Author Archives: johnharrison

Habemus Protonotaria

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

Awaiting The Elites….Blackburnians, Cape Mays, Magnolias, Prairies, Chestnut-sideds, The Canada, Black-throated Greens and Blues, Scarlet Tanagers…

We’ve come for the trees
and for the willow pond,
for the dogwood, the weeping
beech and the dell filled
with birdsong.    
From the poem “At Mount Auburn Cemetery” by Wendy Drexler, from her new poetry collection, Before There Was Before, Iris Press, © 2017 by Wendy Drexler
  The above lines from the poem “At Mount Auburn Cemetery” are from the just-released poetry collection Before There Was Beforeby Wendy Drexler, co-author of Buzz, Ruby, and Their City Chicks and contributor to Dead in Good Company, A Celebration of Mount Auburn Cemetery 

Before There Was Before Cover.indd
  Spring migration has begun and for the next few weeks the Dell at Mount Auburn will indeed be filled with birdsong.  May is the month of joy at Mount Auburn Cemetery.  You can enjoy the poem in its entirety in Wendy’s new book.  At Wendy’s web site you can learn of her coming appearances and sample some of her poetry.   You will also find Wendy on the Dead In Good Company Facebook page,     On April 12th Kim Nagy and I were at the Milford, MA Library to discuss our book Dead In Good Company.  Our contributor Sandra Lee joined us for the event.  We thank Susan Edmonds and Mike Bon Tempo and the staff of the library for their efforts in putting the evening together.


