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 over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life. John Burroughs
OMG….OMG….That email acronym best describes spring migration of 2016. It was off-the-charts spectacular. Last time, I discussed our good fortune at the Arlington Reservoir in late April, which was a prelude to the big show in May. Historically the mid weekend of May is the peak weekend of spring migration. It was right on time this year. Mount Auburn Cemetery was awash with migrants. Every year a particular tree or part of the cemetery is the hot spot. Last year on Cedar Ave at the cemetery there was a surfeit of Cape May Warblers, that migration super star of which in past years we would be lucky to catch even a glimpse. This year the star tree was a flowering crab apple near Bigelow Chapel. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, May 9, 10 and 11, (after the week prior of rainy day after rainy day) this tree hosted around 15 species. The biggest surprise of the three days was two – or maybe even three – Indigo Buntings that were in and out of the tree at regular intervals on all three days. It was this season’s rock star migrant. Indigo Buntings, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photos by John Harrison
Black-throated Green Warbler, Plum Island. Photo by John Harrison
Black-throated Blue Warbler, Plum Island. Photo by John Harrison
Chestnut-sided Warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery..Photo by John Harrison.
There were lots of birders and photographers attending that tree for all of those three days. It was thrilling. To be able to watch and photograph the Indigo Bunting, a bird I’ve seen only twice – and for only a moment – in the past 16 years was more than I could have asked for. In addition to the Bunting, the other elites joined the party….We saw Black-throated Greens, Black-throated Blues, the Chestnut-sided, the Yellow, the Nashville, the Blue-winged the Magnolia, the Cape May, the Blackburnian, the Northern Parula, the Prairie, the Wilson’s, Redstarts, a few vireo species and more. American Redstart, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by John Harrison
Nashville Warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by John Harrison
Blue-headed Vireo, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by John Harrison
Yellow-throated Vireo, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by John Harrison
Prairie Warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by John Harrison.
Wilson’s Warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by John Harrison
Blackburnian Warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by John Harrison.
Bay-breasted Warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by John Harrison.
Cape May Warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by John Harrison.
Northern Waterthrush, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by John Harrison.
These species and others were spotted at other parts of the cemetery too, but to watch them flit in and out of one tree – for three days – was, well, a warblerpalooza. On Thursday, May 12th, I was at the cemetery at 6:30am and watched the tree for an hour. It was as if a light switch had been turned off. The birds that had been enjoying the tree for the past three days had packed their bags and headed north on the next leg of their journey. Spring migration is a quicksilver thing. The birds are here one day and gone the next. The small time window of opportunity requires that you be there as many days as possible.
Of course every May we trek to Plum Island a few times. Spring migration there is usually awesome, too. And this year was perhaps the best. On Saturday, May 14th, photographer Kim Nagy and I had the most intense, exciting few hours of birding imaginable. Our destination was Hellcat Trail but when we got to the famous S-curve and saw all of the cars parked along the road and the people with cameras and binoculars aimed into the trees, we knew we had found the hot spot. The next few hours were frantic. It was hard keeping up with the birds. There were many species and they were all around us. Most exciting were the three male and one female Scarlet Tanagers that worked several trees giving us ample opportunity to photograph them, often very close. It was a rare opportunity with this striking species.
Scarlet Tanager, male, Plum Island. Photo by John Harrison
Scarlet Tanager, female. Plum Island. Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.
When the S-curve explosion of birds slowed down, we did get to Hellcat Trail but there wasn’t much activity. That day it was all S-curve all of the time. And in the days after, we visited Plum Island again and had more surprises. Photographer Mimi Bix-Hylan had a great Towhee encounter as well as some nice moments with other migrants. Eastern Towhee, Plum Island. Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.
Common Yellowthroat, Plum Island. Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.
Northern Parula, Plum Island. Photo by John Harrison
Yellow Warbler singing. Plum Island. Photo by John Harrison
Black and White and Canada Warbler, Plum Island. Photos by John Harrison.
And I finally had my Bobolink encounter, as it perched on top of a small tree at the edge of the maintenance shed parking lot. This species is seen in the meadows in that area often but I have just kept missing it through the years.
Bobolink, Plum Island. Photo by John Harrison
Only a few days before our Plum Island adventure, Kim Nagy spent a day at Magee Marsh in Ohio, considered THE premiere spring migration hot spot in the country. After being there for a day, Kim concurs. Here are some of Kim’s catches that day.
Prothonotary Warbler, Magee Marsh. Photos by Kim Nagy.
Yellow-throated Warbler, Magee Marsh. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Magee Marsh. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Just-fledged Great Horned Owlet, Magee Marsh. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Scarlet Tanager, male, Magee Marsh. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Last time it was noted that photographer Jim Renault had discovered a Gray Fox in his back yard. His attention has been riveted since then and he has been photographing the adult foxes and their 5 (five!) kits in his yard. This year’s spring migration season will be especially remembered by Jim. And not only for the great birds……
Gray Foxes. Photos by Jim Renault.
It’s difficult saying good bye to the spectacular warblers after such a great few weeks. But now we will look ahead to the Osprey nest in Lynn and the beavers and minks at Ipswich River Audubon, the Red-tailed Hawk fledglings at Mount Auburn Cemetery, the King Bird, Warbling Vireo and Baltimore and Orchard Oriole nests at the Mystic Lakes and the other summer surprises that await. Below Baltimore Oriole from the Mystic Lakes and, last, the Eastern Kingbird nest at the Mystic Lakes. Photos by John Harrison.