Place 13 – Dunback Meadow

I had a very long post about Dunback written up to continue the 100 Places series, but decided to shrink it down quite a bit.

Dunback Meadow, located in Lexington, is one of the best areas around for birding all year. Spring and fall are loaded with migrants, there’s plenty of good breeders, and it’s a great place for winter finches and raptors. It’s also very productive for butterflies.

The town of Lexington has a page up with a map and a bit of information. Two access points are labeled (Allen St and at the Bowman School). You can also enter from the Clarke School, from the end of Blossomcrest Rd (there’s a new trail there not shown on the map) and from Bacon St (no parking there however).

Just about anywhere can be productive but the best spots are the community gardens, the area right around the trail intersection, the birches to the right, and the two sets of pines (the short white pines by Clarke and the taller pines on the hill). Note that all directions below are based on the intersection when coming from Allen St).

Birds to look for include many owls (I’ve had 5 species in the tall pines with this being one of the best spots I know for Long-ears and Saw-whets), redpolls in winter (any of the birches), Northern Shrike (out in the field), hummingbirds (anywhere and everywhere in fall), Olive-sided Flycatcher (many of the dead snags in fall), Connecticut Warbler (down to the bridge entering the woods to the right), and many others. Besides the really rare birds, big numbers of Fox Sparrows can be found (I’ve had about a dozen in one day) and huge numbers of robins build up in fall (to the point of being deafening and making it really hard to find anything else). The crowds attract raptors, including 4 Buteos, 2 falcons, and 2 Accipiters. Pheasant used to be regular (although I did hear one this year for the first time in several years). Winter Wrens frequent the stream in fall and winter and I’ve had Rusty Blackbird and other late blackbirds in fall and early winter.

Butterflies are attracted to a large patch of milkweed straight out from the intersection and also at the community gardens and just about everywhere else. More interesting species include Milbert’s Tortoiseshell, Pepper-and-salt Skipper, and Ocola Skipper. I’ve also had a few interesting dragonflies and occasional mammals including fisher and coyote.

And after spending a few hours at Dunback, the Waltham St. Farms are right across the street, Hayden Woods is behind those, and there are plenty of other places nearby worth checking as well. But on a good day, you’ll find so much at Dunback that you won’t want to leave.

Place 12 – Gore Estate

The Gore Estate is another place in Waltham that’s worth a stop for the birds and history. The majority of the estate is open fields, but there’s a wooded section with a small stream that attracts a good number of birds.

As the home of an early 19th century governor, the estate is kept very nicely. That makes it a nice spot for special events, so beware in the warmer months, there may be a wedding or high school graduation going on. Most of the time, however, you’ll have the grounds to yourself. I’ve yet to make it into the house, but they offer tours, so make the time to check it out.

My typical walk is to follow the road up to the house and then towards the farm.There’s often something of interest in the trees along the edge, but things pick up as you pass the farm. Continue straight out to the small wooded section. The first of many bluebird houses are here (although I’ve yet to see a bluebird). Check among the sheep, goats, and llama in the fenced area of the farm for birds and then work around the trees. In spring, there can be lots of migrants, and winter brings good numbers of juncos and sparrows.

Circle to the other side of the trees and check the field. I’ve had Bobolink in the past and there’s often sparrows working along the edge. Finches really like to hang out in the bushes towards the middle and there’s often a large flock of geese to check through. It does get muddy here (and occasionally icy), so have good footwear. Walk down to the end and then head back. About halfway is a path that runs along the stream through the trees. Carolina Wrens and woodpeckers really like it in there and there’s often something else different.

At times, you can hop across the stream and come out right near the farm fence, but that can be a bit tough, so continue to the end of the trees. There are two choices here: go to the back of the estate behind the house or work along the edge and back to the car. If you go along the edge, there’s some fruit trees along the way that occasionally have interesting things The tall trees along the wall seem to attract raptors (that goes for the ones all the way in the back as well). If you instead want to go to the back of the house, retrace your steps along the farm and then go left and behind. There’s more trees and bluebird boxes to check and the geese often congregate here as well.

