The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings. J. M. BARRIE The Little White Bird
Cometh or cameth, I’m not sure. Every spring and fall migration is different in intensity. And spring is always much more active. Spring migration this year was off the charts amazing. Some fall migrations can be somewhat active, too. But not this one. I saw my first warbler, a Blackpoll, on October 5th (the same date that I first saw one last year) at the Mystic Lakes, which always attracts scores of this species that converge on the berry trees just above Shannon Beach:
Blackpoll, Mystic Lakes. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Blackpoll, Mystic Lakes. Photo by John Harrison
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1powbdHmeU https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViVeCYD-PS8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQSGBTo2BrQ But in most other years, in addition to the Blackpolls, there are always the usual suspects…Lots of Yellow-rumpeds, a few Black-throated Greens, Black-throated Blues, some Yellow’s, Common Yellowthroats, Magnolia’s,Wilson’s, Kinglets and various Vireos, etc. Thus far at Shannon Beach I’ve only seen the dependable Blackpolls, a single Warbling Vireo, a single Yellow-rumped,
Yellow-rumped Warbler, Mystic Lakes. Photo by John Harrison.
a single juvenile Common Yellowthroat and an Eastern Wood Pewee (a life bird for me). Eastern Wood Peewee, Mystic Lakes..Photo by John Harrison.
That’s not much of a fall migration. And the same goes for Mount Auburn Cemetery, the Arlington Reservoir, Dunback Meadow and our other usual haunts. Except for this year, every October in the past there were always several vireo species day after day at the Sweet Bay Magnolia trees at Auburn Lake in Mount Auburn Cemetery. So far I haven’t even seen one. This is a very different warbler fall for me. There are postings of individual migrants seen here and there, but not nearly in the same numbers as other years, it seems to me. But as we learn in this pursuit, if one door closes, another opens. There have been a few nice surprises lately.
Authors Wendy Drexler and Joan Fleiss Kaplan have revived the legend of the 185 Alewife Red-tailed Hawks, Buzz and Ruby, in their new children’s book, BUZZ, RUBY, AND THEIR CITY CHICKS. https://www.amazon.com/Buzz-Ruby-Their-City-Chicks/dp/0996374744/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1475269878&sr=8-1&keywords=Buzz%2C+Ruby%2C+and+Their+City+Chicks
This wonderful book, with photographs by videographer Ernie Sarro, Andy Provost, John Beattie and myself, relives that magical year 2010, in which throngs of fans watched this pair of Red-tails hatch and raise their three ‘city chicks,’ Lucky, Larry and Lucy. These hawks, ambassadors to their species, captured the hearts of countless watchers day after day and received TV, radio, newspaper and magazine recognition. Ken MacLeod of WBZ did several stories on them. Emily Rooney highlighted this story on her Greater Boston TV show and photographer Sandy Selesky did a magazine piece about them for Nature Photographer Magazine in the spring 2011 issue entitled “Joy and Sadness in Wildlife Photography.” Robin Young of WGBH Radio interviewed Ernie Sarro about this phenomenon and the Cambridge Chronicle did a full page spread of photographs of the famous hawks. It is altogether fitting and proper that Wendy and Joan now celebrate Buzz and Ruby in this book so generations of kids can learn about this species and hopefully become more attracted to nature and its gifts. At the end of the book, Medford’s hawk expert, Paul Roberts, updates the antics of this family after leaving their home on the ledge.. They have remained in the area in more traditional tree nests not far from their famous ledge. The hawks, like all of us, have a sentimental attachment, it seems, to the area around 185 Alewife, Cambridge, MA. Cambridge Trust Bank on Huron Ave. currently has a window display devoted to the book. Buzz, Ruby, and Their City Chicks is at Porter Square Books and Harvard Book Store, Cambridge; Book Ends, Winchester; The Children’s Book Shop, Brookline; New England Mobile Book Fair, Newton Highlands; The Book Rack, Arlington; Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, Topsfield; Drumlin Farm, Lincoln; Joppa Flats Audubon, Newburyport; and on Amazon in print and Kindle editions.
Cambridge Trust, Huron Ave., Cambridge, window display. Photo by John Harrison.
Nancy Lawson, who wrote the wonderful July/August All Animals magazine piece, A resting place for all, about Mount Auburn Cemetery and Kim Nagy and our book Dead In Good Company, reprised the story in her recent Humane Gardner blog, adding more photographs from the cemetery. MS Lawson is an elegant writer and we appreciate her once again celebrating the cemetery and our book. http://www.humanegardener.com/?p=2154&shareadraft=baba2154_57fe45f092aac
On Saturday, October 15, Mount Auburn Cemetery staffer Al Parker called to tell me that he had discovered a Screech Owl. Al, an expert natural birder, is always finding birds for us. This was exciting news, since it had been quite a while since a Screech Owl had been seen at the cemetery. I was there in fifteen minutes and the gray owl was sitting in a tree cavity enjoying the warm sun.