Kim at the podium, Milford Library, April 12, 2017.  Photo by John Harrison.
John Harrison and Sandra Lee, Milford Library.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
The spring migrants are coming in right on time.  The advance guard, the Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers, were being seen in mid-April in several locations.  I saw my first Yellow-rumpeds and Palms on April 12th at the Arlington Reservoir.
Palm Warbler, Arlington Reservoir.  Photo by John Harrison.
Yellow-rumped Warbler, Arlington Reservoir.  Photo by John Harrison.
Last year I first saw both of these species on April 17th, also at the Arlington Reservoir.  And while enjoying the early arrivals at the Arlington Reservoir on April 24th, I discovered a Great Egret perched on a tree only about ten feet away at eye level.
Great Egret, Arlington Reservoir.  Photo by John Harrison.
It was there for a half hour and many walkers stopped to enjoy it. 
  Pine Warblers, also one of the early arrivals, have been seen at several locations but have so far eluded me.  I saw my first Pine Warbler last year on April 17th at the Arlington Reservoir.
Pine Warbler, Arlington Reservoir, April 17, 2016.  Photo by John Harrison.
This species has always eluded me so I’m happy to have had my Pine encounter last year.  Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets are being seen at many venues.  I’ve seen them at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Horn Pond and the Arlington Reservoir.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Arlington Reservoir.  Photo by John Harrison.
Golden-crowned Kinglet, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
We will soon hear of the arrival of Baltimore and Orchard Orioles.  Mount Auburn Cemetery and the Mystic Lakes are usually nesting areas for both of these species.  And soon the super-stars, the Scarlet Tanagers, Cape May’s, Blackburnians, Black-throated Greens and Blues, Magnolias, Redstarts, Chestnut-sideds, Indigo Buntings, vireos and the rest will roll in to dazzle us.  Mount Auburn Cemetery and Plum Island will have a carnival atmosphere the first couple of weeks in May.  We’re all tanned, rested and ready for the ‘Big Show.’   
  We have been fortunate to still catch some winter surprises even as spring migration commences.  The last couple of weekends in Rye and Hampton, NH and Salisbury and Plum Island have been exciting.  The Hampton Snowy Owl was still observed on the road to Hampton Beach into mid-April, perching on a boat at Hampton on April 9th (  It’s surreal to photograph Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers on one day and a Snowy Owl the next day.  But we never tire of Snowies, so we’ll eke out every moment possible with this wonderful owl.
Snowy Owl on a boat, Hampton.  Photo by John Harrison.
Snowy Owl on boat, Hampton.  Photo by John Harrison.
from KIM snowy on post
Snowy Owl on telephone pole, Hampton.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
We’re still getting glimpses of mature Common Loons at Rye Beach, (  Hampton and Salisbury.
from KIM loon back view 1
Common Loon, Rye Marina.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM adult male loon red eye with crab
Common Loon with crab, Rye Marina.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
They will all soon find fresh water ponds for breeding but it has been a treat to watch them at these various salt water locations.  And while hoping to catch Rocky the Snowy Owl at Rye Beach we enjoyed Snow Buntings and a Killdeer on the rocks above the water and at Rye Marina Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks.
from KIM RYE snow bunting stretching wings
Snow Bunting, Rye Beach.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM RYE BEACH kildeer
Killdeer, Rye Beach.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Long-tailed Ducks, Rye Marina.  Photo by John Harrison.
from KIM eider with crab
Eider with crab, Rye Marina.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
From Rye and Hampton we continued on to Salisbury and Plum Island and had some Harrier and Red-tailed Hawk moments the past few weeks.
from KIM harrier
Harrier Hawk, Plum Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Red-tailed Hawk takes off, Plum Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
At Horn Pond in Woburn spring is quite evident.  Palms, Yellow-rumpeds and Pine Warblers have been there for a couple of weeks.  And while exploring there recently I noticed a Flicker come out of a tree cavity.  I watched for a while and it went back into the hole and popped its head out and spit saw dust, a sure sign that it was building a nest.  I checked on it every day thereafter as the pair got its nest prepared.
Flicker throwing saw dust from nest, Horn Pond.   Photo by John Harrison.
Flicker pair at their nest, Horn Pond.  Photo by John Harrison.
It’s going to be fun when the chicks hatch and stick their heads out of the hole waiting to be fed.  Photographer Jim Renault also discovered a Flicker nest, this one at the Arlington Reservoir.
from JIM  Flicker at Arl Res fx  About to Take Off
Flicker at nest, Arlington Reservoir.  Photo by Jim Renault.
from JIM  Flicker fx at Arl Res Take Off Shot
Flicker at nest, Arlington Reservoir.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
And he found Snow Geese at Haeger Pond in Sudbury.
from JIM  Snow Geese fx Haeger Pond
Snow Geese, Haeger Pond, Sudbury.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
  Though the spring migrants haven’t showed up at Mount Auburn to any degree yet,  I have seen the lone Great Horned Owl, Alexander the Great,  in the Dell a few times
Great Horned Owl in the Dell, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
and had a fun Raccoon encounter on April 12th.  I was driving around hoping to catch something and noticed the pair of Raccoons in a tree.
Raccoons, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.  
Raccoons, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
They moved around for me a little and were close enough for some entertaining video. 
  It looks like we’re going to have another lively Kestrel season at Tufts Park in South Medford. Three times lately I’ve gone to the park and have seen one on the light poles and in trees at the edge of the park.  In the past couple of years we have been able to enjoy this species into late August, which is generally a slow time in our pursuit of wildlife.  The Kestrels keep the season going and when the Kestrel activity in late August dwindles, we prepare for fall migration.
American Kestrel, Tufts Park.  Photo by John Harrison.
But for now we eagerly await the arrival of the migration elites.  Hopefully by next time we will have many warbler tales to tell.  We look forward to this short window every May.  It sustains us for the rest of the year!

