we were going over the bridge near Plum we noticed a bunch of people below the bridge, cameras aimed into the marsh.  We saw that white apparition in the marsh.  A Snowy for sure.  We pulled into the parking area and set up our tripods and photographed this particularly striking Snowy.  Its magical eyes were wide open and it looked around continuously.  After about a half hour it took off and flew to the chimney of the ‘pink house’ near the bridge.
Snowy Owl, marsh below bridge at Plum Island.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Snowy Owl on chimney of the ‘pink house’ near the bridge at Plum Island.  The transmitter antenna on this owl, fitted by Norm Smith,  is visible.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
 While talking to some of the other photographers present, we learned that this Snowy Owl had been released at Plum Island that very morning by Norm Smith, who had trapped this one at Logan Airport.  Looking closely at this new release, we noticed an antenna wire on its back.  Norm Smith occasionally attaches transmitters to some of the owls he captures.  This enables them to be tracked on the Project Snowstorm site  ( At this site you can track Snowy Owls that have been fitted with transmitters and learn what Norm and others at Project Snowstorm are up to.
Snowy Owl, Plum Island.  This owl was released earlier in the day by Norm Smith.  The transmitter antenna is visible.  Photos by John Harrison.
Norm has been immersed in Snowy Owls for decades.  He has trapped and released hundreds of them.  Here are some videos of one of Norm’s Snowy Owl releases at Parking Lot #1, Plum Island, on February 22, 2014, the year of the largest Snowy Owl irruption in history.
  Though the Snowies have been our principal preoccupation, there have been other things happening.  We check in at the Woburn cliffs regularly to see how our Peregrine Falcon pair are doing.  They’re in good shape.  They have been mating often and we’re hopeful of a successful brood this season.  Last year’s attempt failed.  There were no offspring.  We’re rooting for them to succeed this season.  I have caught them on telephone poles in the area often, especially the female.  Usually, if I’m patient, I get a takeoff opportunity within and hour or so.
Peregrine Falcon, female, Woburn cliffs.  Photos by John Harrison.
  It’s been slow lately at Mount Auburn Cemetery.  The Screech Owl on Vesper Ave. hasn’t been sighted in a while.  The Great Horned Owls have been seen now and then.  The last couple of sightings have been of only one owl.  Probably the male, Alexander The Great (Horned Owl).  Of course we’re hoping that the absence of the female means that it is nesting.  The last successful Great Horned Owl nest at the cemetery was in 2011 and every year since we check the Dell regularly looking for signs of another successful nest.  A pair of Hooded Mergansers have been at Willow Pond and Auburn Lake at the cemetery the past month.    
Hooded Mergansers, Willow Pond, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photos by John Harrison.
  The Mystic Lakes Bald Eagles have become a winter staple.  There are adults and juveniles entertaining us at the lakes all winter.  Photographer Jim Renault had five Bald Eagles on the ice at the lakes at one time.  Too many to get into one photograph!  No need to go to Alaska.  Plenty of Bald Eagle action in our own back yard.
Bald Eagles, Mystic Lakes.  Photos by Jim Renault.
Bald Eagles, Mystic Lakes.  Photos by Jim Renault.
Bald Eagles, Mystic :Lakes.  Photo by Jim 
Bald Eagle, Mystic Lakes.  Photos by John Harrison.
  Hunt’s Photo of Melrose and the Mystic River Watershed Association have teamed up for a Bald Eagle photograph exhibit.  Ten local photographers have submitted Bald Eagle photographs which were mounted and framed by Hunt’s Photo.  One can bid on these photographs with the proceeds aiding the Mystic River Watershed Association  Here is the press release:
  Celebrating the Bald Eagle in the Mystic River Watershed
By 1905 hunting and habitat destruction had decimated the Massachusetts Bald Eagle population. Nationally, the use of DDT, a dangerous chemical insecticide introduced in the mid-20th century, caused the Bald Eagle population to decline dramatically. This chronic and exponential population loss led to our national bird arriving on the federally Endangered species list in 1967!
Valiant efforts to ban DDT and an elaborate plan to relocate forty-one Bald Eagles from Michigan and Canada to the Quabbin Reservoir in 1982 resulted in astonishing, steady population growth. Thanks to the successful relocation, and major efforts to protect and restore habitat, you can once again find this majestic bird perched in tall roost trees or gliding gracefully along the Mystic Lakes! While we celebrate one of the greatest conservation success stories of our time, our local photographers are skillfully documenting this remarkable homecoming.
On Sunday, March 25th from 3:00-5:00pm, Hunt’s Photo and Video will host a free, public reception for their Bald Eagle Exhibit, a gallery featuring 20 breathtaking Bald Eagle photographs captured by local photographers. Marj Rines and Paul Roberts, local bird experts, will share remarks on the history of Bald Eagles in and around the Mystic Lakes and the extended watershed. Three winning photographs will be announced. 
Marj Rhines, of the Menotomy Bird Club, spoke to this new phenomenon saying, “twenty years ago I still hadn’t seen a Bald Eagle on the Mystic Lakes. Around that time, my aunt who lived in Winchester called to say she had seen an eagle. I was so jealous and spent a lot of time that winter searching until I finally saw one. I was terribly excited! Since then, it has become far more routine to see them. Some winters you can see 2-3 perched in trees or on ice at the same time.” The Menotomy Bird Club has it’s origins in the early Bald Eagle appearances- local birders would often run into each other on the Mystic Lakes searching for the eagles and built a community around these experiences.
From March 1st– March 31st Hunt’s Photo and Video will also hold an online auction featuring the Bald Eagle images in the gallery. Visit the auction website (listed below) to place bids on these beautiful signed and framed photographs. Proceeds from the auction will benefit Mystic River Watershed Association, the Arlington-based environmental advocacy organization working to protect and restore the Mystic River, its tributaries, and watershed lands.
Mystic River Watershed Association is thrilled to benefit from this auction and celebrate the natural history of the Mystic River with Hunt’s Photo and Video.
Check out to view and bid on the images.
About the Mystic River Watershed Association:
The Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) works to improve the lives of the more than half million residents of Mystic River communities through its efforts to protect and restore water quality, natural habitat and open space throughout the 76 square mile watershed. 
  The Red-winged Blackbirds, those harbingers of spring, are all around us now.  The Snowies will soon leave for their long journeys to the Arctic.  Our thoughts now turn to the monarchs of spring – the warblers.  It won’t be long before we’re in the Dell at Mount Auburn Cemetery or the S-curve at
Plum Island searching for the Cape Mays, Black-throated Blues, Yellow-rumpeds, Magnolias, Chestnut-sideds, Scarlet Tanagers and the rest of the glorious cast.  The sooner the better!
Red-winged Blackbird and Cape May Warbler.  Photos by John Harrison.  
  Dr. John Hadidian, retired senior scientist for wildlife of the Humane Society of the United States and contributor to Dead In Good Company – A Celebration of Mount Auburn Cemetery was recently in Minnesota and had a trail camera set up in front of a farmhouse.  This motion-sensor unit captured these moments with a Bobcat and a Groundhog.  John reported that the Bobcat was not successful taking the Groundhog.  It escaped to prognosticate the arrival time of spring in Minnesota…...Minnesota Phil?

