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…