Author Archives: johnharrison

The Royalty of the Lakes

Every bird of prey looks over its shoulder before it goes in for the kill, even a hawk.  Even they know to watch their backs – every single one but an eagle.  It’s fearless.  Michele Horst,  Wake Me Up 

  February’s nor’easters have already occurred and the Bald Eagles are back in command at the Mystic Lakes.  We can pretty much be certain of these two things every winter.  Though we’d all rather see more Eagles and less snow.  It’s extraordinary that year after year the Eagles find their way back to the Lakes and to ‘The Tree’ in front of the Medford Boat Club that has become their command post.  They somehow find this needle-in-a-haystack speck of water year after year. When the water freezes up north where they live, they ‘know’ that there will be open water at the Mystic Lakes in Medford, Arlington and Winchester. How do they know this?  There is conjecture and theory about how they know this and how they find their way to the Lakes every year.  But for those of us with our cameras, scopes and binoculars at the ready, we prefer the mystery of this.  As Mark Twain wrote in A TRAMP ABROAD, “We have lost as much as we have gained by prying into that matter.”  So we leave it alone.  That’s the wheelhouse of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We just want to watch and photograph these majestic birds as they fly around and over us, winter after winter, at our own Mystic Lakes. They truly are the Royalty of the Lakes.
Photo by Mark Resendes.
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Photo by Glen Campbell.
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Photo by Glen Campbell
Bald Eagle with band.  Photo by Craig Gibson.
Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle pair on “The Tree’ as it snows.  Photo by Jim Renault.
  Every year around this time Medford’s Birds of Prey guru, Paul Roberts, updates us on the State of the Eagles.  Paul chronicles these birds and comments on them day after day for Arlington Birds.  Because of Paul we are slowly learning the nuances of ‘Eagleology’ –  juveniles, immatures, sub adults, basic 1st,  2nd, 3rd and 4th year birds and the other information that adds to our appreciation of this species.  We have learned Eagle-speak from Paul.  He is our professor of ‘Bald Eagles 101.’   This link will help in identifying the Eagles at their various stages of development upon which Paul will comment  To complete the story we have photos of the Mystic Lakes Bald Eagles from several of the dedicated photographers that are out there day after day capturing their antics: Jim Renault, Craig Gibson, Glen Campbell, Judd Nathan, Brian Rusnica, Mark Resendes and David Morris.
  Paul is just back from a birding trip to Texas, where, among other delights, he watched an Aplomado Falcon one day for several hours.  But that’s for another time.   For now Paul is going to turn his laser-like focus to our Mystic Lakes Bald Eagles, the symbol of our country.
Photo by David Morris                                                     
Photo by David Morris.
                                                   Paul Roberts
For the second half of the twentieth century, seeing a Bald Eagle anywhere in Massachusetts was a rare event. Eagles were seen primarily in winter because breeding populations had been extirpated from much of the eastern U.S. What few birds might be seen were at Quabbin, and beginning in the 80s and 90s on the Merrimack River, and were likely from Canada. These birds would move south in stages in November and December as northern lakes and streams froze over, cutting off their access to fish and waterfowl. Eventually in late December or early January some would reach Massachusetts. The best chance to see eagles in eastern Massachusetts was in March when lakes and ponds would start to thaw out, releasing fish killed in the freeze-up. Thawing lakes’ fish kills attracted flocks of gulls and the few eagles migrating north, looking for a free meal.
The banning of DDT in 1972 enabled eagle populations to slowly recover. Reintroduction programs successfully introduced healthy young who were released or “hacked” into good breeding territory. A Bald Eagle requires at least 4-5 years to reach adult plumage with a full white head and tail, and they generally do not begin breeding until they are 4-7 years old, so it took time for numbers to begin to rebound. Many young adult eagles “play house” for several years so may not successfully raise young until they are around 7 years old.
Photo by Craig Gibson.
Photo by Craig Gibson.
In the immediate Medford area beginning around 2000 our first real opportunities to see eagles were from late December into late February and early March. Northern eagles would occasionally visit the Mystic Lakes and River, portions of which tend to remain open throughout most winters because of the dams on both ends of the river. We saw easily identifiable adults but also unfamiliar immature eagles, difficult to identify because they lack bright white heads and tails. Size and shape became important to identification, All Bald Eagles have a roughly 6-foot wingspan, with the head and large beak in front of the wing about as long as the tail behind the wing. That shape is important because most immature eagles are primarily blackish-looking birds with dirty white “armpits” and variable amounts of dirty white on their bellies, backs and crowns. These winter visitors moved around Greater Boston, looking for open bodies of water in which to find prey. When temperatures rose above freezing they might fish shallower lakes and ponds as they thawed, including Spy, Spot and Horn Pond, but when we got into the depth of winter and those waters froze over, the eagles would focus on the Mystic Lakes, and the Mystic and Charles Rivers, where dams helped keep portions open.
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Photo by Judd Nathan.
For over a decade, we saw increasing numbers of wintering Bald Eagles of all ages on the Mystic Lakes, reaching an estimated minimum 10-15 different eagles a year. Visitors would often perch majestically in “The Tree” by the Medford Boat Clubhouse, affording the birds commanding views of the lakes and upper river. “The Tree” also gave many people their first good views of a Bald Eagle!
Bald Eagle
Photo by Jim Renault.
About five years ago there was a significant change. Two young wintering adult eagles paired off and nested within ten miles of the lakes. They abandoned their unsuccessful attempts after two years, but they were now a year round presence, occasionally seen patrolling the Mystic Lakes and other ponds. However, unlike many wintering birds, they did not regularly spend considerable time at the lakes. Then other young pairs began attempting nesting in the larger area, so 1-2 adults might be seen any time of year.
Another major trend was also underway. Southern Bald Eagle populations were also recovering, from Florida to Louisiana. Southern young can hatch in December and fledge as early as March! After several months, many southern juveniles, immatures and adults, move north to cooler climes with better fishing opportunities, including Canada. We might see some in Massachusetts in early summer, but are more likely to see them in August and September when many southern eagles, especially adults, begin moving back south to their nesting territories.
Eagle migration counts at Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, Massachusetts began skyrocketing in 2013, when hawk watchers counted 102 migrants, primarily in September, up from 48 the year before. In 2014 an all-time high of 189 eagles were seen, including a record 39 on September 14! This increase was reflected throughout much of the northeast. At the Mystic Lakes we began seeing small but growing numbers of eagles working the lakes in August to October, a dramatic change from prior years.
There was another subtle shift in the winter of 2016-2017. First, this unusually warm winter did not produce prolonged freeze up of the rivers and lakes immediately north of us in New England, much less the Mystics. Thus, we have not seen the magnitude of winter visitors that we have come to expect over the past fifteen years. (We’ve also seen a precipitous drop in the wintering, fish-eating Great Cormorant!) Second, the behavior of eagles at the lakes has changed. Over the past several years the “local pair” began perching regularly in a spruce tree on the western shore of the lower lake, on private property and difficult to see well. With eagles nesting successfully within 10-15 miles of the lakes the past several years, we have had adults, juveniles and recently older immatures visiting the lakes anytime during the year, becoming much more familiar with it. They often perch in trees on the western shoreline to avoid contact with humans and where they can be difficult to see without careful scanning with binoculars. The white heads of the full adults stand out when they sit high in a tree, but the mottled “black” and dirty white immatures can be very difficult to spot.
Photo by Brian Rusnica.
During the winter of 2016-17, at least ten different individuals, and likely a few more, have been seen. At least four different adults have been observed at one time. Adults can be very difficult to identify individually, except that males are generally noticeably smaller than their mates. We have had at least two subadults (largely white head and tail but with variable dark smudges best seen when perched, and often “salt” speckling the dark body; in flight can be mistaken for full adults.). We have seen at least two white-bellied immatures, who have dark-brown bibs and variable amounts of dirty white mottling on the belly, upper back, and crown; white armpits; and some possible white streaking in the tail. We have had at least two juveniles (dark head, tail, and body with white armpits; limited dirty white streaking). At least three juveniles fledged within ten miles of the lakes this past spring, so we have likely seen them all. (Bald Eagles go through 4-6 different plumages over 4-7 years, which can make labeling and ageing them accurately quite challenging.)
Photo by Craig Gibson.
For more than a decade we have occasionally seen spectacular dramatic courtship flights in February and early March, especially on sunny, cold, windy days. Eagles of any age might “duet,” soaring, gliding, or in powered flight together. Or fly “in tandem” with the lower bird rolling over and raising talons while the upper bird drops talons, or do “roller coaster” flights. Over the past several years, several eagles have been seen copulating in a tree on the lake shore, or breaking off sticks for nests and carrying them off, another courtship ritual often leading to copulation. Such sightings are rare, unforgettable experiences. Locally nesting Red-tailed Hawks are also courting at this time, with “duetting,” dramatic sky dancing, talon dropping, roller-coaster flights, and screeching.
Photo by Brian Rusnica.
Keep your eyes open on the Mystic Lakes, along the Mystic River, or on other bodies of water in our area. To my knowledge, there is no evidence that eagles are nesting in the immediate vicinity of the Mystic Lakes or Horn Pond. If you think you see evidence of this, please contact me privately at or contact Drew Vitz, State Ornithologist, at Andrew.Vitz@MassMail.State.MA.US The objective is to do what is best to ensure the birds nesting success while respecting the rights of property owners.
There is a lot we do not know about eagles. Advanced radiotelemetry is giving us many new insights into eagle behavior.
Photo by John Harrison.
We now have the largest breeding population of Bald Eagles in Massachusetts in our lifetime. Many prime nesting territories are now occupied. New pairs will have to occupy more marginal habitat, including cemeteries, country clubs, and large back yards with tall trees, involving more and closer encounters with humans. If you see an eagle perched, please keep your distance. Do not flush it by attempting to get closer for photographs. Respect the eagle’s need to rest, hunt, and eat undisturbed. Just enjoy seeing this incredible bird in our own back yard.
Photo by Mark Resendes
Photo by John Harrison
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The King and Queen on ‘The Tree.”  Photo by John Harrison.

