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2018 December Newsletter

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Dragons and Damsels of Hall’s Pond

Figure 1. Blue Dasher eying his prey.

THE AUGUST DOLDRUMS hit Hall’s Pond hard, with unusually hot and humid afternoons. Not a bird in sight—a sad situation for an avid birder. As I stood on the north boardwalk platform, all I could think of was the heat. Staring down at the water I started to notice abundant life. So began my exploration of the Odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) at Hall’s Pond. There are 150 species found in Massachusetts and I saw nine at Hall’s Pond. Some dragonflies are the largest insects in our state. Dragonflies and damselflies have long tails (about two thirds of their length), short bodies (thorax) and long wings. They’ve been around since the Triassic era! All are carnivorous, relying on acute eyesight (what big eyes they have) and agile flying to hunt insects, including mosquitoes. Each individual can eat 100 insects a day. They hover like helicopters, dash around capturing insects in flight or perch waiting for insects to come to them. Odonates come in many sizes and colors. The ones at Hall’s Pond were 1 to 3 inches long. Males and females of the same species are usually different colors, with the boys being brighter. Their different personalities emerged as I watched. Some were very active, while others often rested; some had their favorite spots, while others were everywhere.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer perched on a twig near the north platform.

I saw seven species from the north platform. The most abundant was the Blue Dasher (Fig.1), which divided its time between flying throughout the pond and resting. Males have blue tails and big green eyes, while females are black with yellow markings. Eastern Amberwing, Common Green Darner and Common Whitetail dragonflies were less abundant. I only saw a few

Twelve-spotted Skimmers. The small Eastern Amberwings raced near the surface of the pond. Common Green Darners flew a couple of feet above the water and were the biggest dragonfly at Hall’s Pond. Common Whitetail males have bright whitish tails, while females are brown with light markings. Both have a single black band on each clear wing. The striking Twelve-spotted Skimmer has alternating black and white spots on its wings (Fig. 2). Whitetails and Twelve-spotted Skimmers spent much of their time perching on vegetation near the north platform, while the Amberwings and Green Darners seldom stopped flying all over the pond. As I enjoyed watching these dragonflies, I noticed little green dots flashing along the shallow, muddy shoreline east of the platform. Though my binoculars, I saw that these green dots were Eastern Forktail and Fragile Forktail Damselflies. You only notice their small green (male) or blue (female) bodies because their wings are transparent and their tails are dully colored and very thin.

Figure 3. Cherry-faced Meadowhawk lunching on a fly.

As I moved around the pond, I found another dragonfly hotspot—the southwest corner near the Beacon Street gate continuing along the Amory Field side to the first tree. Unlike the north platform habitats, this area had many flowering bushes and little open shoreline without vegetation. It was home to two species of dragonflies that I didn’t see in the other areas. A lone pair of Common (Eastern) Pondhawks relaxed on a tree root. The female was all green with black marks, while the male was bluish-grey. My favorite dragonfly was a beautiful bright red Cherryfaced Meadowhawk. I only saw one Meadowhawk on two of my five visits. It waited on shoreline plants for unsuspecting flies (Fig. 3).

I’ve marveled at the variety of birds visiting Hall’s Pond, but their absence in mid-August helped me appreciate its smaller creatures and many habitats. More of my Odonate photos are on the Friends of Hall’s Pond website in the ‘Sightings’ section.

No joke: Bunnies were in abundance on April 1. It was Easter Sunday and their moms, Cristina Moreira and Silvia Titan, organized an egg hunt. Bunnies L to R: Helena Pereira, Beatriz Pereira, Philipe Ott, Sofia Ott, Luisa Ott and Cecilia Pereira. (DEBORAH STONE)

An Excellent Year at Hall’s Pond

Co-Presidents, Ellen Forrester and Frank Caro

2018 WAS an excellent year at Hall’s Pond, thanks both to the ongoing efforts of the volunteers and the fabulous weather! Spring Community Day, luckily a mild, sunny day this year, was celebrated with live music, children’s activities (Thanks Deb Stone!) perennial planting and bird and herbal walks. We had plenty of volunteers including the Scouts, led by Pablo Alvarez.

The June Annual Meeting featured Shawn Carey, who discussed the techniques involved in taking outstanding bird photographs. Throughout the Spring and Summer, Fred Bouchard and Neil Gore led early morning bird walks, and volunteer maintenance teams kept the formal garden looking attractive and worked to keep the vines out of the trees in the Sanctuary. The vegetation flourished with the good rains.

Fall Community Day was productive, with volunteers prepping the Sanctuary and Formal Gardens for its long winter nap!