“The Rock” (?) Returns to Rye

In order to see the birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.  Robert Lynd

After a brief respite from winter with photographer/co-editor of DEAD IN GOOD COMPANY Kim Nagy’s adventure at the Chan Chich Lodge in Belize, we are back in reality.  Winter in New England.  After the great Snowy Owl irruption of 2013-14, every year since one of our first questions as fall ends and winter begins is , “Will there be Snowy Owls this season?”  This year Snowies were being seen early in many areas in the northern US.  Birding experts were theorizing that this was going to be another irruption year.  Perhaps as big – or even bigger – than 2013-14.  Music to our owl kooks’ ears!

Thus far we haven’t seen those large numbers around here – yet.  We’ve had a few Snowy encounters at Plum Island (on one day five Snowies were reportedly seen at Plum, though mostly far away in the marshes).  I had a nice encounter with a Snowy as it perched on a dune along the beach at parking lot #7 on November 26th.  

70SNOWYOWLPLUMXXXXSUNNPV2620171739 0199Snowy Owl, Plum Island, Nov. 26, 2017.  Photo by John Harrison

70SNOWYOWLPLUMXXXXSUNNOV2620171739 0209Snowy Owl, Plum Island, Nov. 26, 2017.  Photo by John Harrison.

I didn’t have another close encounter until January 9th at the Plum Island maintenance shed, where it was perched pretty close on a wooden stake in the ground in the marsh.  It stayed there for a few minutes until it took off and landed on a pine at the back of the maintenance shed area, where it stayed for nearly a half hour. 01SNOWYOWLPLUMXXXXTUESJAN0920181741 2946Snowy Owl, Plum Island, Jan. 09, 2018.  Photo by John Harrison.

01SNOWYOWLPLUMXXXXTUESJAN0920181741 3030Snowy Owl, Plum Island, Jan. 09, 2018.  Photo by John Harrison.

01SNOWYOWLPLUMXXXXTUESJAN0920181741 2950Snowy Owl, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.

Those beautiful eyes were open as it looked around curiously from the top of that pine.  Finally it took off and landed on a block of ice far away.  

  In 2013-14 the best Snowy Owl activity was at Salisbury Beach State Reservation.  We visited that site at least two or three times a week.  If we didn’t see at least four Snowies at Salisbury, up close and personal, it was a bad day.  So far there have only been a couple of Snowy sightings at Salisbury, so if this is going to be a big irruption year, it’s late starting.  But all has not been lost at Salisbury Beach.  We had a couple of interesting encounters with Horned Larks and a very cooperative Merlin one morning.71HORNEDLARKSALISBURYXXXXSUNDEC3120171740 2326Horned Lark, Salisbury.  Photo by John Harrison


