May Highlights

Absolutely spectacular weekend.

After the Cerulean Thursday and lots of good stuff not refinding it Friday, Saturday started out cloudy. Between it being dark and with a chance of rain still, I left the camera at home. I headed to the Arlington Reservoir, hoping for good swallows and other migrants. Lots of birds around, but not necessarily what I had hoped for. Two Scarlet Tanagers were nice, as were the boatload of sandpipers, including 2 Lesser Yellowlegs, several Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers, and about 20 Least Sandpipers. I did find my first Bank Swallows of the year but couldn’t find any Cliff and numbers were on the low side. Warblers were limited with a few singing near the bridge but nothing too exciting.

After the res, I decided to walk along the Mystic Lakes. Almost immediately upon arrival, I found more warblers in the small wood lot than there were all along the res. Lots of Yellow-rumps, Yellow, Black-and-white, Parulas, and others. I spent a few minutes tracking down an odd song and got a quick look at what I thought was a Cape May. I moved for an angle with better light but lost the bird. Backtracking, I did get a nice male Black-throated Blue but still couldn’t find the singer. I circled around a bit and suddenly there was a male Cape May Warbler hopping around right at eye level! I was able to study it for a few minutes before it moved back up to the treetops.

There was another odd song in the area that I started to track down. Unfortunately I only saw it as it was chased away by another warbler. I started wandering down the path and quickly saw my first Black-crowned Night-Heron of the year. There were more warblers and a Blue-headed Vireo by the boat club but nothing unusual. Down at Sandy Beach, I added gnatcatchers, a Solitary Sandpiper, and Savannah Sparrows but couldn’t find a Pine Warbler. Continuing along the path that ends near Wellington Station, I added an American Redstart (a very nice adult male) and a first-year male Orchard Oriole. There were also lots of Yellow Warblers, some singing slightly odd songs.

It was a quick walk back, only stopping for Cedar Waxwings and an Osprey. I checked for the screech-owls that had been reported along the way, but didn’t remember the directions correctly and didn’t find the spot. Back at the wood lot, I finally tracked down the oddball. I had thought it sounded vaguely like a Prairie, but it turned out to just be a Northern Parula. That proved handy to know Sunday.

So on Sunday morning, I headed to Met State to bump up the Field Sparrow to probable breeder (the one that I skipped on Thursday and found the Cerulean instead). I started going straight up the hill. Lots of song including Ovenbird, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and 3 species of woodpeckers. The warblers were loud but not cooperating at first.

At the top of the hill, I immediately found a singing Nashville and then a very nice Rose-breasted Grosbeak:


I heard the Field Sparrow pretty quickly, so that’s now probable with code S (singing for more than 7 days). However, today it was joined by a Blue-winged Warbler and two Indigo Buntings!


The warblers cooperated as I worked my way town the trail. I’m not quite sure how many as some seemed to be following me but I had Magnolia, Black-and-white, Parula, Black-throated Green, lots of Yellow-rumps, and a late Palm along the way.


BT Green

There was also a pheasant calling and when I poked along a side trail, I did hear a Prairie. A new bird for Waltham and another likely breeder at the spot. Guess I wasn’t thorough last year.

Eventually, I reached the base of the hill where a Wood Thrush dropped onto the trail to feed. It was fairly distant, but I lucked into getting a good shot as it flew off:

Flying Wood Thrush

I checked the spot just to the right with the downed utility poles. More of the same warblers with the addition of a first-year male Redstart. But the big surprise was a Purple Finch. It was female-plumaged but after seeing it I realized I may have been hearing one sing, so it could have still been a first year male (they’re not easily separable until their 2nd October according to Pyle).

Back along the cemetery, one tree was loaded with Yellow-rumps, a Parula, and a Black-and-white or two. Just before the wet spot was my first American Lady of the year.


In the wet spot I found the expected Solitary Sandpiper but there wasn’t anything above. I wandered in the direction of Rock Meadow.

