Monthly Archives: May 2017

Habemus Protonotaria

   Those little nimble musicians of the air, that warble forth their curious ditties, with which nature hath furnished them to the shame of art. Izaak Walton
When a new Pope of the Catholic church is elected, the Cardinal Protodeacon, the senior Cardinal Deacon, announces from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope).  For the past few weeks, birders at Fresh Pond, Cambridge, at the dog pond and Black Nook, have been able to joyously announce Habemus Protonotaria (We Have a Prothonotary).  The name comes from the bright yellow robes of Roman Catholic Protonotaries, prelates in the Roman Curia.  This stunning warbler has been wowing birders day after day at Fresh Pond.  This species is not often seen around here because this area is somewhat out of its range.   Therefore it is attracting birders from all over.  While at the dog pond recently,  I spoke to a couple who had come from the Berkshires in hopes of seeing this bird.  They had been exploring the dog pond and the area around it hoping to catch a glimpse of the bird.  Finally, they heard the bird singing and a minute later got a quick look at it as it popped up on the ground as it gathered nesting material.  I expect that their ride back to the Berkshires was happier since they accomplished their mission.  This bird is building a nest, after which it will try to attract a female.  Photographer Jim Renault has taken some fantastic photos of this bird, including some from the nest it is building. Unfortunately, since the bird is out of its range it is unlikely it will be able to find a mate around here.  Hopefully it will find its way back to a habitat where it can attract a mate.
Prothonotary Warbler, Fresh Pond.  Photo by Jim Renault. 
Prothonotary Warbler singing, Fresh Pond.  Photo by Jim Renault.
Prothonotary Warbler, singing at nest, Fresh Pond.  Photo by Jim Renault.
Two years ago (and the year before that) there was a Red Fox den at Salisbury that attracted many photographers and watchers.  We were able to see them playing pretty much any time we went to the site during the month of May as long as we were patient and waited for them to come out of the den.  We were disappointed last year that there wasn’t another fox den.  We hoped that this year the fox presence would reappear.  Our prayers were answered.  We’ve been watching them since the beginning of May.  They were in a den in a sand dune near the beach for a couple of weeks and then they were discovered at the den near the causeway road in a culvert pipe where they were two years ago.  The fox parents usually make two, three or four dens so they can move the kits around as they get older.  And for security reasons too.  If one den seems to be a threat,  the parents will move the kits to another den overnight.  On Monday, May 8th, I went to Plum Island for an hour and then went to Salisbury at 9am hoping to catch a look at the fox kits for the first time.  There were about ten photographers there waiting for the kits.  At 10am as three of us were watching one end of the culvert pipe, one kit stuck its head out, looked around and then popped out, staying close to the pipe.  It preened and looked around, giving me some nice head shots.
Fox kit, Salisbury.  Photo by John Harrison.
It was maybe eight feet from me.  After a couple of minutes it went back into the pipe.  It came out again thirty minutes later for another  couple of minutes.  I managed a few more photos and then it went back into the pipe.  On the other end of the culvert pipe was a meadow and that was where the other photographers were.  The foxes always have entrances and exits when they make a den.  I went back to the meadow area, which was a great backdrop if the kits came out to play, set up my chair and tripod, and waited with the others.  At noon one of the kits slowly walked out of the brush to the meadow.  The photographers were far enough away not to frighten the kits.  Another kit emerged and began playing with its sibling.  A few minutes later a third kit emerged and joined the other two.  We had heard that there were only three kits so we were excited to be watching all of them.
25FOXKITSSALISBURYXXXXMONMAY0820171694 371Fox kits playing, Salisbury.  Photo by John Harrison. 
Fox kits playing, Salisbury.  Photo by John Harrison.
Five Fox kits playing, Salisbury.  Photo by John Harrison.  
