Red Headed Stepchild
(The Barrett family memoir of Navy Life)
by Sophie Ruth Meranski with photos


1949 track
p 52-1061 BIRDS OF BROOK FARM 1941 by Francis Henry ALLEN 119 species: Typed from original in West Roxbury Historical Society Archive. written 1941 for Brook Farm Centennial organized by Rev. Harold Arnold of West Roxbury. --: THE BIRDS OF BROOK FARM by Francis Henry Allen born 1867 attended Roxbury Latin member West Roxbury Historical Society founder of Thoreau Society worked at Houghton Mifflin TEXT: My acquaintance with Brook Farm began in the year 1874, when as a boy of seven living on Mount Vernon Street, West Roxbury, I joined other boys of the neighborhood in rambling through the woods and fields of the region.Our rambles extended from the blueberry pastures of what was then known as the May estate, now bounded by LaGrange, Vermont & Temple Streets and the railroad,to Home Farm, now Mount Benedict Cemetery.Home Farm, formerly owned by Colonel Harry Russell and the home of the famous trotter "Smuggler", was then the property of Joseph Arnold, who later lived on Corey Street. Within its borders were what we called the Checkerberry Woods and "the chasm" - a gap in a large puddingstone ledge, a very exciting playground for boys.The May estate was famous not only for its blueberries, but also for a large white oak, long since fallen,that we children knew as Prince Edward's Oak - I never knew why- but which was called by our elders the Parker Oak from a tradition that Theodore Parker was wont to rest under it, probably on his way to and fro between his house on Centre St. and Brook Farm. Brook Farm itself occupied the middle part of our customary wanderings.It was the brook, of course, that attracted us boys most, and I have a distinct recollection of drawing from its mysterious depths a few brook pickerel, which I think were caught with a real hook and not with the traditiopnal bent pin. We knew this brook higher up on its course too and fished it there, in what is now St. Joseph's Cemetery and the woods above it.It was not until years afterward that I discovered an old mill-dam in those woods and farther up the reamins of a reservoir dam. I then learned for the first time that the brook was known as Palmer's Brook, at least in the town of Brookline,and that there was another milldam higher up on its course.The old settlers used every possible source of watrpower for their sawmills and gristmills.Palmer's Brook lost much of its water when the metropolitan sewer was put through and is now much less of a stream than in the days of the Brook Farm community. My more intimate acquaintance with Brook Farm began when I began to hunt for birds within its precincts. I soon found that the variety of cover there - fields, tillage, pasture, meadows, woods and shade trees - attracted an unusual variety of birds, and it became a favorite haunt of mine. The first mention of Brook Farm that I find in my youthful bird diaries is under the date of February 22, 1884, when I "went to walk beyond Brook Farm" and heard there my first robin for the year." My records are not complete,for I never have kept complete lists of all the birds I have seen or heard on the farm, but they show one hundred nineteen species on Brook Farm, and I can think of eight or ten more that must certainly visit the Farm or fly over it every year, besides a good many more that must be occasional visitors. This does not include the birds that could only be found on the [Charles] river and the meadows immediately bordering it. Of course, I am not the only one who has enjoyed the birds of Brook Farm. Without making any real search of the literature I must at least quote Nathaniel Hawthorne's observations on birds in that part of his Note-Books which was devoted to his life at the Farm. Under date of October 9, 1841, he wrote :"A walk this afternoon to Cow Island.... Coming within view of the river, I saw several wild ducks under the shadow of the opposite shore, which was high and covered with a grove of pines. I should not have discovered the ducks had they not risen and skimmed the surface of the glassy river, breaking its dark water with a bright streak and, sweeping round, gradually risen high enough to fly away. I likewise started a partridge just within the verge of the woods; and in another place a large squirrel ran across the wood-path from one shelter of trees to the other. Small birds, in flocks, were flitting about the fields, seeking and finding I know not what sort of food." And under October 12th of that year "The cawing of the crow resounds among the woods. A sentinel is aware of your approach a great way off and gives the alarm to his comrades loud and eagerly-Caw, caw,caw! Immediately the whole conclave replies, and you behold them rising above the trees, flapping darkly and winging their way to deeper solitudes. Sometimes, however, they remain till you come near enough to discern their sable gravity of aspect, each occupying a separate bough,or perhaps the blasted tip-top of a pine.As you approach, one after another with loud cawing flaps his wings and throws himself upon the air." These are the notes, not of a ornithologist, but of a man who kept his eyes open and knew how to report what he saw.The descendants of these same crows still haunt Brook Farm; the small birds still flit about the fields; I see wild ducks almost every time I walk there, and if the partridge no longer lives in the woods, he was there only a very few years ago to my knowledge. My Brook Farm bird-list, incomplete as it is, is too long to givve here in its entirelty. I will name only the more uncommon birds and those most characteristic of the locality. First, there is the PIED-BILL GREBE, a small water-bird that visits our river in spring and fall but is commonest in the fall. I have seen it near the Needham Branch railroad bridge, and I haven't the slightest doubt that it can often be seen swimming and diving along the marshy shores of the Farm. It is a dull-colored bird, sometimes mistaken for a small duck, but a more expert diver than