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 Q. A. 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. Q. How would you describe Mount Auburn’s sig- nificance as a birding destination to someone not familiar with the Cemetery? A. 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. They used 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 A. Q. 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? A. 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. Q. 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 Q. There have been some changes in the birds, but have you also noticed changes in the birders at Mount Auburn since you started? A. 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 of migration. Q. A. What are some Mount Auburn records for bird sightings? 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- Spring/Summer 2012 | 3