Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Out & about in & around Boston

I arrived in New York after an excellent Ethiad flight. I managed to get loads of sleep in economy class! I then had a four hour wait in JFK, which passed quickly enough, as I had a leisurely breakfast. I changed terminals & checked in to Jet Blue. The flight to Boston was less than an hour & when I received my luggage, it had been opened by security & my suit & dress shirt had gone missing! Barbara was there to meet me & we sped off in a taxi through downtown Boston to her home in Belmont. It was a grey & bitterly cold day, it really was still the depths of winter here. While I unpacked, Barbara went back to work. In the evening, we made plans for the forthcoming weekend (see separate post).
This is where I am: Boston MA.

 Barbara's street in Belmont on my arrival day!
Barbara's house.
The next day, I explored central Boston & Barbara & I met up for lunch. It was a really cold windy & miserable day. I had a quick look at the harbour, but the wind chill factor was way up there! Coming from balmy Abu Dhabi to here, was a bit of a shock! I scanned the dark grey choppy waters in the harbour: 4 Common Eider (of the North American race); 3 Greater Scaup, a fine drake Red breasted Merganser & 3 Common Merganser (Goosander) completed the set of what I would term, winter wildfowl. A short time later I found an American Coot sheltering from the wind down the side of a boat. I could sympathise with this bird! Even the American Herring & Ring billed Gulls looked grumpy, all hunched up & inactive against the cold.
 The wintery scene at Mount Auborn Cemetry.
 Visitor centre.
 One of the several Gothic like Chapels found here.
 Not much sign of spring here!
While chatting to Barbara that evening, I discovered to my delight, that she lived around 500 metres from a hot bird locale! The very famous, Mount Auburn Cemetery! I was there early the next morning. It was a bitingly cold day, more snow had fallen overnight & on my trudge to the entrance gates I hadn’t seen one bird of any species! I entered into a beautiful garden type setting, draped in snow! My first birds were several American Robins feeding on an open patch of grass. But birds were hard to come by & in the next four hours, I only saw a miserly 14 species! 27 Canada Geese flew over honking (real ones not the introduced birds of Europe)!
American Robin.
 A Red-tailed Hawk sat in a tall tree & then called as it circled over the grounds. It was a bit of a surprise to see this species here in such an urban setting & brought back memories of the pair I had seen many years ago in Central Park in New York.

Red-tailed Hawk.

Blue Jay.
Blue Jays were conspicuous and two pairs of Red-bellied Woodpeckers were I thought, a tad unusual here.
Red-bellied Woodpecker.
Three Downy Woodpeckers were much more expected and as usual, were a delight to see.
Downy Woodpecker.

White-breasted Nuthatch.
White-breasted Nuthatches called & played hide & seek with me around the big boughs of the trees. Both Black-capped & Tufted Titmice were common, moving around, (often together) in roving gangs, looking for food. A few Northern Cardinals add bright splashes of red to the landscape. Careful searching under the relatively snow free hedges produced a handful of White-throated and a single Song Sparrow. Dark-eyed Juncos kept them company. But that was about it!
Male, Northern Cardinal.
White-throated Sparrow.
Song Sparrow.
Dark-eyed Junco.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Mourning Dove.
Northern Mockingbird.

