2018 Breeding Bird Survey of Belle Isle Marsh Reservation (ACEC / IBA)

Department of Conservation & Recreation

Prepared & conducted by: Sean Riley, Supervisor, Belle Isle Marsh Reservation

This survey was conducted from May through July covering the various habitats within Belle Isle Marsh Reservation. Belle Isle Marsh is comprised of 4 different types of habitat; saltmarsh, grassland/meadow, low thicket/scrub and forested canopy with 25 – 40 foot trees. Other areas surveyed outside of the main reservation but still considered to be inside Belle Isle were; the Kilmartin Pathway and the Key parcel. This survey reflects the 3rd year of consecutive breeding bird surveys done within the Belle Isle Marsh reservation. That said, avian records for Belle Isle date back to the late 1970’s, records can be accessed through ebird.  It should be noted that this survey reflects general numbers and in some cases will note *probable* breeding and the information supporting that designation. Since this survey was conducted in spare time, precise numbers for certain species are based on number of sightings in certain zones & locations, observations of adults feeding young, and general breeding & courtship behavior. Only a number of species show general productivity since following most of the species to being fledged, or nest counts given the habitat and scope of my job would be impossible. Also of note, Belle Isle’s running list of birds observed in the reservation reached 255 species in 2018.

Tree Swallow at Belle Isle

2018 – (37 species breeding)

Species of Note:  In the species of note section, species either listed in Massachusetts or species being monitored by various efforts for overall decline in Massachusetts will be listed.

Least Bittern (LEBI) – Probable Breeder. (Endangered) 2018 reflects the least amount of sightings by this writer since the 2016 breeding bird survey. There were only 2 Least Bittern sightings during the 2018 breeding season. I think it is likely that the Least Bittern bred at the Suffolk Downs Oasis this year, and were at Belle Isle feeding sporadically. Typically, Least Bittern can be heard singing early in the morning and that was not heard this year, despite 2 sightings during the breeding season, confirming localized breeding.

Great Blue Heron

Virginia Rail (VIRA) – Confirmed breeder. Sightings for this species were also down this year. However young were observed July 10th inside the reservation confirming successful breeding. 1 or 2 pairs present.

Saltmarsh Sparrow (SALS) – Confirmed Breeder. 5- 6 pairs of Saltmarsh Sparrows inside of the main part of Belle Isle. In mid-July birds were seen removing fecal sacs from nests, as well as adults feeding young. A cycle of 3 twelve foot tides during the middle of the breeding period was likely catastrophic to this year’s success and productivity. After the tide cycle adults were seen way out in the marsh away from the nest sites, a behavior observed before the breeding season begins when no young are being fed. No young in the general nesting area were observed being fed after the high tides. Suggesting that the nests were wiped out.

Savannah Sparrow (SAVS) – Confirmed Breeder. 2 pairs of Savannahs for the 3rd consecutive year, both pairs again nesting in the saltmarsh. Adults feeding young in early June.

Osprey (OSPR) – Confirmed Breeder. The continued active nest that has been used since 2006 in East Boston behind CVS. This year the pair had 2 chicks, 2 chicks have fledged.

Willet (WILL) – Confirmed Breeder. This species has increased each year since the first breeding survey in 2016. 2016 being the first year this species was ever documented breeding at Belle Isle. 2018 had 5 pairs of Willets within the reservation boundaries. 4 in the main park and 1 pair at the Key. As Snake Island’s habitat becomes more and more degraded by lack of habitat management and vegetation pushes the ground breeding species out, Belle Isle will host more and more pairs of Willets and likely American Oystercatchers.  

Bobolink (BOBO) – 2018 is the first year this species has ever bred at Belle Isle. 1 male bird and 2 females managed to produce 2 nests. One nest in the meadow and one nest in the marsh. Adults were seen feeding young at both locations. This is a very exciting addition to Belle Isles breeding bird population. Not only are Bobolinks in series decline across their range, these birds have strong site fidelity and will likely return to breed again.  

Brown Thrasher (BRTH) – Confirmed Breeder. 1 pair along Kilmartin path. This pair returns year after year, but like most thicket / scrub habitat species it is in decline across its range. 2 Juveniles seen in mid-July. 

American Kestrel (AMKE) – Confirmed breeder / Local Breeder- Displaced from Eliot circle in Revere in 2017 after 10 years of nesting at Eliot house. Pair moved to location abutting Belle Isle, fledged 3 young. Seen at Belle Isle daily. A second pair is also nesting in Orient Heights, possible offspring from original Eliot Pair.

Other breeding species: The more traditionally abundant and expected breeders, given habitat and location.

