Roger Tory Peterson was the first to coin the phrase” Confusing Fall Warblers” in his Field Guide To the Birds first published in 1934 and devoted separate pages depicting those birds and pointing with arrows the significant points to look for during the fall migration.
John Dunn in his Field Guide to Warblers of North America (Peterson Field Guide Series-1997) states: “Despite the fearsome concept of “confusing fall warblers” the identification is generally straightforward given adequate views”. Before fall migration, many species of warblers lose their bright and distinctive spring plumage and molt into duller or drab colors for the winter months.
So how does the new birder identify warblers in the fall? First remember that there are basic features such as wing bars that help to identify the warbler in any plumage, then there is habitat preference, the Common Yellowthroat likes marsh and other wet habitats; the Wilson’s and Canada warblers tend to be found low in thick shrubbery and many others prefer the tops of trees- exactly like they do in the spring. Watch for distinctive behavior: the American Redstart always fans its tail, the Palm and Prairie warblers raise their tails. Warblers rarely sing in the fall so you need to familiarize the call notes or chips they make, this is a bit more difficult but it easy to start with the Yellow-rump’s fairly distinctive loud “check” call.
Here at Mount Auburn you won’t see the multitude of birders that “flock” to the Cemetery each spring. It is quite frustrating to see birds at this time of the year, remember they don’t sing, rarely make any noise, and are hard to detect in fully leafed out trees. Birders tend to look for fall migrants at coastal locations where trees are shorter and have been known as costal traps, as birds tend to follow the coast line in fall. The good thing is that fall migration is more leisurely, starting as early as July and continuing right up to the first days of December.
In the fall, birders at Mount Auburn should concentrate around the ponds, I’ve had the best results at Auburn Lake, lots of low shrubs, and easy access to get a drink- essential for the migrating warblers. Though most warblers are strictly insect eaters, some – especially the Yellow -rumped – will also eat seeds, and the black-eyed susans and cone flowers at Auburn Lake are ideal for them in late summer, as well as the Sweet Bay Magnolia which also attracts both warblers and other birds to its flowers.
During the fall migration the Mount Auburn birder has the opportunity to find a few species that are rarely encountered in the spring. The Connecticut Warbler is one of the most sought after species by birders in the fall, though not the most ideal location, look for it in the Cemetery around the ponds or up by the wildflower meadow at the Tower. The other bird that has appeared more often in the fall is the Yellow-breasted Chat- again look for it in similar locations. One rare fall warbler visitor to Mount Auburn was a Black-throated Gray Warbler which was present from September 27 through October 2, 2000, and brought back with it many of the spring birders.
The Nighthawk is a member of the nightjar family which include the Whip-poor-will. All members of this family are rather cryptic in color with tiny bills and huge mouths. Join us for a Nighthawk Watch this summer at Washington Tower:
The flight of the nighthawk is unmistakable as it wheels erratically chasing insects. The Nighthawk nests most often on open cultivated fields, gravel beaches, rocky outcrops and burned over woodlands. It is also well known to nest on flat gravel roof tops especially in cities. Locally birds have nested in a number of different places in Cambridge and Somerville as well as the Back Bay and South End sections of Boston. The roofs of many of these buildings have been converted to rubber and are no longer appealing to the nighthawks. (more…)
The month of May is when the peak abundance of migrant birds is found at Mount Auburn. In the following week by week timetable is a rather unscientific schedule of when you might expect the optimal time to see certain species. The third week of May is probably the week in which you could see close to 100 species in the Cemetery. This week you still have a few stragglers from the last days of April and the first few of the birds that come in the last days of May. Remember that as the month progresses, the foliage gets thicker, so the earlier in the season that you can find a migrant, the easier it will be to see it!
By the first week in May, many migrants will already be present such as Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Blue-headed Vireo, both Golden and Ruby crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrush, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and the following early warblers: Yellow-rumped, Pine, Palm and Black and white, Chipping Sparrow and Eastern Towhee. (more…)
This article was written by ecologist, Brooks Mathewson
This spring my daughters and I tapped our Sugar Maple in the back yard. While standing over the boiling sap it occurred to me that just as forty ounces of maple sap is reduced to one ounce of maple syrup, the dozens of proposed solutions to climate change can be similarly reduced to three major strategies. The first two usually garner the most attention – consume less and produce energy in a cleaner way. However, there is a third critical part of the equation, although often overlooked, that must also be addressed. This is to sequester the excess carbon dioxide that is already in our atmosphere.
More carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere now than at any point in the last two to four million years. The last time carbon dioxide levels were above 400 parts per million, as they are today, sea levels were 100 feet higher and crocodiles lived in Greenland. Even if we were to completely end all carbon emissions tomorrow, we will still be left with a major problem.
Carbon can be drawn out of the atmosphere through the conservation of healthy forests. Fifteen percent of the carbon emitted by humans in the United States is absorbed by forests. Two-thirds of this carbon is stored in the soil. If we are to have healthy, carbon absorbing forests, soil health is essential. Looking down at our feet may not be such a bad idea after all.
Healthy ecosystems need top-level predators, and in this region the most important top-level predator of the forest floor is the diminutive eastern red-backed salamander. These small, slender amphibians are fully terrestrial, breeding in moist locations under rocks and logs. Liberation from the stereotypical amphibian life cycle constraints has enabled red-backs to be widely distributed throughout the forest as opposed to within a narrow range of territory in close proximity to a wetland. In fact, red-backs are the most abundant vertebrate in the forest, with a biomass equivalent to twice that of all the breeding birds. By preying on soil invertebrates that shred leaves, red-backs slow down the rate at which leaf litter decomposes, immobilizing more carbon to be stored in the soil.
Surprisingly, extensive searches at Mount Auburn from 2013 to 2015 did not produce any observations of red-backed salamanders. One reason for their absence may be that the species was unable to survive through the period in the early 1900s when the Cemetery was more open with less extensive tree cover. Today, however, major ecological restoration efforts in the forest at Consecration Dell make this area of Mount Auburn an ideal spot to reintroduce a species that undoubtedly was present in the past.After receiving permission from the State of Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and the Watertown Conservation Commission, thirty-one eastern red-backed salamanders were reintroduced in the fall of 2017 to the upland woods in Consecration Dell. This spring another fifty red-backs will join them. Rough-cut, untreated, boards have been set out as habitat around the paths surrounding the Dell Pond. Over the course of year I will monitor these cover boards to assess the status of the reintroduced population of salamanders. It is our hope that red-backs will begin to successfully breed and join the other species of amphibians successfully reintroduced to Mount Auburn Cemetery by Dr. Joe Martinez in past years including American Toad, Spring Peepers, and Gray Tree Frog.