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.
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Male and female Wood Ducks, Leverett Pond, Brookline.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
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Wood Ducks, Leverett Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
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Wood Duck as the snow falls, Leverett Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
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Hooded Mergansers, Leverett Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
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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.

Buzz, Ruby, And Their City Chicks Soar Into History.

  Birdwatching – unsentimental, mediating, open-eyed, technologically powered but fueled by ancient longings – is the real national pastime, it just isn’t televised.  JONATHAN ROSEN, The Life of the Skies.
 Wendy Drexler and Joan Fleiss Kaplan’s wonderful children’s book, BUZZ, RUBY, AND THEIR CITY CHICKS, was officially launched at the Hotel Tria at Fresh Pond on Sunday, November 6, 2016. It was an emotional afternoon for all of us hawkwatchers that stood below that nest in 2010 and 2011 watching the antics of Buzz and Ruby and the kids.  I began the event with some of my own memories of that time and then introduced Wendy and Joan, who discussed how the book came to be, from the idea to the actual book.
Joan Fleiss Kaplan (L) and Wendy Drexler (R) at the Tria Hotel, Sunday, November 06, 2016.  Photo by John Harrison
After that they read the book as page by page was scrolled on the screen behind them.
Joan Fleiss Kaplan (L) and Wendy Drexler (R) read from their book.  Photo by John Harrison.
The Buzz and Ruby scholar, Paul Roberts, followed Wendy and Joan and gave the spellbound audience an update of the hawks since 2011.  As Paul spoke, you could hear a pin drop.  It was a moving presentation.
Paul Roberts speaks at the BUZZ, RUBY, AND THEIR CITY CHICKS launch.  Photo by John Harrison.
Following Paul, videographer Ernie Sarro, who first noticed Buzz and Ruby and  got ‘the ball rolling,’ so to speak, passionately reflected on his experiences in 2010 at the nest and what the book means to him – and to us.  If Paul Roberts is the Buzz and Ruby scholar, then Ernie Sarro is certainly the Buzz and Ruby Godfather. Ernie paved the way.
Videographer Ernie Sarro signs copy of BUZZ, RUBY, AND THEIR CITY CHICKS.  Photo by John Harrison.
Ernie Sarro (L), photographer John Beattie (Ctr.) and book designer Steve Gladstone (R). Photo by John Harrison.
Andy Provost, contributing photographer to the book, (L) and Paul Roberts (R).  Photo by John Harrison.
It’s been a long journey from those exciting days in 2010 to the splendid celebration at the Hotel Tria.   Now, thanks to Wendy and Joan, the saga of Buzz and Ruby is part of the history of Cambridge.  Since publication Wendy and Joan have been to area schools sharing the story of Buzz and Ruby with the kids.  There is no doubt that some of these kids will become nature lovers because of their exposure to this book.  Another generation of hawkwatchers will emerge from BUZZ, RUBY, AND THEIR CITY CHICKS.  The book is available in many stores in the area and on Amazon  Here are videos of the launch at the Hotel Tria: (John Harrison) (Wendy and Joan)  (Ernie Sarro) (Ernie Sarro)
  Waldo’s auditioning a new mate.  Remember last season Waldo (aka Hamilton), the Woburn cliffs Peregrine Falcon, mated with a very young female, named Kate (aka Eliza), not even a year old. That banded female produced one chick, Charlotte (aka Philip).  It’s unusual for a female Peregrine that young to successfully produce offspring.  It happens, but it’s rare.  Since the end of breeding season Waldo, Kate and Charlotte  have been seen perching on the cliffs and sometimes on telephone poles in the area with prey.  Then a few weeks ago Kate wasn’t being seen anymore. Waldo would often be perching at the nest site but no sign of Kate.  When they were both seen perching again, it was noticed that there was no band on the leg of this female.  She’s a new one. She’s the third (maybe the fourth) potential mate for Waldo.  I saw him land close to her once so it looks like he’s warming to her.   Since the arrival of the new female, the juvenile hatchling hasn’t been seen either.  With this new female aboard there’s an odds-on chance that we will have another season with a Peregrine Falcon chick presence in Woburn. That’s very exciting for us.
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Peregrine Falcon pair in Woburn.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
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Peregrine Falcon, Woburn.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
Peregrine Falcon, Woburn.  Photo by John Harrison.
 Here’s the new female:
   On an adventure to Plum Island on October 29, Kim Nagy and I sighted a Peregrine with prey on a telephone pole.
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Peregrine Falcon takes off with prey, Plum Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
We watched it for about twenty minutes until a Red-tailed Hawk was flying toward the telephone pole and the Peregrine took off with its prey and the Red-tail landed on the same pole.   
Red-tailed Hawk lands on pole after Peregrine takes off, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
  The Mount Auburn Great Horned Owl pair is seen regularly at the Cemetery.  This makes us hopeful that there might be a successful nest this year.  Last year we thought there was going to be a nest when the female was kind-of sitting in a tree on Ivy Path on the way into the Dell.  There was a single broken egg beneath the tree so maybe there was an attempt to have a nest. But she was only there for a day and a half and then was back in the Dell.  So maybe it was a practice run and she will be ready for the ‘real thing’ this year.
Great Horned Owl pair in Dell, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
The last – and only successful – Great Horned Owl nest was in 2011.  We’re ready for another.  More than ready.
   Lately the three coyotes have been seen at Mount Auburn regularly.  The one with mange was discussed last time.  The darker coyote, named Pompom by my favorite animal namer, six-year-old Mari, seems healthy and robust.
Coyote Pompom at Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.  
Animal control told us that Pompom is a female and the two blond coyotes are males.  Pompom has even stopped trotting a couple of times to give me some video moments:
    On Monday, November 28th, I was fortunate to photograph a Merlin at Oak Grove Cemetery. The bird was perched at the top of a tree and took off twice for me, returning to the same branch on the tree after the first takeoff.  I haven’t had a Merlin sighting for a couple of years so this was especially rewarding.
 Merlin taking off, Oak Grove Cemetery, Medford.  Photo by John Harrison.
Merlin, Oak Grove Cemetery, Medford.  Photo by John Harrison.
  December began with a Cooper’s Hawk at Mount Auburn Cemetery, followed by another appearance by our little coyote Pompom.
Cooper’s Hawk, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
Joan Kaplan, one of the authors of BUZZ, RUBY, AND THEIR CITY CHICKS, joined me at the cemetery hoping to catch a glimpse of Pompom.  We drove around for maybe ten minutes and suddenly saw little Pompom trotting along one of the avenues near the cemetery flagpole.
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Coyote Pompom, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by Joan Fleiss Kaplan.
Coyote Pompom, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by Joan Fleiss Kaplan.  
We were able to follow her as she sniffed around the area for about fifteen minutes before losing sight of her.  Joan’s prayers were more than answered.  It was a nice, long look at this striking ‘song dog.’
   A Western Tanager, a rare visitor to this coast, was discovered recently at Dunback Meadow in Lexington.  Dead In Good Company co-editor and photographer Kim Nagy didn’t catch the Western Tanager at Dunback Meadow.  She did it the hard way…She went to Guatemala on a birding expedition and saw the Western Tanager there, as well as some other beauties.
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Western Tanager, Guatemala.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
 Here are a few of her special Guatemala moments.
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Townsend’s Warbler, Guatemala.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
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Hermit Warbler, Guatemala.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
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Green Violetear, Guatemala.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
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Summer Tanager, Guatemala.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
  In New Hampshire recently Kim Nagy saw a new (for her) breed of Wild Turkey, the Royal Palm,
This is an American heritage breed developed in the 1920′s.  We wish we could see more of those mixed in with the usual turkeys we see.  
Royal Palm Turkey, New Hampshire.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
  This exciting wildlife year is drawing to an end.  We are all hoping that the magnificent Snowy Owls return to the area in good numbers.  Dare we think irruption?  And we are hoping that the Mount Auburn Cemetery Great Horned Owls have a successful nest.  And we hope that 2017 is as satisfying as this past year has been.  Have a joyous holiday season.
SuperMoon Nov 13 2016  
Super Moon, Arlington.  Photo by Jim Renault.
Volcano Fuego erupting, Guatemala.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Great Horned Owls, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison. 
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Happy Thanksgiving

