My friends call me an owl. Apparently, it’s a combination of being wise and
having big eyes Romy Madley Croft
A generation ago, The Honeymooners star, Jackie Gleason, was known as ‘The Great One.’ Currently the TV/radio broadcaster Mark Levin is called, by many, ‘The Great One.’ And, of course. all New Englanders know that our own Tom Brady has earned the title ‘The Great One.’ The small New Hampshire town of Newport can lay claim to its own ‘Great One,’ a Great Gray Owl, a species native to Alaska, western Canada and the northwestern US and the largest owl in length in the world. This magnificent owl has been drawing people to this town from all over New England for more than a month.
Great Gray Owl, Newport, NH, Sun. Mar. 26, 2017. Photo by John Harrison
Great Gray Owl. Photo by Kim Nagy.
I have been hearing stories from friends for a while about their experiences watching and photographing this owl. There has been an insistent voice in the back of my mind, commanding “Go to Newport. Go to Newport.” On Sunday, March 26th, photographer Kim Nagy (who had already been to Newport twice without seeing the owl) and I decided to make our way there to try to catch a look at this owl before it headed north to its home habitat. It’s almost April. The clock was ticking. There was this recurring advice from most people who had seen it that late afternoon was its most active time. So we left for Newport at 12:30pm. We got there at 2:30pm and first went to Parlin Airport where the owl was seen now and then in the surrounding fields.
There were some people already there, waiting and hoping to see the owl. We conferred with them. In a while a Newport resident drove in and told us to follow her and she would show us where the owl had been hunting the day before. So we followed her in a caravan out of the airport back onto Rt. 10. In a few minutes she pulled over to the side of the highway, where there were already a bunch of cars parked and people milling along the edge of the field hoping that the owl would show up. This was at 3:30pm. Kim and I saw photographers Sandy and Don Selesky in the growing crowd. After a while Don went back into his car to sit and wait. A little after 4pm Don jumped out of the car, a big smile on his face, gave us a thumbs-up and pointed to the back edge of the field and said “It just flew in.”
There it was, sitting on an open branch with those piercing eyes studying the terrain. Those eyes are startling. The large audience was wild with delight. The owl had been in this exact field at the same time the day before so if you wonder, ‘can lightning strike twice?’ The answer is yes! What were the odds?
The growing crowd of birders and photographers snapped away as the owl stared at us and scanned the field looking for prey.
After about thirty minutes, the owl took off toward us and landed about fifteen feet from Kim and me. (See the first video).
It was literally sitting on a mouse. It would occasionally look down and then put its head down into the grass, checking to see if the mouse was dead, it seemed.
Finally, it started to rise, with the mouse in its beak, and quickly swallowed it whole. Then if took off back to the same tree. It was an amazing thing to witness. Kim and I left fifteen minutes later. The light was getting low and we had had a great encounter, so we were well satisfied. We had seen ‘The Great One.’ Newport’s pride and joy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fI_Fn9-AmdQ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ug_tPLK10OA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EM4EVjHEV8A Here is a slideshow of the owl by John Harrison and Kim Nagy: https://youtu.be/ETSKosISo1g
The birds seem to be paying attention to the calendar this year. On March 20th, the first day of spring, Mount Auburn Cemetery was awash with birds. I had been checking the Atlas Cedar tree the past week hoping to see a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker drilling for sap. The Atlas Cedar is a favorite for Sapsuckers and we usually get to see them on this tree in the spring. On my third check that morning, I saw one fly in. It got right to work, fiercely drilling to get to the sap. We could see the rows of perfectly round little holes from past years and we could see the sap dripping out of the new holes as it got behind the bark.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Photo by John Harrison.
The Sapsuckers are industrious and we expect to be seeing them on this tree and others in the cemetery for a while. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R31__88m260 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lucJcMPXF-g While wandering around that first day of spring, I saw bird guru Bob Stymeist, the “Mayor” of Mount Auburn. I told him that the Sapsucker was on that tree and he brought me up to date on what else he had seen. Together we watched a Brown Creeper on a nearby tree. Then I continued on my way, driving around hoping to maybe see the coyote. Five minutes later Bob called me to tell me he was watching a leucistic Robin in the area near the Atlas Cedar. I quickly returned to Crystal Ave. The leucistic Robin was among a large flock of Robins foraging on the ground.
Leucistic Robin, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Monday, March 20, 2017. Photo by John Harrison.
Birds with this condition, leucism, are rare. It turns the coloring of the bird mostly white. My last sighting of a leucistic Robin was also at Mount Auburn in September of 2010.
And a leucistic Sparrow spent the entire winter of 2005/2006 in Cambridge in the area of Bonny’s Nursery at Fresh Pond.
Leucistic Robin, Cambridge, Dec. 06, 2005. Photo by John Harrison.
And in September of 2005 a leucisitc Great Blue Heron was seen at the Arlington Reservoir.
Leucistic Great Blue Heron, Arlington Reservoir, Sept. 2005. Photo by John Harrison.
Leucisitc Great Blue Heron, Arlington Reservoir, Sept. 2005. Photo by John Harrison.