American Woodcock (AMWO) – Confirmed Breeder. During the mating season numerous pairs were seen performing courtship aerial flights near the meadow. Young were seen during various trips into the phragmitites marsh.

Killdeer (KILL) – Confirmed Breeder – 5 pairs nested inside the park this year, 4 pairs in the saltmarsh and 1 pair in the key. Chicks seen at 2 nest locations. Pair historically at Morton Street displaced by construction.

Chipping Sparrow (CHSP) – Confirmed Breeder. 1 pair in the main park. Fledglings seen on the ground being fed by adults.

Black-capped Chickadee (BCCH) – Confirmed Breeder. 2-3+ pairs breeding at Belle Isle. This species seems to be in decline in the marsh, but possible the birds were nesting in locations not used in previous years. Only 2 groups of juveniles were seen, but likely more overall. This year we will add nesting boxes to try to increase productivity.

Common Yellow-throat (COYE) – Confirmed Breeder. Seen feeding young at 3 nesting locations. Heard throughout the breeding season singing at 6 different sites inside Belle Isle. 6 – 10 pairs likely.

Yellow Warbler (YEWA) – Confirmed Breeder. Nesting sites at: Kilmartin area, the key, the main park and Lawn Ave. Lawn ave thickets seem to be the primary nesting habitat. 10-15 pairs likely.

Baltimore Oriole (BAOR) -Confirmed Breeder. 6 pairs this year, up from 3 pairs in previous years. 2 pairs inside the main part of the park, 2 nests very close to each other. 2 pairs at Kilmartin, 1 at Lawn Ave and 1 at the pump house on Bennington Street.

Warbling Vireo (WAVI) – Confirmed Breeder. 8 + pairs. 3 Pairs inside the main park, 3 pairs on Kilmartin in the new meadow, and a few pairs near Lawn Ave.

American Robin (AMR0) – Confirmed Breeder. Numerous nests, 20+. Juveniles seen at many nest locations. Multiple brood species.

European Starling (EUST) – Confirmed breeder. Invasive species, used Kestrel Boxes at multiple sites around the reservation. Multiple broods.

American Black Duck (ABDU) – Confirmed Breeder. 2 nests found in the meadow alone, 10-12 ducklings per nest. Other pairs nesting in the inner phragmities areas. 4-6 pairs.

Mallard (MALL) – Confirmed Breeder. 6-10 pairs, both in the meadow and the Phragmitites and saltmarsh.

Belted-Kingfisher (BEKI) – Confirmed Breeder1 pair, Morton Street side of the marsh, nest in the embankment of the Winthrop Cemetery. 

Song Sparrow (SOSP) – Confirmed Breeder. A few nest sites observed with adults feeding young. Breeding commonly throughout the reservation from the meadow, to the inner wooded & Marsh areas.

Spotted Sandpiper (SPSA) – Confirmed Breeder. 1 pair, breed in the key, Likely able to breed with lowered water levels in the key. Unfledged chicks seen inside the key in mid-June.

Northern Flicker (NOFL) – Confirmed breeder. 2 pairs nested, one in the main park and one on the Killmartin Path. The pair that nested in the main park fledged 3 offspring.

Tree Swallow (TRES) – Confirmed Breeder. Currently 32 boxes put out by DCR provided by funds from FBIM & local resident Phil Lyons all occupied by Tree Swallows. Given an average egg clutch size of 4 to 7, conservatively the site likely produced about 130 young, with a possible productivity of 220 young. 

Barn Swallow (BARS) – Confirmed Breeder. 10 -15 + pairs nested under the bridge out to the observation tower. Seemed very productive, many fledged juveniles seen. 60 birds seen together post fledge date, all feeding above the estuary during peak Greenhead week.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow (NRWS) – Confirmed Breeder.  1-2 pairs, seen every few days inside the reservation, breeding at the pump house on Bennington Street. 6 birds together seen at once.

Willow Flycatcher (WIFL) – Confirmed Breeder. Likely 5-6 pairs. 3 territories along Lawn Ave path, and 2-3 territories along the Kilmartin path.

American Goldfinch (AMGO) – Confirmed Breeder. Many pairs and active nests all over the reservation. They are the latest breeding species at Belle Isle.

Morning Dove (MODO) – Confirmed Breeder. Numerous pairs inside the reservation.

Downy Woodpecker (DOWO) – Confirmed Breeder. 1 nest found inside the main park, likely one more in the area off Lawn Ave where birds were active throughout the breeding season. Juveniles seen in the main park in late June. Another species in decline in the park overall.

Cedar Waxwing (CEDW) – Confirmed breeder. Pairs breeding all over the reservation, adults observed on nest, feeding young in nests, and fledged juveniles. Late breeding species. Comically one nest of Waxwings raised by an American Robin.