In these chaotic and unsettling times, Thanksgiving is more important than ever.  If a coyote and turkeys can get along, then so must we.76COYOTENEARDELLXXXXTHURSNOV1720161660 310  Coyote and wild turkeys, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.

 Best wishes to everyone for a peaceful, joyful Thanksgiving.   We are bigger and more vibrant and more creative than our differences.  That has always been so.  HAPPY THANKSGIVING NOVEMBER 2016


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  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). 66EASTERNWOODPEEWEEMYSTICLAKESXXXXMONSEP2620161650 108Eastern 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
21WENDYJOANBUZZANDRUBYBOOKFRIAPR1520161607 420Joan Fleiss Kaplan (L) and Wendy Drexler (R) with their new book.  Photo by John Harrison. 
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.
  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.   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. 69COYOTEMOUNTAUBURNXXXXMONOCT1720161653 031Dark-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.
70COYOTEMOUNTAUBURNXXXXMONOCT1720161654 004Light-colored coyote, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
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.   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.
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.   And now and then an Osprey appears and occasionally dives for a fish. 68OSPREYWINTERPONDXXXXWEDOCT1920161652 382Osprey 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.Kingfisher, BeltedKingfishers 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.
from JIM Yellow-billed Cuckoor2   Heard Pond FX Oct_13_2016
Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Heard Pond, Wayland.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
Kingfisher, BeltedKingfisher in flight over 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).from KIM muskrat swimming FX leftBeaver at Heard Pond in Wayland.  Photo by Jim Renault.   
And he also spotted an Osprey in a tree near him at the pondfrom JIM Osprey Heard Pond FX Oct_7_2016
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.
Connecticut WarblerConnecticut Warbler, Dunback Meadow.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
Here’s a look at the young muskrat at Mount Auburn Cemetery. 
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.
from KIM Ipswich River and clouds
Ipswich River, Topsfield, MA.  Photo by Kim Nagy.