Merlin, Salisbury.  Photo by John Harrison.
69MERLINSALISBURYXXXXWEDNOV1520171738 9264 - Copy (2) - Copy
Merlin, Salisbury.  Photo by John Harrison.
  One of the Snowy Owl staples for us since 2014 has been ‘Rocky’ at Rye Beach, NH.  Kim Nagy and I were at Hampton Beach hoping to see a Snowy in 2014 and a woman told Kim she had just left Rye Beach and there was a Snowy perched on the rocks there.  We immediately headed to that location, fifteen minutes away, and as we drove into the parking lot we could see a crowd of cameras aimed at the rocks with the ocean roiling behind.  We quickly made our way to the gathered photogs and there on the black rocks was this gleaming white magnificent owl.  We watched it for a long time, mesmerized.  The tide was coming in and as the waves got closer, slapping the rocks and splashing water closer and closer to the owl, we knew it would soon take off.  And it did, and the audience of photographers were ready for it.  It was a fantastic opportunity.  The owl flew to another part of the beach and landed next to a piece of driftwood, another great photo op.  Kim named that Snowy Rocky.  Every year since then that owl has returned to Rye Beach.  We feel it’s the same owl since it always spends a great deal of time on the rocks and that driftwood and exhibits the same behavior patterns every year.   On the other hand, it’s usually the young owls that come down during an irruption and the Rocky of 2013-14 would be five years older now.  It is perhaps unlikely that it’s the same owl.  But for us, it’s the spirit of Rocky.  Kim and I had a wonderful reunion with our pal Rocky on Sunday afternoon, January 14th.  The fifth year in a row.
from KIM Rocky puffed up
Snowy Owl Rocky, Rye Beach.  Photo by Kim Nagy. 
  Looks like Rocky likes to vacation at Rye Beach, NH!  So though this hasn’t so far been anything like the irruption of 2013-14, we are hopeful that it yet might be.  And even if it isn’t, we’ve had another visit by Rocky (or maybe Rocky’s grandson or granddaughter), and that counts for a lot.     
  In addition to being reunited with Rocky that day, we also had a great encounter with a small flock of Snow Buntings.  Kim spotted them on the roof of the shack in the parking lot and they soon flew down to the ground on the snow.  While searching for Rocky, we also watched a flock of Purple Sandpipers on the rocks.
from KIM Snow Bunting on roof looking left
Snow Bunting, Rye Beach.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM Snow Bunting walking down roof
Snow Bunting, Rye Beach.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Purple Sandpipers, Rye Beach.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM purple sandpiper wings up on rock
Purple Sandpipers, Rye Beach.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Purple Sandpiper, Rye Beach.  Photo by John Harrison.
They gave us plenty of opportunity to photograph and take videos of them.  Snow Buntings are a striking species and those colors with the white snow as background was perfect. 
  We left Rocky and the Snow Buntings and went to nearby Rye Marina, where in the past couple of years we have had good luck with Loons diving for crabs.  As we drove toward the pier we spotted a couple of Loons and knew it was going to be a great encounter.  We were able to photograph them diving for an hour.
from KIM Loon eating crab
Loon with crab, Rye Marina.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
On one dive instead of coming up with a crab, the Loon seemed to have a writhing eel in its beak.  They had quite a battle.  The eel wrapped itself around the Loon’s beak and they wrestled for a while.
Loon with eel, Rye Marina.  Photo by John Harrison.
The Loon would dive under every minute or so and come back up with the eel.  Finally the Loon came up after a dive and the eel was gone.  It seems like the eel won that battle and the Loon let it go.  That was probably the better part of valor.  The eel was just too much for the Loon.  It’s better off staying with the crabs.  Nevertheless, it was exciting to watch that struggle.
  There have been a couple of surprises this season at Dunback Meadow in Lexington.  A bunch (yes, bunch) of Long-eared Owls have been hanging around in the pines near the ball field for a couple of months now.  On Sunday morning, January 21st, four Long-ears were huddled at the top of a pine and a lone Long-ear was in a nearby tree.
Long-eared Owl, Dunback Meadow.  Photo by John Harrison.
Five of this species in one area is quite amazing.  This has been a life-bird for many of us.  Of course the other side of the coin is that they perch at the top of the tree behind branches and foliage.  It’s always difficult to photograph them and even when we’re able to catch a moment with the open eyes, it’s obstructed.
Long-eared Owl eyes open, Dunback Meadow.  Photo by John Harrison.
Long-eared Owl, eyes open, Dunback Meadow.  Photo by John Harrison.
Long-eared Owl, Dunback Meadow.  Photo by Jim Renault.
Unlike Great-horned Owls which we have photographed often at Mount Auburn Cemetery on open branches with no obstructions, Long-ears are very private and just don’t give us moments like that.  Too bad.  Owls are always compelling and it’s frustrating to have so many of them there and we’re unable to get good photographs.
  The other Dunback Meadow surprise, a pair of Rough-legged Hawks, is the other side of the coin.  This pair flies around the meadows past the four-corners and gave us multiple opportunities to catch them.  Photographer Jim Renault has had several especially great encounters with this pair.
Rough-legged Hawk, Dunback Meadow.  Photo by Jim Renault.
Rough-legged Hawk, Dunback Meadow.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
Rough-legged Hawk pair, Dunback Meadow.  Photo by John Harrison.
On Wednesday, Jan. 24, I had several encounters with a pair of Rough-legged Hawks at Plum Island.  At times the hawk hovered over me looking right into my eyes.  Quite thrilling.
Rough-legged Hawk, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
Rough-legged Hawk, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
Another thrilling encounter was at Plum Island where, after years and years of frustration trying to capture some good moments with Harrier Hawks, a pair of them performed for me for more than an hour, flying together and landing and hovering near parking lot #1.  Patience pays off, sooner or later.
69HARRIERHAWKPLUMXXXXTHURSNOV0920171738 8770 - Copy - Copy - Copy
Harrier Hawk, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison. 
Harrier Hawk, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
I was on my way to Plum Island one morning and saw a couple of photographers along the road in front of the airfield with cameras aimed across the street at the telephone wire.  I pulled into the parking area and saw that they were photographing a striking Cooper’s Hawk.
 70COOPERSHAWKPLUMISLANDXXXXTUESNOV2120171739 9596 - Copy - Copy - Copy
Cooper’s Hawk, Plum Island.  Photo  by John Harrison.
Cooper’s Hawk, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
We had it for almost a half hour.  In that time it took off twice for prey (unsuccessfully) and then returned to the telephone wire.  A very serendipitous encounter.  
  We ended the month, on January 27, actually, going to Rye Beach hoping to see Rocky.  Rocky wasn’t on hand but we had some nice moments with the Loons and other ducks, Scoters, Buffleheads and Barrows Goldeneye among them.  And in Salisbury we saw some Mergansers, both Common and Hooded.
from KIM barrows goldeneye
Barrows Goldeneye, Rye Marina.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM merganser take off 2
Common Merganser, Salisbury.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM hoodie male swimming left
Hooded Merganser, Salisbury.  Photo by Kim Nagy. 
On the way to Salisbury Beach Reservation Kim noticed several photographers with cameras aimed into the marsh.  We left the main road and went to the end of the next side street and sure enough the photographers were photographing a Snowy Owl.  It was mission accomplished.  We had our Snowy.
Snowy Owl, Salisbury.  Photo by John Harrison.
Snowy Owl, Salisbury.  Photo by John Harrison.
Snowy Owl, Salisbury.  Photo by John Harrison.
Snowy Owl groupies, Salisbury.  Photo by John Harrison.
We watched and photographed it for almost three hours, of course hoping it would take off for us.  The lighting was perfect and it would have been a great opportunity.  But that owl was just too comfortable.  So after that three hours we gave in and left.  We hate doing that, but it looked like that Snowy might sit there until sundown.  But we finished the month with our favorite species.  Thus far it’s been a good winter in our pursuit of wildlife!                                        