‘The Great One’ Comes Calling…..Newport, NH

My friends call me an owl.  Apparently, it’s a combination of being wise and  
having big eyes  Romy Madley Croft 
 A generation ago, The Honeymooners star, Jackie Gleason,  was known as ‘The Great One.’   Currently the TV/radio broadcaster Mark Levin is called, by many, ‘The Great One.’  And, of course. all New Englanders know that our own Tom Brady has earned the title ‘The Great One.’  The small New Hampshire town of Newport can lay claim to its own ‘Great One,’ a Great Gray Owl, a species native to Alaska, western Canada and the northwestern US and the largest owl in length in the world.  This magnificent owl has been drawing people to this town from all over New England for more than a month.
Great Gray Owl, Newport, NH, Sun. Mar. 26, 2017.  Photo by John Harrison
from KIM GREAT GRAY on ground_
Great Gray Owl.  Photo by Kim Nagy. 
I have been hearing stories from friends for a while about their experiences watching and photographing this owl.  There has been an insistent voice in the back of my mind, commanding “Go to Newport.  Go to Newport.”  On Sunday, March 26th, photographer Kim Nagy (who had already been to Newport twice without seeing the owl) and I decided to make our way there to try to catch a look at this owl before it headed north to its home habitat.  It’s almost April. The clock was ticking. There was this recurring advice from most people who had seen it that late afternoon was its most active time.  So we left for Newport at 12:30pm. We got there at 2:30pm and first went to Parlin Airport where the owl was seen now and then in the surrounding fields.
There were some people already there, waiting and hoping to see the owl.  We conferred with them.  In a while a Newport resident drove in and told us to follow her and she would show us where the owl had been hunting the day before.  So we followed her in a caravan out of the airport back onto Rt. 10.  In a few minutes she pulled over to the side of the highway, where there were already a bunch of cars parked and people milling along the edge of the field hoping that the owl would show up.  This was at 3:30pm.  Kim and I saw photographers Sandy and Don Selesky in the growing crowd.  After a while Don went back into his car to sit and wait.  A little after 4pm Don jumped out of the car, a big smile on his face, gave us a thumbs-up and pointed to the back edge of the field and said “It just flew in.”
17SANDYANDDONNEWPORTNHXXXXSUNMAR2620171685 233Photographers Sandy and Don (the owl finder) Selesky, Rt.10, Newport, NH.  Photo by John Harrison.
There it was, sitting on an open branch with those piercing eyes studying the terrain. Those eyes are startling.  The large audience was wild with delight.  The owl had been in this exact field at the same time the day before so if you wonder, ‘can lightning strike twice?’  The answer is yes!  What were the odds?  
  The growing crowd of birders and photographers snapped away as the owl stared at us and scanned the field looking for prey.
17KIMNEWPORTNHXXXXSUNMAR2620171685 112The owl watchers, Kim Nagy in center.  Photo by John Harrison. 
After about thirty minutes, the owl took off toward us and landed about fifteen feet from Kim and me.  (See the first video).
17GREATGRAYOWLNEWPORTNH2XXXXSUNMAR2620171685 166Great Gray Owl about to land for prey.  Photo by John Harrison.
It was literally sitting on a mouse.  It would occasionally look down and then put its head down into the grass, checking to see if the mouse was dead, it seemed.
from KIM GREAT GRAY with prey fxGreat Gray Owl with mouse.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Finally, it started to rise, with the mouse in its beak, and quickly swallowed it whole.  Then if took off back to the same tree.  It was an amazing thing to witness. Kim and I left fifteen minutes later.  The light was getting low and we had had a great encounter, so we were well satisfied.  We had seen ‘The Great One.’  Newport’s pride and joy.   Here is a slideshow of the owl by John Harrison and Kim Nagy:
