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Redtails of Mt. Auburn

Sunday, April 29, 2012


A very familiar sight in Cambridge these days is a wheeling redtail. Oh, what a magnificent, yet very familiar sight to see. Hodge and I are the perfect pair. I look down, noting small plants and insects and amphibians, and she looks up, never missing a single redtail. We nudge each other, and together make an entire naturalist.

I'm not sure when redtails took over Cambridge, but it was well after I left. I'm sure they weren't around when I lived there. Neither did Pale Male nest just off Central Park, either. Urban redtails are a new thing, a beautiful thing, a needed thing.

In Mt. Auburn Cemetery, they are busy making more redtails. Here's an active nest. How do I know that it's active, other than being told by my local authority?

Well, the camera reveals tailage. My new Canon 7D doesn't miss much, even high overhead in a thick pine. Like me and Hodge, we're a complete unit. I notice stuff, and my Canon 70-300 EF telephoto lens records it magnificently.

Flying redtails are a breeze now. Who could ever tire of seeing a bird like this spread out overhead?

So Hodge and I are watching a redtail sitting, on alert, in a tree, and all of a sudden it launches itself

almost flying out of the frame which was terribly exciting to me

and it lands and grabs an already quite dead and stiff squirrel that we surmised it may have killed yesterday

in this peaceful and rather appropriate setting

and it sets about tearing up said squirrel as we gasp in astonishment at the beauty of it all.

That's my Mount Auburn.

I was very pleased to get a comment from "Friends of Mt. Auburn" on my last post, offering me a private tour the next time I'm in town! Woo! I'll take you up on that, but I'm bringing Hodge along.

brief commercial:

If you like these photos and are thinking of upgrading your rig (highly recommended!) visit Midwest Photo Exchange on High Street in Columbus, Ohio, or on the web. Ask for Sonnie. He'll fix you up. I think you can see that he fixed me up! Finally having a camera rig that's as  quick a birder as I am is an endless delight. 

Birds and Flowers, Turtles and Frogs: Mt. Auburn Treasures

Thursday, April 26, 2012


When I was a college student I would walk to Mt. Auburn Cemetery of a fine fall day with a book I needed to read, and nestle between the cool forelimbs of this beautiful sphinx, leaning back against her curved but unmoving bosom, reading the hours away.

Now I stand and photograph her in the sharp April sun, wishing back that precise golden October light that made her embrace the perfect place to be.

The painted turtles know that light.

And so does this elderly red-eared slider. I guessed, simply looking at this lumpy individual, that it started its life in captivity. The irregular surface of the shell might indicate a calcium deficiency. But the kicker is that red-eared sliders aren't native to Cambridge, MA. Who knows how many years ago this big turkle was swimming little circles in the stinking water around a plastic palm tree, trying to live on Hartz Mountain brand dried flies? It was a dark era for turtles. I'm glad we don't do that any more. Well, not as much.

People let a lot of creatures go in Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Heck, I let a couple of goldfish go there one spring, before I went to Brasil for six months.  Ludivico and Pustefix, are you still out there?

Maybe, said the bullfrog.

Probably not, said the great blue heron.

That's Hodge's little foot for scale. Eep, that's a lotta crap.

A morning that started in the 40's rocketed up to the mid-80's, and I threw on a pair of shorts and hurried to Mt. Auburn for a golden hour of photography before a full day of media and Fenway Park began. There were yellow-rumped warblers absolutely everywhere, it being only April 20. This oasis was just receiving its first wave of spring migration.

The rattling snap of ruby-crowned kinglets sounded from every hedge. They sound like miniature firecrackers.

Predictably enough, the pine warblers sang their mellow trill mostly from the pines.  This drab little male came down into a maple to delight us, though. Hodge's life pine warbler. 

And a great prize for me: a male palm warbler in stunning yellow and chestnut.

Where's the chestnut, you ask? On his hat. He's hopping up to a sturdy branch with a hapless caterpillar 

and showing me his little chestnut cap as he beats it to a pulp.

Vicious things,  those warblers, if you're tiny, soft and green.

Mount Auburn Cemetery (The Mothership)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Here's what it comes down to for me. Cambridge equals Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Yes, there are wonderful shops and restaurants, but I don't have any money to spend; I've nothing to my name but hope that this new book digs me out. My last "paycheck" came a year ago, when I handed in the last of 320 illustrations for the book. So I don't spend much time around temptations that cost anything.

But oh, the temptations that are free for the enjoying...

All I can think about when I'm in Cambridge is getting back to Mt. Auburn. Forget the fancy food and the beautiful clothes...everything I need and want is there.

The place has a surreal beauty that completely captivates me. An arch leading to a landscape such as you'd see in a dream, Elysian light streaking across the greensward. I yearn for this place in all seasons, but especially in spring and autumn.

There are plants growing here that I don't recognize, and that is delicious. Anyone?

