For the Birds

August 24, 2007
By

ELIZABETH DUNLEA


Photo by Stephan Baird A great blue heron has a large catfish sushi dinner at Leverett Pond in June.

Local group documents feathered friends in Boston green spaces

Even in the deepest part of Boston, the chirp of a bird can be heard beyond the stalled cars and roaring buses. Birds flit between buildings and perch on trees, but only those people who pause to pay close attention can hear their songs.

“You can identify birds by song, but you don’t get to see some of the more secretive birds,” Jamaica Plain resident Stephen Baird, who does pay close attention, explained in an interview last week. “So I’ll find some place by a tree and be camouflaged and just sit still. Some of the birds will almost land on you.”

Baird is a member of the Emerald Necklace Bird Club. Formed in 2005, the group pays attention to the birds and other wildlife in six Boston parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and more than 15 other Boston green spaces.

The bird club is part of the revitalized Jamaica Pond Project, which has changed its name to Friends of Jamaica Pond. The organizations were founded by JP resident Gerry Wright, an environmentalist, historian, trained forester and child advocate.

Both Wright and Baird, vice president of the club and head of Community Arts Advocates, explore Boston parks with the intent to preserve their natural wonders. Hundreds of birds and wildlife specific to 21 parks, including the Boston Harbor Islands, are documented on the web site http://communityartsadvocates.org/emeraldnecklacebirdclub.html.

Eight of the of green spaces they investigate are in Jamaica Plain or on the border: Olmsted Park, Jamaica Park, Franklin Park, Arnold Arboretum, Forest Hills Cemetery, the Arborway, the Muddy River and the Boston Nature Center.

Baird said he takes a weekly walk, spending hours documenting birds and their habitats. “Understanding the bird population helps understand habitat advocacy,” he said.

Baird called his observations a meditation. “I find a certain space I like to sit and relax with my binoculars… You really do just have to spend time sitting there.” After being in a certain spot for a period of time, he said, a person begins to see parts of nature they wouldn’t normally see at a passing glance.

Baird said he observed a tree that turned out to have 10 different species living in it. “You will only find that out by sitting there and watching,” he said.

Members of the Emerald Necklace Bird Club have identified a number of unusual species in the parks, including the hooded warbler, as well as new migratory patterns.

Baird called a major infestation of winter moths a “fast food restaurant” for hundreds of birds, which helps explain why some obscure birds have started migrating farther north than in the past.

Wright described the Emerald Necklace Bird Club and Friends of Jamaica Pond as advocacy groups, resources for information and outlets for creativity. On the web site are links to Nature’s Classroom, environmental research projects and volunteer programs.
People may report their bird sightings by writing to Friends of Jamaica Pond, PO Box 300040, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130-0030; calling 524-7070; or e-mailing FrederickLawOlmsted@yahoo.com.