Mount Auburn Cemetery

Every spring, my friend Marie Pelletier & I make a trip into Cambridge/Watertown to Mount Auburn Cemetery to spend a few hours chasing migrating songbirds. It’s a highlight of the year.

Here’s a lousy photograph of a great bird from yesterday – bay breasted warbler (Setophaga castanea) – a bird I had only seen maybe 3 times (all at Mt. Auburn) and yesterday we saw maybe 10 of them.

It is an absolutely magical place. Founded in 1831, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a National Historic Landmark. It’s been a birders’ mecca for ages.

I think I must have first gone to Mt. Auburn in the 1980s with Heather Neill and the next time I went was in the 1990s, while studying family history. My ancestor Benjamin Fiske (d. 1863) was one of the early inhabitants – and several of his descendants are placed there, including his grandson Benjamin Howe Fiske, but not his son Benjamin Fiske. There’s a story there, but not now. There’s room for me, but my wallet won’t get me in.

Benjamin Fisk at Mt. Auburn

The birds come in each spring, in droves. So once a year (twice this season) we get up crack of dawn and drive into the city, alongside the ordinary commuters. But once we’re in the cemetery, all time stops and the hustle & bustle of the city are someone else’s problems. Our challenge is which way to look, when every tree is full of birds. Some years, we hit it “right” and see dozens and dozens of species, some years, less so. This year was in-between, leaning towards busier rather than slower. It’s no matter, a bad day birding in Mt. Auburn is still a great day.

I don’t know how many times I’ve walked by Auburn Lakes in the cemetery, and yesterday I looked over & said “Hey – A..J. Wilkinson!” He founded the hardware store that bore his name, in the early 1840s, I think. My father worked there from 1942-1975 – the only job he ever had. 

I have some wooden planes that were made for and sold by A J Wilkinson –


Here’s photos, scattered from various years’ trips. I’ve also added some warblers and other songbirds from various locations – we’ve seen them there, but to get the best photos, you need better lenses than I have, and more time in Mt. Auburn. Many people we spoke to said “Oh, I live nearby, I come every day…!” If you’re ever in the greater Boston area, go. Birds, trees, flowering plants, 19th-century sculpture, famous people’s graves. The works.  

Then I came home, and took the kids to the library. There I found “North on the Wing: Travels with the Songbird Migration of Spring” by Bruce Beehler. looks promising…


10 thoughts on “Mount Auburn Cemetery

  1. Hello Peter,

    What wonderful photos! Thanks for posting so many of them. It’s possible you may have answered this already, but I’ll ask it anyway…

    Was wondering what camera and lens(es) you use for your birding excursions? Do you use a tripod or are your shots handheld?



  2. John – I’m a lightweight when it comes to shooting bird photos. Mine’s a Nikon D80, with a zoom lens that goes up to 300mm. BUT…it’s not a great lens. The good shooters use Canons, with lenses that run thousands of dollars. I have to get pretty close to get a good shot…and that’s not really feasible with the warblers.

  3. I’ve been going to Mount Auburn Cemetery since the early seventies for the sculpture, the flora and the beauty of the place. And now my grandparents are there. My last visit was a month ago, to leave my mom with her parents, near the pond.

  4. Thanks for posting another in your bird watching ventures!
    I started following your blog for the “seventeenth-century joined furniture; green wood, hand tools” but I must confess that I am now drawn just as much to the P. Follansbee approach to life, craft, family, nature and THE BIRDS!


  5. My grandparents, Ludlow Griscom (ornithologist) and Edith Sloan Griscom, are buried at Mt. Auburn Cemetery. I go birding there every spring and fall! Nice pictures, Peter. Thanks for sharing g them with all of us who follow your blog……

  6. Thanks for the “birds of mt. auburn” photos. Great collection! I live in Halifax and have a live fallen double trunk apple tree I will not be able to use all of – have you any interest in sharing any of this great wood? Howard at

    On Tue, May 22, 2018 at 8:35 PM, Peter Follansbee, joiner’s notes wrote:

    > pfollansbee posted: “Every spring, my friend Marie Pelletier & I make a > trip into Cambridge/Watertown to Mount Auburn Cemetery to spend a few hours > chasing migrating songbirds. It’s a highlight of the year. Here’s a lousy > photograph of a great bird from yesterday – bay” >

  7. Once again I am in awe of the diversity of your orniverse.
    Cemeteries here are sad places for birding but great for looking at the natural form of northern hemisphere trees.

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