Crossing the bridge, I quickly added Common Yellowthroat and Yellow Warbler and then had an Eastern Towhee. Tree Swallows were all over, often landing on piles of wood chips. Circling the garden, I had a Brown Thrasher singing and then one carrying a large stick. An Eastern Bluebird was hanging around the furthest two boxes. At first, I thought it was likely nesting in the right one, but when two Tree Swallows came towards the left, it hopped over there, so I’m not sure now.

Circling the rest of Rock Meadow didn’t add much, so back to Met State to look for owls. On the way I ran into the Bakers, who had another pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. I sent them in the direction of all the warblers and then worked my way towards the presumed owl nesting area. No luck with that, but more grosbeaks, ovenbirds, another wood thrush, and similar. A couple Juvenal’s Duskywings were out as well.

After wandering down to the field and back up I heard a Brown Thrasher and spent a few minutes trying to find him without any luck. Several Azures were flying around here, including one that was basking with wings open (post upcoming on these).

I worked my way back, adding even more Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and not much else. A quick stop at Beaver Brook didn’t come up with a Cerulean Warbler or White-eyed Vireo (or anything new on the day) but it was an excellent morning.


I headed out at lunchtime today planning on going to Met State and bumping Field Sparrow up to probable breeder (7 days singing) but as I started down the Access Road I remembered the work being done on Trapelo right at the end of Forest St. yesterday. It was enough of a pain that I decided to head to Beaver Brook instead. That turned out to be a very good decision.

I had a sandwich for lunch, so after parking I assembled it and got out to walk around as I ate. Almost immediately, I heard an unfamiliar warbler song. I walked a little closer and began looking for the bird. It wasn’t easy as there were a lot of birds around. I must have sifted through 10 yellow-rumps before I thought I had it located. The bird then turned slightly I saw the spectacles of a Blue-headed Vireo, so apparently not. A Northern Parula was another false alarm, but the Indigo Bunting wasn’t.

Finally, I got on another warbler. White belly with a few streaks, white throat with a very little bit of a necklace. And the song clicked. Cerulean! Although among my most-wanted birds for the county and one I was hoping to find this spring, this wasn’t when and where I expected it.

The bird moved a little and even with it singing constantly, it was not easy to see. Eventually it moved down the path into the woods a bit. I followed, almost gave up and moved on, but then waited a bit and finally got some views of the head and back. Seeing that the only other Cerulean I’ve seen was at the top of a tree at Skinner State Park, this was the first chance I’ve had to really study the bird. The light was very poor, but I won’t complain.

The bird eventually returned to the tree it started in, at which point a noisy dogwalker came through and I headed back to work. I quickly sent out a post about it and got a very nice reply from Marj in just over 3 minutes:


That said it all.

After work, I ran back over to show it off to my parents. It wasn’t cooperating, staying silent (although others had it before and after we were there). We did have some consolation with a gnatcatcher, Red-breasted Nuthatch(!), a few other warblers, and more orioles than we could keep track of.

So I’ve finally gotten all the regular warblers in Middlesex County. Without figuring out an exact count, I’d also say it’s now less than 20 birds that occur yearly that I have yet to find. Come on goshawk!


Fork-tailed Flycatcher

So a Fork-tailed Flycatcher showed up at Chandler Pond in Brighton yesterday or the day before. Fortunately, I had worked late one day last week and had a few extra minutes to get over there first thing today. As you’ve already seen, the bird was still present and cooperative.

It was bouncing around between several trees. I spent most of my time trying for flight shots. Unfortunately, the camera’s rather heavy and most times when I put it down for a second and started seeing who else was around were the times when the bird flew.

But not every time:
Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Note that the 3 outermost primaries have notches, making this the southern savana subspecies, which is expected.

A few more of my better shots:

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Note the yellow crown patch visible in that last one.

And one very close to excellent shot:

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

The primaries are more visible here.

Too bad the bird didn’t move the hundred yards or so down the road to the Newton and Middlesex county line.

