Spring peony

I submitted the last of my Spring semester grades on Monday but have spent the rest of the week in various faculty meetings and workshops: a flurry of academic obligations before everyone’s thoughts turn to summer. Every year, I feel like spring secretly slips into summer while I have my nose buried in a pile of student papers: one minute, the trees are bare; the next, they’ve leafed into green.

Preening red-tailed hawk.

I think of peonies as summer flowers: the one in our backyard waits until June to bloom. But the peonies at Mount Auburn Cemetery are already blooming while the late-leafing oaks ease into green. For the past few weeks, our backyard trees have been alive with warbler songs, a morning medley that goes twitter, buzz, and sneeze. At Mount Auburn this afternoon, a half dozen tom turkeys puffed and strutted for a lone female, and a placid red-tailed hawk preened in a tree, politely ignoring the inquisitive human below.

Hawkeyed

Here’s more proof that at least one of our neighborhood red-tailed hawks is still hanging around the Cochituate Aqueduct Trail.

Red-tailed hawk

This morning’s shady dog-walk along part of the Cochituate Aqueduct here in Newton offered yet more proof that the suburbs are where the wild things are.

Click here for more images of this morning’s redtail, who wasn’t shy about posing for pictures.

Red-tailed hawk

Today was overcast: not a good day for pictures. But today was the day that one of Waban’s resident red-tailed hawks decided to perch low in a bare tree outside the neighborhood Starbucks–right in the middle of Waban Square, in other words, with its constant stream of cars and people on their way to enjoy Sunday brunch or lattes with their human compatriots. Apparently any day is a good day to perch wherever you want if you’re an impressive-looking red-tail. Who, after all, is going to tell you to move?

Had I seen this red-tailed hawk yesterday, when the skies were blue and I was carrying my larger camera, who knows what sort of image I might have shot. Instead, the only sort of raptor I took pictures of yesterday stayed very, very still while starlings made themselves at home on his outstretched wings.

Starlings on flagpole eagle

Click here for several more images of today’s Waban red-tail. Enjoy!

Yellow-crowned night herons

Last weekend while I was visiting my family in Columbus, Ohio, my mom and I visited the yellow-crowned night herons that nest above a quiet suburban street in nearby Bexley, as I’ve blogged before. It’s something we do nearly every time I visit in the summer time, and I’m always amazed that such odd and interesting birds would choose to nest above a residential street. Bexley is a quiet neighborhood, but still: there certainly are quieter, less-populated places for a couple of secretive wading birds to perch and preen.

Two redtails

But apparently I don’t think like a bird. Yesterday here in Newton, I saw two red-tailed hawks perched at the top of a tall conifer not far from the Waban T-station: a sometimes bustling spot. Although I’ve seen a lone red-tail in the vicinity and assumed he or she had a mate somewhere, I didn’t expecte to see the two of them perched side-by-side, quietly calling to one another while I walked the dog far below.

I know there are wild turkeys in suburban Newton as well as the occasional great-horned owl…but an encounter with one of these wild things always catches me by surprise. Being accustomed to seeing Newton, Keene, or even Columbus as being “my” human habitat, it’s easy to forget that other beings share our space. The very fact that humans are largely oblivious to the wild things in their midst–especially if those wild things perch quietly overhead, far above the comings and goings of earth-bound bipeds–makes a quiet suburban street or subway right-of-way a surprisingly apt place for otherwise secretive birds. I’m well accustomed to watching my back when I walk the rough streets of my parents’ gang-infested neighborhood, but now I know I should keep my head up even when I roam the lush and leafy suburbs.

Landscape with tower

It probably sounds strange to admit it, but some of my favorite places are cemeteries. On Saturday, my friend A (not her real initial) and I met to take a sunny, almost-spring stroll at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as we’ve done before, and I fell in love all over again with the garden park that is Mount Auburn.

Tower

I’d suggested Mount Auburn as a walking destination in part because of its proximity to the Watertown Diner, where A and I could conclude our walk with afternoon pancakes as a mid-semester root beer reward. Pancakes and root beer weren’t the only things I had in mind when I suggested we go walking at Mount Auburn Cemetery this weekend, however. Although the first snowdrops and crocuses are blooming in Boston-area gardens, it’s still too early for wildflowers, so the woods are sprouting mostly mud these days. At Mount Auburn, walkers rule the paved roads and gravel paths, and planted perennials cheer the eye. Although the evergreen-shrouded Dell was still snow-covered, elsewhere in the cemetery it was easy to believe that “almost-spring” was spring indeed.

English woodbine

Although I’d had enough presence of mind to bring my binoculars on our walk, I left my new ultra-zoom camera at home, thinking A and I would be walking rather than stopping to take pictures. So imagine my chagrin when, upon parking at the foot of the tower where we’d decided to start our walk, A and I encountered a throng of photographers armed with tripods and zoom lenses.

“Did you see where he landed?” one of the photographers asked me as I got out of my car.

“Uh, who?” I asked dumbly, guessing the answer before I heard it. For years there has been at least one pair of red-tailed hawks nesting at Mount Auburn, and hawks are large, photogenic, and slow-moving enough to merit the use of a tripod. When a hawk finds a sunny perch from which to scope out the territory, he or she is likely to sit there long enough to allow photographers their fill of shots.

Red-tailed hawk

And indeed, on Saturday there were two (and by some reports three) red-tailed hawks flying around the Mount Auburn tower, which was still closed for the season. So while birders, photographers, and Saturday strollers alike bustled around the base of the tower, enjoying a sunny, hilltop view of the Boston and Cambridge skylines, one sun-worshipping redtail perched at the very top of the tower, which is open to birds year-round. If birders and photographers alike are going to ogle you, you might as well ogle back, and this is one hawk-eyed observer who had a truly bird’s-eye view.

Red-tailed hawk

I took these pictures with my old, beat-up, purse-sized digital camera, having left my new ultra-zoom at home. I can only imagine how nice a shot I could have gotten with an 18x rather than 10x optical zoom…