Lovely Laurel Hill

Witmer Stone is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery, also the final resting place of fellow Academy ornithologists John Cassin and Eliot Underdown.


I visited on April 25, a glorious spring day, and am pleased to report that Witmer reposes in a spot that does not lack for ornithological interest. Twittering Rough-winged Swallows (later seen investigating potential nest sites in a cemetery retaining wall) and Chimney Swifts swooped low over the Stone family plot, hawking insects. Some lingering Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets and White-throated Sparrows would soon be continuing on their way north, and a handful of Yellow-rumped Warblers were the vanguard of a warbler pageant that will soon be taking place in the cemetery’s lovely old oaks and conifers.


Raptors were the stars of the show. A Red-tailed Hawk soaring near Stone’s grave probably has a mate with a nest nearby:


A pair of adult Bald Eagles was also soaring over the cemetery, on their way to and from who-knows-where:


Particularly interesting was a male Kestrel that turned a statue into an unwitting falconer:


The same or another male was later perched on one of the almost unlimited number of “kestrel perches” in Laurel Hill:


There is an obvious abundance of perches for these birds in a cemetery, but what they are finding to prey on in April is not so obvious to me. This guy was certainly too big for them to tackle:


The clucking Robins attendant at each Kestrel sighting suggests what these small falcons will be feeding on in a few weeks when the cemetery starts filling up with plump, clueless young Robins just off the nest. The Kestrels may well be nesting in a hollow in a cemetery tree, or in a nook or cranny in one of the many adjacent factory buildings.

Whether your interest is birding, history, dendrology, or simply an appreciation for a lovely spot out-of-doors, a trip to Laurel Hill Cemetery will fill the bill splendidly. Don’t forget to stop and pay your respects to Witmer and his kin over in Section P. There is also an overlook on the west side of the cemetery that takes in a long stretch of the Schuylkill River, and is one of the most spectacular vistas in Philadelphia. Here’s the view to the south, with Memorial Hall (built for the 1876 Centennial Exposition) in the distance:



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Lovely Laurel Hill

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