I returned twice more over the next few days and added a wonderful Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (an early returning migrant); Mourning Dove & Northern Mockingbird to my very sparse birding list! Not much, for many hours of searching the grounds. But I was of course too early, it was still winter here & the migration that Mount Auborn had become famous for, had not yet begun. So was this place really one of the most celebrated birding localities in the entire USA? Let the story begin!
With its unusual variety of relatively undisturbed habitats within the great city of Boston, it was no surprise that it became the haunt of local naturalists. But it was its close proximity to the venerable Harvard University that made it the local patch for many famous names. The first of these was the English naturalist Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859). Credited with authoring the very first guide to birds of North America & his face graces the cover of the famous Harvard Bird Club publications. Both Thomas Brewer & William Brewster were to follow his footsteps around Mount Auborn. Brewster was the founder of the Nuthall Bird Club at Harvard, which eventually became the American Ornithologists Union (AOU). But there was to be one more name combing the paths of Mount Auborn in their search for birds. This name has been dubbed the patron saint of modern American bird watching – it was of course, the great Ludlow Griscom (1890-1959).
Taken from the internet - Amazon books.
 He came to Cambridge, to take up the position of Professor of Ornithology at Harvard University. Griscom’s great legacy was to demonstrate to his colleagues that birds could be identified without shooting them. He was the first to identify birds on field marks with the aid of binoculars. This was somewhat of a revolution and gave rise to the modern pursuit of birding. Griscom was also a great lister and gave rise to the modern version of the Big Day. The current list for Mount Auborn Cemetery is over 225 species. It is famous for spring bird migration & the month of May can see many birders flogging their local patch, in pursuit of the rare and unexpected. Mount Auborn is a famous migrant trap amid a large modern day city. The only problem is, I won’t be here then. I am here now in March & it is pretty slow going!
Fresh Pond - all iced up & not a bird in sight!
The other nearby locality for birding is Fresh Pond. This is a large reservoir with several smaller ponds nearby. It is supposed to be good, but on my days it was completely frozen over & not much was seen. A scattering of Mallard, 3 Common Merganser & 18 Ring-billed Gulls were all sat on the thick ice.
Ring-billed Gull.
A walk around in the remnant patches of woodland produced all the same resident species as in Mount Auborn with the following additions: 2 recently arrived Red-winged Blackbirds; 9 Common Grackles and 2 House Finches.
Red-winged Blackbird, one of
 the earliest migrants.
Common Grackle.
Not a lot of variety here in the depths of winter!

 A typical new England farmland setting.
 This is a reserve & a community farm,
with the best interests of nature first.
One of the many trails through the woodlots.
One day I caught the train out to Lincoln. A beautiful, small town set amid acres of conservation land & trails all waiting to be explored. I headed for Drumlin Farm, which is a community farm & an Audubon Sanctuary. The trails are well laid out & there is a great book shop there.  I spent the whole day just wandering through the mosaic of fields, hedgerows & small patches of woodland. Despite the cold it was a nice day, with several notable species added for my recent list: 9 Wild Turkeys were in one of the woodlots. I spent a long time following them around and taking photos.
 Wild Turkeys, in the wild!
 This species is a lot more colourful than you think.
Canada Goose.
 A pair of Red-tailed Hawks circled overhead and 61 Canada Geese were feeding in the fields. Also in the fields were 75+ American Robins; 400+ European Starlings and 20 Common Grackles.
Eastern Bluebird - a real stunner!
Three Eastern Bluebirds were seen. The males being especially magnificent. Whether these wintered here, or were recently returning migrants I couldn’t say, but they did add a splash of colour to a drab coloured day.
Pileated Woodpecker - what a bird!
Arguably the highlight of the day, were a pair of the enormous Pileated Woodpeckers which flew in & entertained me for several minutes in the large trees, by the sanctuary car park. They really are stupendous birds & I managed a few shots even though the light was very poor.
One night, we ventured out to see the world famous Boston Symphony Orchestra & they did not disappoint! It was an exceptional evening, in fantastic surroundings. The programme was entirely Beethoven:

a)      Leonore Overture No 1, Opus 138.

b)      Concerto in C, for Piano, Violin & Cello, Opus 56.

c)       Piano Concerto No.5 in E-flat, Opus 73. Emperor.

We also had a nice evening meal beforehand, at a nearby French restaurant. A very pleasant evening was enjoyed by the both of us.

Had a fantastic weekend on Cape Cod (see separate post). Today (24th) Barbara was back at work, so I took the commuter train to Rockport, around 40 miles north of Boston.
 Rockport Harbour.
 Quaint shops line the road to the harbour. 
Very New England!
 Looking north from the harbour.
Looking south from the harbour.
 It is a very pleasant little coastal town with dramatic rocky headlands & large, somewhat sheltered bays. It is obviously a bit of a tourist town in season, but not today! I had the place to myself, as I walked to the harbour & then south along a coastal path, which the local landowners had made it very difficult to use! The weather was very cold, with a biting wind coming in off the sea, but it was very sunny & viewing of the sea for winter sea ducks was excellent.
Red-breasted Merganser - quite approachable
inside the harbour.
I disembarked from the train & walked straight to the harbour, peered over the wall & looked at 6 Harlequin Ducks feeding just off some wave battered rocks. Not a bad start to the day!

Harlequin Duck - female.
There were some Common Eider, both Surf & White-winged Scoters & a few Bufflehead & Common Goldeneye. 16 Purple Sandpipers were feeding among the surf lashed rocks.