Depending on the activity, it can take half an hour to an hour or more to cover the estate. Although there’s often not much, there’s almost always something of interest and it’s right near the Charles, which is an ideal combination.

I haven’t spent much time investigating the insect life, but I expect that there’s a few good things in the field.

Place 11 – Flint's Pond

Flint’s Pond is a large pond in Lincoln that’s worth a quick check whenever you’re passing by. Most times there won’t be much, but every so often a sea duck or grebe will drop in and there’s occasionally something of note in the trees as well.

For reasons that I still haven’t figured out, Flint’s Pond is located on Sandy Pond Rd. If you’re heading east on Rt. 2, it’s the small turnoff just before Tracy’s Corner. From the east, it starts by the library (opposite Trapelo Rd.). There’s a fire lane that has a wide enough area to pull off and still not be in the way. From there, you can scan fairly easily and move around a bit. A scope is definitely a necessity (and often not enough).

Birds tend to hang out near the island and in the far right. Sometimes good things can be found in close. Walking a short distance to the left down the road gives a view of the right side, which only occasionally has things.

Keep your ears open and eyes up on the trees as well. There’s often warblers and bluebirds around and I’ve seen Pileated Woodpecker while driving up. There are several trails in the area, some right there and some further up the road. I haven’t wandered around them much (I did spend one afternoon trying to get closer to the back side of the pond, which doesn’t appear to be possible) but they look like they’re worth checking occasionally.

Place 10 – Purgatory Cove and Forest Grove

Purgotary Cove and Forest Grove combine to be a nice part of the Charles River Walk along the Waltham-Newton line. It’s an area I have yet to explore fully, but seems to have quite a bit of potential.

To reach it, take Woerd Ave. off Crescent St. in Waltham. Follow Woerd Ave. to the end. You’ll pass the boat launch and then Purgatory Cove. You can pull over here or continue to the circle where the road ends and park there. The town line is just beyond the circle. Alternate access from the other end is off Commonwealth Ave. at Lyons Park.

Purgatory Cove is a large backwater spot along the Charles. It gets filled with vegetation in summer. Lots of waterbirds are possible here, including large numbers of Wood Ducks. Along the river on the other side of the road, you can follow a trail that winds through the wooded area and then joins the main Forest Grove trail. There’s a couple of steep spots here, so be careful.

Up on the main trail, you can walk through a wooded section that borders the river and passes through a couple parks before ending. Lots of birds are possible, including many migrants. This section is also the only place along the Charles where I’ve had Wild Turkeys.

Butterflies are not too exciting along here, but dragonflies can be interesting. The only Vesper Bluet I’ve seen so far was along the first bit of trail by Purgatory Cove. I haven’t spent enough time looking for other good ones, but I’m sure there are more out there.

This stretch of the river is also popular with boaters and kayakers. It’s very wide and slow and I’d imagine you can see quite a few different things on the water.

Well worth exploring more, there’s plenty of untapped potential here, even when the crowds are out.

Place 9 – Fresh Pond

This is the time of year to visit Fresh Pond in Cambridge. It’s by far the easiest place around to find Canvasback and there are often other interesting ducks as well. On the whole, I don’t like the place but make a trip or two each year.

I normally park along Huron Ave as it’s the closest point for me, but there is (or was, not sure about current access) some public parking at Neville Manor and you can always park at the mall and work your way over. Cambridge residents can park near the waterworks (and can also let their dogs run free unfortunately). Those entrances are much closer to where the birds tend to hang out if you want to drop in and not walk all around. Other than circling the pond, Lusitania Meadow often has good passerines.

Fresh Pond is covered well elsewhere, so start with The Friends and go from there for more information.

Place 8 – Quabbin Overlook

The Quabbin Overlook in the center of New Salem isn’t particularly well known (I think I’ve seen exactly 1 post on Massbird mentioning it). It also probably doesn’t have a whole lot of wildlife compared to other parts of the Quabbin and the area, but the view is great.