Waxwing on a stick

Waxwing on a stick

Took a ride out to Groton this morning. Even though there have been in the hundreds of Bohemians up in Newburyport and elsewhere, I wanted them more for the county. Nothing in the trees as we arrived, but after grabbing a muffin and waiting in the car for a few minutes, four waxwings flew over. I jumped out and went back to check the trees and this single bird was sitting way up at the top. The light was awful but I was still plenty happy (although if you want a good picture, look at Anne’s from downtown Boston).

County bird #256!

Pine Grosbeaks finally

So it’s an irruption year for Pine Grosbeaks and they’ve done all they can to avoid me. A calling bird that we never found at the top of Mt. Watatic last year did get it onto my year list. This year, we tried in Royalston on a freezing cold day that had all the birds hiding for the short time we were able to stand being out. While out at Ethan’s for a weekend, I did get a very brief fly-by view at the Athol McDonald’s, but that’s not very satisfying.

I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to get any photo ops and wasn’t going to be able to get them on my Middlesex County list (kicking myself for not going out to Groton early in the winter when they appeared to be pretty regular). Fortunately, on Thursday, Paul Peterson reported several at the train station in Lincoln and Marj Rines found them again Friday. Although it was supposed to be nasty all day Saturday, it wasn’t raining when I got up, so we took a quick ride out. The train station trees were just about stripped bare (although a few of the waxwings that had been around showed up along with a bluebird). We wandered down through the community gardens looking for other fruit trees and found some in front of the police station. Unfortunately, there were no birds in them. Continuing on to the Codman Estate, we were rewarded with a fairly good view of a Pileated Woodpecker. The rain picked up, so we headed out.

Today, I started by not doing much of anything ad finally decided to try again around 9:30. The train station looked empty, so I drove past the police station (also empty) and headed to Nine Acre Corner. I attempted to enjoy my first Green-winged Teal and Northern Pintails of the year, but the freezing wind made it difficult. There had been a White-fronted Goose around, but the majority of the geese were behind vegetation or in horrible light. Barbara Volkle and Steve Moore drove up, agreed on the difficulty with the geese and we all headed back to the other side to try from there. No luck with the geese and the Killdeer that Barbara and Steve had seen had also gone into hiding, so I headed back to the train station.

On the way back, I cut down 126 to Codman Rd. to check for the Pileated again (Marj had mentioned that it appeared to have been working on a hole for quite awhile last year). At the stop sign, the car in front of me was being slow, so I looked to the police station and noticed a brighter spot in the trees. The car was still sitting there and there was no one behind me, so I grabbed my binocs and had a Pine Grosbeak. I went back to the train station to park and ran over and found at least 4 birds feeding in the trees right in front of the station, including one gorgeous adult male.

And since I’m sure no one read all that, here’s the pictures:

Pine Grosbeak

Male Pine Grosbeak

Male Pine Grosbeak

Male Pine Grosbeak

Note how many berries he started eating and didn’t finish.

(Update: in the comments, Norm Levey points out that they eat the pips and not the fruit itself)

Male Pine Grosbeak

Male Pine Grosbeak

A couple waxwings joined them as well.

Cedar Waxwing

I headed off to other things but caught Barbara and Steve as they drove up and was able to point them to the police station.

After my parents got home in the afternoon, they decided to take a run over and see them themselves. We got to the police station with empty trees. There was an odd call from across the street and we looked up and all saw a grosbeak. After a few seconds, we realized we were all looking at different birds. They flew back into the fruit trees, giving much better views. Unfortunately no adult male this time, but still good for everyone to get them.

Pine Grosbeaks

Second bird almost visible there.

Pine Grosbeak

Duck Walked

So the Waltham Land Trust duck walk was today. Luckily it was fairly warm (although the wind made it feel a bit cool) and the path was mostly clear.

I don’t want to say unfortunately, but 50 people showing up was rather scary. Once we got to the first wooden overlook, it turned out ok. Until then it was a big clustered and crazy (the fact the the hoodie disappeared before most people got on it didn’t help much). At the overlook, we were able to get nice looks at the Hooded Mergansers and Ring-necked Ducks and spent a good bit of time getting everyone to the front to see. The ring-necked show at the second overlook was even better and the female Common Goldeneye was around for a while as well.