 Purple Sandpipers

Totals for the day were as follows:
3 Common Loon; 1 Red-throated Loon; 1 Horned Grebe; 5 Red-necked Grebe, 2 Great Cormorant, 95 American Black Duck, 13 Mallard, 20 Common Eider, 19 Common Goldeneye, 50+ Bufflehead, 25 White-winged Scoter, 80+ Surf Scoter, 18 Red-breasted Merganser, 27 Harlequin Duck, including a lot of stunning males. A first winter Kumlein’s Gull frustratingly kept just out of photographic range!

Today was the 25th & the weather was cold, but bright sunshine, so I was keen to get out & about, especially as another large snow storm is expected overnight, bringing a full on winter back to this area. I decided to go to Belle Island Marsh, but the whole area was frozen over & very few species were seen:
A very much frozen Belle Island Marsh.
Not a lot about today!
48 Canada Goose; 2 Mallard; a Red-tailed Hawk; 6 Killdeer; 3 Red-winged Blackbird; 20+ Common Grackle & 4 Song Sparrow.

So I quickly retreated back to the train & continued north to Wonderland & then by bus to Marblehead Neck. Marblehead is an upmarket kind of place, famous for sailing. It is also a pretty good spot for birds.
Marblehead Neck.
The causeway onto the neck - good birding on both sides. 
The sea was particularly busy with a good variety of sea duck:
5 Common Loon, 3 Horned Grebe, 50+ Brant, 70 Mallard, 60+ American Black Duck, 65+ Common Eider, 12 White-winged Scoter, 50+ Surf Scoter, 20 Red-breasted Merganser, 3 Common Goldeneye,  100+ Bufflehead & a fine full summer plumaged Black Guillemot.

 Common Loon, on the sheltered side of the bay.
Horned Grebe - one of three in the bay.
Surf Scoter - amazing the difference when the sun
 comes out!
Over 100 Buffleheads were in small flocks
scattered over a wide area of the bay.
The Audubon Sanctuary.
250 species have been recorded here!
 But not today!

I then walked around the neck & found myself at the Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary. This is a very small (16 acres) of woodland which in migration time, is famous for warbler migration. Today however, it was still in the grip of winter & I only managed five species in an hour! I then caught the bus- train combination back to Boston & Barbara & I went out for a very nice Thai meal. 
The 27th was a comparatively warm & sunny day. Maybe, the very first sign of spring here? I was caught a little unawares over the weather, as the forecast had not been good & I therefore aborted my plans to travel further afield. I decided to visit Fresh Pond again, but although a pleasant walk, the lake was still thickly covered by ice. A lone Common Merganser was the only bird of note here.
I walked back via Aberdeen Avenue & into Mount Auborn Cemetery. The weather was nice, so I tried my hand at getting some photos of the commoner bird species found here.
 Black-capped Chickadee.

 Tufted Titmouse.
 White-breasted Nuthatch.
 28th: I had decided to visit Nahant, but the wind was very strong & I thought birding in all that open habitat wouldn't be the best option. I stayed home & caught up on my blog, then ventured out in the afternoon to Mount Auborn Cemetery. I felt spring had finally sprung! It was the warmest day so far, with a bright blue sky, but with a hint of rain in the air. The ponds were beginning to melt, at last! The best bird was a Cooper's Hawk, found by all the passerines making a bit of a din. Obtained great views though, before it flew off further into the cemetery.

Cooper's Hawk.

 Not much else noted apart from a nice Brown Creeper associating with a flock of titmice. It looks very like the European Northern Treecreeper to me! How would you tell the difference if one was to turn up in say Shetland? Beats me!
Brown Creeper.
It is the 31st March, the last day of the month & it is pouring with rain! It is a dreary, cold day with no sun at all. Stayed indoors in the morning, kept looking outside but nothing doing. Weather changed slightly at 2.30pm & I ventured a walk around Fresh Pond. The main lake was still frozen but showing signs of cracking & emitting loud noises as the ice moved. Quite an eerie sound as you walk around in the half light, which is mid afternoon here. One of the smaller ponds was ice free & comparatively bird filled! 14 Hooded Mergansers stole the show, together with 7 Mute Swan & 2 Mallard; 23 Ring-billed & 5 American Herring Gulls.  Normal woodland birds recorded but nothing new in. Found a feeding flock of 7 White-throated & 5 Song Sparrows, but that was it. A tame ending to the month.


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