Monthly Archives: October 2011

A Mockingbird behind the Gill paper mill. (c) Greg Saulmon 2011

I watched a Mockingbird for a long time Sunday afternoon.

I’d taken a walk at one of my favorite Holyoke birdwatching locations: the path that runs between the old paper mills and the river out behind Water Street.

I see a lot of hawks out here, and a lot of Mourning Doves hanging out on the power lines. It’s in the flight path of the American Crows on winter afternoons. One day I followed a Baltimore Oriole into an eerie courtyard between the Albion and Crocker mills. And during Sunday’s walk I even startled one of the Bald Eagles that makes its home along the river — my second eagle sighting in the city that day.

Arriving at a large pile of brush behind the Gill, I spotted a trio of Mockingbirds taking turns swooping in from a nearby tree to land on the tangle of branches. Each time the birds would sit for a few seconds, fidget a bit and fly back to the tree.

A Song Sparrow. (c) Greg Saulmon 2011

Finally one landed and just sat. And for over 15 minutes, it sat on the same twig. It was around 5:30 p.m. Every once in a while it would make a chewing motion with its beak and spit out what looked like the red shells of a seed. Sometimes it would throw a nervous glance my way — but it didn’t seem to worry about the fact that I kept inching closer, and it held its ground when I moved around to the other side of the brush pile to shoot from a different angle.

Eventually it darted over to a rusted chain link fence topped with barbed wire, and then joined the others in a tree by the mill.

And the Mockingbirds weren’t the only ones enjoying this little corner of the world: I managed to snap this photo of a Song Sparrow in the same spot Sunday, only noticing the delicate spider web when I opened the file on my laptop.



A Great Blue Heron flies over one of Holyoke's canals at Sargeant Street Sunday morning. (c) Greg Saulmon 2011

Sunday morning brought some of the best weather we’ve seen here in a while, and it was impossible to find an excuse to not head out for a long walk. The birds came out to enjoy the sun, too. Here are some highlights:

A Blue Jay eats an acorn. (c) Greg Saulmon 2011

On the lawn of the city library on Maple Street Blue Jays were gorging themselves on acorns.

Acorns are a staple of the Blue Jay diet; the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s description of the species reads: “Their fondness for acorns is credited with helping spread oak trees after the last glacial period.”

But “fondness” might be an understatement: Blue Jays apparently love acorns, guzzling one after another whole in such a frenzy that the scene on the lawn looked like Coney Island’s Fourth of July Hot Dog-Eating Contest.

The photo at right was taken at 7:52 a.m.

The heron lands at the edge of the canal. (c) Greg Saulmon 2011

Twice each year Holyoke Gas & Electric drains the city’s extensive canal system so that building owners can perform maintenance on the turbines and other infrastructure that still provide electricity for a number of downtown buildings. The drainings happen in the spring and again in September, and that’s when the herons usually show up, poking around in the muck.

But this morning as I walked on Sargeant Street I saw two gulls glide into view and, trailing them, a much bigger bird.

The Great Blue Heron traced a few lazy circles over the canal (see above) before landing on the timbers at the entrance to the tail race of the old Parsons Paper Mill. A massive fire destroyed the mill in 2008, but its remains still attract crows and pigeons and, today, the big prehistoric-looking bird.

The heron sat and scanned the water for 4 minutes — 8:29 to 8:33 a.m. — before taking off in its slow-motion-like flight.

A Bald Eagle flies over Sargeant Street. (c) Greg Saulmon 2011

On the heels of the heron came another nice surprise on Sargeant Street: a Bald Eagle soaring beneath the waning moon.

I never saw eagles growing up around here, and never really figured I would. They were birds that lived in other places. And in 1979, according to a University of Massachusetts site devoted to the ecology of the Connecticut River, a winter survey found only 9 eagles in the entire state. But now they’re increasingly part of the landscape, even outside of their stronghold at the Quabbin Reservoir.

The 2011 winter survey count? 102, a new record.

A starling on High Street, Holyoke, May 2010. (c) Greg Saulmon 2010

When I was a kid I had a favorite morning ritual: I’d wake up early, sneak into the kitchen, butter a piece of bread, turn on MTV for company and then sit in front of the sliding glass door to the patio of my family’s apartment on Barrett Street, eyes glued to the backyard.

There were birds out there.

They were mostly House Sparrows and Grackles and Starlings, but on a lucky day I’d spot an Evening Grosbeak or one of the Ring-Necked Pheasants that roamed the complex grounds.

I thought about birds all the time. If I wasn’t drawing birds I was wearing out the pages of a Peterson field guide. Sometimes I’d dream about birds: the backyard would look exactly as it did in real life, but it would be filled with Snowy Owls.

But then I got older. I discovered guitars and girls and the big-idea-filled fields of economics and journalism. I still had a soft spot for birds, but I didn’t make time for them.

Then I moved to Holyoke. Downtown Holyoke. And as I started to wander the streets with my camera, hunting for fascinating people and buildings to photograph, I realized: there are birds here, too.

So this is my tribute to the birds downtown. The photographs you see are mine, unless otherwise noted. If you’d like to share a city sighting — in Holyoke or elsewhere — please feel free to post a comment or drop me a line.

Thanks for reading.