Kim Nagy at the Chan Chich Lodge in Belize

The bird dares to break the shell, then the shell breaks open and the bird can fly openly.  This is the simplest principle of success.  You dream, you dare and you fly.  Israelmore Ayivor
  Last time, Kim Nagy, wildlife photographer and co-editor of Dead In Good Company, related her adventure birding on Block Island.  Upon reflection, she decided that Block Island just wasn’t far enough away.  So she planned a trip to Belize, more than 700 miles off of the Florida coast.  Here is her story of an exciting week at the Chan Chich Lodge in the jungles of Belize.  (All photographs taken by Kim Nagy).
  A two-seater Cessna and a 22 minute flight from Belize City separated us from the Chan Chich Lodge on the Gallon Jug Estate in northwestern Belize.
   I thought: if I want to see the cats, I have to get on that plane.
  The pilot had delayed the flight for nearly two hours because of two weather fronts, so we waited in Belize City’s small airport. Clumped-up cumulous clouds were turning everything white, and clouds usually meant turbulence, but luckily the flight was smooth.
  Belize is the least-populated country in Central America. We flew over pristine rainforest for those 22 minutes; I counted. Chan Chich Lodge is located in a remote area of pure jungle, surrounded by a 3000 year old, unexcavated Mayan plaza. Chan Chich is the name of a creek next to the property; it means “little bird” in Mayan. The grounds are home to many species of flora and fauna.
chestnut colored woodpecker with berriesChestnut-colored Woodpecker
Buck and turkeyOscillated Turkey
Buck close up front of treesBuck
Royal flycatcher on branch looking left
Royal Flycatcher
baby boa on tree
Baby Boa
purple crowned fairy back view
Purple-crowned Fairy (Hummingbird)
yellow throated on branch
Yellow-throated Warbler
Black cheeked Woodpecker on trunk
Black-cheeked Woodpecker
yellow butterfly
Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly
  The first tour we took was a night safari. We left at dark and drove by moonlight. The oxygen-rich air smelled intoxicating as we drove down the crushed limestone road (the same limestone the Maya used to build their cities). Luis, our guide, shone a high-beam flashlight over the surrounding trees and on the road. Occasionally we stopped, and Luis pointed out Common Pauraques lying quietly in the small depressions. This nocturnal bird lies in wait for insects; they weren’t bothered by the truck or the light, and they were reluctant to fly away.
  We saw boat-billed Flycatchers roosting, as well as Yucatan Nightjars, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, and numerous deer sleeping together in the meadows. It was interesting to see their eyes so close to the ground. They seemed so vulnerable, sleeping with no protection, yet all that open space allowed for plenty of warning from predators.
  Although we didn’t see the coveted jaguar, ocelot, or margay, driving through the jungle under a full moon was an unforgettable experience.
common Pauraque
Common Pauraque
  The shy Spider monkeys gathered around the grounds each afternoon to feed in the area trees. Many females had young with them, so that was a real treat. The loud Howler monkeys were deeper in the jungle.
baby alone on branch
Baby Spider Monkey
baby holding onto mother
Baby Spider Monkey
baby spider looking leftSpider Monkey
mother and baby in trees 2
Mother and baby 
monkey eating fruit looking down
Spider Monkey 
reclining in tree
Spider Monkey 
monkey looking down
Spider Monkey 
  Even though I was thrilled with all the amazing photography, I was really hoping to see my favorite animal, the jaguar.
  Morning safaris left around 5:40 AM, when it was still dark. We would be out for over three hours, so maybe we would see a cat.
  We drove over the same terrain, now bathed in pale morning. A cool and fragrant mist covered the meadows and open spaces; golden light filtered through the trees as the birds awoke and began singing.
  We saw many different habitats and lots of deer. The symbiotic relationship between the cattle and Cattle Egrets was nice to see. Chan Chich is almost self-sustaining, and farm-to-table with grass-fed beef, crops, and Belize’s only coffee plantation (shade-grown organic). We drove by Laguna Verde, a natural lake, and managed to see several raptors: a Roadside Hawk, a Bat Falcon, a White-tailed Kite, American Kestrals, and a Gray Hawk. We saw the national bird of Belize; the Keel-billed Toucan, and many others: Mealy parrots, Eastern Meadowlarks, Red-lored Parrots, Forked-tailed Flycatchers, and so much more!
morning light
Morning light
keel billed toucan
Keel-billed Toucan
bat falcon
Bat Falcon
Forked-tailed Flycatcher on wire
Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Black vulture on post
Black Vulture
Groove-billed Ani Group
Groove-billed Ani group
Roadside Hawk talon clenched
Roadside Hawk
Two cows with cattle egrets
Cattle with Egrets
Cattle Egret leaving cow
Cattle Egret 
Two Bucks in morning light
doe facing right
Laguna Verde dock submerged
Laguna Verde
  Chan Chich also offered tours to well-known Maya sites, and we visited Lamani, (“submerged crocodile”), which had been occupied by the Maya for 3000 years. We drove a few hours to the New River, and then took a 26 mile boat ride to the ruins.
  On the river, we saw the endangered Snail Kite (They are doing fairly well in Belize, because there are few people and less pollution). When our guide stopped the boat to pull closer to shore, we saw a colony of long-nosed bats, small crocodiles, and the Northern Jacana, or the “Jesus Christ Bird” that appears to walk on water (It’s so light it can stand on lily pads.).
  Lamani was beautiful and we saw several forest-dwelling birds, as well as Howler monkeys! It was too dark to get good shots of the beautiful and large Pale-billed Woodpecker or the Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, but it was nice to see them. Trogons are quiet birds that stay very still, so the low-light wasn’t a problem. A jaguar had been seen a few nights prior!
snail kite wings down
Snail Kite
northern jacana on frond
Northern Jacana
ivory billed woodcreeper
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper
long nose bats on trunk
Long Nosed Bats
Temple of the Jaguar
Temple of the Jaguar
howler monkey
Howler Monkey
  Time was running out and I really wanted to see a jaguar. It wasn’t a completely realistic goal, as even the guides said they saw jaguars only a couple of times a year, and they were out every day.
  However, pumas had been sighted, and those sightings were posted on the Wildlife Board at the main lodge. There was a pair of juvenile males that had even been seen on the Chan Chich property one night!
  The next day, I took an afternoon tour with another guide, and we walked about a half mile to the suspension bridge. There is only one road going in and out of Chan Chich, and it’s only used a couple of times a day. It was very hot and very humid and the bugs were out in droves, so we didn’t stay in the forest for long periods of time. To distract myself from the insects, I though about what a privilege it was to walk the same paths the Maya walked, 1100 years before.
  We returned to the road, were we could peer into the dense forest. A Collared Forest Falcon flew in. The real prize was the Red-capped Manakin, and that just made my day.
Collared Forest Falcon
Collared Forest Falcon
Red capped Manakin facing left
Red-capped Manakin
  Other days were spent exploring the Mayan ruins on the site; each year an archeology team comes and works for about four months. The large pyramid in the back of the property had been looted over 100 years ago, but there were other ruins on well-marked paths that led in large circles through the jungle. 
  The next day I walked alone to the suspension bridge. It was late afternoon and extremely hot with even higher humidity. Maybe the Manakin would be out again.
  I’ve learned at this point in life that everything happens for a reason; one thing leads to the next thing; and people who look for signs usually find them.
  I was really hot with my two shirts (didn’t help against the bugs) and gloves (the bugs bit my knuckles where the fabric stopped), and as I trudged down the road, I was thinking how a puma might want to have a nice refreshing drink of water in the late afternoon, right about now. I wanted to see a puma so badly I thought my head would explode. When I neared the suspension bridge and saw a puma drinking water, for a moment it seemed like a mirage; I had wanted it so badly, and then wondered if it was real.
  The powerful animal must have sensed me a moment before I sensed him, because he shifted left. I focused the camera to where I knew he’d come out on the other side under the bridge, but it was late and the light was low, and I sure wasn’t prepared to capture a running puma. Still, it was exciting! Such power in those muscular hindquarters, and such speed! When I got back to the lodge I wrote “1 puma” on the Wildlife Board.
First Puma running leftPuma
  The next morning I went out alone at 6 AM. Could it happen again? I adjusted the camera settings and practiced on leaves – got it! In focus! The sunlight streamed through the trees and my pace quickened – what if it happened again?
road with sunlight 1
Morning sun
crocodile going into water
  Long before I arrived at the suspension bridge, I stopped. The young resident crocodile was on the banks of the rain-swollen river. I looked left into the darkness, at a path we had not taken.  A truly amazing thing happened. Two young pumas burst through the forest opening together. They were playing and one crashed into the other. They were like giant kittens. They didn’t notice me – yet – then I started shooting, and through the lens I captured acknowledgement from one cat. The other cat ran back into the darkness. The puma stopped and stared at me, opening and closing his bottom jaw. After several bursts of 10-frames-per-second, I put the camera down and we stared at each other. I wondered: should I be afraid? I raised the camera and resumed shooting; the cat turned – calmly – and walked away but never took his eyes off of me. Then he picked up a trot, went a little faster, and joined his brother in the jungle.
Puma pair
Puma siblings
Puma side view 1
Puma turning
Puma turning paw raised
Puma running
head shot
Puma up close and personal
Returning to forest
  The entire encounter only took a minute and eleven seconds, but time froze. My heart was beating so fast that I sat down in the middle of the road, wondering if it had even happened. The camera proved it did. Now I could add “2 pumas” to the wildlife board!
  Want to visit Chan Chich and try for a jaguar? Visit their website:
To see more of Kim’s work, please visit
Merry Christmas & Feliz Navidad!