The Halls Pond website ( continues to grow. Particularly striking are the dragonfly photos contributed by Fran Perler in “See and Share.” Become a member of Hall’s Pond! The dues and generous gifts are important, used to purchase plants for the formal garden and meadow. Both the financial contributions and volunteer hours continue to nurture the ongoing private-public partnership at Hall’s Pond. Continue visiting Hall’s Pond in the winter. The Sanctuary has a special charm when the plant life is dormant and the shadows are long.

Joining the all-volunteer Friends of Halls Pond Board is John Shreffler, who has stepped forward to edit this newsletter, working with fellow Board member Harry Breger, a graphic designer who creates our newsletters and posters—and who is looking to train a volunteer to eventually take over this task. The Friends also has a need for new Board members, and particularly a Secretary.

Interested? Please join, donate, and/or volunteer on this newsletter’s Membership Form on page 7, at our website, or by email at We would like to thank all our volunteers for their time, effort and commitment to this little jewel in our care.

The Challenges We Face at Hall’s Pond

Sediment forebay at the Sanctuary. (DEBORAH STONE)

Tom Brady, Conservation Administrator, 
Town Arborist and Tree Warden

THE BIGGEST challenge to the health of Hall’s Pond remains its source of water. Having only one inlet fed completely from storm water runoff means the pond is, for the most part, stagnant. This presents three distinct challenges, each of which require a separate and distinct set of actions to address the issue and improve the health of the pond.

The first issue is the fact that during storm events, there is a flush of nutrients into the pond which have an adverse impact on water quality. This has been addressed though the construction of the sediment forebay which you may have seen poking out of the water at the inlet pipe, which feeds Hall’s Pond.

As one may surmise from the name, the function of the sediment forebay is to capture the heavy sediment load that comes with the first flush of each storm event. This has been very successful as we have captured and removed over 110 yards of sediment since the forebay was installed. This is sediment that otherwise would have ended up in Hall’s Pond.

Issue number two is the fact that with one inlet for water, there is a clear lack of water movement.This lack of water movement means any vegetation which falls into the water breaks down in place and releases natural oils which resemble a sheen of petroleum oil. This sheen is not harmful in any sense, but it can be alarming for visitors and generates much concern. As the seasons change and the temperature falls, the rate of vegetation breakdown will slow and the frequency of the sheens will decrease.

The third issue is also a consequence of the lack of water movement: algae buildup. When there is very little water movement, algae blooms become more prevalent and widespread. To address this issue, a cooperative effort was undertaken with some of the neighbors of the Sanctuary, the Brookline Community Foundation, and the Town to install a series of underwater aeration matts to improve water flow. We then installed a solar panel on top of the tool shed which feeds electricity back into the system each day and results in a net zero energy system.

Using this suite of tools and techniques, we seek to provide a lovely environment for all visitors to the Pond!

Talented Blue Jays (and Friends) are Heading Our Way

Fred Bouchard

OVER MORNING COFFEE and doodling notes about the Blue Jay, I was delighted to see one perch ten feet away in a window yew, eye me defiantly, and bray jeering alarm notes: djeer! nyaah! S/he (jays are conspecific) only stayed a second, then bolted. Wow. Don’t we all enjoy bright moments with these smart, feisty birds?

SHAWN CAREY (not at Hall’s Pond)

Ubiquitous east of the Rocky Mountains and highly visible, Blue Jays make their crested presence obvious with color (brilliant blues, soft gray and white with black necklace and shoulder patches) and dazzling vocal repertoire. My neighbor Eva bought a wind-up jay that emits both the familiar creaky purr and laser-like queedle-queedle! that drive her yard jays nuts. Live jays call usually when perched, but are silent in flight. They accurately mimic the calls of predatory Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, can “shout down” Sharpshinned Hawks with their grating alarm notes, thus are both watchdogs and banes of fellow avians.

Yes, jays are bossy and intimidating at feeders, bullying aside sparrows, even robbing nests, but let’s admit it: we admire their good looks, confidence–and intelligence. Related to crows (the corvid family), jays are highly social, loyal mates, devoted parents. Curious of their surroundings, they are fierce in defense and clever in discovering food sources. Omnivorous jays feast on pesty tent caterpillars and wasps. A jay may hold an acorn in its claw as it pecks it open, or stuff it in its throat pouch to cache elsewhere, a habit that aids oak forestation. Crestless cousins, Canada’s Gray Jays and the West’s Scrub Jays, famously beg or steal food at campsites and deign to take tidbits from your fingers, but Blue Jays are manwary. To better appreciate Jays, watch lively videos by LesleyThe- BirdNerd.

Blue Jay populations have “leapfrog” migrations, often in large flocks. This fall, a large flight of jays is heading our way from The Great Lakes, due to cyclical years of poor crops of acorn, beechnut, and hazelnut in Ontario and Quebec. So, stock your bird feeders for some extra guests this winter, blue and otherwise, and keep your eye peeled on your walks, jogs, and dog-airings at Hall’s Pond and around town.