any duck and having a facility of sinking in the water till only the head shows above the surface. Three herons haunt the meadows, the GREEN HERON and the NIGHT HERON all summer and the magnificent GREAT BLUE HERON in spring, late summer, and autumn. It would be entirely possible too to find in late summer an occasional WHITE AMERICAN EGRET or a lttle blue heron in its immature snow-white plumage. I have found both these birds in the nearby Broad Meadows across the river. The AMERICAN BITTERN is often to be seen in the brook meadow or in the river meadow, standing like a stake with upward pointed bill or flying heavily just above the tops of the grasses or cat-tails, and its curious song, which sounds near-at-hand like the working of an old-fashioned pump, - at the distance like the driving of a stake, may be heard in the spring. The commonest duck is the BLACK DUCK, which nests in the maple swamp or thereabout and flies up and off with loud quacks. More interesting because somewhat less common and much more beautiful is the WOOD DUCK, probably the most beautiful of the ducks of the world. A pair nested in 1935 in the hollow trunk of a large red maple in front of the main building of the Farm and only about forty feet from the front door. They seem to have brought off their brood successfully, and the next year they - or another pair- nested in another tree nearer the meadow. SPARROW HAWKS always nest in one of the large trees and are regular features of the landscape as they conduct their graceful flights over field, pasture, and meadow, hunting their prey of insects and mice.Two other birds might possibly be mistaken for sparrow hawks in the air. One is the MOURNING DOVE, a graceful and beautiful bird,- smaller and with a longer tail than the common pigeon, that probably nests not far away. The other is the KILLDEER, a large plover with two black bands on its white breast and a strident voice.A pair can sometimes be seen with their young in the upper meadow or in pasture or tillage. The brook meadow often harbors a few VIRGINIA RAILS, which can be detected only by their notes of "kid-ik, kid-ik", or "wak'wak'wak",because they usually keep themselves hidden among the flags or cat-tails; and SORAs, those smaller and no less secretive rails, reveal their presence by their "kur-wee" or a musical whinny. In spring and fall you may put up a SNIPE or a YELLOW-LEGS or a few LEAST SANDPIPERS as you walk along the brookside, and in summer the unmusical chattering of the SHORT-BILLED MARSH WREN rises from all points of the meadow,and if you keep sharp watch you may see the little songster on the top of a low bush or a tall weed or making a short ascent into the air as he sings. I don't mention the characteristic but common KINGBIRDS and REDWINGS, nor the CATBIRDS and VEERIES of the nearby maple swamp. The larger river meadows,where cat-tails are now superseding the meadow grasses to a great extent, have LONG-BILLED MARSH WRENS,whose bubbling though woodeny songs are more pleasant than the efforts of their SHORT-BILLED cousins, and in several years I have found the ALDER FLYCATCHER along their borders, a bird that is rather rare in eastern Massachusetts, though fairly common in northern New England. Perhaps Brook Farm is the last stand of the BOBOLINK and the MEADOWLARK in the City of Boston. Both of these species were abundant in West Roxbury in my boyhood, but they have retreated before the real-estate operator. They are birds of the open field and not-too-wet medowland, and there is not much of that kind of country left now hereabouts. I was delighted to hear two singing boblinks on Brook Farm this June and the sweet piercing strains of a meadowlark too. I have said nothing of the woods of Brook Farm because their bird life is not so very different from that of other parts of West Roxbury.And the woods too are less extensive and fine than they used to be before the sand-and-gravel companies and cemeteries invaded them, and the hurricanes ruined much of what was left.They will still reward the bird enthusiast, however, and I never visit the farm without going into the pine grove there and listening at the edge of the small maple swamp. in these woods I have seen such rare birds as the ARCTIC THREE-TOED WOODPECKER, the YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER, the WINTER WREN, and the GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH. And now I am speaking of uncommon birds,I must record a few more seen elsewhere on the Farm- a mockingbird in January 1919, a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW in 1939, a PINE GROSBEAK in 1884, and two SNOW BUNTINGS in March,1939.Snow buntings, though common in winter along the seashore,are rare in West Roxbury, and I was much surprised to see those two on the hillside near the old barn. I have one lament for the old days at Brook Farm- I have missed the BARN SWALLOWS that used to be such a feature of my visits in spring and summer. Oh, I see a few now and then in their migrations, and TREE SWALLOWS and BANK SWALLOWS too,but the barn swallows, the most graceful flyers of all our birds,no longer course all day over the meadow. West Roxbury is getting too civilized,and barn doors and windows are no longer open to the swallows." Francis Allen, a member of the West Roxbury Historical Society, founded the Thoreau Society, which has preserved much information about the Concord writer and his interest in preserving the natural environment.On October 7, 1895, the West Roxbury Historical Society presented a program "Through the Seasons with Henry Thoreau" by naturalist-&-photographer Albert Bussewitz,an officer of the Thoreau Society, long active with the Audubon Society and on staff of the Arnold Arboretum. In 1985 Mr. Bussewitz was in charge of training Arnold Arboretum tour guides.At the October 7 program, Miriam Dickey of the Children's Museum made introductory remarks about the Audubon Society. Arnold Arboretum director Peter Ashton also spoke on Borneo to the West Roxbury Historical Society October 28, 1985.
Subject: (R)
Year: 1949