Summer’s End

I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.  HENRY DAVID THOREAU

  The summer birding surprises didn’t slow down as we went through August and into September.  No August dog days this season.  The biggest surprise was a second clutch of two chicks from the American Kestrel pair at Tufts Park in South Medford.  It’s unusual for birds of prey to have a second brood in the same season.  The two chicks are both male and we were able to enjoy them for almost three full weeks, most of August, before the parents sent them on their way. They were an active, fun pair to watch.
Kestrel kids, Tufts Park, Medford, MA.  Photo by John Harrison.
Kestrel takes off from telephone pole, Tufts Park.  Photo by John Harrison.
Kestrel poses in front of an American Flag.  Photo by John Harrison.
  One wave of Tree Swallows left Plum Island and another wave came in,
from KIM TREE SWALLOWS above bush
Tree Swallows, Plum Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Tree Swallows covering the sky and the road, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
This phenomenon was available to us for most of August.  The wonder of hundreds of thousands of Tree Swallows as a giant cloud in the sky can’t be adequately described or photographed or filmed.  You have to be there and do a slow 360 degree turn to appreciate this display.  Here are a few videos that will give you an idea of this phenomenon:    And of course Plum Island yields a great variety of shore birds beginning in late August.  Here’s a Greater Yellowlegs in the marsh:
Greater Yellowlegs, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
  On Saturday morning, August 20, at Hellcat Trail, near the dike, there was a Yellow-crowned Night Heron.  It was a life-bird for me. 56YELLOWCROWNEDNIGHTHERONJUVENILEHELLCATXXXXSATAUG2020161640 270
Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Hellcat, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Hellcat, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
We’re used to seeing Black-crowned Night Herons around here – and I ran across an adult of the species in the marsh grass across from parking lot #1 that same morning as well as a juvenile along the water’s edge on the main road – but the Yellow-crowned was the day’s hit.  59BLACKCROWNEDNIGHTHERONPLUMISLANDXXXXSUNAUG2820161643 147
Black-crowned Night Heron, adult, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
Black-crowned Night Heron, juvenile, Hellcat, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
And, for once, a Harrier Hawk, working the marsh near the maintenance shed, gave us a great look as it rose and dipped into the grass in its usual manner near the shed.
Harrier Hawk near maintenance shed, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
Harrier Hawk near maintenance shed, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
  Horn Pond in Woburn, sadly with the lowest water levels ever seen there, is, despite that, still attracting a great variety of shore birds. 61HORNPONDMONSEP0520161645 119
Horn Pond in late August.  Usually all of the pond would be full of water.  Photo by John Harrison.
There have been Sanderlings, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs,60SANDERLINGHORNPONDXXXXFRISEP0220161644 359
Sanderling, Horn Pond.  Photo by John Harrison.
from JIM FX Yellow Legs at Pond
Yellowlegs, Horn Pond.  Photo by Jim Renault.
and several varieties of Sandpipers, et al, and the regular suspects:  Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Green Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Great Blue Herons, KiIldeer and Kingfishers, etc. from JIM FX Kingfisher at Horn Pond Back Lagoon
Kingfisher, Horn Pond.  Photo by Jim Renault. 
from JIM FX Kingfisher at Horn Pond Back Lagoon with fish
Kingfisher with fish, Horn Pond.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
Killdeer, Horn Pond.  Photo by John Harrison.
Green Heron, Horn Pond.  Photo by John Harrison.
from JIM FX Hummingbird at Dunback on Aster
Hummingbird.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
from JIM FX  Hummingbird at Dunbackon
Hummingbird.  Photo by Jim Renault.
And for a couple of weeks a juvenile Little Blue Heron has been drawing birders and photographers.  This little one has been the Horn Pond rock star of the season.
from JIM Little Blue with frog Horn Pond 2
Little Blue Heron with frog, Horn Pond.  Photo by Jim Renault.
Little Blue Heron, Horn Pond.  Photo by John Harrison.  
Red-tailed Hawk. Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.  
Red-tailed Hawk takeoff.  Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.
from MIMI COOP  FRX IMG_7068
Cooper’s Hawk.  Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.
It has been quite accessible and has given us lots of opportunities for photographs and video. Here is a video look at some Sanderlings near the Sturgis St. entrance to the pond:   Here are some videos of the Little Blue Heron in the lagoon near the victory garden: 
  On Saturday, August 13th, photographer Kim Nagy and I enjoyed our third annual visit to Ray and Deb Cilley’s Alpacas at their Spring Pond Farm in Greenfield, NH. 38SPRINGPONDFARMSATJULY1120151556 150
Spring Pond Farm, Greenfield, NH.  Photo by John Harrison.
( )     ( )
Our visits there have become a favorite tradition.  On one of our visits to the farm, Ray, a pilot, flew over us and dipped his wings in welcome.38RAYSFLYOVERSATJULY1120151556 008
Ray Cilley flies his plane over Spring Pond Farm.  Photo by John Harrison.
  The farm is an idyllic collection of lush green fields and corrals and barns with a majestic mountain view in the background. 38ALPACASXXXXSATJULY1120151556 151
Alpacas of Spring Pond Farm.  Photo by John Harrison.
Deb and Ray Cilley of Spring Pond Farm with their Alpacas.  Photo by John Harrison.
We had waited for this visit until two babies, called crias, that were due were finally born.  The crias were named Polar Bear (the white one) and Onyx (the black one). from KIM two crias grazing
Alpaca crias of Spring Pond Farm, Polar Bear and Onyx.  Photo by John Harrison.
Alpacas in the barn, Spring Pond Farm.  Photo by John Harrison.
from KIM grazing under fence
Alpaca grazing under fence.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
Kim and I were able to enjoy these new arrivals along with six-year-old Mari and her parents.  Mari was breathlessly excited following the Alpacas for the occasional touch and kiss. Every now and then little Mari would shriek  ”I touched one” and raise her hands to the sky in a victory salute.  Her joy was infectious.54MARIANDALPACASPRINGPONDFARMSATAUG1320161638 244
Six-year-old Mari is captivated by the cria Polar Bear.  Photo by John Harrison.  
Little Mari delights in the cria Polar Bear.  Photo by John Harrison.
Little Mari is up close and personal with an Alpaca.  Photo by John Harrison.
Photographer Kim Nagy has an Alpaca moment.  Photo by John Harrison.
(L to R)  Deb Cilley, Ray Cilley and Kim Nagy.  Photo by John Harrison.
  There’s more to the Alpaca world than we thought, as we’ve learned the past three years.  There are Alpaca shows, to which Deb and Ray’s room full of awards will attest.38ALPACACOMPETITIONRIBBONSSATJULY1120151556 163
Some of the competition awards won by Deb and Ray’s Alpaca’s.  Photo by John Harrison.
Award won by Spring Pond Farm Alpaca.  Photo by John Harrison.
And there are stud fees for superior Alpacas much as there are for thoroughbred horses.  The Cilley’s are devoted to their Alpacas and delight in discussing the many aspects of raising them. The Alpacas are sheared every spring, usually, and Deb knits socks, hats, gloves, sweaters, vests and scarves, etc., from their wool which are available in their gift shop. 38SPRINGPONDFARMGIFTSHOPSATJULY1120151556 164
The Spring Pond Farm gift shop.  Everything in view made by Deb Cilley.  Photo by John Harrison.
Alpaca wool is the best insulation in the world.  On the very coldest New England winter day Alpaca socks will keep you warmer than any other wool.  For Kim and me every visit to Spring Pond Farm is like a seminar in Alpaca lore.  One of the other features of Spring Pond Farm is their collection of chickens and roosters.  Of course we’ve all heard the rooster call in film and on TV but I had never actually witnessed a rooster calling until visiting Spring Pond Farm:    Some of the chickens on hand have coloring that any bird of prey would be proud to have:   Who knew there were so many varieties of chickens? from KIM silky rooster wings back
Spring Pond Farm Rooster.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM herringbone pattern
Spring Pond Farm chicken.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM striped chicken
Colorful Spring Pond Farm chicken close-up.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
And Deb and Ray have beehives and produce their own honey:   As you explore the area around the farm you might discover riders on horseback, as Kim and I did when Deb gave us a tour on their RV:
   The annual fall fair at Spring Pond Farm, The Wool Arts Tour ( ), is on Saturday and Sunday, October 8th and 9th. There will be vendors on hand with their crafts and for kids there will be hay rides and other surprises. Drive to Greenfield that weekend to experience the magic of the  Alpacas and say hi to Deb and Ray.  They will greet you with open arms!
  Labor Day has passed and fall migrants are beginning to filter in.  My first migrant, a Warbling Vireo, was at the Mystic Lakes early on August 30.  Let the games begin.
Warbling Vireo, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.
Sunrise, Plum Island, Sunday, August 21, 2016.  Photo by John Harrison.