  The birds seem to be paying attention to the calendar this year.  On March 20th, the first day of spring, Mount Auburn Cemetery was awash with birds.  I had been checking the Atlas Cedar tree the past week hoping to see a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker drilling for sap.  The Atlas Cedar is a favorite for Sapsuckers and we usually get to see them on this tree in the spring.  On my third check that morning, I saw one fly in.  It got right to work, fiercely drilling to get to the sap.  We could see the rows of perfectly round little holes from past years and we could see the sap dripping out of the new holes as it got behind the bark.
16SAPSUCKERMOUNTAUBURNXXXXTUESMAR2120171684 230Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on Atlas Cedar tree, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  Photo by John Harrison.
The Sapsuckers are industrious and we expect to be seeing them on this tree and others in the cemetery for a while.  While wandering around that first day of spring, I saw bird guru Bob Stymeist, the “Mayor”  of Mount Auburn.   I told him that the Sapsucker was on that tree and he brought me up to date on what else he had seen.  Together we watched a Brown Creeper on a nearby tree.  Then I continued on my way, driving around hoping to maybe see the coyote.  Five minutes later Bob called me to tell me he was watching a leucistic Robin in the area near the Atlas Cedar.  I quickly returned to Crystal Ave.  The leucistic Robin was among a large flock of Robins foraging on the ground.
Leucistic Robin, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Monday, March 20, 2017.  Photo by John Harrison.
 Birds with this condition, leucism, are rare. It turns the coloring of the bird mostly white.  My last sighting of a leucistic Robin was also at Mount Auburn in September of 2010.
LEUCISTIC30ROBINXXXXSATSEPT252010891 199Leucistic Robin, Mount Auburn Cemetery, September, 2010.  Photo by John Harrison.
And a leucistic Sparrow spent the entire winter of 2005/2006 in Cambridge in the area of Bonny’s Nursery at Fresh Pond.
LEUCISTICSPARROWLFTPROONGROUNDXXXXSUNDEC042005118 010Leucistic Sparrow, Cambridge, Dec. 04, 2005.  Photo by John Harrison.
Leucistic Robin, Cambridge, Dec. 06, 2005.  Photo by John Harrison.
And in September of 2005 a leucisitc Great Blue Heron was seen at the Arlington Reservoir.
Leucistic Great Blue Heron, Arlington Reservoir, Sept. 2005.  Photo by John Harrison. 
Leucisitc Great Blue Heron, Arlington Reservoir, Sept. 2005. Photo by John Harrison.  
  In the following days at Mount Auburn, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker remained busy at the Atlas Cedar and there were Cedar Waxwings around, too 
16CEDARWAXWINGSMOUNTAUBURNXXXXTUESMAR2120171684 262Cedar Waxwings, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
On March 21st a Cooper’s Hawk landed on the weeping beech at RH White and stayed long enough for some photos and a video. 16COOPERSHAWKIMMATURERHWHITEXXXXTUESMAR2120171684 153
Cooper’s Hawk, weeping beech, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
On March 23rd photographer Jim Renault spotted a coyote below the Tower on Palm Ave. and was able to get a couple of shots while it ascended Harvard Hill.from JIM CE8A8306 Coyote at MAC March 23 shot 3Coyote, Harvard Hill, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by Jim Renault. 
from JIM CE8A8296 Coyote in Dell at MAC March 23
Coyote, Harvard Hill, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by Jim Renault.
Al Parker, the expert birder of the Mount Auburn staff,  discovered a Saw Whet Owl, a really rare visitor to the cemetery, on March 13th.  Al took some magnificent up-close-and-personal photographs of this striking owl.
from AL PARKER SAW WHET OWL fx DSCN3223Saw Whet Owl, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by Al Parker.
Saw Whet Owl, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by Al Parker.
The last time we had a Saw Whet at the cemetery was in March of 2008.  Bob Stymeist found that one near Crystal Ave.
SAWWHETOWL,ACXXXXSATSUNMAR01022008512 016Saw Whet Owl, Mount Auburn Cemetery, March 2008.  Photo by John Harrison.
