Mount Olivet and other area cemeteries provide safe havens for many migrants passing through Queens. This past Mother’s Day weekend, I observed dozens of species of birds & butterflies, all within walking distance of my home.

There were sparrows: White-crowned, White-throated and Chipping. There were warblers: Black-throated Blue, Magnolia, American Redstart, Northern Parula, and Common Yellowthroat. There were other colorful birds: Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Yellow-shafted Flicker. There were more familiar birds: Northern Cardinal, American Robin and Blue Jay. I even spotted the nest of a Red-tailed Hawk. There were also butterflies like the Black Swallowtail and Fritillary. These species provided a stark contrast to the somewhat drably-colored but ubiquitous House Sparrows, European Starlings, Rock Pigeons and Cabbage White Butterflies with which we are most familiar.

Nature observation is an inexpensive and educational hobby for both children and adults. All one needs are a pair of binoculars, a field guide and patience. There is no need to be shy about doing this in a cemetery. Just take a look at All Faiths Cemetery’s website and you’ll find this: “The All Faiths Cemetery welcomes those who want to walk the grounds, visit gravesites, bird watch and enjoy the natural beauty of the park-like setting of the Cemetery. “Often I have found cemetery employees to be quite knowledgeable about the animals found on their grounds and helpful in locating what I had gone to find.

For decades, Mount Olivet was almost in my backyard, so I am most familiar with it. But all area cemeteries provide landscapes that attract birds and butterflies. Some have even reeled in species that are rare in New York State. For example, in late 2012, All Faiths Cemetery simultaneously hosted a Blue Grosbeak and a Vesper Sparrow, which are birds that serious hobbyists will travel miles to find. Since many backyards in our area are now paved over, migrants tend to concentrate in the expansive green spaces of cemeteries. So if ever you start to feel that perhaps we’re surrounded by too many graveyards, instead be grateful that there are still places within close reach that draw in nature.

Some of these birds are just passing through on their way north and will return in autumn, on their way south. Others nest here. And some stay year-round, so there’s always a chance to see something out of the ordinary. Take a nature walk today. You won’t regret it.