WINTER FINCH ALERT: The anticipated irruption (southerly flight) of winter finches is well under way: I’ve monitored noisy Blue Jay waves in the Fenway and Cambridge, and enjoyed a larch-ful of Red-breasted Nuthatches tooting their tiny tin horns at Belmont’s Habitat. As well as our usual run of jays, titmice, woodpeckers (Downy, Red-bellied, Hairy), nuthatches, and chickadees, stay on the watch and listen for these frankly rare boreal species. See page 5 to help them.

Edited from Ron Pittaway []

Community Days

Community Days each spring and fall give Friends members, neighbors, and nature-lovers of all ages, a time to gather and to help maintain the sanctuary and formal garden.

[box]Come join us! Check out for all upcoming events.[/box]

Spring Community Day – May 6, 2018

Fall Community Day – October 21, 2018

House Wren (SHAWN CAREY (not at Hall’s Pond))

Adventures in Birding 2018

Neil Gore

IT’S NOT climbing the Canadian Rockies—no, it’s a quieter adventure at Hall’s Pond. My Spring 2018 birding experience went like this:

The months of March, April, and May are typically the birding highlight of the year because of Spring Migration. And Hall’s Pond is an ideal place to observe it, because we can find a wide variety of colorful, often uncommonly seen songbirds within a small area that we can thoroughly explore. The excitement builds, as more and more “new” birds return.

April 2018 started out dull, dreary, “March redux”; I remember that I characterized the previous spring as “3 months of March”; so I watched with impatience and some apprehension as a trickle of migrants slowly arrived throughout the month. But then the first signal of high activity was May 2nd, when I spent most of the day watching a newly arrived pair of House Wrens chattering and exploring a suburban backyard (not at Hall’s Pond) for a home. This was the signal.

Wilson’s Warbler (SHAWN CAREY (not at Hall’s Pond))

And sure enough, on our Hall’s Pond bird walk May 6, there was a flood of new migrant warblers and other passerines, amazingly active at mid-day (not usually a peak time for birding), including a Brown Thrasher seen briefly but well (I’m lucky to see one per year) and Magnolia Warbler along with many other warblers (6 species). Weather conditions—clouds lifting in late morning—and Sanctuary conditions—the profusion of crabapple saplings around the stump of the old giant oak provided great insect food for the birds—produced a confluence of good forture for us observers.

More goodies followed at Hall’s Pond: Wilson’s Warbler on May 11; Chestnut-sided Warbler on May 17 —both amidst plentiful bird activity.

I have a personal wish list of 8 Warblers that are uncommon and difficult to find, and this year for the first time, I checked off all 8! No, not at Hall’s Pond—we can’t expect everything here—but on May 19, as soon as I entered McLaughlin Park on Mission Hill, a Canada Warbler greeted me, singing, “Now your list is complete.”

Maintenance volunteers enjoying the first annual volunteer picnic after a September work session.

Volunteer Maintenance Team

Frank Caro

OUR VOLUNTEER maintenance team attends to the formal garden and Sanctuary throughout the growing season. The team removes weeds and prunes shrubs in the formal garden and controls invasive species throughout the Sanctuary. The team complements the work done by the larger number of volunteers who participate in the spring and fall Community day

For the first time, the maintenance team scheduled its twice-monthly work sessions in advance for the entire season. All of the sessions were held on Thursday mornings from 9 AM until noon. With a schedule set in advance, our volunteers were able to plan other activities around the Hall’s Pond work sessions. For the first time, the team also held a picnic in early September to celebrate its effort. The picnic was held at Amory Park, just outside of the Sanctuary. Janet Wynn coordinated the pot-luck effort.

In the formal garden, we have continued our emphasis on deep pruning of established shrubs to open up more space for herbaceous plants. We saw encouraging results this summer with attractive perennials in bloom even in late summer. In the Sanctuary, our efforts over the past several years to control invasive vines have been successful. Only occasionally do we now discover invasive vines that have climbed high up into the trees. Most of our emphasis now is on keeping the vines out of the trees.

Our volunteers find the experience very satisfying. We see immediate improvements in the appearance of the formal garden. We enjoy experiencing the gradual progression of the vegetation from spring into the fall. We welcome the company of others who share our enthusiasm for the Sanctuary.

Our core group of volunteers this year consisted of Fran Givelber, Fran Perler, Diane Ryan, John Shreffler, Priscilla Smith, and Janet Wynn. Harry Breger, Helen Herman, and Bruce Wolf joined us occasionally. I continue to coordinate the effort.

We welcome newcomers whether they come frequently or only occasionally. We provide equipment and on-the-job training to new volunteers. We find light work for those who want it. Because all of our core volunteers are retired, our scheduled sessions are held on weekday mornings. Next year if there is sufficient demand, we will organize some weekend sessions in the formal garden and meadow.

Frank Caro • 617-739-9228