We lingered there for quite some time. I debated ending the walk there as there wasn’t likely to be much up further, but someone who had walked over to the start mentioned seeing a few things he didn’t know across Newton St. so we headed over. A few more mergansers and mallards were about it, although a few of us spotted 2 black ducks as we returned.

Although not the birdiest walk, people seemed very excited. Many commented on how they weren’t aware of how much could be found along the Charles (or any small bit of habitat in general). Between seeing this and corresponding with others about various places in Waltham, I’ve realized that there’s a need to document as many places publicly as possible. I’m going to start adding to the 3 site pages I already have up (both more sites and more details about the individual sites) and need to start looking at the eBird import tool to get all my old data up there.

And we saw:

  • Canada Goose – 30
  • American Black Duck – 2
  • Mallard – 100
  • Ring-necked Duck – 12
  • Hooded Merganser – 11
  • Ring-billed Gull – 40
  • Rock Pigeon – 2
  • Downy Woodpecker – 1
  • American Crow – 4
  • American Robin – 4
  • Northern Mockingbird – 2
  • European Starling – 25
  • Dark-eyed Junco – 2
  • Common Grackle – 1
  • House Sparrow – 20

Winter List 2007

Stealing an idea from the Canadians, here’s a December-February list for Waltham. Dates and locations are the first sighting. Birds in bold are my first Dec-Feb sighting in Waltham.

The List:

  1. Canada Goose (12/1, Met State)
  2. Mute Swan (12/2, Hardy Pond)
  3. Wood Duck (1/19, Charles)
  4. American Black Duck (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  5. Mallard (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  6. Green-winged Teal (12/2, Hardy Pond)
  7. Ring-necked Duck (12/2, Charles)
  8. Common Goldeneye (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  9. Hooded Merganser (12/1, Lot 1)
  10. Common Merganser (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  11. Ruddy Duck (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  12. Great Blue Heron (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  13. Turkey Vulture (2/25, Beaver St)
  14. Sharp-shinned Hawk (12/23, Lot 1)
  15. Cooper’s Hawk (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  16. Red-tailed Hawk (12/1, Lot 1)
  17. American Kestrel (12/23, UMass Field Station)
  18. American Woodcock (12/1, Lot 1)
  19. Ring-billed Gull (12/1, yard)
  20. Herring Gull (12/1, Star Market)
  21. Great Black-backed Gull (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  22. Rock Pigeon (12/2, Hardy Pond)
  23. Mourning Dove (12/1, Lot 1)
  24. Great Horned Owl (12/1, Met State)
  25. Belted Kingfisher (12/2, Hardy Pond)
  26. Red-bellied Woodpecker (1/5, Met State)
  27. Downy Woodpecker (12/1, yard)
  28. Hairy Woodpecker (12/1, Lot 1)
  29. Northern Flicker (12/2, Charles)
  30. Blue Jay (12/1, Lot 1)
  31. American Crow (12/1, Trapelo)
  32. Fish Crow (12/22, Charles)
  33. Black-capped Chickadee (12/1, yard)
  34. Tufted Titmouse (12/1, yard)
  35. White-breasted Nuthatch (12/1, yard)
  36. Carolina Wren (12/2, yard)
  37. Winter Wren (1/5, Met State)
  38. Golden-crowned Kinglet (12/6, Paine)
  39. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (12/2, Charles)
  40. Eastern Bluebird (1/5, Met State)
  41. Hermit Thrush (2/3, Lot 1)
  42. American Robin (12/1, Lot 1)
  43. Northern Mockingbird (12/1, Lot 1)
  44. European Starling (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  45. Cedar Waxwing (12/1, Lot 1)
  46. American Tree Sparrow (12/1, Lot 1)
  47. Savannah Sparrow (12/7, UMass Field Station)
  48. Song Sparrow (12/1, Lot 1)
  49. White-throated Sparrow (12/1, Lot 1)
  50. Dark-eyed Junco (12/1, yard)
  51. Snow Bunting (12/23, UMass Field Station)
  52. Northern Cardinal (12/1, Lot 1)
  53. Red-winged Blackbird (2/15, Charles)
  54. Common Grackle (2/24, Charles)
  55. House Finch (12/1, yard)
  56. American Goldfinch (12/1, yard)
  57. House Sparrow (12/1, yard)

Based on Massbird (and other lists) postings and eBird reports, there were at least 215 species in state this season.