The Swallows of Plum Island…..Prelude to Fall Migration

 Subtle as a harrier, soft-winged as an owl, but flicking along at twice their easy speed, she was as cunning as a fox in her use of cover and camouflage.  She clings to the rippling fleece of the earth as the leaping hare cleaves to the wind.  J. A. Baker  THE PEREGRINE
 Last month the Woburn Peregrine, Charlotte/Philip, fledged on July 7th.  The fledgling was just beginning to explore its world as we ended our last update.  It was tentative in its flying and a bit uncertain as it landed on perches on the cliffs and waited for mom (mostly) and dad to drop food for it.  But it learned to be a Peregrine Falcon quickly.  In a little more than a week it was flying in tandem with mom and dad and even sometimes flying upside down below mom or dad and taking a food exchange in flight.50PEREGRINESFOODECHANGEWOBURNXXXXMONJUL1820161634 298Peregrine mid-flight food drop.  Photo by John Harrison 
Peregrines flying together.  Photo by John Harrison.
We were amazed at how quickly the little one learned to do this.  On one morning Charlotte/Philip was perched on a telephone pole and there was a flurry of activity as mom landed next to it and dropped food. Then mom flew to a telephone pole nearby and just watched the kid.  At first the fledgling screeched and screeched at mom, not touching the food. We all inherently knew that the fledgling was calling mom to prepare the food.  Up to this time mom would bring food that she had already prepared for the fledgling.  The feathers were plucked or whatever else was necessary for the prey to be easily eaten by the fledgling.  But this time mom was resolute and calmly perched on the nearby pole ignoring the pleas of her young one.  She watched but remained where she was.   We understood that this was the next stage of the fledgling’s learning curve.   It was time for the fledgling to learn to eat prey without mom’s preparation, just as it would soon be time for the fledgling to begin capturing prey on its own. Finally the fledgling figured out that mom wasn’t going to come to the rescue and it slowly began eating the prey.  It quickly realized that it was capable of eating the prey without mom’s intervention.  It ate most of the prey and grasped the rest in its talons and took off.  All of this was a teaching moment for us watchers as well as for the fledgling itself. 52PEREGRINEFLEDGLINGWOBURNXXXXSATJUL2320161636 131Fledgling Peregrine with prey without mom’s intervention.  Photo by John Harrison.  52PEREGRINEFEMALEWOBURNXXXXMONJUL2520161636 302
Peregrine mother takes off after making sure her fledgling was able to eat the prey she left on the light pole.  Photo by John Harrison.feom KIM male peregrine blue sky
Male Peregrine in flight.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
Female Peregrine in flight with prey – a pigeon.  Photo by John Harrison.
What an education this has been for us.  In the past couple of weeks when we have gone to the cliffs early in the morning, sometimes the fledgling has appeared and sometimes it hasn’t.  The size of its world is growing as it ranges out and we have to be satisfied with the exciting moments it’s given us. We all hope that mom hangs around until next year and maybe brings three or four fledglings into the world.  Video moments with the Peregrines:
  On the morning of July 20th I took Jeff Meshach, Director of the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, MO, to the cliffs in Woburn to see the Peregrines.  Jeff was here to check in on the Masters of Flight Show at the Stone Zoo which the World Bird Sanctuary has sponsored for several years every summer at the zoo.  Being a Peregrine Falcon bander in Missouri, Jeff was interested in seeing our falcon family.JEFF MESHACH fx PEREGRINESJeff Meshach, Director of the World Bird Sanctuary, holds bird after banding near St. Louis, MO.JEFF MESHACH sm 2014-06-03_06.44.43
More birds banded by Jeff Meshach.
Also on hand that morning to meet Jeff were Jill Maroni-Flemming, who had witnessed Charlotte/Philip’s fledge, Craig Gibson, our Peregrine whisperer, a regular follower of the Woburn Peregrines and Peregrine families in Lawrence and Haverhill and photographer Judd Nathan, also a regular watcher of the Woburn Peregrines.from CRAIG fx LAWRENCE PEREGRINES PRE FLEDGE CF2C3209-001
Lawrence Peregrine chicks, pre-fledge.  Photo by Craig Gibson.
Lawrence Peregrines mock battle.  Photo by Craig Gibson.from CRAIG fx HAVERHILL HATCHLING PEREGRINES CF2C1287-001
Haverhill hatchling Peregrines.  Photo by Craig Gibson.from CRAIG fx HAVERHILL PEREGRINE _W7I0167-001
Haverhill Peregrine.  Photo by Craig Gibson.
51JILLJEFFJUDDCRAIGWOBURNWEDJUL2020161635 011At Peregrine site in Woburn. (L to R)  Jill Maroni-Flemming, Jeff Meshach, Judd Nathan and Craig Gibson.  Photo by John Harrison.
On this morning mom and dad showed up and did some flying for us but the fledgling didn’t make an appearance,  I keep Jeff informed about the progress of our fledgling but I was disappointed that Jeff didn’t get to actually see the young one.   Later that day I watched the Masters of Flight show at the Stone Zoo with Jeff and Jill Maroni–Flemming.50JILLBARNOWLMASTERSOFFLIGHTWEDJUL2020161634 555Barn Owl flies past Jill Maroni-Flemming at Masters of Flight Show, Stone Zoo.  Photo by John Harrison.  50MASTERSOFFLIGHTLEAHTYNDALLXXXXWEDJUL2020161634 569
Leah Tyndall of the World Bird Sanctuary with the Barn Owl at the Masters of Flight show.  Photo by John Harrison.50LAURENBALDEAGLEWEDJUL2020161634 577
Lauren Lawrence of the World Bird Sanctuary with the Bald Eagle.  And below the Great Horned Owl takes off.  Photos by John Harrison.  50GREATHORNEDOWLMASTERSOFFLIGHTWEDJUL2020161634 520from JILL FLEMMING fx  1850
(L to R) Jeff Meshach of the World Bird Sanctuary at the Masters of Flight show and John Harrison.  Photo by Jill Maroni-Flemming.
If you haven’t seen the Masters of Flight show at the zoo, it will be there until Labor Day.  From Monday through Friday there are three shows daily, at 11am, 1pm and 3pm and on weekends four shows each day.  Don’t miss it! Masters Of Flight Show, Stone Zoo, Wed. July 20, 2016:                    
  Kim Nagy and I enjoyed a morning at Mount Auburn Cemetery recently photographing dragonflies and an explosion of frogs at Auburn Lake.  While doing this I noticed a muskrat eating further along the banks of the lake. We got closer and were able to watch and photograph the muskrat as it ate and then as it swam away. 50MUSKRATAUBURNLAKEXXXXSATJUL1620161634 154Muskrat, Auburn Lake, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.from KIM DRAGONFLY bluet on stalk
Dragonfly at Auburn Lake, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
On July 26th we went to the Osprey nest in Lynn to see how they were doing.  We thought that the three chicks would be close to fledging but when we arrived at the site we were surprised to see two of the chicks and both adults flying around.  Two of the three chicks had fledged.from KIM osprey landing in nest
Osprey nest with two fledglings in Lynn.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM female with leaves
Female Osprey flying to nest with green leaves.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
 We didn’t expect this.  We didn’t have as much time as usual but there was plenty of action from the two adults and the two fledglings to keep us busy for an hour and a half.  This is a great nest for video:
  After a hiatus of a few months, Kim and I went to Horn Pond on Saturday, July 30th.from KIM young wood duck with dragonflies
Immature Wood Duck, Horn Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
 We hadn’t been there since spring migration and the hatching of the swan signets.  The low water level at Horn Pond was striking. Some of the lagoons along the path were totally dry.  We’ve never seen the water level so low at Horn Pond as well as all of the other bodies of water in the area.  As a result of this low water level, we had to effect a Snapping Turtle rescue.  As we walked along the path, we noticed a big Snapping Turtle on the side of the path.  It seemed to be in distress.from KIM turtle on pathSnapping Turtle, Horn Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
We felt that it needed to be in the water.  But we realized that even if it lumbered across the path and dropped down into the lagoon, it wouldn’t find the expected water.  That lagoon was totally dry. Kim asked a walker if she could borrow some water to pour on the turtle.  She did that and the turtle immediately reacted.  The water seemed to give it energy.  We knew we had to get it into water.  But the closest water was maybe the length of city block away.  Realizing how important it was to get the turtle into the water, a passing walker picked it up by its tail and walked for about thirty seconds to where there was some available water and put the turtle in.from KIM carrying turtleGood Samaritan carries the Snapping Turtle to the water, Horn Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy. 
The turtle immediately reacted and slid happily into the water and disappeared.from KIM TURTLE in waterSnapping Turtle put into the lagoon.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
We didn’t think the turtle would have found the water on its own.  Usually Horn Pond is a water paradise for wildlife.  Not so right now.  We need a great deal of rain to bring the water levels back to normal..  Here is a video look at the Snapping Turtle:
  Photographer Mimi Bix-Hylan has made her back yard bird-friendly.  Especially Hummingbird friendly.  Her family has been rewarded with several Hummingbirds, including juveniles, at her feeders and flowers.  Seeing the young male Hummingbird with the red speck on its throat, that will become all red as an adult, is especially exciting.from MIMI fx MALE FLEDGLING HUMMINGBIRD IMG_7030Juvenile male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  Its entire throat will be fully red as an adult. Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan. from MIMI  fx  HUMMINGBIRD IMG_7720
Ruby-throated Hummingbird, female, perched.  Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.
She has continuing plans to attract birds and hopes that maybe next year a warbler or two will show up.  She did recently see a Scarlet Tanager in her yard so maybe she will get to photograph warblers in her own back yard next year.  And a Cooper’s Hawk has been using the yard as a restaurant.  There are often feathers and other bird remains as evidence of the Cooper’s Hawk’s presence.  The Coop has given Mimi plenty of photo ops.from MIMI COOP fx PERCHED IMG_4401
Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk.  Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.from MIMI COOP IN FLIGHT IMG_4402
Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk take-off.
  The Cliff Swallows returning to Capistrano every March might have the cachet but the thousands of Tree Swallows that come to Plum Island every August certainly must rival the Capistrano experience.  I was there on Saturday, August 06 and watched in awe as thousands and thousands of them covered the sky.  And this is the beginning of the process.  In a week or two there will probably be thousands more.  I hope to get to Plum island a few more times before the Swallows fly south.55TREESWALLOWSPLUMISLANDXXXXSUNAUG1420161639 207
Thousands of Tree Swallows at Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.55TREESWALLOWSPLUMISLANDXXXXSUNAUG1420161639 191
Tree Swallows at Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
 For a couple of weeks prior to my Saturday visit, an American Avocet, a southern bird not seen around here, has been hanging around Hellcat Trail at Plum.  I watched it for a couple of hours as it moved along the water’s edge, sometimes flying and landing closer to me.53AMERICANAVOCETPLUMISLANDXXXXSATAUG0620161637 344
American Avocet, Hellcat, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.53GREATERYELLOWLEGSPLUMISLANDXXXXSATAUG0620161637 287
Greater Yellowlegs, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison. 
 It’s a life bird for many Plum Island visitors, including me.  Now that fall migration is right around the corner, more shore birds are showing up at Plum.  Along with the Avocet and Swallows, I saw Greater Yellow Legs, Sandpipers, Sanderlings, Terns and other shore birds. Here’s some video of the Tree Swallows: 
  In three weeks or so we will start seeing fall migrants.  We will be making the usual migrant rounds to Mount Auburn Cemetery, Plum Island, the Mystic Lakes, Horn Pond, Dunback Meadows and the other usual suspects.  Rest up.  They’re coming!