Kim Nagy Walks Around ‘The Block.’

I keep looking for one more teacher, only to find that fish learn from the water and birds learn from the sky.
Mark Nepo,  Facing the Lion, Being the Lion: Finding Inner Courage Where It Lives

  Everyone agrees.  This has been the worst fall migration ever.  The fall version is never nearly as spectacular as the spring, but we usually see plenty of warblers in their fall plumage.  Not this season.  I saw a few Yellow-rumped Warblers at the maintenance shed area at Plum Island on Saturday, October 21st.  And at Mount Auburn Cemetery I did see a few Red-eyed Vireos.  But that’s it.  We have to assume that the hurricanes in the south affected the migration. 
  Kim Nagy, co-editor of the book Dead In Good Company, A Celebration of Mount Auburn Cemetery and regular contributor here, has written about her adventures in other birding areas in this blog every year.  This year she decided to see what was happening on Block Island.  Here is her account of her exciting weekend on this compelling birding island…. 

Block Island, September 2017 by Kim Nagy
  It’s said that everything happens for a reason. When Mass Audubon cancelled a much-anticipated group trip to Block Island that I signed up for six months prior, I decided to take the trip myself.
Block Island is a small island located 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. It got its name from a Dutch Explorer, Adriaen Block. About 40% of the island’s land is set aside for conservation, and it is a well-known avian stopover during fall migration.
  That week there were a few different hurricanes mixing up the Atlantic, and the ferry service from Point Judith to Block Island was shut down for most of the week. When they were finally running on Saturday morning, the ride was very rough and the sky grew ominous again as soon as we left the shore and were ocean-bound.
  By the time we anchored in the harbor an hour later, the sun was shining and the dark clouds had disbursed.  Late September is a great time to visit Block Island, as most of the noisy tourists are gone, and the wild parties give way to gentle nights where you hear the roiling ocean, all night long.
The two lighthouses are called Southeast Lighthouse and North Light. North Light was built in 1867, and it is located at the edge of the island. It’s almost 4 miles from Old Harbor, where the ferries land and depart. At the tip of the island, there was a large population of Black-backed and Herring gulls, as well as Sanderlings, Cormorants, and other shore birds. Sachem Pond is a nearby body of water that is ringed in marsh grass and other vegetation. While there were some sparrows and possible warblers, it had quieted down by late afternoon when I was exploring. Initially, I had gotten a ride to the entrance of the path at Settler’s Rock which was about half a mile from the lighthouse, but I decided to walk back to the Gables Inn up Corn Neck Road.
  northlight lighthouse
North Light House.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
seagull with crab
Herring Gull with crab.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
seagull flying with crab
Herring Gull flying with crab.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
  On the long 4 mile walk back, I checked out Andy’s Way, a salt marsh off of Corn Neck Road. Luckily it was low tide, and this turned into a bonanza. After rounding the bend, it felt like hitting the jackpot! There were Snowy Egrets, American Oystercatchers, Golden, Semi-plalmated and Black-bellied Plovers, a Short-billed Dowitcher, Sanderlings, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons and more!
semi-palmated plover take off
Black-bellied Plover take off.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
semi-palmated plover walking right
Black-bellied Plover.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
black bellied walking
Semipalmated Plover.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
puffed up
Semipalmated Plovers.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Little Blue pair
Little Blue Herons.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
short billed dowitcher
Short-billed Dowitcher.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Snowy catching fish facing right
Snowy Egret catching fish.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
four snowys
Snowy Egrets.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Oystercatcher.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Adult and Juv Oystercatcher
Oystercatchers, adult and juvenile.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
  That evening we toured the island and watched the sun lower behind Mohegan Bluffs, then slide into the ocean at Dorie’s Cove. The moon was a thin crescent. Later that night, the ocean, finally becalmed, lapped the shore, perpetually advancing and retreating.
sunset mohegan bluffs
Sunset, Mohegan Bluffs.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
sunset with house
Sunset with house.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
sunset ocean
Ocean sunset.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
crescent moon
Crescent moon.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
The morning sunrise in Old Harbor had muted colors; a palette of apricot, peach, red, orange and pink.
sunrise first day
Sunrise first day.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
  We checked out the Greenway Trails; dramatic cliffs at ocean’s edge. There were several Northern Flickers, Black & White Warblers, Phoebes, Fly Catchers, Baltimore Orioles and more.
Spider web.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Northern Flicker.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
flicker 1
Northern Flicker.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Pheasant.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
  I was fortunate to watch bird banding at the Lapham House with Kim Gaffett, a Master Bird Bander who also works closely with the Nature Conservancy. While inspecting the nets, we found a Carolina Wren, Eastern Towhees, a Northern Waterthrush, and several Catbirds. The birds were gently extracted from the net; weighed, evaluated, banded, chronicled, and released. On the property we also saw a Pine Warbler and Yellow-throated Vireos.
northern waterthrush banding release
Northern Waterthrush.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
wren banding release
Wren release after banding.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
towee release 1
Towhee release after banding.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
catbird 1
Catbird release after banding.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
pine with inchworm
Pine Warbler with inchworm.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Monarch Butterfly.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
  As all birders and wildlife photographers know, nothing is a “sure thing” when it comes to this pursuit. When I returned to Andy’s Way for a second time, expecting another avian feeding bonanza at low tide, it was as if yesterday never happened; there were just a few scattered Sanderlings, so I walked the 2.1 miles back to the Inn. It’s a great way to get lots of exercise!
  Sunrise on the last day was beautiful again, and since the ferry didn’t leave for a couple of hours, I took a cab to Coast Guard Road, but there wasn’t too much activity beyond Cedar Waxwings, some fall Warbler migrants, and Vireos. It was thought that the strong easterly winds pushed the migrating birds to the mainland.
sunrise second day
Sunrise on the last day.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
  It was sad to leave Block Island, but it will be fun to return, as I booked next year’s trip and added an extra day for even more adventure!
  To see more of Kim’s work, please visit or

