Fall Warblers

August 25, 2018
Yellow-rumped Warbler In Rhododendron by Brooks Mathewson

Yellow-rumped Warbler in Rhododendron by Brooks Mathewson

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.

NEW Improvements to the Friends of Mount Auburn

August 21, 2018

The Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery provides essential support to maintain and enhance our treasured landscape. We are pleased to announce new and exciting changes to our Membership program and benefits.

Currently, unrestricted donations to the Friends flow through two separate giving avenues, the Annual Fund and Membership. Following a series of discussions and roundtables with members, donors, volunteers, and staff, we have decided to merge these two initiatives into a single unified program. (more…)

Eternally Green: Consecration Dell Habitat Expansion Continues

August 1, 2018

This past spring, we undertook a large native planting project to improve habitat and sustainability on the upper slopes of Consecration Dell. Thanks to a grant from the A. J. & M. D. Ruggiero Memorial Trust, we expanded the native plant community that supports the many species of wildlife inhabiting the Dell. This was our latest section of woodland restoration throughout the Dell, which began over twenty years ago and is finally nearing completion.

This year’s project, installed by Whole Earth Landscaping, was at a technically challenging site on the Dell’s steepest southern slopes where Violet Path splits.The project began with removal and control of undesirable vegetation, made more complicated because we had to avoid using herbicides in areas where wildlife exposure is a risk. The edges of the slopes were then stabilized with fieldstone boulders, coir logs (pressed coconut fibers), salvaged tree logs and stumps, and were planted with groundcovers. This strategy allows new plantings to establish and thrive, and creates a more sustainable path structure than the crude pipe and plank system that we used here for years to stabilize slopes. These would too often degrade and require replacement. Once established, the plantings will allow rainwater to be absorbed at the root-zone or move down-slope safely without washing away soil. This approach has been successful in other areas of the Dell, where erosion has finally been checked and understory vegetation is now established. The contractor then mulched selected areas on the slopes to prevent plant installation from disturbing existing duff layers created by exposed soil. Overall, the project featured the installation of nearly 8,000 plants and temporary irrigation on the site. By introducing sufficient numbers of plants and providing enough initial care in the first two years so they can thrive, we will dramatically improve the ecological quality of the Dell’s vegetation.


Dell Slopes in the Snow

We have developed the plant list carefully over the years with input from wildlife and horticulture consultants plus actual trial and error field experience. Beneath the tree canopy dominated by Red, Black, White, and Scarlet Oaks, we’ve installed low-growing plant species designed to offer nesting materials, protection, and food sources for wildlife.


These plants include ferns (Hayscented Fern, Christmas Fern, and Lady Fern); herbaceous groundcovers and woodland wildflowers (White Baneberry, Wild Ginger, Mayapple, and American Spikenard); and shrubs (Winterberry, Rosebay Rhododendron, and Snowberry).


We also added species that provide nuts, seeds, and fruits to a wide variety of birds as well as Mount Auburn’s large populations of small mammals, including gray squirrel, fox, raccoon, skunk, groundhog, and opossum. As it matures, the new understory vegetation will also provide much-needed shelter and nesting materials for many species of birds, mammals, and amphibians.


Mount Auburn has long been recognized by ornithologists as a precious refuge for birds in metropolitan Boston, which is especially crucial given current habitat trends. According to the annual State of the Birds Report, a comprehensive analysis on bird populations in the United States that has been published by the Secretary of the Interior since 2009, nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened, or in significant decline due to habitat loss, invasive species, and other threats. Within Mount Auburn, designated an Important Bird Area by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, there are few sites as significant as Consecration Dell for wild bird habitat. Many of the more than thirty species of migrating wood warblers observed at Mount Auburn each spring are found in this woodland. Five species of thrush (Hermit, Wood, Swainson’s, and the unusual Gray-cheeked and Bicknell’s) are also found there during spring migration. Wood Thrush is one of the species listed as threatened in the Secretary of the Interior’s report. Nesting birds include the Black-capped Chickadee, White- and Red-breasted nuthatches, and Downy Woodpecker.


While this area already hosted significant numbers of birds, it was devoid of the woodland understory vegetation necessary to constitute a “shrubland habitat,” identified in our Wildlife Action Plan as one of the critical missing habitats at Mount Auburn. Although creating this habitat” is just one part of our planting work, it is a significant priority. Of the forty bird species associated with shrubland habitats in eastern North America, twenty-two are undergoing significant population declines. The expansion of this habitat will be a new and important resource for those birds at the Dell.


Now that this phase of habitat restoration is complete, the landscape will offer more food and shelter to the hundreds of migratory and resident bird species who visit and live in the Dell.


It will also improve the habitat for the resident populations of amphibians, small mammals, and countless species of insects. We are excited to have made another important step in enhancing Mount Auburn as a wildlife sanctuary, by establishing an ecologically-sound plant community that will be sustainable long into the future.

Horticulture Highlight: Threadleaf Coreopsis, Coreopsis verticillata

July 31, 2018

In the dogdays of summer as muslin curls on its own heat

And crickets cry in the black walnut tree

The winds lift up my life

And set it some distance from where it was…

            -Meena Alexander

End of July, beginning of August qualify as the “dog days of summer” from the eras of the ancient Greeks and Romans (July 24 – August 24), down through time to readers of the Book of Common Prayers (July 6 – August 7), on to contemporary readers of the Old Farmer’s Almanac (July 3 – August 11). Often including the hottest stretch of summer weather, this phrase’s etymology began with an astronomical connection to the rising of Sirius, the brightest star in our night sky, part of the constellation Canis major, the Greater Dog. (more…)