Charlotte/Philip’s Leap Of Faith

 The peregrine sees and remembers patterns we do not know exist:  the neat squares of orchard and woodland, the endlessly varying quadrilateral shapes of fields.  He finds his way across the land by a succession of remembered symmetries.   J. A. Baker  THE PEREGRINE
  Usually after spring migration birding slows down a bit.  We always have the Red-tailed Hawk pair and their fledglings to look forward to around Memorial Day at Mount Auburn Cemetery and a couple of other possibilities in the area but the pace after the zaniness of spring migration is less frantic.  This year’s post-migration, however, has been fantastically busy.  We’ve had the ongoing drama of the Peregrine Falcons in Woburn to enjoy.  As we watched the Peregrine pair mating in March and April we wondered if the female Peregrine was ready to breed.  The female is banded and we were able to discover that she was hatched in May of 2015.  A female Peregrine breeding at not even a year old was a long shot.  Possible, but unlikely. We were all rooting for her wanting, of course, to have fledglings to watch in late spring and through part of the summer. The long shot came through.  We stopped seeing the female flying around and could see her in their lair on the rocky ledge.  She exhibited all of the signs of a female sitting on eggs.  We weren’t 100% sure, but it looked like that was what was going on.  And even if she was indeed sitting, there was no way to know if the egg(s?) were fertile and would result in young.  Tom Luongo, Karen Burton and Jill Maroni-Flemming, all from Woburn, reported the first sighting of the chick from a vantage point above the nest on May 27.  Houston, we had a chick!  I had my first glimpse of the chick on Monday, June 13.  The little white fluffball popped up for a few seconds for me.
Peregrine chick, Monday, June 13, 2016.  Photo by John Harrison.
Peregrine chick and mother, Friday, June 24, 2016.  Photo by John Harrison.
It was something to celebrate. As the weeks have gone by we were seeing more and more of this little one and we quickly knew that there was only one chick.  We’re proud of that young female bringing one Peregrine into the world against the odds. After watching these falcons since the hatchling first showed itself, we were delighted to hear that on July 6th at about 2pm the nestling became a fledgling. Photographer Craig Gibson, who has been reporting on this Peregrine family regularly, stopped by early that morning for a look.from CRAIG FX INCUBATING EGGS APR 16 2016 CF2C7543-001 
Mother Peregrine Falcon incubating egg, Saturday, April 16, 2016  Photo by Craig Gibson.
from CRAIG FX FEEDING CHICK JUNE 03 2016 CF2C2674-001
Mother Peregrine Falcon feeding chick, Friday June 03, 2016.  Photo by Craig Gibson.  
Craig agreed that the little one was aching to fly.   I, too, was there early that morning and the bird was flapping its wings furiously and jumping around and helicoptering.  It was ready for its leap of faith.  A few hours later it did just that.  Devoted birder Jill Maroni-Flemming, who has been watching and photographing this Peregrine pair for a year, even to the point of keeping a journal of her discoveries, was fortunate to be on hand at the moment the nestling (that she calls Charlotte) fledged.  It is fitting that Jill would be the one to witness this event.  She has ‘paid her dues’ this year at that site, as has photographer Tom Luongo, who is also at the site daily.  For all of us rooting for that little one, this was exciting news. Here is Jill’s journal entry when Charlotte fledged  on July 6th:  I am so overcome with excitement that I can hardly type! I’m sitting here at the quarry. It’s 2:00. I was looking straight at Charlotte sitting in the shade of the nest. When all of a sudden, her shrill teenaged call rang out sustaining for about a minute. Kate showed up and then flew off and then Charlotte leaped from the cliff ! OMG!!!!!!!! WOW!!!! I couldn’t believe it!  She awkwardly crashed into the lower left triangle area of the cliff and perched there for a minute or two.  Regaining her breath , she then flew off over my head. Freedom! What a sight to behold!!!
The new fledgling Peregrine Falcon, first morning, Thursday, July 07, 2016.  Photo by John Harrison. from MIMI PEREGRINE FLEDGLING IMG_4561
The new Peregrine fledgling.  Photo by Mimi-Bix Hylan.from MIMI PEREGRINE FLEDGLING  FX IMG_4505
The new Peregrine fledgling.  Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.
from JIM RENAULT Jouvinile Peregrine scales rock
The new Peregrine fledgling.  Photo by Jim Renault.
The next morning I was back at the site at 6am hoping to see the fledgling on its first full day in its new world.  Also present were Ursula (President of the Eastern Mass Hawk Watch) and Dave Goodine and photographer Jim Renault.  The adult Peregrines were present but we couldn’t find the fledgling.  After a couple of hours I decided to leave and told Jim Renault that if the fledgling showed up to please call me.  I then went to the nearby Dunkin Donuts.  Had to have an iced coffee.  It was 8am.  I no sooner parked than my cell phone rang.  It was Jim Renault.  ”Get back here,” he said. “The fledgling is perched on the rocks really close.”  (Thanks Jim!!!). I was back and parked in seven minutes. The striking young Peregrine was proudly perched on the giant boulder that had years ago fallen from the rock face (crushing a vehicle below). It was flapping its wings and moving around for us, putting on quite a show.  It was a photographer’s bonanza. I had been on my cell a couple of times with photographer Mimi Bix-Hylan, who was on her way to the site with her daughter Mari, whose favorite bird is the Peregrine Falcon.  Mari, at 6 years of age, is already a keen birder.  I knew little Mari was going to love this close look at her totem bird.  Soon after that photographer Tom Luongo appeared.  Like Jill, he has been following the Peregrines at this site for a long time.  He was just in time for this exhilarating show.  As were Mimi and Mari, who also arrived in time to see the fledgling, that Mari named Philip, on the rock.  It didn’t take long for the audience to grow.  As we’ve learned about young birds of prey, they’re very trusting.  The bird was unperturbed by the presence of an audience of photographers and watchers.  It stayed on that rock for about a half hour then slowly flew in short hops higher and higher until it was eventually at the top of the mountain.  Sometime later the mother Peregrine flew in and dropped food for the young one.  It hid behind brush there at the top and ate the prey. Photographer Sandy Selesky eventually arrived at the site and watched the fledgling’s progress for most of the afternoon.  After being cooped up in that rocky little cave for about a month, the fledgling must have felt freed (and perhaps a bit frightened) being out and flying around.  I hope we get to see more of it for a while.  As it gets stronger and does more flying, it will show itself less and less.  We were lucky to have the first post-fledge morning experience.  Here’s a video look at the Peregrine fledgling, Charlotte/Philip: 