Of course we we were hoping that one of the adults would appear, but they were more private and didn’t show themselves much.  We watched the kits run around and play and bite each other for a while. Serendipity.  Then a fourth kit came out and joined the other three.  This was a big surprise. The four of them continued to run around and put on a show for us.  We watched for a while, cameras snapping crazily, and then, much to our surprise, a fifth kit joined the group.  We were looking at each other with “What’s going on here.” faces.  We all thought that there were only three kits.  But we figured that when the three kits had been seen at the dune, the other two might have been in another den.  That’s the way of the foxes. We had the privilege of watching the five of them for almost an hour.  It was an amazing experience.  Then one by one they went into the brush and back into the den.  Some of the photographers were going to hang around hoping that they reappeared.  But I had had plenty of luck with them and decided to head home. Later I heard from one of the photographers that had stayed that they never did come out again.  We had enjoyed a magical fox kit show.  Here are video looks at the kits.  Photographer Kim Nagy went to the den site on Thursday, May 11th and did have two kits come out but they didn’t play and none of the other siblings joined them.  Just as Kim was about to leave, a Fisheries and Wildlife representative showed up and began putting a rope barrier around the meadow so watchers wouldn’t get too close.  If they came out being behind that rope barrier wouldn’t be a problem.  And we understood the reason they did this.  They wanted to protect the foxes, with which we agreed. Ironically, we heard a few days later that the parents had moved the fox kits to the den where we had watched them in 2014 and 2015.
from KIM second fox kit
Fox kit, Salisbury.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM fox behind branches
Fox kit, Salisbury.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
  On Saturday morning, May 13th, Kim Nagy and I went to the new den site and waited for a while, not seeing any sign of them.  While we were there a photographer pointed to a flowering crab apple tree and said that an Indigo Bunting had been in that tree often for the past few days.  We went over to that tree and a minute later the bird flew in.  It was a beauty.  This bird is seen during spring migration every year, but usually we get only a quick glimpse from afar.  Last year at Mount Auburn Cemetery on the flowering tree next to Bigelow Chapel, a couple of Indigo Buntings were on the tree, with a dozen or more other warbler species, for almost a full week.  That tree was alive with spring migrants.  We never expected to have such a good look at this species again.  But here we were watching this one fly in and out of that crab apple for an hour.  It was a splendid encounter.  This Indigo Bunting was a striking specimen in its breeding plumage.  Sometimes while hoping for foxes, surprises happen.  This Indigo Bunting experience made the day very worthwhile.  And we’ll go back for the foxes again a few more times before the end of the month.  As we learned in 2014 and 2015, after Memorial Day the fox kit sightings were rare.
  from KIM Indigo Bunting in flowers
Indigo Bunting, Salisbury.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Indigo Bunting, Salisbury.  Photo by John Harrison.
Indigo Bunting, Salisbury.  Photo by John Harrison.
  This year’s spring migrants, the warblers, began filtering in at the beginning of May.  On the first of May at Mount Auburn I enjoyed a Blue-winged Warbler, a species I haven’t had a good look at since 2011.  It flew in and out of a flowering tree for a couple of hours.  The Blue-winged somewhat resembles the Prothonotary.  For the next few days Mount Auburn was very busy with migrants, including the Scarlet Tanager, Chestnut-sided, Nashville, Magnolias, Common Yellowthroat, Redstarts, male and female, the Black & White, Northern Parula, the Wilson’s, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a Great-crested Flycatcher.  That was quite a cast for the first few days in May.
Blue-winged Warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
Scarlet Tanager, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
Chestnut-sided Warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
Magnolia Warbler, Hellcat Trail, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
Wilson’s Warbler, Hellcat Trail, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
Towhee, Hellcat Trail, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison. 
Bay-breasted Warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
Blackburnian Warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by Jim Renault.
  At the Mystic Lakes a pair of Downy Woodpeckers were building a nest on a dead tree next to the small pond at Shannon Beach: 
Downy Woodpeckers mating, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.
There were migrants present in this area also.  As usual there were Warbling Vireos 
Warbling Vireo, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.  
and Baltimore and Orchard Orioles.
25ORCHARDORIOLEMYSTICLAKESXXXXSUNMAY0720171694 169Orchard Oriole, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison. 