The trail is also very short, so it’s very easy to run up, check, and run back. I’ve yet to find much along the trail, but most of my trips have been at lousy times of day so that may not mean much.

To reach the overlook, follow the road next to the fire station. It leads down to some playing fields (edges of which are worth checking) and then to a small parking area. The trail starts here and is easy enough to follow. There’s some nice blueberry patches early and then a wooded section before reaching the overlook.

Although I haven’t seen a whole lot from there, several sightings were quite memorable. One of my first good looks at a Scarlet Tanager was a bird that popped up in one of the trees just down the slope (so it was right at eye level). And another time, the loons down in the water were calling loudly enough to be heard from up above. And one day, I’m sure there will be a moose swimming through the water.

Place 7 – Farm Meadow

Farm Meadow is a field in Lincoln, MA best known for being the last place where Henslow’s Sparrows have bred in the state. In recent years, it hasn’t been planted in a way to encourage grassland birds but it’s still a good spot in migration.

To reach Farm Meadow, park at the commuter lot beyond the lot at the Mall at Lincoln Station (on Lincoln Rd.). It’s a pay lot during the week, but since it’s probably full then anyway, it’s not a concern. If you have to park elsewhere, Mt. Misery or Old Concord Rd. off 126 are probably the best (see below for details). A trail starts right by the parking lot (it’s worth checking the train station first as there’s often a lot in the brush along the edge). Follow the trail for a couple minutes walk and you’ll reach Farm Meadow.

The trees that border the railroad tracks are often loaded with migrants. On year on an MBC trip, we spent over an hour just working the hundred yards or so that the trees run. Once you reach the little treatment station, work to the right. In fall, the piles are often loaded with sparrows and other birds. Hawks often buzz through and woodpeckers (including Pileated) can be vocal.

You can also work along the close edge of the field and the field itself. Obviously, if things change and the field is planted again, stay out of any planted area. When the field was a big hayfield, it was loaded with Bobolinks. The Henslow’s were present in 1994, so it’s been quite some time.

After checking the field, if you enter the woods and then cross the railroad bridge, you can enter the Codman Estate or take the trail that starts to parallel the railroad tracks. That ends up at a small field on 126, right near Old Concord Rd. and you can enter the Lindentree and St. Anne’s fields from there (and continue on to Mt. Misery if you want a long walk).

Since I haven’t spent much time here outside of early spring mornings and fall, I can’t say much about the insect life but I’d imagine a good number of the regular butterflies and dragonflies can be found.

Place 6 – Vischer Ferry

Time for something a bit different. Today I’ll briefly talk about the Vischer Ferry Nature Preserve. Far outside my usual area, it’s located in Clifton Park, New York and was one of the primary areas I birded while at school.

The area is a large wetland complex between the Mohawk River and the Erie Canal. There’s a trail that loops up to the river and back, covering both wetlands and woods. You can also walk a long distance along the canal, covering a variety of woodlands.

Being a place near school, I was only able to visit for part of the year. Spring and fall were both very good (although the insects in early fall were almost unbearable). Winter was not very exciting in the couple visits I made. From the list of marsh birds that could be found, I’d guess summer would be good, but I never was around to visit.

My standard loop was to cross the bridge and head straight out. Check the water for ducks and the edge of the trail for sparrows. There was a short trail to the right that was worth a check (although I don’t think I ever found much in birds along there). I’d continue on past the next open water. In spring, I’d then head down to the right into the wooded area a bit.

The next stop is up at the river. The trail was often very muddy and I never actually saw much of anything, but there were good things reported occasionally. Continuing down to the left, the woods often had nice warblers. Working all the way back around, land birds could be all over and the canal side often had early swallows.

After completing the loop, I’d continue down the canal until I ran out of time. There were more good views of the marsh, often with a good variety of ducks. Once into the woods, I found some different things (Winter Wren for example) that were not likely to be found in other parts. The trail here appears to continue for several miles, I never found the end.