The Last Rays of Summer

Abigail Adams wrote to John:  “Do you know that European birds have not half the melody of ours?”  Jonathan Rosen, The Life of the Skies 
Last time we finished hoping that the annual Plum Island Tree Swallow invasion would commence in August in large numbers as usual.  Well, they didn’t let us down.  On August 15th I made my way to Plum and as soon as I arrived, I could see thousands of the Tree Swallows just past parking lot #1.
Tree Swallows at Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
from KIM Tree swallows above grass 1
Tree Swallows at Plum Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
I slowly made my way along the road until they were all around me and enjoyed an hour photographing and taking video of literally hundreds of thousands of these birds covering the sky.  I did a slow 360 degree turn and all I saw in the sky above were Tree Swallows.  You have to see it to believe it. Photographs and video can never quite capture the awe.  OMG is especially appropriate as you watch this phenomenon…..At times they covered the road and then rose as one as a car would approach and at other times they would congregate on the trees around the area, covering them and from a distance looking like leaves on the trees.
Tree Swallows at Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
 There are seven ‘Wonders of the World.’ I nominate the Tree Swallows of Plum Island as the eighth Wonder of the World – or at least an honorable mention as such. =i_x4j1Y16JI  
   On the way to Plum Island on that Tuesday, August 15th, I decided to check out the tree on Kent St. in Newburyport to see if our favorite Screech Owl, Sylvia, was back.
Screech Owl Sylvia,  Kent St., Newburyport.  Photo by John Harrison.
She left her ‘home’ on Kent St. in late spring and we thought that she was probably gone forever.  But you can never be sure, so I always go to Plum Island via Kent St. and check that tree.  Much to my surprise and joy, as I slowly drove past the tree, there she was, sitting at the edge of the cavity enjoying the warm day.  I pulled over and parked and pulled my tripod out of the car and grabbed my camera and set up. When I got closer and took a good look at her, I could see that she was molting.  She looked kind of goofy.  But she was a sight for sore eyes.
Screech Owl Sylvia.  Photo by John Harrison.
Screech Owl Sylvia.  Photo by John Harrison.
I stayed there for about a half hour, catching a couple of open-eyes moments and some video.  It was a great way to start the day.  A few days later, back at Plum Island, there about a dozen Egrets and a few Great Blue Herons and other shore birds at a tidal pool close to the road.
Egrets, Great Blue Herons and other shorebirds, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
I enjoyed watching them for a while and then continued to Hellcat Trail looking for the Tree Swallows. There were thousands of them, but not the hundreds of thousands that I watched a week before.  On August 26 while driving out of Plum Island, we encountered a juvenile Peregrine Falcon on an antenna at the edge of the marsh.  We were able to watch it for several minutes before it took off.
from KIM Peregrine flight 1
Peregrine Falcon, immature, Plum Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Peregrine Falcon, immature, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
  A pond in Gloucester was especially active in August.   There were the usual immature Little Blue Herons, four to six of them on most days.  The immatures are all white and look like small Egrets, but as they mature they turn blue with a ‘reddish’ head and neck.  I’ve only seen one adult Little Blue at the pond and when I have seen it it was always on the other side of the pond and not close enough for photos.  But on one of my visits in mid August the adult Little Blue was close and stayed close all the time I was there…..Three hours!
Little Blue Heron, adult, Gloucester.  Photo by John Harrison.
Little Blue Heron, adult, with fish.  Gloucester.  Photo by John Harrison.
It flew from driftwood to driftwood, staying close and occasionally catching a fish or frog.  It was a rare opportunity to catch this adult.  The immature Little Blues flew around catching fish and frogs regularly, so catching that activity was easy.       