Al Parker also found a Gray morph Screech Owl in a tree on Glen Ave recently.
16SCREECHOWLMOUNTAUBURNXXXXTHURSMAR2320171684 331Screech Owl, gray morph, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison. 
Spring has begun with a bang, not a whimper.  The ‘Big Show,’ the warblers, will be here before we know it.
  Author/journalist/columnist/blogger Nancy Lawson, ( who wrote the story A resting place for all, FINDING LIFE IN UNLIKELY PLACES about Mount Auburn Cemetery and Kim Nagy and my book DEAD IN GOOD COMPANY  ( for the Humane Society of the United States magazine all animals, just had her new book released, THE HUMANE GARDENER, NURTURING A BACKYARD HABITAT FOR WILDLIFE (Princeton Architectural Press,
HUMANE GARDENER landscape 0967 
The book is a primer of steps to be taken to make your back yard welcoming to wildlife.  Which native species best shelter baby animals and birds?  How do we live in harmony with creatures that some regard as pests or a threat (like coyotes)?  Through anecdotes, interviews with scientists, naturalists and home gardeners all over the country, and scores of photographs and her own advice, MS Lawson explains the sound principles governing a critter-friendly environment.  This book belongs on the shelves of all gardeners who want to make their land more attractive to wildlife.  MS Lawson used two coyote photographs from Mount Auburn Cemetery in the book.  
Mount Auburn coyotes in THE HUMANE GARDENER by Nancy Lawson.  Photo by John Harrison.
  Clare Walker Leslie, ( author, artist and contributor to Dead In Good Company,  began an exhibit of her watercolors on March 14, 2017 at Salon R Gallery, 703 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge. On Tuesday, March 21st, there was a reception for the exhibit at Salon R, attended by many of Clare’s friends and fans.
16CLAREWALKERLESLIERECEPTIONMAR2120171684 277(L to R) Clare Walker Leslie, David Barnett (President and CEO of Mount Auburn Cemetery) and David Leslie.  Photo by John Harrison.
(L to R)  Clare Walker Leslie, Bob Stymeist, Jessica Bussmann, Bree Harvey and Jennifer Johnston.  Photo by John Harrison.
Ginny Brady with three of Clare’s watercolors at Salon R Gallery.  Photo by John Harrison.
Clare’s watercolor of a Belted Kingfisher at the Salon R Gallery exhibit.  Photo by John Harrison.
The gallery walls are adorned with some of Clare’s many watercolors.  A self-taught Naturalist, Clare was written more than 50 Nature Journals and a dozen books, among them, The Curious Nature GuideThe Nature Connection: An outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families and Class Rooms; The Art of Field Sketching and Nature Drawing;  A tool for Learning.  The exhibit runs through April 29th.  Attend the exhibit and then cross the street to Mount Auburn Cemetery and walk the paths and seek the wildlife that has inspired so many of Clare’s wonderful books, sketches and illustrations.
  On Sunday, March 19th, Wendy Drexler and Joan Fleiss Kaplan had a reading and slideshow for their children’s book, BUZZ, RUBY, AND THEIR CITY CHICKS ( ),  at Porter Square Books in Cambridge.  There were a bunch of kids on hand who enjoyed hearing Wendy and Joan read from the book as a slideshow of the photographs in the book flashed on the screen.
15PORTERSQUARESUNMAR1920171683 291Wendy Drexler (R) and Joan Fleiss Kaplan read from their book, Buzz, Ruby, and Their City Chicks at Porter Square Books, Sunday, March 19, 2017.  Photo by John Harrison.
They answered questions from the kids and had an up-to-date chronology of the famous hawks from raptor expert Paul Roberts of Medford.  It was a festive afternoon and I don’t doubt that some new, young, hawk watchers emerged from the event.  Here are several video moments:
Paul Roberts, Wendy Drexler and Joan Fleiss Kaplan at Porter Square Books.  Photo by John Harrison.  
  Next time we are sure to have already seen a few spring migrants…The warblers…..That Mardi Gras for birders is right around the corner…..
GREAT GRAY OWL thank you Newport crown 1685 106

