Wildlife Success Story: Eastern Red-Backed Salamanders

June 4, 2019

Mount Auburn provides critical habitat for a variety of animals. Amid urbanization and loss of open green space, the Cemetery can play an important role in bringing them back to the Boston area. This year, we are thrilled to see the successful return of another native species to our landscape. Ecologist Brooks Mathewson has been working since 2017 to reintroduce one of the most ecologically-important animals of the New England forest to Mount Auburn, the eastern red-backed salamander.


The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

April 1, 2019
“Hey, have you ever seen a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker?” That’s a question we birders often get when you tell folks you’re a bird-watcher.  Many people think this species of woodpecker is a mythical bird because its name is often used in jest.  But it is one bird that truly lives up to its name: both males and females have yellow bellies and tree sap is their favorite diet.  Males have red crowns and throats, while females have red crowns but white throats.  Immature birds are pretty dull, lacking the red color and being brownish and non-descript, except for the white stripe on their sides that is their most visible identifying mark.

Sapsuckers have drilling techniques distinct from other woodpeckers; you can tell a sapsucker has visited a tree when you see rows of round or squarish holes drilled into the tree trunk.  (The birds feed on the sap that oozes from the holes and also eat the insects that get trapped in the sap.)  Hummingbirds will often visit sapsucker “wells” to feed, and sometimes a Ruby crowned Kinglet Hummingbird can be seen on Indian Ridge at Mount Auburn, feeding on the sap from the drillings of a sapsucker, like this one that John “Garp” Harrison has photographed.   (more…)

Wildlife at Mount Auburn: Winter Birding

December 29, 2018

Winter is an ideal time to get familiar with the year-round resident birds of Mount Auburn. If you are a beginner birder this time of year offers the opportunity to see and hear the common birds of the area without the distractions of migrants or foliage on the trees.

During the winter months, in addition to Sparrows, Blue Jays, Robins, Cardinals and Crows, you might see a Great Blue Heron, a Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk or a Red-tailed Hawk and possibly a Great Horned Owl or a Screech Owl.

Photo by Al Parker, Mount Auburn Security

There is also the potential for seeing any of the following birds here during the winter months: American Kestrel, White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, Brown Creeper, Dark-eyed Junco, Downy Woodpecker, European Starling, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Hooded Merganser, House Finch, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird, Tufted Titmouse, White-throated Sparrow and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.

The Purple Finch

October 29, 2018

Yes, this accompanying photograph by Jeremiah Trimble really is a Purple Finch. Females and immature males are brown with a bold whitish eyebrow stripe which distinguishes them from the plain faced House Finch which is much more common here in Massachusetts. The name Purple is also misleading for the color of the adult male; it’s more the color of raspberry.

Roger Tory Peterson described the Purple Finch as a “sparrow dipped in raspberry juice.” Here in Massachusetts we tend to see more first year birds, like the photograph, than the adult males. The Purple Finch is an uncommon breeder in Massachusetts and as far as I know it has not been noted to nest in Mount Auburn since the days of William Brewster, who wrote in his Birds of the Cambridge Region (1906).” The juniper woods which once covered so much of the country lying between Mount Auburn and the Watertown Arsenal, used to attract Purple Finches at all seasons, and the birds bred there so commonly at times that on June 6, 1869, I found no less than six nests containing eggs or young within a space of half an acre.”  (more…)