  The naming confusion should be addressed.  Jill Maroni-Flemming and Tom Luongo and other long-time watchers had dubbed the male Peregrine Waldo (because it was often so hard to find, blending in so well with the gray quarry cliffs where he has resided for several years…..Where’s Waldo?).  The female was named Wesley Kate at her banding site in May of 2015 at 55 Water St., Manhattan, NY.  Considering the fascination with British royalty, Jill named the fledgling Charlotte George after Kate Middleton’s daughter.  Six-year old Mari, the youngest and biggest fan of the musical HAMILTON, named the adult male Hamilton, of course, and his mate, Eliza (after Alexander Hamilton’s wife) and the fledgling Philip (after Alexander Hamilton’s son).  Since Charlotte/Philip’s mother was born in Manhattan, the New York-Hamilton connection was obvious. Though most fans of this trio will know them as Waldo, Kate and Charlotte, for a few of us it will be Hamilton, Eliza and Philip.  I don’t think this wonderful family of Peregrines, that has taught us so much and given us such joy, will really mind that they each have two names.
  Early in June we were able to watch a Barred Owl family in Winchester.
Three Barred Owlets in Winchester.  Photo by Jim Renault.
Barred Owl mother, Winchester.  Photo by Jim Renault.
Barred Owlet out of tree cavity about ready to fledge.  Photo by John Harrison.
There were four owlets in this family but by the time I found out about it, two had fledged.  We were able to watch and photograph the two remaining owlets before they fledged.  They were on a good tree for video, too: 37BARREDOWLSXXXXTHURSJUN0920161621 275
Barred Owlet and mother.  Photo by John Harrison.  
  Also in early June Al Parker of Mount Auburn Cemetery discovered a Hummingbird nest near Auburn Lake.  We monitored it for a couple of weeks but the nest ultimately failed, unfortunately. 46REDTAILEDHAWKFLEDGLINGXXXXWEDJUL0620161630 398
Red-tailed Hawk fledgling, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
But at least we were able to see a Hummingbird nest in the wild.
Hummingbird on nest, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Sat. June 04, 2016.  Photo by John Harrison.
We also continued watching the Eastern Kingbird nest at the Mystic Lakes, where three chicks hatched and fledged.42KINGBIRDNESTMYSTICLAKESXXXXTUESJUN2120161626 001
Eastern Kingbird mother feeds chick, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.  
from KIM kingbird in grass FX
Eastern Kingbird mother, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
And on a trek to Plum Island’s Sandy Point in late June there were Piping Plover chicks pecking around on the beach.  44PIPNGPLOVERMOTHERPLUMISLANDXXXXMONJUN2720161628 050
Piping Plover mother, Sandy Point, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.  
Piping Plover chicks, Sandy Point, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
  The Tufts Park, South Medford,  American Kestrels are back.  The pair that wowed us with three chicks last summer brought four chicks into the world this year.  We’ve been having a grand time watching these fledglings as they fly from light pole to light pole.  We have been able to watch the parents drop food off for the kids and we’ve seen siblings taking food from each other and all manor of Kestrel behavior.  I can’t imagine a better venue to watch this species.44KESTRELWITHPREYXXXXTHURSJUN3020161628 383 
American Kestrel with prey, Tufts Park, Medford, MA.  Photo by John Harrison.
American Kestrels with prey, Tufts Park, Medford.  Photo by John Harrison.  
American Kestrel in flight with prey.  Photo by John Harrison.
Medford’s raptor guru, Paul Roberts, could be seen at the park most mornings chronicling the life and times of the Tufts Park Kestrels.  Video of a Kestrel with prey:
  The Mystic Lakes has been especially busy this season with Ospreys, Great Blue Herons and Black-crowned Night Herons.  Sitting on the banks of the lakes day after day we could count fifteen or twenty or twenty-five Great Blue Herons every time.  It’s as if the Great Blue Heron Society decided to hold their annual convention at the Mystic Lakes.
from KIM Night heron flying right
Black-crowned Night Heron, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM Heron behind swans
Great Blue Heron and swans, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
Great Blue Heron with fish, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.
And if that wasn’t enough to keep us busy, we had a couple of Ospreys show up several times a day and they would fly around and often dive for fish.  An Osprey dive is one of the most exhilarating wildlife events to witness.  To catch this activity in our own back yard has been wondrous. 
Osprey emerges from dive, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.
Osprey takes off with fish after dive, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.
  On Tuesday, July 5th, I went to Mount Auburn Cemetery to see if the Red-tail chicks had fledged.  I assumed they had but I hadn’t been there in a few days so I wasn’t sure.  I began walking a grid from the nest tree and found the two fledglings about fifteen minutes later, with an assist from Mount Auburn staffer Al Parker. 46REDTAILEDHAWKFLEDGLINGXXXXWEDJUL0620161630 460 
Red-tailed Hawk fledgling, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
Both hawks were on the grass, one eating a squirrel that was dropped off by one of its parents while the other sibling was stretched out on the grass, the sun warming its wings.  Here’s video of the Red-tail fledglings at Mount Auburn Cemetery:
  As all of these stories have unfolded, photographer Kim Nagy and I also had some fun mornings at Ipswich River Audubon.  Though the beavers have been in a quiet mode lately, we have seen a great deal of a muskrat family at the pond and our favorite mink, Harry, has made quite a few appearances, often trotting right by us.
from KIM muskrat in lily pads
Muskrat, Ipswich River Audubon.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM muskrat in lily pad
Muskrat, Ipswich River Audubon.  Photo by Kim Nagy. 34MINKIPSWICHXXXXFRIMAY2720161619 004
“Harry” the mink, Ipswich River Audubon.  Photo by John Harrison.  
“Harry” the mink with fish, Ipswich River Audubon.  Photo by John Harrison.
On the tree close to where we sit on the boardwalk, a young Pileated Woodpecker landed and posed for Kim last week.
from KIM pileated tongue out FX
Pileated Woodpecker, Ipswich River Audubon.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM pileated on branch FX
Pileated Woodpecker, Ipswich River Audubon.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
On another morning, the usually shy Nuthatches were landing on Kim’s hand for seeds. 45KIMANDNUTHATCHGWOBURNXXXXSATJUL0220161629 133
Nuthatch eating from Kim’s hand, Ipswich River Audubon.  Photo by John Harrison.
We’re used to this with Chickadees but the Nuthatches were a special treat. The mulberry tree in the reserve parking lot is now laden with fruit so the Cedar Waxwings and Red-bellied Woodpeckers have been regular visitors.
from KIM red bellied left FX
Red-bellied Woodpecker on mulberry tree, Ipswich River Audubon.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
 FROM KIM cedar waxwing juvenile with berry
Cedwar Waxwings on mulberry tree, Ipswich River Audubon.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
The pace should slow now.  The Osprey nest in Lynn should really be the last hurrah of the season.  But, of course, ‘surprise happens!’  In mid-July the three Osprey chicks should be bouncing around in the nest and there should be plenty of action. That will take us into August, which is pretty much the dog days of birding.  But we won’t have much idle time.  September isn’t far away and then fall migration begins.  We never have to wait too long before the next adventures!  Thanks for the exciting moments. Charlotte/Philip, Peregrine Falcon fledgling, July 06, 2016, 2:00. 