Venerable specimens of pink dogwood. They take me back to Virginia. So nice to see them growing so tall and strong in Massachusetts.

They join the beloved plants that I do recognize. My father wrote little poems. One had the dogwood as a lady in a lace dress, holding out her arms, proffering plates of divinity. In this case, pink divinity.

My camera, set on zone focus, preferred the dogwood blossoms to the black-capped chickadee! D'oh! Frustrating, but dreamy nonetheless. Maybe I meant to focus on the flowers...

Everywhere there are robins. This, a nicely faded female. I love robin architecture. Sometimes they hold their wings so low and straight they look like they're using crutches.

Her tiny cousin, the hermit thrush, just passing through on its way north. You can tell a hermit from a long way away by the rusty tail, and its habit of raising that tail suddenly, as if it were jerked upward by a string, then letting it fall slowly. Lovely habit.

I always pat this dog's head. He doesn't seem so forlorn on a warm spring day. 

And who could, when the question marks are tickling the Viburnum odoratum, and its full vanilla-cookie scent wafts through the new leaves?

And the wooly fiddleheads are growing taller and taller?

And the geese are grazing in the goldgreen light? 

To Boston!

Sunday, April 22, 2012


 My dear friends and hosts John and Hodge, chatting as they wait for me to record a spectacular evening sky on Mass Ave. We all agreed that the hour when the sky goes peacock blue is the best hour of all. We'd walked all the way back to Cambridge from Fenway Park. Which isn't really all that far; it just sounds far. Ill-kept secret: I enjoyed the walk more than the baseball game. The Yanks hurt the Sox badly that day. Even though it was the 100th Anniversary of Fenway Park's Opening Day. Seems like they should've let them win, but I guess that's wiffleball, not baseball.

There was a lot of red and white in the stands. And Hodge pointed out that when you use the binoculars, nearly every shirt says RED SOX on it somewhere.

John showed me the Morse Code on the vertical white stripes on the old scoreboard. It's code for the first owners' names. 

I had fun with my telephoto for awhile. This is NOT Daisuke Matsuzaka. It is Junichi Tazawa. Thank you, Hodge.

Even Big Papi couldn't slam the Sox to a victory. 

And Saturday's game against the Yankees was an even worse rout. Oh well. It was great to be there, smack behind home plate with my friends John and Hodge on that auspicious day. Thanks to media commitments (I'm on a mini-book tour for The Bluebird Effect), I missed the opening ceremonies where past greats walked or wheeled out onto the field, and only was able to get there in the 7th inning. 

I have some Cambridge blogposts coming up. Most of them are of birds and flowers, predictably. I told Hodge that taking me to Fenway Park is a bit like taking a dog to the Louvre. I appreciate it, it has interesting sounds and smells, but I'm sure I don't get it on the deep spiritual level that true baseball fans achieve. I find myself watching the flight patterns of mourning doves, who repeatedly enter the park from left field, fly along the top tier of seats, dip over right field, then exit at extreme back right field. What are they doing? Why would they enter a stadium crammed with yelling people? Do they have a nest up in the rafters? and before you know it I've missed the double play. Linus in the outfield with his blankie getting hit on the head with a baseball, that's me.

But I do see some interesting things in the city.

Big Cat Guy near Harvard Square. I think about him making his own big cat pants and sewing on a tail, and I wonder.
More anon.

A Real Simple Recommendation

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dear readers,

  My alert sister-in-law Laura brought to my attention that Real Simple Magazine is looking for a coffee table book to feature in its August issue. She knew just the book to recommend. Why, so do I. Now, it would be cheesy for me to enter the fray, recommending my own book. But you?
                                     My putting you up to it wouldn't be cheesy at all, would it?

If you frequent Facebook (and who doesn't, these days?) and you feel like giving The Bluebird Effect a boost, or even its little sister Letters from Eden, and you do actually keep them on your coffee table because you love leafing through them, please tell Real Simple that. Here's the link to Real Simple's Facebook request for book recommendations.

Thank you so much!  Let's give this book wings!

And while I'm at it:


On Saturday, April 21 at 10 AM, I'll give a talk on my experiences raising baby birds at the Mass Audubon Drumlin Farm Sanctuary in Lincoln, MA.  It's at 208 S. Great Rd,  and the contact phone number is (781) 259-2200. We'll have a field trip afterward, walking Drumlin Farm's bluebird trail. There will also be a book signing, so if you haven't got your copy yet, come get one signed in person.

For Boston area folks, I'll be on the Emily Rooney show, interviewed by Kara Miller, on WGBH sometime around 12:30 pm Thursday, April 19, so tune in your radios.

And Joe Viglione will interview me on Visual Radio (that's TV, actually), at 1:30 on Friday, April 20 in Winchester, MA. 

Back to packing and figuring out what to do with the bats and turtles and greenhouse while I'm away. Oh, Bill.....