Eastern Kingbird (EAKI) – Confirmed Breeder. Increasing, 2016 no pairs nesting, 2017 -2 pairs, 2018 – 4 pairs inside the main park. Fledged young chasing adults around the meadow in late June. Records reflect that this species does not nest every year inside the reservation.

Northern Cardinal (NOCA) – Confirmed Breeder. 2 Pairs breeding within the main park, 1 pair at Kilmartin, and 1 pair at Lawn ave.

Common Grackle (COGR) – Confirmed Breeder – A number of pairs breed in the Pitch Pines and Austrian Pines.

House Sparrow (HOSP) – Confirmed Breeder / Local breeder. Each season they try to establish in Tree Swallow boxes and are exterminated. No breeding success in any boxes, early season culling of males is very effective

Other species of note,  non-breeding:

King Rail (KIRA) – (Threatened) In 2018 one female bird was present at Belle Isle from late May until June 19th when the bird was no longer heard. Highly doubtful this bird was able to find a mate. However, its presence in the reservation brought hundreds of birders from in state and out of state to hear this rare species in critical decline.

Long-eared Owl (LEOW) – (Threatened). Belle Isle continues to be an important local winter site for this threatened owl species.  The winter roost in 2017-2018 held up to 6 owls which stayed into late January. Actually a slightly shorter stay than in previous years.

Short-eared Owl (SEOW) – (Endangered). Seen in the fall and in the spring during migration. 2017-2018 had one Short-eared Owl that stayed from early November until just after new year’s when Snowy Owls claimed and maintained a territory at Belle Isle until June 1st.

Snowy Owl (SNOW) – Up to 4 Snowy Owls could be seen daily this winter at Belle Isle. 1 bird was present each evening likely being the primary territory holder. Also eventually either eating or displacing all off the Short-eared and Long-eared Owls.

Peregrine Falcon (PEFA) – After the breeding season ends, Belle Isle is host to a resident pair of Peregrine falcons that can be seen daily in the reservation throughout the fall and winter. The male is band: 63BE and female is band: 10BE. Possibly the Deer Island pair.

American Oystercatcher (AMOY) –Local Breeder- Winthrop Beach, Snake Island, Harbor Islands. 1 pair of Oystercatchers are seen daily in the tidal flats off the Belle Isle inlet. No nesting site was found, but is possible. Later in July up to 15 Oystercatcher’s can be seen daily in the salt pans around the Reservation. This seems to be a safe important site for juveniles to learn to forage with adults.

Common Tern (COTE) – Local Breeder – (Special Concern). Common Tern Breed between Lynn and Revere and on Chelsea Creek. Belle Isle is a roosting and feeding site for the entire breeding season with Common Tern present every day.

Least Tern (LETE) – Local Breeder – (Special Concern). Least Tern Breed on Winthrop beach / Lovells Island, and like the Common Tern use Belle Isle as an important feeding location. Least Tern are seen daily in numbers up to 100 birds throughout the breeding season.  This year the numbers were notably lower than other years due to a poor breeding season at Winthrop Beach.

Shorebirds –various species. Over 34 species of shorebirds have been seen over the years at Belle Isle. The salt pans and burmed areas present feeding and roosting sites for shorebirds during both spring and fall migration free from human disturbance. Unlike the surrounding beaches, many areas of Belle Isle are inaccessible to humans and dogs. As such, the importance of this reservation as a stopover is hard to quantify. Fall Migration Belle Isle sees larger numbers of shorebirds, large groups often staying for days at a time.

Egrets & Herons – From Late June into August Belle Isle hosts up to 100 Great and Snowy Egrets. The inner pools also host both Black-crowned & Yellow-crowned Night Herons. Belle Isle seems to be an important feeding and roosting site for these species. 2018 We also had both Little Blue Herons and a Tri-colored Heron.

Raptors – Various species. Outside of the breeding season Belle Isle is an important location for raptors to hunt and roost. A large communal roost of both Hawks and Owls can be found in the winter months. Red-tailed Hawk, Coopers Hawk, Sharp shinned Hawk, Northern Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Rough-legged Hawk, Kestrel and Snowy Owls are all common winter birds hunting the marsh and grassland areas. In 2017-2018 a Red-shouldered Hawk spent almost 6 months at the reservation.

Passerines – Belle Isle is a good spot to catch passerines during fall and spring migration. As one of the only unobstructed woodlands in the Revere and Winthrop area, it is becoming an important stopover as the woodland area continues to mature. 16 species of Warbler seen in 1 day, also increasing is sightings of species such as Indigo Buntings and Scarlet Tanagers during migration.

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