Screech Owl, gray morph, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by John Harrison.
Every now and then, as I watched, some Blue Jays and even a Northern Flicker would harass the owl. One of those times the flicker landed right next to the tree cavity, surprising the owl.
Screech Owl and Northern Flicker, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by John Harrison.
Flicker takes off from annoyed Screech Owl, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by John Harrison.
I was looking forward to photographing this one often, figuring – hoping – that it would hang around, as Screech Owls often do. I returned to the cemetery Sunday in the morning and then in the afternoon. No sign of it. I did this for the next several days and didn’t see it again. Of course, it might return there now and then but our hopes of a resident Screech Owl at the cemetery didn’t materialize – this time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-p7jNt2Ydk The following Tuesday morning I was at the cemetery at 7am to see if the owl was there. It wasn’t. I decided I would drive around hoping to get lucky and cross paths with a coyote. I slowly drove around the cemetery for about fifteen minutes and thought I saw a Wild Turkey trotting ahead. It was moving a bit faster than the turkeys usually do. When I got close enough, I saw that it wasn’t a turkey at all. It was a dark-colored coyote. Dark-colored coyote, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by John Harrison.
And as I quickly scanned near it, I saw another, lighter one. The darker one veered to my left and quickly disappeared. The blond one continued trotting ahead of me and then went onto the grass wandering amidst the gravestones. I moved my car up and back getting the right angles to photograph the coyote.
Coyote, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by John Harrison.
It would stop and look at me now and then but wasn’t skittish. It didn’t run away. It just continued to wander among the monuments. I was able to follow it around for about an hour. It was in an exploring mood, it seemed. And as long as I stayed in the car, I knew from experience that it would not run away from me. For some reason coyotes aren’t afraid of cars. But I knew that if I opened the door to try to get out and get a closer, better look, it would quickly disappear. I lost it for maybe five minutes and then found it again in the meadow near the bird bath fountain. I parked and watched it and saw that it was eating grass. It was meandering in the meadow stopping often to eat grass. as dogs do when they have an upset stomach. And as I watched, it scratched its back and gnawed its shoulder, probably because of itching (see videos below). I guessed that it probably had mange, which coyotes are prone to. I didn’t see any patches of bare skin so if it was mange it was probably in the early stages. It’s sad to see these magnificent creatures suffer with this ailment. And even sadder is the fact that mange is easily cured with an antibiotic but the problem is catching the coyote to administer the drug. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWYsz6rMp6M https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJqg7XmAWFw https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lI0_Keo0iVI https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_SbCZmTR_U https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIbbEXRY84U This month we also saw a coyote, briefly, at a park in Gloucester.
Coyote, Gloucester, MA. Photo by John Harrison.
Winter Pond in Winchester has been interesting lately. A Great Egret has been there on most days, often flying in short hops to catch fish. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OI-3qj6Fi8g
Great Egret, Winter Pond, Winchester. Photo by John Harrison.
Great Egret, Winter Pond Winchester. Photo by John Harrison.
There have been as many as three Great Blue Herons at the pond, too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfnXeJYirhU https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROKTEAYXobM And now and then an Osprey appears and occasionally dives for a fish. Osprey in flight over Winter Pond, Winchester. Photo by John Harrison.
Osprey emerges from dive, Winter Pond, Winchester. Photo by John Harrison.
Photographer Jim Renault recently caught a pair of Kingfishers in flight over the pond.Kingfishers in flight over Winter Pond, Winchester. Photo by Jim Renault.
This species is elusive so catching a pair of them in flight is a coup. Jim also caught a Kingfisher in flight over Heard Pond in Wayland and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, another pretty rare bird around here.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Heard Pond, Wayland. Photo by Jim Renault.
Jim also snapped a beaver swimming at Heard (and we had a young muskrat at Mount Auburn Cemetery).Beaver at Heard Pond in Wayland. Photo by Jim Renault.
Osprey at Heard Pond, Wayland. Photo by Jim Renault.
and also had a couple of seconds with a Connecticut Warbler at Dunback Meadow.. This warbler is not often seen so catching it was a prize.
Here’s a look at the young muskrat at Mount Auburn Cemetery. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8_n8fw-I9Y https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mngvm4IPU1Q
Young muskrat at Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by John Harrison.
Usually in late October in our pursuit things begin to slow down. Fall migration is essentially over and this season it didn’t much materialize anyway. But with the surprises that have been occurring, maybe the next couple of months won’t slow down at all. We’ll know soon enough.
Ipswich River, Topsfield, MA. Photo by Kim Nagy.