Spring's Busting Out

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's been a week and I haven't posted. Nobody's filed suit. Spring's like that. Everything happens at once and it's all just too beautiful for me to take in. But I try, I try.

 The heirloom lilac, a lilac of truly titanic proportions, bursts into bloom alongside our 42' tall birding tower. She's going for 20', and Phoebe predicts we will one day pick blossoms by leaning over from the towertop.

A quiet little shot that turned out to be one of my favorites. I think it's the beautiful laundry floating behind, and that first petal falling that I love. This tulip came in an Easter arrangement from our church altar, and it just gets bigger and more beautiful every year. How often does that happen with tulips? Usually the chipmunks eat them or they just dwindle away. This one's a survivor.

There is a barn on the corner of our road that bursts into bloom each spring.

Wisteria, the thug of thugs in the plant world, has one week where it's worth tolerating, and oh, what a week it was.

I shot this barn in every light regime. There are many more photos, but these are just a few.

In the yard, the forsythia gives up its gold, shining all over my girl.


And then I caught her with messy hair and no mascara, the way I love her best.

She also shines on the field, jumping much farther than I would think any daughter of mine could, but then she got long stems from her daddy.

Another phoebe made the mistake of flying into the living room while prospecting for a home. He never came back. Oh, please, come back. We had to catch you to get you out, as you were panicking in the high clerestories.

No. I will nest somewhere without giant naked primates who hold me too close to their big mouths.

More springy things in my next post. I'm sorry they're not better organized. Neither is springtime, and neither am I these days.  

Presenting The Rain Crows!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Our CD is out! and I've been breathing down my wonderful Web Witch's neck to get a CD order button and page up on the blog and on my website. And she has done that!

Better than that, you can click on the button (see the little gray Rain Crows CD on the right sidebar?)

or on this link to listen to samples of each of the 16 yes SIXTEEN original songs on the CD!

So you don't even have to take my word for it that if you like reading my blog, you'll like the music our band makes. Give it a listen! Then it's up to you.

I can tell you this. I have about worn holes in this CD. I have every right to be tired of it, having been intimately involved with the creation of these songs in the past year and a half, and I'm not. I flippin' love it. And weirder than that, our kids love it. And so do their friends. Here they are, boogieing. If that's a word.

This is what the CD cover looks like. Our dear friend Joe Parisi at Flood Design designed it. It makes me laugh. And no, that's not me or Wendy waving. It's just some woman the photographer, Michael Northrup, also a dear friend, happened to be shooting that day.

 Much of this music was created in our music/guest room down in our basement, with Chet Baker in constant attendance. He makes every single rehearsal, and wishes we would bring him to the gigs so he could meet and greet the fans.

 I listen to the music and chew my toys. It is my favorite thing to do in the world, to be in the middle of the music. Chewing and listening. I know the words to all the songs. Sometimes they run through my head.

We Rain Crows have a lot of fun when we're together. This was our Halloween gig, when we all dressed up as characters from Scooby-Doo. Bill makes a very convincing Mr. Johnson, don't you think? Wendy is Daphne, and I'm pretty much in the zone already as Velma.

 In MovieSounds Studio during recording last December. Wendy Clark Eller and JZ. Wendy and Bill wrote and co-wrote most of our songs. As the Shake and Bake girl used to say, "And Ah Hayulped!"

As you listen to the CD tracks, note the strong guitar presence from Bill Thompson III. There is some pretty amazing guitar work on this album, most of it from Bill.

 He has a few to pick from.

 Another guitar hero: our bass player Craig Gibbs. You'll hear him on bass throughout (although Bill grabs the bass for several songs) and on gritty slide guitar on "Dirt Road." He even tickles the nylon strings in some classical runs on "So Long."  That's me on pennywhistle throughout.

One of the most amazing drummers we've ever had the pleasure of working with: Kage Queen. All of 19 when this photo was taken in January. Sooo tasty, and solid as a rock. We're so lucky to have him!

And the cherry on top? Fiddle from Memphis Symphony violinist Jessie Munson, who flew up from Memphis to play with us both on the record and at our CD release party at Washington State Community College in March. Bill and I will be playing with Jessie at the Potholes and Prairies Birding Festival in Carrington, ND, in June! Can't wait to see her again!

We played to a SRO crowd of 360 at the CD release party. I've never had more fun playing with any band. I'm sure that comes through in the photos, and I know, listening to it, that it comes through on "Looks Like Rain."

You'll find me singing lead (alto) on "Dirt Road," "Tell Me," and "Goes Down the Right Way." That's Bill and me together on "Meteor." The gorgeous soprano voice on many other tracks is Wendy. Bill's the guysinger throughout.

So give it a listen right here. And I will be more than happy to pack up a CD or two to send to you!

DOD, this CD's for you. I know you would have loved it.
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