By Eamon Corbett
On Sunday the 19th, a gorgeous late summer afternoon, four Naturalist Club members (Jeff, Scout, Sarah, and me, Eamon) took a “grand tour” of nature sites in Cambridge, from Alewife Reservation through Fresh Pond to Mt. Auburn Cemetery in search of migrating birds. Our first stop was Alewife, a preserve right at the end of the red line.
The main draws here were insects and wildflowers: the meadows were filled with purple asters and yellow goldenrods, while the swampy wetlands had more aquatic wildflower species: purple pickerelweed, white broad-leaved arrowhead, and most strikingly, the big pink-and-white flowers of crimson-eyed rose-mallow. On the wet margins of the wetland were trumpet-shaped jewelweed flowers, with their seedpods that explode at the slightest touch, and my personal favorite, the searingly bright red cardinalflower.
Buzzing and fluttering around this bounty of wildflowers were bumblebees, honeybees, wasps, cabbage white and clouded sulphur butterflies, and a variety of dragonflies. Small red Meadowhawks were most common, joined by a common whitetail and a few Green Darners. On some of the goldenrod we found a locust borer, a large and colorful black-and-yellow beetle that loves to feed on that flower.
There were vertebrates around too: a flock of high-flying gulls were joined by a migrating osprey, while catbirds meowed and cardinals chirped in the undergrowth. The wetland had a surprising number of fish: huge invasive carp were unfortunately common, but there were also some fish that could have been alewife, the namesake of the park, and a school of sunfish with a bright red-orange spot at their gills, which we were able to identify as pumpkinseeds.
On the way out we spotted a flying red-tailed hawk, got an excellent look at a young male Common Yellowthroat, our first warbler of the afternoon, and I had distant but identifiable looks at a pair of Orange Bluet damselflies skimming over the river.
We walked south from Alewife to arrive at Fresh Pond, where we found more wildflowers, popped some more jewelweed pods, added some common species to our bird list for the day, and had a great encounter with a palm warbler and an eastern phoebe, two unrelated bird species that both habitually bob their tails up and down. These two individuals seemed to have found common ground in their shared behavior, because they stuck close together on a grassy hillside and gave us excellent views.
We continued on to Mt. Auburn, where we enjoyed the beauty of the late afternoon in the wooded dell, but failed to track down the resident Great Horned Owls that are usually in the area. We did spot a White-breasted Nuthatch and a bunch of chipmunks, and before long it was time to head back to campus.
Mt. Auburn had one last surprise for us though, and as we headed for the exit chatting about the day’s sightings a red-tailed hawk took off from practically right over our heads, and alighted on a nearby branch. This impressive bird surveyed the area, and completely overshadowed the Monarch butterfly that fluttered by, our only one of the day. We watched the hawk as it relocated once more, then we headed back to catch the bus back to the square. A great way to end a fantastic afternoon!