Counting the birds at Magazine Beach

Counting the birds at Magazine Beach

Bird census under way for park

  • Posted on: 29 December 2016
  • By: mholbrow

1) Jeanne Strahan is preparing a bird census for Magazine Beach
2) Mallards sit on the ice at the Charles River; Canada geese swim nearby

A noontime visitor strolling in Magazine Beach Park this week will likely notice three or four different bird species. A bluejay yells vigorously from a maple tree; a redtailed hawk over near Memorial Drive keeps an eye on him. Canada geese, mallard ducks, and various gulls are busy in the Charles. The geese are too heavy for the thin ice so they are swimming, as shown in the photo above. The ducks are light enough to stand on the ice while they watch for something edible to float by.

Those casual noon observations are a far cry from the reports of serious birders like Jeanne Strahan, who was at the park on December 27 working on a year-long bird census for Cathie Zusy's Magazine Beach blog.

“My December daily species counts range from 5 to 17 and average 9," Ms. Strahan said. "In addition to the ducks and Canada geese that we’re seeing here, there were half-a-dozen shore birds that showed up this season. We had two great blue herons fishing here nearly every morning until the water started freezing, and 20 or more double-crested cormorants. Coots and mergansers are occasional visitors -- they swim by every now and then. Downy woodpeckers stay around all year, and earlier we had goldfinches in larger numbers than usual --150 of them fed in the central swale this fall, but they tend to take off when the temperature gets too close to zero."

She described the late spring/early summer populations at Magazine Beach. “A typical day's count then runs 25-30, of whom 15-18 are warblers, flycatchers and vireos. One of the most unusual sightings was a merlin – it’s a small falcon, quite rare here.” If migratory visitors are included more warblers and some redpolls can be added to the tally.

“My first yearly count here ran from October 2015 to October 2016, and I counted 94 different species,” she said

House finches and sparrows are also seen in and near the park. The sparrows can live on street scraps or the cheapest kind of bird seed, which includes a good deal of millet, but their cousins, the house finches, need classier stuff such as sunflower seed, or fruit like that of the hawthorn trees that grow across from Magazine Beach on Memorial Drive. The ongoing drought has practically wiped out the hawthorn berries for this year, Ms. Strahan noted.

She said the bird census is part of the planning process for Magazine Beach, located in Cambridgeport down at the tip of a point of land by the river. The name of the park recalls its use in earlier times as the site of a stone powder magazine which remains as a historic landmark on the shore of the Charles.

Note: A link to the bird census report can be accessed via the “History and Nature" section of the Magazine Beach website noted above.