from KIM LITTLE BLUE HERON catching second frog facing left
Little Blue Heron with frog, Gloucester.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM LITTLE BLUE HERON 2 catching second frog
Little Blue heron with frog, Gloucester.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Little Blue Heron with frog, Gloucester.  Photo by John Harrison. 
  On the last day of August, for the first time at that Gloucester pond, there was a Green Heron, nice and close for hours.  It caught fish several times and, like the Little Blues, flew from driftwood perch to driftwood perch, but always staying close. 
from KIM green heron left with fish 2  
Green Heron with fish, Gloucester.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Green Heron, Gloucester.  Photo by John Harrison.
  I visited that pond a couple more times into September but didn’t see the Green Heron again, which makes us realize how fortunate we were to see that bird that day.
  There is another very special feature of this pond in Gloucester – two families of River Otters.  If you spend enough time there. you often get a really good, close look at this species.
from KIM otter open mouth
River Otter, Gloucester.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
River Otter, Gloucester.  Photo by John Harrison.
from KIM otters in lily pads
River Otter family, Gloucester.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
On one of my visits, one of the Otter families came close to us four times in a couple of hours.  They would eat and play and bob their heads above the Lily pads.  .  A couple of times one of them climbed up on a driftwood tree trunk.  It was an Otterpalooza!
River Otter on driftwood tree trunk, Gloucester.  Photo by John Harrison.

 Meanwhile the Little Blue Herons, and the Green Heron that day, would fly around unperturbed by the Otters churning the water.  It was Mother Nature at her most interesting.

  Every Labor Day is the last day of the Birds Of Prey show at the Stone Zoo.  We attended one of the performances that day and said goodbye to the wonderful birds until next season.  We were informed that the show will be back next year so we have another season of these birds to look forward to in 2018.  (Opening)  (Barn Owl)  (Golden Eagle)  (Military Macaws) (African Pied Crow)  In the few days after Labor Day, Jeff Meshach, Assistand Director of the World Bird Sanctuary and his staff prepare the birds for their truck ride back to their home in Valley Park, MO.57BIRDSOFPREYSHOWBALDEAGLEXXXXMONSEPT0420171726 3725

Birds Of Prey show, Stone Zoo, Labor Day.  Photo by John Harrison.
from KIM Riley take off of glove
Riley the Barn Owl, Birds of Prey show.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM golden eagle head shot
Golden Eagle, Birds of Prey show.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
  Friday, September 8th was the annual Eastern MA Hawk Watch meeting, at the Woburn Elks lodge. They keynote speaker this year was Kevin Karlson, who spoke about his new book, with renowned bird author Peter Dunne, Birds of Prey: Hawks, Eagles, Falcons and Vultures of North America.
Kevin Karlson, co-author of Birds of Prey Hawks, Eagles Falcons and Vultures of North America. Photo by John Harrison.
President Ted Mara opened the meeting with a gift of appreciation to past president Ursula Goodine. Medford’s birds of prey expert, Paul Roberts, was on hand for the meeting, as well as Vice President Shawn Carey and officers Eric Smith, Steve Olson and Rod Chase.  The meeting ended with the annual raffle with prizes donated by hawk watch members.  For information on this organization 
Ursula Goodine, past president of the Eastern MA Hawk Watch.  Photo by John Harrison.
Eric Smith (L) and Mark Wilson of Eyes On Owls with his photograph of the famous Newport, NH Great Gray Owl that he donated to the raffle.  Photo by John Harrison.
  Fall migrant warblers are being seen – in small numbers – at the various venues in the area.  Fall migration is never nearly as spectacular as spring migration but hopefully by the next installment we will have seen more action from them.  Thus far my only fall migrant sighting has been a Red-eyed Vireo on the sweet bay magnolia trees at Mount Auburn Cemetery.
Red-eyed Vireo, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
Photographer Jim Renault, however,  has had some fall migrant encounters lately and some other interesting catches.  Fall migrants are past their spring breeding plumage.  I have inserted a spring version of a Black-throated Green Warbler next to Jim’s fall version to see the difference.
from JIM BTG w spring version fx DUNBACK CE8A0718 
Black-throated Green Warbler, Dunback Meadow.  Photo by Jim Renault.
The spring version is much richer. That is the case with many – but not all –  migrant species.   
Oystercatchers, Belle Isle Marsh.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
Oystercatchers in flight, Belle Isle Marsh.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
Black & White Warbler, female, Dunback Meadow.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
Kingfisher, Belle Isle Marsh.  Photo by Jim Renault.
from JIM fx Northern Waterthrush Mystic Lakes Aug. 29 2017
Northern Waterthrush, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by Jim Renault. 
Common Yellowthroat, immature, Dunback Meadow.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
Carolina Wren, Dunback Meadow.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
   With the coming of fall and winter not far away, we all ask that post-September question, “Will there be Snowies?”  We hope that for the fourth year in a row, Rocky, our favorite Rye Beach Snowy Owl, will winter over there.  That magnificent owl seems to like that beach.  We’ll be waiting for ya, Rocky.
Snowy Owl, Rocky, Rye Beach.  Photo by John Harrison.
Snowy Owl, Rocky, Rye Beach.  Photo by John Harrison.


The Black Crowns of August


July began with a cruise out of Portsmouth to Star Island of the Isles of Shoals.  Photographer Kim Nagy and I were particularly interested in going there at that time in July because of the nesting Great Black-backed Gulls.  On our last trip in 2014 to Star Island we went later in July so the gull chicks were older. This time the chicks were young and more fun to photograph.from KIM chicks facing right