Peregrine Falcon fledgling, first morning, July 07, 2016.  Photo by John Harrison.

MOOD INDIGO….The Warblerpalooza

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. 28INDIGOBUNTINGBIGELOWCHAPELXXXXTUESMAY1020161614 53029INDIGOBUNTINGBIGELOWXXXXWEDMAY1120161615 059Indigo Buntings, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photos by John Harrison 30BLACKTHROATEDGREENPLUMheadXXXXSATMAY1420161616 137

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. 29AMERICANREDSTARTBELOWTOWERXXXXWEDMAY1120161615 105 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.from MIMI TOWHEE PLUM IMG_7310 Eastern Towhee, Plum Island.  Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.   


Common Yellowthroat, Plum Island.  Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.

30PARULAPLUMheadXXXXSATMAY1420161616 132

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.from KIM Prothonotary carrying nesting material sidewaysfrom KIM Prothonotary carrying nesting material flying left

Prothonotary Warbler, Magee Marsh.  Photos by Kim Nagy.

from KIM MAGEE MARSH yellow throated

Yellow-throated Warbler, Magee Marsh.  Photo by Kim Nagy.

from KIM MAGEE MARSH yellow billed cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  Magee Marsh.  Photo by Kim Nagy.

from KIM MAGEE MARSH owlet

Just-fledged Great Horned Owlet, Magee Marsh.  Photo by Kim Nagy.

from KIM MAGEE MARSH scarlet tanager looking right

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……from JIM FOXES IMG_0090

from JIM FOX CE8A4286

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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.31BALTIMOREORIOLEMYSTICLAKESXXXXFRIMAY2020161617 36131KINGBIRDNESTMYSTICLAKESXXXXFRIMAY2020161617 371

At Her Best In May

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! Sitting Bull
  The heralds of spring are here.  We are seeing Red-winged Blackbirds everywhere.
21REDWINGEDBLACKBIRDHORNPONDXXXXTHURSAPR0720161607 019 Red-winged Blackbird, Horn Pond.  Photo by John Harrison
And there are also reports of Pine Warblers and the occasional Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers. I saw my first Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers at the Arlington Reservoir on Sunday, April 17th.
Yellow-rumped Warbler, Arlington Reservoir.  Photo by John Harrison
Palm Warbler, Arlington Reservoir. Photo by John Harrison
 Last year, after the spectacular winter of snow, I saw my first Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers on Sunday, April 26th, again at the Arlington Reservoir. On Wednesday, April 20, a birder at the Arlington Reservoir told us there was a Pine Warbler way up in a pine tree.  That species has eluded me for 15 years.  Finally it showed itself for me.
23PINEWARBLERARLRESXXXXWEDAPR2020161609 448 Pine Warbler, Arlington Reservoir.  Photo by John Harrison
Palm Warbler, Arlington Reservoir.  Photo by John Harrison.
Spring is unfolding as it should.  Our favorite rite of the year, spring migration, is only weeks away. In one of his great songs, French crooner Charles Aznavour wrote, “Paris is at her best in May, when spring and youth possess her and gentle winds caress her….”  Birders might have written those lyrics somewhat differently. “Sweet Auburn’s at her best in May….” or Plum Island’s at her best in May…..” or  “The Mystic Lakes is at her best in May…”  We’ll soon know.
   Another rite of spring, the Masters of Flight show at the Stone Zoo in Stoneham, is also getting ready for an exciting summer. Director of the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley park, MO, Jeff Meshach, arrived with this year’s inventory of birds on Wednesday, April 6.  The raptors are now in Masters of Flight boot camp preparing for their opening on April 30th.  We stopped by the arena to get a preview of the birds on Sunday, April 10th.  The Sanctuary’s Leah Tyndall and Matt Levin showed us the birds in this year’s lineup, among them a Bald Eagle, juvenile Harris’ Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Barn Owl, Black Vulture, Red-legged Seriema ( ) and, this year for the first time, a magnificent Golden Eagle.  It’s going to be a raptor summer at the Stone Zoo.
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World Bird Sanctuary’s Leah Tyndall and Matt Levin.  Photo by John Harrison.
Six year old Mari is enthralled by her close look at a Barn Owl.  Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.
Leah Tyndall of the World Bird Sanctuary gives six year old Mari a close look at the Barn Owl.  Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.
  There’s a Swans nest at Horn Pond, in the same area it has been for the past few years.  The female is sitting on eggs and we should be seeing little cygnets in mid to late May.
  On Saturday, April 9th, photographer Kim Nagy and I watched and photographed a pair of Wood Ducks at Shannon Beach at the Mystic Lakes as the female, it seemed, was trying to find a suitable nesting cavity.
from KIM WOOD DUCK FEMALE head in hole Female Wood Duck checking tree cavity, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM NAGY female checking out nest
Female Wood Duck inspecting tree cavity, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM WOOD DUCK wings spread-3
Male Wood Duck, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
Male Wood Duck on tree, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.
As we watched she flew to several trees poking her head into cavities checking them out.  We hope that she finds just the right tree for a family so we can watch that cycle unfold.
  For two days we thought we were going to have another Great Horned Owl’s nest at Mount Auburn Cemetery.  The female was sitting, it seemed, in a tree at the edge of Ivy Path.  There was a broken egg beneath the tree and we hoped that there was another one or two eggs beneath her. It was an odd place for a Great Horned Owl to nest and it was a little late for her to be sitting. But we were hopeful, nevertheless.  I saw her sitting on Sunday, March 20 in the late afternoon and then the next morning, Monday, after it had snowed overnight.
Great Horned Owl sitting on eggs (?), Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photos by John Harrison.
By that afternoon she was back in the Dell next to her mate, Alexander.  We don’t know what this was all about.  One theory is that this new mate of Alexander’s is too young and didn’t really know what she was doing.  If she stays in the Dell maybe next year she will be ready and we can have another fantastic Great Horned Owl’s nest as we did in 2011.  While watching the owls in the Dell recently, a striking Hermit Thrush landed on a holly bush.
21HERMITTHRUSHDELLXXXXWEDAPR1320161607 328 Hermit Thrush in the Dell, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
And Flickers have been all over Mount Auburn.  Another sign of spring.21FLICKERRHWHITEXXXXFRIAPR1520161607 394
Northern Flicker, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison. 
The Osprey pair in Lynn that we watched and photographed with their chicks beginning last July are back for another Osprey summer.  It’s amazing that every year all over New England Osprey pairs return to the same nests they’ve been using,  sometimes for years.  How they find their needle-in-a-haystack nest when they return, without Garmin or Waze, isn’t understood.  There are theories but we don’t really know.  It’s good that there is still some mystery.  They are in the process now of shoring up their home.  As we spent time there lately they showed up every now and then bringing branches to the nest. It’s a great opportunity to photograph them as they hover above the nest with a branch in their talons and then land and work the branch into the nest.
from KIM OSPREY almost touching
Osprey about to land on nest with branch, Lynn.   Photo by Kim Nagy.
They have a strong work ethic and labor diligently making the nest ready for their next family.  Last year they had three hungry chicks on the nest and we would watch the adults fly in with fish on a regular basis. from MIMI OSPREY fx IMG_4713 Osprey in flight with fish, Lynn.  Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.
We were even fortunate to be there on the day that the last two chicks fledged.  It was exhilarating to catch that.  This year we’re at the beginning of the breeding cycle.  Around the end of April the female will be sitting on eggs.  We will be able to watch as the male brings fish to the female throughout the day.  Once the chicks hatch, in about a month, the male will be especially busy bringing fish to the nest for them. The chicks will be on the nest 7-8 weeks before fledging.
  While watching the Ospreys in Lynn recently, we got to watch a couple of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets.
Snowy Egrets, Lynn.  Photos by John Harrison.
The Saugus River, which is close to three sides of the Osprey nest, is a great habitat for shore birds.  As the next couple of months pass at that Lynn site, we will be seeing Sanderlings, Sandpipers, Yellow Legs and other shore birds.  
  Fresh Pond has been the home of a couple of Screech Owls for a few years.  There’s a path down to the pond from Huron Ave. and the Screech Owl (sometimes two of them) can be seen in the same tree cavity they have occupied for a long time.
23SCREECHOWLFRESHPONDXXXXMONAPR1820161609 302 Screech Owl, Fresh Pond.  Photo by John Harrison.
I’ve been there several times lately and was even fortunate to catch the Screech Owl hooting on video on April 18th.  It hooted once and I quickly turned on the video hoping that it would again.  About eight seconds after turning on the video, it did hoot again.   A couple of days later I caught another active scene with the owl.
  We were hoping to hear word that there was another active fox den at Salisbury Beach.  That doesn’t seem to be the case this year.  But that didn’t keep regular photography contributor to this blog, Jim Renault, from discovering a fox – right in his own back yard.
from JIM RENAULT fx fx Grey Fox 4_9_16 Gray Fox.  Photo by Jim Renault.
As Jim tells it, he has had glimpses of this fox now and then for quite a while.  But it never hung around long enough for Jim to get a photo.  But finally it did.  Here’s a look at this Gray Fox in Jim’s back yard.  Jim also caught a nice moment recently with the male peregrine Falcon in Woburn driving off a male intruder Peregrine.
from JIM RENAULT two male peregrines doing battle 3
Woburn male Peregrine Falcon fights off intruder Peregrine.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
  Next time we will sum up this year’s spring migration.  Every year is different.  Last year was off-the-charts magnificent.  There was an abundance of migrants everywhere.  Mount Auburn was sensational as was Plum Island, the Arlington Reservoir and our own Mystic Lakes.  Let’s hope this year’s spring migration is another memorable one.
While seeking warblers at the Arlington Reservoir this week, we were entertained by a muskrat.  Photo by John Harrison.