Urban birding is a whole new kettle of fish for me. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its unique and satisfying aspects, however the rural birder needs to adapt, just as the birds have. I visited my daughter’s family in Bean Town, aka Boston, this November. They are hooked on the urban life style; no car, high-rise accommodations, small footprint, public transportation, walking, etc., and I see its healthy appeal. New birding possibilities became apparent on day one when my grandson pointed out the window at the sunset “bird show”. We were looking down from the 25th floor at a feeding flock of Ring-billed Gulls soaring far below.
House Sparrows and Feral Pigeons are the low-hanging fruit in any city but if you look harder and are fortunate to be in a metropolis which has developed some green spaces, you will be rewarded. The urban birds, residents and migrators, are seeking out and concentrated in those same green oases. My first challenge was getting used to the loud traffic noise, sirens, screaming children and the general din of the city drowning out the birds. Hustling pedestrians have little regard for a birder sneaking up on a rarity. Despite it all I saw some good birds.
There were some pleasant surprises. Cold, frosty morning–not a problem, there’s a Starbucks across the street. Hungry–just visit the Panera Bread around the corner. Right foot acting up–stop by the local CVS for Advil. Want to check out another site–just hop on the subway for $2.25 and surface across town in just minutes.
Do you remember the “Big Dig”? This was the largest and most costly highway project in our country’s history. In the 1950’s the Boston developers built the “highway in the skies”, elevating the central artery through the heart of the city darkening the stores and streets below. By the 1980’s planners sought to correct this by burying several miles of Interstate 93. Construction woes persisted from 1991 through 2007 plagued by cost overruns, leaks, poor design, poor materials, criminal arrests, etc. Tax payers were left holding the bag for a project which initially was supposed to cost $2.8 billion but ended up at $14.6 billion.
But there was and is light at the end of this tunnel. What to do with the vacated space left by the buried highway was the question of the day. It could have been developed commercially but greener heads prevailed and today there is an amazing linear park curving through the heart of Boston from Chinatown to the North End. This “Rose Kennedy Greenway” was my first stop for several mornings of great urban birding.
This park has had several years to mature and is a creative mixture of trees, lower shrubs and ground cover traversed by winding gravel paths. They’ve held the lawns and concrete portions to a minimum and have been rewarded with a vote of approval from the birds. During two morning visits I saw 13 species including a Hermit Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Ovenbird, and Common Yellowthroat. The e-Bird Hot Spot indicates 102 species have been seen there.
Christopher Columbus Park is near the northern end of the Greenway and perfectly suited for a lunch break at American Joe’s waterfront restaurant. Near the entrance I saw a Red-tailed Hawk in an evergreen, also breaking for lunch with small feathers still hanging from its claws and beak. While sampling some delicious clam chowder and watching a Ring-billed Gull perched just outside my window, I saw a Peregrine Falcon shoot by in pursuit of a Feral Pigeon–it doesn’t get any better than this.
The staid, historic and central green space in Boston is the large Common and adjacent Public Gardens occupying 74 acres near the western edge of “Old Boston”. The Common has the traditional landscape of urban parks with crisscrossing paths, hills, statues, and beautiful old trees. Despite the obvious beauty, (see the opening photo in the post), the lack of understudy plantings makes the birding there somewhat meagre, at least during my visits. The Public Gardens is a gorgeous manicured green space with a large central pond, walking bridge, swan boats, and the famous and growing family of mallards, the stars of the classic children’s book, “Make Way For Ducklings”, by Robert McCloskey. Other birds, however, were scarce, at least in November.
Post Office Square, aka Norman B. Leventhal Park, is a small 1.7 acre green oasis in the heart of the financial district surrounded by towering buildings, old and new. This space does have low bushes and grasses and attracted a large flock of foraging White-throated Sparrows, I suspect newly arrived from the north. e-Bird Hot Spot reports 92 species have been seen in this small, charming space.
Mount Auburn Cemetery, though not actually within Boston, has to be included on any birders description of local sites. It is located near the border of Watertown and Cambridge just north of Boston. Take the Red Line to Harvard Square and Bus 71 or 73 to the cemetery and you will experience a birding and landscaping treat. Countless winding roads and paths over hills and between tombstones create a reverential atmosphere. The autumn beauty is difficult to capture with words. I published an earlier post just about this site on February 4, 2015. My location life list at Mt. Auburn is 36 species but e-Bird Hot Spot reports 225 species seen over the years. I always end my walk through the cemetery with a short visit to our family plot where both my parents are interred. Mount Auburn will obviously remain a birding and personal destination for me, hopefully for years to come.