So 57 again, same as last year. Not too bad. Did miss ravens repeatedly and probably some other stuff.

Cumulative total: 78

Last Year

Greater Boston CBC 2007

Last Sunday was the Greater Boston CBC. Scheduled for 12/16, we were snowed out. Somehow, my team was able to have better attendance on the rescheduled day, unlike most teams. Unfortunately, we were snowed out of several areas and had to replan most of the day.

We started with the usual owling, which turned out to be a waste as we heard nothing. Meeting up with the full team at 7:00, we had a Red-tail replacing last year’s Cooper’s in the same tree. We quickly headed to Dunback, where I found the Great Horned Owl with a little help from the crows. We wandered around the rest of the pines and down to the gardens without much of anything and were ready to move on by 8:45.

Our next stop was Brookhaven, where the nature trail was too snowy. Walking around the parking lot to make sure the pond was frozen, 16 Cedar Waxwings flew by, being chased by a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

We moved on to Falzone Field, which was also too snowy. There were big numbers of robins and mourning doves and what was presumably the same Sharp-shinned landed across the field. Willy the screech owl was out, so we headed over, although he decided to go back into hiding before we got there.

We took a quick detour to check Met State for redpolls and then went to Beaver Brook. There, we found out why we never covered it before. It’s in Belmont’s territory, so we left and went to the UMass Field Station. There was an Accipiter perched that looked like a Cooper’s, but before we could get closer two small white birds flew in. Snow Buntings! My first for Waltham, and only the second record that I know of (also here).

Snow Bunting!

As we started into the field, someone asked about the kestrel the group had here last year. A couple seconds later, we turned around and there was a kestrel sitting on one of the trees behind the building! I headed for the pines to check for owls, while the rest of the group went for a better look for the buntings or to the community gardens. The kestrel flew right overhead. The pines were empty (as always) but the far back corner of the field had a lot of common birds. Walking was rather tough here, sinking in with almost every step.

We moved on to Lyman Pond. Most of the group went to see if the Screech-Owls were back, but I decided to check the pond itself for any open water. There was a small strip, which had a Great Blue Heron and a Mallard. I was about to gloat over the heron, but it flew to the other end and everyone saw it.

Next up was the Paine Estate, which was completely dead. It was close to lunch time, so we headed to the high school and Kennedy. There wasn’t much around, but it put us in a good place for the people that had to leave. We headed to Wendy’s.

While eating lunch, we pretended to count gulls and starlings. Much better was the kestrel that perched briefly in the McDonald’s lot across the street and the flyover Great Blue Heron.

After finishing lunch, we headed to the Charles. We quickly found all the good ducks (23 Ring-necks, 8 Hooded Mergansers, 18 Commons, 3 Goldeneye) and another couple herons. We split up at the 2nd overlook and I continued on to the baseball field. A few more of those ducks were around, but the big highlight was a pair of kestrels. They were very active, flying around and landing on the light towers and vocalized quite often. They were joined on the tower by a Herring Gull and a Cooper’s Hawk flew through as well.

Kestrel on Light Tower

There was also a very cooperative Red-tail right by Newton St.:



We returned and found the group that had gone to check the waterfall back at the parking lot, looking at a Fish Crow. We moved on to the Gore Estate, which was too snowy to walk around, although I took a quick run to the fenced-in field.

Pretty much out of accessible places, we went to drop the rest of the group off before heading home to count feeder birds for the rest of the day. On the way, we made a brief stop at Hardy Pond, which had surprisingly large numbers of Mallards considering that it was totally frozen.

Definitely a better day than I expected. Thanks to Judy, Joyce, Christine, Eric, Lew, Barbara, and my parents for helping.