For directions and more, see the Hudson-Mowhawk Bird Club. Their book on birdfinding in the region is especially recommended (and I see they have a new edition out). If you’re in the area, they’re worth joining. Not quite the BBC, but a good club.

And here’s the type of thing that can show up (taken in May 2004 on the marsh side of the canal trail):
Horned Grebe

Place 5 – Beaver Brook Duck Ponds

The Beaver Brook Duck Ponds in Belmont are one of the oldest conservation areas in Massachusetts. First established in 1893, the two ponds and associated trails have some pretty good birding. See the DCR for more. The ponds are on Mill St. and parking is just beyond the house mentioned.

The basic setup is two ponds, connected by a stream. There is a waterfall beyond the ponds and the stream continues out towards Trapelo Rd. Ducks (mostly mallards and mutts) are always present on the water, but there’s often other stuff as well. Wood Duck are regular as are Hooded Merganser in season. I’ve had Green-winged Teal several times. The right pond often dries out in summer, leaving moderate shorebird habitat.

My usual route is to start at the parking area and check the Duck Pond (the left one, the other one is the Mill Pond). There’s a trail to the left that runs into the woods and down along the waterfall that I’ll take if I have time. It can get a bit wet down at the bottom, where you cross a couple bridges and end up on the other side of the stream. Follow back to the right and uphill to get to the other side of the pond (or just go around the edge of the pond and don’t take those trails at all, just watch for overgrown poison ivy). Work along the back of the pond. There’s a path that leads close to the edge in the middle and gets you close to the stream between ponds. At the other pond, stay on the back edge and follow around. The bridge is often a productive area. Keep following around. When you reach the open area, you will probably have to go out to the sidewalk as the path inside is often overgrown early. It’s worth checking back along the other edge of the pond (especially for dragonflies) before heading back across the grassy area to the parking lot. The entire area can be covered in 30-40 minutes quickly and probably an hour thoroughly.

I’ve seen quite a variety here and think just about anything would be possible in migration. Expect warblers, shorebirds, and just about anything else. Dragonflies are common in summer (I’ve recorded over 20 species including several darners and Unicorn Clubtail) and there’s a surprising number of butterflies for an area without many flowers and open spots. Overall, I’m up to 65 birds, 23 Butterflies, and 26 Odes.

Places 3 and 4 – Lyman Estate and Lyman Pond

Sure didn’t take long to fall behind on this. And by making the list up ahead of time, I was hoping to draft things in advance and just have to publish. Maybe soon.

Places 3 and 4 are very close together: the Lyman Estate and Lyman Pond. The Lyman Estate is right at the Beaver St. rotary in Waltham, there’s a pulloff right next to Lyman St. I only go on weekends when the gate is closed, in which case parking is along the short road that borders the rotary. If the gate is open, you can drive in. The area to cover is quite small, one field, and then all the bushes and trees along Beaver Brook. I can’t say I’ve been here often, and have never found much of anything, but it’s worth a stop on the CBC.

Lyman Pond on the other hand, is a very good stop. Since it’s technically on private property between Gardencrest and Bentley, I won’t give directions. Way down to the left (actually bordering the Lyman Estate) is a slight widening of the brook. This spot often has Wood Ducks and is where a pair of Eastern Screech-Owls appeared to have bred in 2007.

The stream is not overly interesting (although both my records of Harvester are along the stream), but the main pond can be excellent. This is where I first discovered the Goose. In late summer, it also supports the only mud flats I’ve found in Waltham. Most shorebirds are peep, but I’ve seen Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper occasionally. Green Herons, Spotted Sandpipers, and Wood Ducks all appear to breed somewhere right nearby. In late summer, the Wood Duck numbers can be huge (40+).

Plenty of dragonflies can be found on the pond. They’re pretty much all the common ones, but they put on a good show here and I did have my only Lilypad Forktails from here. It’s also interesting to walk along the edge and note how the species variety changes in different spots.

I almost always find something of interest at the pond. Even in the middle of winter, the water is often open and there’s a good duck or two around. Always worth a stop passing by.

And one more place and I’ll be caught up and can start writing more detailed descriptions.