Monthly Archives: January 2017

Hoodies, Woodies and Baldies, Oh My……

  Birds are like those castles in the air that Thoreau said we must now put foundations under.  This is how birdwatching, which grows out of books but can never be satisfied
with books, creates environmentalists.  If we don’t shore up the earth, the sky will be empty.  JONATHAN ROSEN  The Life of the Skies. 

  HAPPY NEW YEAR…….2017 begins with the excitement of the returning Bald Eagles.  Once again adult and juvenile (sub-adult) Bald Eagles have come down to the Mystic Lakes from their northern habitats.
Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by Jim Renault.
Bald Eagle, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.
Thus far as many as eight different Eagles – four adults and four juveniles – have been observed at the Lakes.  And it’s only January.  We might have several more before the winter is over. The National Bald Eagle Council must encourage its members to vacation at the beautiful Mystic Lakes in Medford, Arlington and Winchester, MA because every winter they arrive as certainly as the Swallows of Capistrano, often seen on ‘the tree’ in front of the Medford Boat House.
Bald Eagle on ‘the tree’ in front of the Medford Boat Club as Canada Geese fly by.  Photo by John Harrison.
 Medford’s raptor expert, Paul Roberts, keeps close tabs on the Lakes Eagles and is soon able to identify each individual Eagle as they come to the Lakes and establish their winter home. There’s a regular cadre of Eagle watchers present at the lakes day after day – even on those recent 10 degree days – hoping for sightings and fly-overs.  On Friday morning, Dec. 23rd, a juvenile Bald Eagle was on ‘the tree’ and it suddenly took off right over us and went after a Common Merganser.
Adult and juvenile Bald Eagle on ‘the tree.’  Photo by John Harrison.
It would hover over the Merganser and when the duck submerged, it waited until it came up and it would plunge into the water hoping to grasp the duck.  It did this over and over for about 20 minutes.  It was an amazing spectacle to witness.
Juvenile Bald Eagle plunges into the Mystic Lakes hoping to capture a Common Merganser.  Photo by John Harrison.
Juvenile Bald Eagle in flight over Mystic Lakes waiting for Common Merganser to emerge. Photo by John Harrison.
Ultimately the merganser triumphed and the Eagle tired and flew off toward Shannon Beach.  The merganser was very fortunate to escape the diligent Eagle.  Here are videos of the Lakes Bald Eagles from Monday, January 15 of this year and two from last year: 
  Driving along the Mystic Valley Parkway on Wednesday, Dec. 21st, scanning the trees on the left for Eagles, I caught movement on my right and saw four deer trotting through the woods.  I was able to follow their progress and took a chance and moved ahead of them and pulled over and parked, picking a clearing hoping that they would continue in the same direction and get to that clearing in a short time.  About fifteen seconds later all four of them emerged into the clearing and gave me a couple of seconds for photos.
Deer in the woods along Mystic Valley Parkway, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.  
This was the first time ever I have seen deer along the parkway, though I expect that it’s not such a rare event at all.  On another morning, cruising the parkway looking for the Eagles, I was fortunate enough to catch a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets working trees at the lower lakes. There are always surprises awaiting us at this great resource.
Golden-crowned Kinglet, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.
  Two other special species, Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks, are regular winter visitors to the Mystic Lakes and other venues in the area.  We also see them at Horn Pond in Woburn, Winter Pond in Winchester and Leverett Pond in Brookline.  As we’re looking for the Hoodies and Wood Ducks, there’s also the occasional Ring-necked Ducks, Northern Pintails, Gadwalls and Ruddy Ducks.  Leverett Pond in Brookline is a particularly rich resource for all of these species. Photographer Kim Nagy has had some especially exciting encounters at this location.
from KIM male and female
Male and female Wood Ducks, Leverett Pond, Brookline.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
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Wood Ducks, Leverett Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM wood duck in snow
Wood Duck as the snow falls, Leverett Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM WOODIES LEVERETT POND first take off
Hooded Mergansers, Leverett Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM hoodie water
Hooded Merganser, Leverett Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
