I recently watched the New York City based documentary Birders: The Central Park Effect*, which explains that every year, on select mornings in May, urban forests come alive with an abundance of avian life. So last week, I ventured over to nearby Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, RI, a well-known migrant stop-over within city limits, to witness this effect first-hand (or first-eye and ear, in this case). Arriving at 6:30am, I found several other birders, seemingly as eager as I was to greet the birds, already queued up outside the entrance gates, which remained locked until a little before 7am. After an enjoyable group exploration of the cemetery, I set off on my own to appreciate a few more species and to be amazed by a beautiful male Black-throated Blue Warbler who was singing buzzily in a flowering crab apple tree.
*If you haven’t seen the film yet, I recommend borrowing a copy from a local library.
- Plainville Cemetery highlights: young of Mute Swans (four cygnets) and Canada Geese (two goslings), two Cedar Waxwings and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak; a small flowering patch of Robin’s Plantain Fleabane (Erigeron pulchellus); and a large fruiting tree mushroom called Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus squamosus, pictured).
- At Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, RI, I saw/heard numerous warblers and saw my first-ever Swainson’s Thrush. Other notable species were Bobolink, Red-eyed Vireo, and Indigo Bunting (pictured).
- Highlights from a visit to Wompatuck State Park included singing Blackburnian Warbler, Veery, and Winter Wren, and a trail-side White-crowned Sparrow.
- During an evening outing in Lancaster, MA with the Furbush Bird Club, I heard my first-ever American Bittern, saw a group of three White-crowned Sparrows, watched a singing Vesper Sparrow, saw a Common Nighthawk in flight, and heard Eastern Whip-poor-will’s calling at twilight along with Hermit Thrush, American Woodcock, and Field Sparrow.
- In Wrentham, I heard two singing Brown Creepers and saw a Barred Owl (pictured) fly off with a fresh rodent kill.
Newest Life Birds
#246 Swainson’s Thrush (Providence, RI)
#247 American Bittern (Lancaster, MA)
As bird migration continues, coastal and select inland spots will see increasing numbers of shorebirds and terns.
The pollen cones of Eastern White Pine are now noticeable on expanding branch tips. Within the next week, they should be ready for collection.
Alternate-leaved Dogwood (Swida alternifolia), Maple-leaved Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), and Withe-rod (V. nudum) will flower soon.
What I’m reading
I finished reading Rebecca Lerner’s Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness, a book this (sub)urban forager highly recommends.
I snapped this photo in Plainville earlier this week. Identify the bathing bird below.
Leave your guess in the comments below. And be sure to check out the answer to last week’s natural mystery quiz on the Quiz Answers page.
The young, heart-shaped leaves of American Linden (Tilia americana) — otherwise known as Basswood — can be eaten like lettuce, straight from the tree. Indeed I sometimes call this species the Salad Tree. Lindens often send up shoots near the base of old trunks, making tender leaves easy to gather. Older leaves are not harmful, they simply develop a less desirable texture. By late June or early July (in New England), the tree’s fragrant flowers can be gathered and used fresh or dried for a medicinal tea.
This spring, I’ve been monitoring a stand of Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) near my home, and when I checked the trees on mid-day Tuesday, I found nearly all the pollen cones at the perfect stage for gathering — almost open. A couple days later and much of the pollen would have literally blown away.
As with the cones I gathered last year*, I’ve tinctured some and frozen the rest to add to meals in the coming months. If you’ve never tasted a pine pollen cone, now just might be your chance. Look for them on the light-green, growing branch tips, and be sure to sample cones before they open, release their pollen, and dry up.
*Those were from Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus). The pollen cones of Pitch Pine are larger and therefore quicker to gather in quantity, and (at least this year) P. rigida cones are ready earlier than P. strobus.