Monthly Archives: February 2015


Use those talents you have.  You will make it.  You will give joy to the world.  Take this tip from nature:  The woods would be a very silent place if no birds sang except those who sang best.  Bernard Meltzer

Hello Medford wildlife and nature enthusiasts. It’s great to be back here in the midst of the most relentlessly snowy winter in our history – well, at least for February, at this point. It’s been almost a year since the last Medford Wildlife Watch posting. Thus it is with computer program updates.   2014 is history but what a sterling year it was. If Academy Awards were given to particular years, there’s no doubt that 2014 would have been a winner in the wildlife realm.   From the very first day of the year at Salisbury Beach watching and photographing the Snowy Owls to the very end of the year on December 27th watching the resident Snowy Owl ‘Rocky’ at Rye Beach, NH, it was a year of one sensation after another.  Of course the Snowy Owl irruption that brought hundreds of Snowy Owls to New England (and hundreds more to many other parts of the country) was the most amazing event of the year – in fact, of a lifetime for so many of us.


Snowy Owl, ‘Rocky,’  Rye Beach, NH.  Photo by John Harrison

We would go to Salisbury and Plum Island a couple of times a week, at least, and we were absolutely guaranteed to see several Snowy Owls.

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Snowy Owl takeoff, Plum Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.

This was especially so at Salisbury. There were days we would see five or six of them and would be able to photograph them up close and personal. The snowies were the rock stars of the year. There were snowies at Hampton Beach, Rye Beach, Duxbury Beach, Plum Island and other places but they were so accessible at Salisbury Beach State Park that we never felt the need to explore the other venues, except for Plum island, where we would go to see the snowies and whatever else was going on. And we were even fortunate enough to be at Plum island on one of the days that Norm Smith of  Blue Hills Audubon released a Snowy Owl he had trapped at Logan Airport.


Norm Smith releases Snowy Owl, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison

The Snowy Owls wowed us right through April, pretty much. It was from the middle of April to the end of April that they packed their bags and began to head north to their home in the Arctic or upper Canada. As the temperature climbed, the snowies moved out. They’re cold weather owls. But we had some sightings even in May. The snowies were good to the last drop as (I believe) Eight O’Clock Coffee promises.


Snowy Owl with prey, Salisbury Beach State Park.  Photo by John Harrison

As the Snowy Owl lollapalooza was winding down the park had another surprise for us. The Red Fox family that we had watched in 2013 was back at the same den. The foxes moved around the park to a few different dens but settled in ultimately at the same den on the marsh along the causeway where we watched them the year before. My first photographs of the foxes was on April 9th. We would go back and forth on some days from the snowies to the foxes. It was an embarrassment of riches. If we were patient, the kits would often come to a meadow very close and play for us. We had many opportunities to watch and photograph them in that meadow. It was our own Red Fox photography studio. My last photograph of this fox family was on May 31. We didn’t see them after that. We look forward to the return of the foxes this spring.



Red Fox kits, Salisbury Beach State Park.  Photos by John Harrison

Of course, if it’s April, no matter what else is going on it’s time to think of Spring Migration. At the end of April we had spring migrants at all of the usual places; Plum Island, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Salisbury, the Mystic Lakes, Ipswich River Audubon, Horn Pond, the Arlington Reservoir and other venues. I photographed my first ever Prairie Warbler on May 3rd at Salisbury as we waited for the foxes to appear.


Prairie Warbler, Salisbury Beach State Park.  Photo by John Harrison

2014 was in fact a sensational Spring Migration year. Mount Auburn Cemetery was especially exciting. For me, Spring Migration at Mount Auburn Cemetery in 2014 was the best ever. On Mother’s Day alone at Mount Auburn we saw at least eight warbler species – including ‘THE CANADA’ (which was on one tree for about six hours) on the same tree. This day, too, was an embarrassment of riches.


Canada Warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Mother’s Day.  Photo by Kim Nagy.


Canada Warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Mother’s Day.   Photo by John Harrison

Mid-May is usually the peak of Spring Migration. As migration began slowing we had another surprise. We were informed of a very accessible Pileated Woodpecker nest at Ipswich River Audubon in Topsfield. This Mass Audubon reserve is one of our favorite places. We spend time every spring and summer there for the Bluebirds and the species that hang out on the mulberry tree. It’s a great opportunity to watch and photograph Red-bellied Woodpeckers and, if you’re lucky, a Scarlet Tanager or two on this mulberry tree. And a ten minute walk to the pond will bring you to the Beaver lodge and if you are patient they – or the River Otter family – might appear for you.



Beavers, Ipswich River Audubon.  Photos by John Harrison.


River Otter, Ipswich River Audubon.  Photo by John Harrison.

And the occasional Barred Owl encounter wasn’t unusual at this reserve.


Barred Owl, Ipswich River Audubon.  Photo by John Harrison.

 We weren’t strangers to Ipswich River. But a Pileated Woodpecker nest was a new surprise. There was a crowd of the usual-suspect photographers on hand every day watching this exciting nest. It was a singular opportunity to photograph the adult woodpeckers flying to the nest to feed the young.

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Pileated Woodpecker family, Ipswich River Audubon.  Photo by Kim Nagy.


Pileated Woodpecker about to land at nest, Ipswich River Audubon.  Photo by John Harrison.

2015 has begun with great promise (blizzards not withstanding).  At Rye Beach, NH, the Snowy Owl (Rocky) that we first saw in late December of last year has taken up residence.  It has been there for us every time we’ve gone.  Week after week after week.

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Snowy Owl ‘Rocky,’ Rye Beach, NH.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  

 It has attracted many watchers and photographers but since the onslaught of snow, the parking lot has not been plowed so we haven’t been able to look for it.  We checked with the Rye DPW and they said they don’t plow out the parking lot.  So we ‘owl kooks’ will have to wait until probably April to get back in to check on Rocky.  But he’s already made this an exciting beginning of the year.  And there are more surprises awaiting us this year, I’m sure.   The Bald Eagles, regular winter visitors to the Mystic Lakes, are back.



Bald Eagles, Mystic Lakes.  Photos by John Harrison.

 Bohemian Waxwings have been in a few venues in New Hampshire lately.  It’s been a few years since that magnificent species has been this far south.



Bohemian Waxwings in NH, April 2008.  Photos by John Harrison.

We are hoping they stick around and that they come farther south.  It would be a wonder to catch them at Mount Auburn or Horn Pond or Ipswich River, etc…..We will be watching that possibility – and others – closely….Stay tuned…….