Saturday, December 1, 2012

Those elusive owls again

There's been so many sightings of barred owls in Boston recently, one was photographed at the entrance to Park Street station on the Red Line in downtown, so you'd think you would get a glimpse of one fairly easy. But despite the best efforts, no owls were spotted today.
That doesn't mean that the day was wasted though. It was still lovely, with soft snow falling gently and a mellow gray light.

Saw Mill Brook runs through West Roxbury and ends in Charles River. Along its shores are several  parks like the Millenium park and Cutler park. Today we headed to Millenium, where a barred owl had been reported recently. Millenium park is a good spot for bird watching and is also full of joggers and dog walkers. Along the brook we followed a narrow path where a nice mix of plants are established. The snow fell in delicate crystals and laid still on branches and remaining leaves.

Phragmites in the water, willows and alders on the shore. On the slope milkweeds were still holding on to their seeds. 

Sweetfern leaves were dried but retained both color and fragrance.
Soft goldenrod 

Queen Anne's lace and a lonely bird watcher.

The Saw Mill Brook is exciting for other reasons as well. For the first time in many many years, beavers have taken up residence in Boston again, right here, and the dams stretched all along the brook. Lots of very recent activity, even though the beavers themselves were as elusive as the owls. Here they have been at work on a young Cottonwood tree, which they seemed to prefer above all others.

 Detail of toothwork!

Their work was really impressive and have quite a strong impact on the environment. We had never heard so many wood peckers, who were attracted to all the dead trees caused by the dams. People might be shocked to see the extent of the activity and even resent the beavers for cutting down trees. But in the longer perspective all in nature has a place and a purpose. Eventually beaver dams fill up again with growing plants, and creates a rich fertile soil for new forest to grow in.

Here are two pictures that show the main dam.

Note how different the water levels are!

Work in progress.

But the Blue jays were calling further into the woods, and that can often mean that they've spotted an owl, so we left the river and headed into a wooded swampy area. A few blueberry bushes still had leaves. I noticed that the stems were red too.

The swamp was great habitat for ducks. We spotted a wood duck but it never stayed for a picture. These are mallards and black ducks.

On this young tree both bittersweet and poison ivy vines were doing their work.

Snowflakes gathered on the Summersweet seed pods.

On the way out we heard a beautiful musical chatter and gentle chirps, and a large flock of Redpolls gathered further into the swamp. We spotted a few of them. This year a lot of birds from the Northern parts of the country have wandered south in search of food, and Redpolls and Crossbills that we normally don't see here are now visible. 

So, no owls in the woods today. But at home my feeder is stocked and I enjoy my visitors every day. Here a mourning dove is puffed up to stay warm and blends in nicely with the branches.

 A resident pair of white breasted nuthatches are frequent guests.

A handsome Junco

Very skittish, the Redbellied woodpecker rarely stays long enough for me to take a picture. This year, I have only seen a male.

Right after he left the Downie came back.

Today's visitor was precious: a Carolina wren.

Chickadees and downies are always around.

And down the street in Franklin park, a couple of Carolina wrens were hopping about in a big patch of Japanese knotweed. I noticed a well made nest that would have been very safe and hidden during spring. I wonder who built it?


  1. How wonderfully you have captured the many delights of an early winter walk! Your bird photos are especially welcome to me, since I can never get close enough to photograph them. Did you notice the tightly closed catkins on the Sweet Fern? They will winter over and open their scales in early spring to release their pollen.

    1. Jackie,
      Always love your comments, and always reading your blog. Luckily I have the bird feeder right outside my kitchen window and I always have the camera and binoculars ready. This morning the hawk came by as well.

  2. Great pictures, you have a lot more winter then us. Your Red headed woodpecker looks very different from the type we have here in central Ontario. Last Sunday my wife, Jean and I came upon a Barred Owl out in the forest. This was the first time we had ever seen a Barred Owl. There seems to be a lot of sightings of this type of Owl this year. If your interested our pictures,and video of this Owl are at:

    1. Bob and Jean, thanks for visiting my blog. Your owl pictures were amazing, both the barred owl and the Northern saw-whet. I will definitely keep searching.