Monthly Archives: May 2015


If spring came but once a century instead of once a year, or burst forth with the sound of an earthquake and not in silence, what wonder and expectation there would be in all the hearts to behold the miraculous change.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Spring migration 2015 began in grand fashion. It was without doubt the best migration in my fifteen years of birding. On Wednesday, May 6th, following a great early morning encounter with a bunch of Warbling Vireos at the Mystic Lakes small pond,15WARBLINGVIREOMYSTICLAKESXXXXWEDMAY0620151530 270

Warbling Vireo, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.

when I arrived at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Al Parker, security guard and keen birder, informed me that the royalty of spring migration, the Cape May Warbler, was being seen in the area of Bigelow Chapel, on the tree next to the Colossal Sphinx. Also on the same tree and in that area an Indigo Bunting, another migration prize, was being seen. This was exciting news. In my years of birding, I had only seen the Cape May maybe three times, with a couple of so-so photographs. Same with the Indigo Bunting. You just didn’t see much of these two species. Hearing that both were on hand, I was galvanized. Here was my chance, maybe…..hopefully… finally get a good look and some good photographs of one or both species. I spent an hour at the tree next to the Colossal Sphinx and though I didn’t see either the Cape May or the Indigo Bunting, I did have some great moments with a Black & White and Northern Parula. While photographing these two species, Al Parker drove up and said the Cape May, in fact several of them, were now in trees on Cedar Ave, a short walk from Bigelow Chapel. I quickly made my way to the knot of people looking up into the trees and within thirty seconds had my closest look ever at His Majesty Cape May. In another part of the tree was a second Cape May. I watched and waited and soon one of them dropped down and was on a branch in the open. I was able to get maybe six photographs before it flew farther up in the tree.16CAPEMAYWARBLERCEDARAVEXXXXTHURSMAY0720151531 078


Cape May Warblers, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photos by John Harrison.

I was thrilled. At last a good Cape May photo op. I stayed in this area of Cedar Ave. for about three hours. There were plenty of chances to photograph the several Cape Mays that were on that tree and a couple of others near it. In addition to the Cape Mays, there were the ever-present Yellow- rumpeds, Black & Whites, Northern Parulas,


Northern Parula.  Photo by John Harrison.

Bay-breasteds, Black-throated Greens and Blues, Common Yellowthroats,


Common Yellowthroat.  Photo by John Harrison.

American Redstarts,   Great Crested Flycatchers and a quick in-and-out by the Indigo Bunting.


Indigo Bunting.  Photo by John Harrison.

The Tennessee Warbler, another less-seen migrant, was visible often on a flowering tree on Central Ave. and the Nashville Warbler was also seen in the area. It was the most intense three hours of my birding life thus far. I left the cemetery at 4PM, thoroughly exhausted from this adventure. And looking forward to the next morning, hoping lightning would strike twice.