Black-backed Gull Chicks, Star Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM chick stretching wings
Black-backed Gull Chicks, Star Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM single chick
Black-backed Gull chick, Star Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy. 
from KIM black backed gull pair
Black-backed Gulls, Star Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Kim Nagy photographing the Black-backed Gulls on the cliffs of Star Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
Of course getting stuck in a thunderstorm while on the cliffs watching the gulls interrupted our photo expedition (our own fault…the sky darkened and we knew that the storm was imminent but we watched the gulls a little too long). 
from KIM Church
The thunderstorm is imminent, Star Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM dark clouds
The thunderstorm, Star Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
By the time we walked back to one of the buildings on the island for shelter from the storm, we were soaking wet.  But it was worth the soaking to see the gulls. Here is the Thomas Laighton approaching Star Island to pick us up for the trip back to Portsmouth Harbor.  
The Thomas Laighton arriving at Star Island for the return trip to Portsmouth Harbor.  Photo by John Harrison.
Our cruise out of Portsmouth Harbor to Star Island was on the boat Challenger.   One of the sites we passed as we cruised out out of Portsmouth Harbor was the old Portsmouth Naval Prison. 
from KIM Lighthouse 
Lighthouse from the cliffs of Star Island as the thunderstorm begins.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
As we were waiting to board the Thomas Laighton for the trip back to Portsmouth Harbor, we had a nice, close encounter with an Eider Duck hunting for crabs off of the pier.
Eider Duck with crab, Star Island.  Photo by John Harrison.  
from KIM dropped crab
Eider Duck with crab, Star Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
We had the rare good fortune to watch a Hummingbird nest at Great Meadows in Concord for more than a week in July.  We witnessed the female Hummingbird going back and forth to the nest bringing food to the two chicks.
Mother Hummingbird feeding chicks, Great Meadows, Concord, MA.  Photo by John Harrison.
from KIM hummingbird chicks looking left wings out
Hummingbird chick, Great Meadows, Concord, MA.   Photo by Kim Nagy.  
This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  In fact I would never have thought that I would get to witness this.  There was a Hummingbird nest at Mount Auburn Cemetery last year but it failed so we didn’t have the opportunity to see what we saw at Great Meadows.  In our pursuit of wildlife there are always surprises along the way.

  Our Lynn Osprey nest became more active in mid July.  We only saw the occasional heads of the two chicks pop up a bit in early July.
Osprey mother and two chicks, Lynn, MA.  Photo by John Harrison.
Osprey father landing at nest with fish.  Photo by John Harrison.
But by the middle of the month the chicks were standing up and flapping their wings and helicoptering as they built their strength for their fledge flight.   One of the chicks fledged on either July July 26th (which I witnessed) or maybe the day before.  I was there on July 26th and after two hours one of the chicks suddenly leaped out of the nest and flew around the area in circles a couple of times, hovered over the nest to try to land but decided it was too risky and flew to a nearby telephone pole. 
Osprey fledgling just after its fledge flight, Lynn, MA.  Photo by John Harrison.
It seemed like a fledge flight to me.  The second chick hadn’t yet fledged but certainly did within a couple of days of the first one.  They come back to the nest for a while to be fed and then by late August or early September they will begin their migration south.  As David Gessner discovered when writing his book Soaring With Fidel, Cuba is one of the main Osprey migration destination countries.  Maybe this Lynn pair, that have been occupying this nest for several years, winter over in Havana.  I wonder……
  We usually find an uptick in Black-crowned Night Heron activity at the Charles River waterfalls in Watertown Center in August.  And this occurs mostly in the afternoon.  For whatever reason, they begin filtering in after 1pm, both adults and juveniles.  I’ve been watching them day after day and usually stay as late as 4 or 5pm.  On some afternoons I have left the area with six or seven Black-crowns still perched on rocks or tree limbs that are near the waterfalls.  For all of the hours they spend there trying for fish, they are successful infrequently.  One adult has a favorite perch on a tree limb in front of the waterfalls where it sits still as a statue for sometimes hours, looking into the water for fish.
from KIM first shot with fish
Black-crowned Night Heron with fish, Watertown.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
Black-crowned Night Heron with fish, Watertown.  Photo by John Harrison.
I watched it for five days in a row hoping it would catch a fish because it was close and would be a fantastic opportunity.  On the fifth day, finally, it caught a big fish.  It tried to swallow that fish for about ten minutes.  It was fascinating to witness.  It tipped its head up several times attempting to swallow that fish but just couldn’t do it.  It flew a few feet  to the top of the waterfall with the fish and tried from there to swallow it.  No luck.  Finally, it dropped the fish.
Black-crowned Night Heron with fish, Watertown.  Photo by John Harrison.
Black-crowned Night Heron trying to swallow fish, Watertown.  It eventually gave up and let the fish go.  Photo by John Harrison.
Black-crowned Night Heron juvenile with fish, Watertown.  Photo by John Harrison.
Black-crowned Night Heron with fish, Watertown.  Photo by John Harrison.
It’s more likely that it realized it wasn’t going to be able to swallow it than it was an accident.  For me, it was a bonanza. Ten minutes of watching this drama.  Very exciting.

On another afternoon one of the juveniles caught a fish and a few of the other Black-crowns near it chased it around trying to take the fish from it.  But the juvenile held on and finally swallowed the fish.   While watching the Black-crowns a Great Blue Heron usually showed up and moved around amidst them.  It caught a fish about twenty feet from me on July 30th. 
Great Blue Heron with fish, Watertown.  Photo by John Harrison.
Great Blue Heron with fish, Watertown.  Photo by John Harrison.  
  Photographer Jim Renault has had some interesting moments at Belle Isle Marsh in East Boston and Moswetuset Hummock in Quincy.
Moswetuset Hummock, Quincy, MA.  Photo by John Harrison.
There’s an Osprey nest in the marsh at this location with two chicks.  And there are Egrets and Great Blue Herons in the tidal pools.  Jim has also seen a Glossy Ibis along the shore here.  It’s only a few minutes from Marina Bay in Quincy and worth checking out now and then.
from JIM Barn Swallow Fledglings fx Belle Isle Feeding Time
Mother Barn Swallow feeding fledglings.  Belle Isle Marsh, East Boston.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
from JIM Barn Swallow Fledglings fx  Belle Isle
Barn Swallow fledglings, Belle Isle Marsh, East Boston.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
from JIM fx Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets
Egrets in tidal pool, Moswetuset Hummock, Quincy, MA.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
from JIM fx Black-headed Gull Quincy 7_30_2017
Black-headed Gull, Moswetuset Hummock, Quincy, MA.  Photo by Jim Renault. 
While driving in Concord on the morning of Wednesday, August 09 I spotted a doe and three fawns in a field on Rt. 2A.  I was able to watch them for about five minutes until they disappeared into the woods behind the field. 
Doe and Fawns, Concord, MA.  Photo by John Harrison.  
Fawn, Concord, MA.  Photo by John Harrison.  
It will be time to get back to Plum Island in the next couple of weeks.  Shore birds will be filtering in and tree swallows, by the thousands, can be seen there every mid to late August.  It’s breathtaking to witness thousands of these swallows flying overhead.  They cover the sky.  That will be a fitting end to the summer………
Tree Swallows, Plum Island, Aug. 14, 2016.  Photo by John Harrison.