Great Gray Owl, Newport, NH, Sun. March 26, 2017.  Photo by John Harrison

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.
from JUDD NATHAN BALD EAGLE fx  1 17 2017  Eagle 11
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
BALDEAGLES with crowns XXXXTUESFEB0220161592 164
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.
from KIM male and female
Male and female Wood Ducks, Leverett Pond, Brookline.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM wood duck stretching wings 1
Wood Ducks, Leverett Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM wood duck in snow
Wood Duck as the snow falls, Leverett Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM WOODIES LEVERETT POND first take off
Hooded Mergansers, Leverett Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM hoodie water
Hooded Merganser, Leverett Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
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Hooded Merganser, Leverett Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
Ruddy Duck, Leverett Pond.  Photo by John Harrison.
Gadwall, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.
We are of course monitoring the Great Horned Owls at Mount Auburn Cemetery.  My last few times in the Dell I’ve only seen the male, Alexander The Great Horned Owl, perched on a branch, often the perfect posing branch.
‘Alexander The Great’ Horned Owl, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
Being mid-January it might be significant that the female hasn’t been seen.  This is the time of year that this species begins nesting.  We’re hoping that the female is missing lately because she is already nesting.  The last Great Horned Owl nest – and the first one that anyone remembers at the cemetery – was in 2011.  It’s time for another one and maybe this year is the year.  Here is Alexander The Great on Sunday  morning, January 8th.  
  There has been a particularly cooperative red morph Screech Owl posing for its fans on Kent St. in Newburyport,  a few minutes from Plum Island.  On Sunday, January 15th,  I arrived at the site at noon.  Photographer Andy Provost had already been there for a while and though the owl wasn’t visible then, he said it had been out earlier. I went to my car to get my camera and as I was walking back to the tree, I saw the owl’s head and then body slow pop up in the hole.  Serendipity. It’s a very striking specimen.
Red morph Screech Owl, Newburyport.  Photo by John Harrison.
Red morph Screech Owl, Newburyport.  Photo by John Harrison.
I watched it for an hour, then went on to Plum Island, where I had a nice encounter with a Harrier Hawk and then returned to Kent St. for the Screech Owl, which was still there, eyes closed, enjoying the sun that lit it like a spotlight.
Harrier Hawk, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
This little one doesn’t open its eyes much, which is the key to owl photographs, but every now and then it would give us a slit-eye look.  I intend to stop and visit this owl whenever I’m on my way to Plum Island so I’m hopeful I’ll eventually get some wide-open-eyes images.  Photographer Mimi Bix-Hylan was at the site about 8am that day and was able to photograph the owl.  When the family was back in the car preparing to leave, they looked at the owl and saw it climb out of the hole and take off.  It’s very unusual for these nocturnal birds to leave their tree cavity during the day.   At the end of December Mimi captured a Red-tailed Hawk with prey at Fresh Pond.  That was a fantastic opportunity.
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Red-tailed Hawk with prey, Fresh Pond, Cambridge.  Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan. 
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Red-tailed Hawk with prey, Fresh Pond.  Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.
In our pursuit of wildlife, there is one absolute truth.  If you are ‘out there’ regularly, exciting things happen.   Here’s some video of the beautiful Kent St., Newburyport Screech Owl: 
  As we deal with the New England Cold and snow, Joan Fleiss Kaplan, one of the authors of the new children’s book, BUZZ, RUBY, AND THEIR CITY CHICKS, is in the Charleston, South Carolina area photographing the many species available there.
Tri-colored Heron, Charleston, South Carolina.  Photo by Joan Fleiss Kaplan.
Wood Storks, Charleston, South Carolina.  Photo by Joan Fleiss Kaplan.  
Great Egret, Charleston, South Carolina.  Photo by Joan Fleiss Kaplan.  
Juvenile Ibis.  Charleston, South Carolina.  Photo by Joan Fleiss Kaplan.  
Oystercatcher, Charleston, South Carolina.  Photo by Joan Fleiss Kaplan.
Cooper’s Hawk, Charleston, South Carolina.  Photo by Joan Fleiss Kaplan.   
  Congratulations to regular photography contributor here (and photo essayist for our Mount Auburn Cemetery book, Dead In Good Company) Jim Renault.  His photograph of a Snowy Owl from Salisbury Beach graces the cover of this month’s Mass Audubon publication explore.  Bravo, Jim!!!
Cover photo of Jim Renault’s Salisbury Beach Snowy Owl. 
  Kim Nagy and I were just notified that our book, Dead In Good Company – A Celebration of Mount Auburn Cemetery is going to be an audio book for the Perkins School for the Blind.  Ultimately it will be available for the blind all over the country and even internationally.  We are gratified that our book was chosen for this singular honor.
Sunrise at the Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.
  Next time Medford’s Paul Roberts will update us on this year’s crop of Bald Eagles.  Paul ultimately knows each and every Eagle that visits by name, so to speak.   We will also have photographs of the visiting Eagles from the regulars that are at the dam watching and photographing the Eagles day after day, rain or shine, warm or cold.

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.
from KIM peregrine pair
Peregrine Falcon pair in Woburn.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM female peregrine
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.
from JOAN fx COYOTE DSC_9397
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.
from KIM western tanager
Western Tanager, Guatemala.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
 Here are a few of her special Guatemala moments.
from KIM townsends standing tall
Townsend’s Warbler, Guatemala.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM hermit warbler 1
Hermit Warbler, Guatemala.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM green violetear
Green Violetear, Guatemala.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM summer tananger
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!