from KIM red start facing right

American Redstart.  Photo by Kim Nagy 
from KIM black throated green
Black-throated Green Warbler.  Photo by Kim Nagy
Black-throated Blue Warbler.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Great Crested Flycatcher at Washington Tower, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by Jim Renault.
Lightning did strike twice on Thursday morning. Again there was a surfeit of Cape May’s. And the same lineup as the day before. Also the Chestnut-sided and Magnolia Warbler joined the party and even a Blackburnian, Canada and Mourning Warbler were showing themselves. This was an extraordinary week.
Chestnut-sided Warbler,  Photo by John Harrison.
from KIM mag facing right
Magnolia Warbler.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
The next morning, Friday, all of the same birds were present, though in less numbers than the prior two days. As we watched, a flash of red flew by. A Scarlet Tanager.
Scarlet Tanager, male.  Photo by Jim Renault.
Scarlet Tanager, female. Photo by Jim Renault.  
We watched and snapped shutters as it flew from tree to tree, giving us great looks each timed it landed. This species is always prized and there were several of them in the cemetery each day along with a Summer Tanager that made an appearance. This intense parade of migrants continued into the next week. On Tuesday, May 12th, below Washington Tower, A Wilson’s Warbler was foraging in the Forsythia bushes and popping out onto a tree above every ten minutes or so.
Wilson’s Warbler.  Photo by John Harrison.
A Magnolia Warbler was mirroring this activity. As this was occurring, above us in that tree many other migrants were flying from branch to branch – the Chestnut-sided, Yellow-rumpeds, Yellows, Blackpolls and others. Migration 2015 continued to dazzle us. And if history is any judge, the middle of May was usually the peak time for migrants, so the best might be yet to come.
With migration in full swing, we still couldn’t resist our Saturday morning visits to Ipswich River Audubon in Topsfield. For the past month the Beavers of the reserve have been very active, if you get to the pond early. After a winter that kept them in their lodge, they were probably very happy to be out and swimming about. Kim Nagy and I arrived at the reserve by 7AM the past few Saturday’s. And we always have fun with the Beavers from that time to about 8:30AM. They glide around and eat and sometimes climb ashore for a while. We even had some great video opportunities with them. BEAVER #133 04/19/15 BEAVER #134 04/19/15
Beaver eating.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Beaver swimming.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
This past weekend I was happy to host Sandy Komito on a visit to Boston.  Sandy was the subject of both the book and film The Big Year.   Sandy won the Big Year title in 1998 with a grand total of 748 birds that he saw in North America.  He held that record until 2013 when Neil Hayward won the Big Year title with 749 birds.  Actually, Neil Hayward tied Sandy’s record of 748 birds but had one provisional bird to bring his total to 749, one more than Sandy Komito.  In the film version of the book, Owen Wilson played Sandy Komito Mount Auburn Cemetery is one of the few places in the world where Sandy hasn’t been birding.  And he wanted to go to Plum Island, too, since he had been there only in the winter.  Sandy,  being the birder he is,  chose the perfect May weekend to come to Boston from his home in Boynton Beach, FL.  As we had hoped, Sandy came to Boston on the peak migration weekend.  We explored Mount Auburn all day Saturday, May 16 and Plum Island all day Sunday, May 17.  Both venues were awash with spring migrants.  Many birders at both Mount Auburn and Plum Island had read the book and seen the film The Big Year and were delighted to meet Sandy.  He was happy to meet Wayne Petersen of Mass Audubon on Indian Ridge at Mount Auburn Saturday and Mark Wilson of Eyes On Owls Sunday at the ‘S’ curve at Plum Island. I was fortunate to hear many of Sandy’s wonderful birding stories from his 75 years in the pursuit.  Imagine…75 years birding.  I particularly enjoyed Sandy’s recollections of his eleven (I believe) visits to Attu Island, off of Alaska. Sandy has his own book of his 1998 Big Year adventure, entitled I Came, I saw, I counted.  I hope Sandy decides to visit Boston every year from now on in mid-May.
Sandy Komito and Kim Nagy at Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
Sandy Komito and John Harrison, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by Al Parker.
(L to R) Jim Renault, Sandy Komito and Wayne Petersen.  Indian Ridge, Mount Auburn.  Photo by John Harrison.
I am happy to announce that in about a month a book that Kim Nagy and I have put together about Mount Auburn Cemetery will be released.  Its title is DEAD IN GOOD COMPANY  A CELEBRATION OF MOUNT AUBURN CEMETERY.
DeadinGoodCompany-Front sm 2
DEAD IN GOOD COMPANY covers-Full sm 2
Front and back cover of Dead In Good Company.
It’s a book of essays and poems of the cemetery through the eyes of well known authors along with photographs of the wildlife of the cemetery from a dozen nature photographers who regularly explore ‘Sweet Auburn,’ as the cemetery is affectionately known..  Some of the authors who have contributed to the book are Alan Dershowitz, William Martin, Ray Flynn, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Megan Marshall, Peter Alden, Dee Morris, Dan Shaughnessy, Gary Goshgarian, Katherine Hall Page, Kate Flora, and Upton Bell.  We expect to release the book in about a month.  I will keep you apprised as publication gets closer.
Our fabulous spring migrants are pretty much out of the area, on the journey to their northern summer habitats.  Now what?  Plenty!  Now that the migrants have gone we have the Mount Auburn Cemetery Red-tailed Hawk nest to look forward to.  And a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker and Warbling Vireo nest, also at Mount Auburn.  At Ipswich River Audubon in Topsfield in a few weeks we might get a look at baby Beavers.  And at that time the mulberry tree at Ipswich River Audubon will have fruit and that tree will be alive with Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Cedar Waxwings, Bluebirds and maybe the occasional Scarlet Tanager.   There’s a great Baltimore Oriole nest at the small pond near Shannon Beach at the Mystic Lakes that will be fun to watch.
Baltimore Oriole, female.  Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.
And always other surprises occur.  So the summer is shaping up.