Across the street from the entrance, Bob mimics a screech owl (this is a real treat) and chums up a jubilee of birds, including tiny golden- and ruby-crowned kinglets, red-bellied woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, and a jaunty Carolina wren.
TOTAL NUMBER OF SPECIES SPOTTED 21
COOLEST BIRD Kinglet
300 Gardner Street, West Roxbury, 617-635-4505, newtonconservators.org
Millennium Park, the old Boston landfill, flanks the Charles River and offers a mosaic of wetland habitat — riverine, marsh, swamp — as well as forest and field. Beavers have modified the landscape and the birds approve. A cormorant stands stone still along the river, while inland sparrows, including fox and American tree, harvest weed seeds. At one point, we see eight fox sparrows — buxom, rufus-tailed birds of the north; and then, more cryptic, a swamp sparrow. The voice of a raven rains down from the sky, while that of a Virginia rail rises up from the reeds: a downward run of grunts. On a beaver pond behind the reeds, a female pintail (duck) preens.
TOTAL NUMBER OF SPECIES SPOTTED 11
COOLEST BIRD HEARD Virginia rail
Blue Hill Avenue at Circuit Drive, Dorchester, 617-635-4505, franklinparkcoalition.org
On our way to South Boston, Bob stops at Franklin Park for a brisk walk around Scarborough Pond to check for waterfowl. Black ducks, hooded mergansers, and a lone ruddy duck, its stiff tail pointed skyward like the mast of a sailboat, float amid a congestion of mallards and Canada geese.
TOTAL NUMBER OF SPECIES SPOTTED 7
COOLEST BIRD Ruddy duck
Day Boulevard, South Boston, 617-727-5290, mass.gov/dcr/listing.htm
As we drive to our next destination, we see fish crows perched on streetlights in Mattapan, and in Dorchester a spirited Cooper’s hawk, a major threat for all birds smaller than a crow.
Near the John F. Kennedy Library, close to the shore, a flock of brant grazes the lawn. Several pair of common eiders ride the swells on Dorchester Bay, and beyond them, gulls — ring-billed, great black-backed, and the ubiquitous herring gull. A single black scooter, a chunky sea duck, lumbers over the surface before becoming airborne.
While enjoying a late lunch of one-dollar hot dogs at Sullivan’s (which has since closed for the season) on Castle Island, we watch the urban reprobates — English sparrow, rock dove, and European starling — squabble over french fries. Two red-breasted mergansers swim past the dock, their swept-back, rakish crown feathers giving them the appearance of punk rockers. After lunch, we walk to grass-topped Fort Independence along Pleasure Bay, and then Bob points out a grassy rise across the water at Logan International Airport. Both the roof of the fort and the grassy rise are the city’s premier destinations for snowy owls, Boston’s most eye-catching winter bird. Logan had 48 last winter, but today we don’t see any.
TOTAL NUMBER OF SPECIES SPOTTED 13
COOLEST BIRD NOT SEEN Snowy owl
BELLE ISLE MARSH RESERVATION
Bennington Street, East Boston, 617-727-5350, mass.gov/dcr/listing.htm
En route to the eastern end of Boston Harbor, we drive past the Customs House, a traditional peregrine falcon nest site, and along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, where tired migrant birds pitch out of the gloaming into a nourishing ribbon of green. In East Boston, where there are more jets than birds in the sky, we enter Belle Isle Marsh Reservation, which was once the home of a drive-in theater but is now public land managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. Belle Isle supports the largest patch of salt marsh in Boston, a tidal oasis for migratory shorebirds. The bird species of the day, however, is not the sandpiper or plover; it’s the white-winged crossbill. Glowing in late afternoon light, a pair tweeze seeds from between the scales of pine cones, at eye level in a gnarled pitch pine. At one point, I’m on my knees watching, both crossbills barely a foot away.
“I’m a big urban birder,” Bob tells me on the way back to Arlington. “I promote that birds are everywhere [in Boston]. You don’t need to go to Plum Island or Cape Cod to see them.”
TOTAL NUMBER OF SPECIES SPOTTED 4
COOLEST BIRD White-winged crossbill
THE CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT
Want to participate in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count? Visit birds.audubon.org/get-involved-christmas-bird-count to sign up for one of 33 separate counting efforts taking place in Massachusetts between Friday and January 5. All are part of an annual event begun in 1900 to challenge the nation’s traditional holiday “side hunt,” a bloody woodlands shooting competition. The Boston count takes place next Sunday. Continued...