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Hooded Merganser, Leverett Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
Ruddy Duck, Leverett Pond.  Photo by John Harrison.
Gadwall, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.
We are of course monitoring the Great Horned Owls at Mount Auburn Cemetery.  My last few times in the Dell I’ve only seen the male, Alexander The Great Horned Owl, perched on a branch, often the perfect posing branch.
‘Alexander The Great’ Horned Owl, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
Being mid-January it might be significant that the female hasn’t been seen.  This is the time of year that this species begins nesting.  We’re hoping that the female is missing lately because she is already nesting.  The last Great Horned Owl nest – and the first one that anyone remembers at the cemetery – was in 2011.  It’s time for another one and maybe this year is the year.  Here is Alexander The Great on Sunday  morning, January 8th.  
  There has been a particularly cooperative red morph Screech Owl posing for its fans on Kent St. in Newburyport,  a few minutes from Plum Island.  On Sunday, January 15th,  I arrived at the site at noon.  Photographer Andy Provost had already been there for a while and though the owl wasn’t visible then, he said it had been out earlier. I went to my car to get my camera and as I was walking back to the tree, I saw the owl’s head and then body slow pop up in the hole.  Serendipity. It’s a very striking specimen.
Red morph Screech Owl, Newburyport.  Photo by John Harrison.
Red morph Screech Owl, Newburyport.  Photo by John Harrison.
I watched it for an hour, then went on to Plum Island, where I had a nice encounter with a Harrier Hawk and then returned to Kent St. for the Screech Owl, which was still there, eyes closed, enjoying the sun that lit it like a spotlight.
Harrier Hawk, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
This little one doesn’t open its eyes much, which is the key to owl photographs, but every now and then it would give us a slit-eye look.  I intend to stop and visit this owl whenever I’m on my way to Plum Island so I’m hopeful I’ll eventually get some wide-open-eyes images.  Photographer Mimi Bix-Hylan was at the site about 8am that day and was able to photograph the owl.  When the family was back in the car preparing to leave, they looked at the owl and saw it climb out of the hole and take off.  It’s very unusual for these nocturnal birds to leave their tree cavity during the day.   At the end of December Mimi captured a Red-tailed Hawk with prey at Fresh Pond.  That was a fantastic opportunity.
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Red-tailed Hawk with prey, Fresh Pond, Cambridge.  Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan. 
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Red-tailed Hawk with prey, Fresh Pond.  Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.
In our pursuit of wildlife, there is one absolute truth.  If you are ‘out there’ regularly, exciting things happen.   Here’s some video of the beautiful Kent St., Newburyport Screech Owl: 
  As we deal with the New England Cold and snow, Joan Fleiss Kaplan, one of the authors of the new children’s book, BUZZ, RUBY, AND THEIR CITY CHICKS, is in the Charleston, South Carolina area photographing the many species available there.
Tri-colored Heron, Charleston, South Carolina.  Photo by Joan Fleiss Kaplan.
Wood Storks, Charleston, South Carolina.  Photo by Joan Fleiss Kaplan.  
Great Egret, Charleston, South Carolina.  Photo by Joan Fleiss Kaplan.  
Juvenile Ibis.  Charleston, South Carolina.  Photo by Joan Fleiss Kaplan.  
Oystercatcher, Charleston, South Carolina.  Photo by Joan Fleiss Kaplan.
Cooper’s Hawk, Charleston, South Carolina.  Photo by Joan Fleiss Kaplan.   
  Congratulations to regular photography contributor here (and photo essayist for our Mount Auburn Cemetery book, Dead In Good Company) Jim Renault.  His photograph of a Snowy Owl from Salisbury Beach graces the cover of this month’s Mass Audubon publication explore.  Bravo, Jim!!!
Cover photo of Jim Renault’s Salisbury Beach Snowy Owl. 
  Kim Nagy and I were just notified that our book, Dead In Good Company – A Celebration of Mount Auburn Cemetery is going to be an audio book for the Perkins School for the Blind.  Ultimately it will be available for the blind all over the country and even internationally.  We are gratified that our book was chosen for this singular honor.
Sunrise at the Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.
  Next time Medford’s Paul Roberts will update us on this year’s crop of Bald Eagles.  Paul ultimately knows each and every Eagle that visits by name, so to speak.   We will also have photographs of the visiting Eagles from the regulars that are at the dam watching and photographing the Eagles day after day, rain or shine, warm or cold.