Nashville Warbler, Pines Trail, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
As the month rolled by, more and more migrants joined the parade.  Mount Auburn Cemetery, Plum Island and Marblehead Neck were awash with warblers.  We even had a visit from a young Scarlet Tanager at Hellcat on Plum Island.  Really, an ‘Orange Tanager.’
29SCARLETTANAGERHELLCATXXXXSUNMAY2120171698 058Scarlet Tanager, immature, Hellcat Trail, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
Scarlet Tanager, immature, Hellcat Trail, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
from KIM Baltimore Oriole PLUM
Baltimore Oriole, Hellcat Trail, Plum Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM Bobolink
Bobolink, Plum Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM Willet flying PLUM left
Willet in flight, Plum Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Even as late as Sunday, May 28th,  I found Marblehead Neck to be very busy, as I enjoyed seeing the Canada, the Bay-breasted,
Red-eyed Vireo, Marblehead Neck.  Photo by John Harrison.
Blackpolls, Common Yellowthroats and Red-eyed Vireos.  On that morning a Mourning Warbler was heard in the brush……But not seen.  The Mourning Warbler is one of those that we seldom see.  I had a quick look at one on the boardwalk at Hellcat on Plum Island in May of 2009.  It’s not a good photo of this species, but it’s better than nothing.  I was fortunate to get this much from this species.
MOURNING38WARBLER fx PLUMISLANDWEDMAY202009695(B) 075Mourning Warbler, Hellcat Trail boardwalk, Plum Island, May 20, 2009.  Photo by John Harrison.
This has been a fantastic – if a bit late – spring migration.  To paraphrase William Shakespeare, ‘All’s well that ends as you like it.’
  Photographer Kim Nagy took a break from the spring migrants to visit Damariscotta, Maine for the Ospreys, Cormorants and seagulls as they fed on the Alewife fish run.  Damariscotta and nearby Warren are great places to catch Ospreys diving for fish, which is one of the most exciting activities to witness in the wildlife world.
from KIM Osprey leaving with fish
Osprey with fish, Damariscotta, Maine.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM OSPREY no fish2
Osprey at Damariscotta, Maine.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM dark cormorant with fish left
Cormorant with fish, Damariscotta, Maine.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM cormorant with fish
Cormorant with fish, Damariscotta, Maine.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM juvenile SEAGULL with fish
Seagull with fish, Damariscotta, Maine.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
The Medford Library invited Kim and me to speak about our book Dead In Good Company on Tuesday, May 23rd.  (  Joining us for this event were our Medford contributors,  Dee Morris and Paul Roberts.  We thank Barbara Kerr of the library for inviting us.
29MEDFORDLIBRARYTUESMAY2320171698 244Medford Library, Tuesday, May 23, 2017.   (L to R)  Paul Roberts, Dee Morris, John Harrison, Kim Nagy.  Photo by Mark Resendes.
  As spring migration wanes, there are other things on the horizon.  It looks like the female Peregrine Falcon in Woburn is sitting so we are hoping for another good season at that location. We also discovered, thanks to the staffs at the Amoskeag Fishways and Massabesic Audubon Center in Manchester, NH, another Peregrine Falcon pair in a nest box on a building in Manchester.
31AMOSKEAGFISHWAYSMANCHESTERSATMAY2720171700 021Amoskeag Fishways, Manchester, NH.  Photo by John Harrison.
Massabesic Audubon Center, Manchester, NH.  Photo by John Harrison.
There are four hatchlings in that box now and once they fledge they are going to be fun to watch. There is a live cam available for this site:  And it looks like we will have another American Kestrel family to enjoy at Tufts Park in South Medford.  More on those next time.
On a visit to her family home in Maryland, Susan Moses made a nice discovery in the back yard……
Doe and Fawn in back yard in Maryland.  Photo by Susan Moses.
from SUSAN MOSES DOE AND FAWN fx  2 image2
Fawn in back yard in Maryland.  Photo by Susan Moses.
Birds are indicators of the environment. If they are in trouble, we know we’ll soon be in trouble.   Roger Tory Peterson