In the following days at Mount Auburn, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker remained busy at the Atlas Cedar and there were Cedar Waxwings around, too https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3foYI4M123o
On March 21st a Cooper’s Hawk landed on the weeping beech at RH White and stayed long enough for some photos and a video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfSw95I9Uvg
Cooper’s Hawk, weeping beech, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by John Harrison.
On March 23rd photographer Jim Renault spotted a coyote below the Tower on Palm Ave. and was able to get a couple of shots while it ascended Harvard Hill.Coyote, Harvard Hill, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by Jim Renault.
Coyote, Harvard Hill, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by Jim Renault.
Al Parker, the expert birder of the Mount Auburn staff, discovered a Saw Whet Owl, a really rare visitor to the cemetery, on March 13th. Al took some magnificent up-close-and-personal photographs of this striking owl.
Saw Whet Owl, Mount Auburn Cemetery. Photo by Al Parker.
The last time we had a Saw Whet at the cemetery was in March of 2008. Bob Stymeist found that one near Crystal Ave.
Al Parker also found a Gray morph Screech Owl in a tree on Glen Ave recently.
Spring has begun with a bang, not a whimper. The ‘Big Show,’ the warblers, will be here before we know it.
Author/journalist/columnist/blogger Nancy Lawson, (http://www.humanegardener.com/author/lawson-nancygmail-com/) who wrote the story A resting place for all, FINDING LIFE IN UNLIKELY PLACES about Mount Auburn Cemetery and Kim Nagy and my book DEAD IN GOOD COMPANY (https://www.amazon.com/Dead-Good-Company-John-Harrison/dp/0996374701, www.facebook.com/deadingoodcompany) for the Humane Society of the United States magazine all animals, just had her new book released, THE HUMANE GARDENER, NURTURING A BACKYARD HABITAT FOR WILDLIFE (Princeton Architectural Press, https://www.amazon.com/Humane-Gardener-Nurturing-Backyard-Wildlife/dp/1616895543).
The book is a primer of steps to be taken to make your back yard welcoming to wildlife. Which native species best shelter baby animals and birds? How do we live in harmony with creatures that some regard as pests or a threat (like coyotes)? Through anecdotes, interviews with scientists, naturalists and home gardeners all over the country, and scores of photographs and her own advice, MS Lawson explains the sound principles governing a critter-friendly environment. This book belongs on the shelves of all gardeners who want to make their land more attractive to wildlife. MS Lawson used two coyote photographs from Mount Auburn Cemetery in the book.
Mount Auburn coyotes in THE HUMANE GARDENER by Nancy Lawson. Photo by John Harrison.
Clare Walker Leslie, (http://www.clarewalkerleslie.com/) author, artist and contributor to Dead In Good Company, began an exhibit of her watercolors on March 14, 2017 at Salon R Gallery, 703 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge. On Tuesday, March 21st, there was a reception for the exhibit at Salon R, attended by many of Clare’s friends and fans. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LJiLS_OYUk
(L to R) Clare Walker Leslie, David Barnett (President and CEO of Mount Auburn Cemetery) and David Leslie. Photo by John Harrison.
(L to R) Clare Walker Leslie, Bob Stymeist, Jessica Bussmann, Bree Harvey and Jennifer Johnston. Photo by John Harrison.
Ginny Brady with three of Clare’s watercolors at Salon R Gallery. Photo by John Harrison.
Clare’s watercolor of a Belted Kingfisher at the Salon R Gallery exhibit. Photo by John Harrison.
The gallery walls are adorned with some of Clare’s many watercolors. A self-taught Naturalist, Clare was written more than 50 Nature Journals and a dozen books, among them, The Curious Nature Guide; The Nature Connection: An outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families and Class Rooms; The Art of Field Sketching and Nature Drawing; A tool for Learning. The exhibit runs through April 29th. Attend the exhibit and then cross the street to Mount Auburn Cemetery and walk the paths and seek the wildlife that has inspired so many of Clare’s wonderful books, sketches and illustrations.
On Sunday, March 19th, Wendy Drexler and Joan Fleiss Kaplan had a reading and slideshow for their children’s book, BUZZ, RUBY, AND THEIR CITY CHICKS ( https://www.amazon.com/Buzz-Ruby-Their-City-Chicks/dp/0996374744 ), at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. There were a bunch of kids on hand who enjoyed hearing Wendy and Joan read from the book as a slideshow of the photographs in the book flashed on the screen.
Wendy Drexler (R) and Joan Fleiss Kaplan read from their book, Buzz, Ruby, and Their City Chicks at Porter Square Books, Sunday, March 19, 2017. Photo by John Harrison.
They answered questions from the kids and had an up-to-date chronology of the famous hawks from raptor expert Paul Roberts of Medford. It was a festive afternoon and I don’t doubt that some new, young, hawk watchers emerged from the event. Here are several video moments:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-4FEnqqUKA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lb78_nvEnQI https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuMs9V0jrCQ
Paul Roberts, Wendy Drexler and Joan Fleiss Kaplan at Porter Square Books. Photo by John Harrison.
Next time we are sure to have already seen a few spring migrants…The warblers…..That Mardi Gras for birders is right around the corner…..
Great Gray Owl, Newport, NH, Sun. March 26, 2017. Photo by John Harrison