... fine feathered friends visit during fair and foul weather
What to write about? Ask a friend and, if you're lucky you'll come up with something like the following. Roz Parks: "Do some articles on the Middlesex Fells and all the great outdoor programs they have through the 'Friends of the Fells.' You have an expert birder in your town -- Dana Jewell -- who leads walks there. Hugh (Roz' husband)made a special suet feeder which is hanging outside the Botume House, now the MDC Headquarters on Woodland Road, Stoneham. Let me know how you make out."
Thanks, Roz. After a couple of hours of gleaning heretofore unknown to me information, I ended up with enough enlightment to fill two or more long articles. Journalistic limitations dictated that I concentrate on Melrose's Ell Pond first.
In the Ell Pond parking lot on the Lynn Fells Parkway, Dana Jewell and I met by appointment. He's a recently retired, very young Senior Citizen. A member of the Belmont Bird Club, he's led many birding trips in which the members meet at a prearranged point, change into fewer cars and stop traveling whenever there's a sighting. Plum Island, up near Newburyport, is a prime area, providing a dramatic display on land, seashore and harbor.
He told me the story of the local Pileated Woodpecker with its flaming-red crest, 3-inch bill and 18" height. Locally, the male has been sighted on Virginia Hill, Conant Park and Whip Hill. Several people have seen it on Hillcrest Parkway near Winchester Reservoir. This past year it was spotted at Crystal Lake near Wakefield Center. All the sightings have been males, though. Where are the female Pileated Woodpeckers?
Warblers (pronounced WORblers...not New England WAHblers) are prime spring birds. There's almost a whole page of them in the Peterson Field Guides index. They are a fine food supply for some hawks whose travels follow the warbler migration. These small birds form a relationship with the area and return to the same spot for two to three years ... sometimes as long as five years. Dana and his wife, Ingeborg, who are self-trained observers, have noted that the birds come home, breed, both raise their young, go south, and the young stay with their parents. In the spring, Breeding Bird Surveys show that by mid-June most birds have started nesting.
Dana gave me the attached list of sightings at Ell Pond and mentioned that people can go birding anytime there, day or night. That last word confused me but he explained that screech owls were all around and during the winter evenings they were easier to find. At that time, they are in the tree holes that face south. His bird calls were authentic to this amateur ear. His binoculars were sporadically raised to his eyes whenever something in flight soared above the pond.
He told me of an event that occurred about five years ago that local readers will remember. Everyone's front yards, back yards, the empty lots, the forests, wherever there were trees , a multitude of different birds heading north covered the branches in numbers. Every limb of every bush supported them for a few days. There was no answer to my "Why?" It was an occasion phenomenon of nature called a "fallout" which happens every fifteen or twenty years.
Is this gathering information on bird sightings a new fad?
No. It's an ongoing project. We want people to realize how important Ell Pond is as a habitat to observe and study birds and other wildlife right here in the middle of Melrose.
Do all the "sightings" live in Melrose?
Many of the birds on our list are only seen during spring and fall migration. A few species are here all year long. During migrations, birds stop here to rest, eat seeds, berries and insects. Some species (ducks, herons, King Fishers) eat fish, crayfish, tadpoles or whatever is available.
Why do they choose Ell Pond?
Areas of trees, bushes, grasses, reeds and weeds and tangled growth are critical for nesting birds (chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers).
How many different birds come to and fly over Melrose in any year?
An experienced birder can easily identify well over 100 species of birds in Melrose in any year. It may even be possible to see 100 species in the Ell Pond area in one year!
What can residents do to help these Melrose visitors in their travels?
They can help by keeping this important Ell Pond area free of trash and litter. Help preserve it for future generations ... of people and the birds and the fish and tadpoles which help the birds survive.
As we passed a quiet fisherman on the northern shore, Dana announced that he is planning to hold an 8:30 - 11:00 a.m. bird walk at Ell Pond in late September. The date will be announced. Novices and Seasoned Sighters .......ALL will be welcomed!