Sweet Auburn: The Magazine of the Friends of Mount Auburn An Oasis for Birds and Birders | Page 5
A Celebration of Mount Auburn’s Birding Community
Were you aware of Mount Auburn before you
came here to bird?
No, not really. I mean, who’d think of coming to
a cemetery? That’s still what some people think
today until they come here. But most cemeteries are not
like Mount Auburn, which has become “the spot” in the
state for spring songbird migration.
How would you describe Mount Auburn’s sig-
nificance as a birding destination to someone
not familiar with the Cemetery?
It’s an oasis in the city. If you look at an aerial map
of this area, Mount Auburn, along with Cambridge Birders by Sal Perisano
Cemetery next door, is a vast green spot within a well built
did more than a century ago, noticed changes in the
up area. Mount Auburn’s various ponds and natural features
birds in your years of birding here?
are also very attractive for the birds. During the spring mi-
Yes, one is pheasant. Last year was the first time in
gration, as dawn approaches, the birds see this spot and they
my entire birding career that I did not see a pheasant.
are going to come here rather than land in Harvard Square.
to nest in the Cemetery. There haven’t been any
It’s not so much that every bird lands here, but unlike a
major changes in warblers, though we used to see more
large forest, this area is still small enough to concentrate the
Golden-winged Warblers, which are now very rare, and
birds. So, with a good number of birds in a smallish area
Cape May Warblers, which are now also much scarcer. Car-
and a large number of birders walking the grounds, not
dinals are relatively new to the area. I think the first nest in
much escapes being seen.
Massachusetts was in the 1950s. Birds like Carolina Wrens
and Red-bellied Woodpeckers are also new arrivals.
On the subject of birders, it seems as though a
rush of birders will descend on Mount Auburn
almost immediately after word of a more unusual sight-
ing. This really is a testament to the impressive network
birders have developed to quickly spread bird reports.
Can you tell us a bit about the different ways birders
have shared sightings news through the years?
One of the first bird alerts in the U.S. was the
“Voice of Audubon” started by the Massachusetts
Audubon Society and maintained by Ruth Emery. Ruth
compiled all the bird records for the state from a downtown
Newbury Street office. The recording was updated every
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and more often during
the migration. You could read about past sightings in the
Records of New England Birds, and, in 1973 I started Bird
Observer magazine, which published in addition to “Where
to Find Bird” locations all the more important bird sightings
of the past months. More recently in time CB radios were
used, but the transmissions were limited. Hotlines and phone
trees have also been used. Now, of course, we all have cell
phones, which can not only transmit near and far, but can
also send photos instantly. I can’t imagine what will be next.
Ornithologist William Brewster, who is buried
here, wrote about changes in the bird population
based upon decades of his own observations throughout
Cambridge in the 19th century. Have you, like Brewster
There have been some changes in the birds, but
have you also noticed changes in the birders at
Mount Auburn since you started?
When I started birding it seemed that everyone
would have to leave before 9 AM to go to work or
school. Many of the men birded in three-piece suits and
the women were in skirts or dresses.
There are many younger folks birding today. Birding was
often referred as an old ladies’ sport. It has been often said
that the sighting of a rare “pink” gull–the Ross’s Gull–in
Newburyport, Mass., in 1975, changed that image. The
sightings made the front page of the New York Times and the
national news stations all covered the story. Birding became
popular after that. Now it’s not unusual to see hundreds of
birders in the Cemetery, young and old, during the height
What are some Mount Auburn records for bird
There are a number of first state records here at
Mount Auburn. The first Hermit Warbler found in
the state (May 16, 1964) was in the big oak by the end of
the Dell. Osborne Earle, a professor at Brandeis, heard a
different song and located this western vagrant. The first
Townsend’s Warbler in Massachusetts was identified by
someone very new to birding (May 4, 1978). A Golden-
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