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

Catching up

Haven’t been up to posting for a little while now, hopefully I’ll get going with the 100Places and WTOW again soon.

In the meantime, here’s a Fiery Skipper from last weekend. I’d have better pictures if I had the camera with me at work (3! of them at the community gardens last week) and possibly a Connecticut Warbler pic as well, but whatever.

Fiery Skipper

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.

Calendars and Reading Comprehension

First, if you haven’t requested one yet, the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program is taking requests for next year’s spectacular bird calendar.

If you want one, the BBC had information. You can also find that link on about 50 deal of the day sites and apparently readers of those can’t find the email given in the middle of the instructions and are sending the BBC Webmaster (me) requests. SixTen of them today.

Sep update: link’s been pulled as the deal-of-the-day sites swamped them and the calendars are now out of stock. Another 15 requests to me as well, including several that didn’t bother with a mailing address. And exactly one of them thanked me for sending them the correct instructions.

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.

Place 2: Hardy Pond

Already behind on this, so I’ll do a simple one.

Hardy Pond is a pond in Waltham that often has a nice variety on it. It’s a very easy place to scan and can be reasonably covered in just a couple minutes.

Access is off Lake St, either by going to the end of Shore Road or by the street on the other side of the baseball fields (Princeton or Hiawatha) and then pulling in to the boat launch. The Waltham Land Trust owns Smith Point, which is somewhere nearby, although I’m not entirely sure where.

About all you can do is stand and scan the water. A scope is almost a necessity as many of the ducks will be on the far shore. Herons are often found around any of the edges and there are often cormorants in season on the rocks towards the middle. Ducks are mostly dabblers, mergansers, and ring-necks with some ruddies and occasional others mixed in. Watch for raptors as well. Osprey are regular migrants and I’ve seen Merlin several times (including one on the ice one winter).

If you go to the end of Shore Road, there’s a little weedy spot worth checking. I had a Field Sparrow there one fall and have had other migrants that were only slightly less interesting. If you’re at the boat ramp, there’s a small wooded area and some other trees worth checking.

There’s often a few dragonflies around, although I’ve yet to find any unusual. Butterflies aren’t exciting along the edge.

In recent years, the pond has been dredged and cleaned. Although good in the long term, I’ve had far fewer ducks since that completed. The pond was also mentioned in a Bird Observer article (A Middlesex County Duck Hunt by Matt Pelikan in the October 1997 issue).


Saturday was the first of the BBC Pelagics to Atlantis Canyon. First of the year, and the first one that’s been run in June. I had quickly signed up with thoughts of Pterodromas but as it turned out, no such luck with that, although it was a very fun day.

I got picked up at about 1:45 and we were at the dock just before 3:30. The boat boarded and we were off by a little after 4. I managed to doze off for 45 minutes or so, another hour would have been nice.

As it got light, we could see one of the islands going by, followed by a flock of gulls, and then a sandbar with what appeared to be a large number of seals. Soon after, birds started appearing, beginning with a few Greater Shearwaters.

Greater Shearwater

Some Cory’s joined them and soon we had flocks on the water.

It soon rained a little bit, but I was under the overhang at the back and almost didn’t notice. The huge flocks of storm-petrels were noticeable though.

Shearwater flock

Shearwaters in the rain

Storm-Petrel Flock

Around 9, it began to get foggy and a lot of the boat started feeling the motion. I eventually went back inside, but not before getting a split second look at a jaeger disappearing into the fog. Inside, I dozed a bit and tried to avoid looking green (not sure how successful, although I did keep everything down).

After an hour or so of that, it began to clear and I went back out. Plenty more shearwaters and storm-petrels. A few Leach’s were called and I got some fairly decent views, although no pictures.

Around noon, I put together a sandwich and started to eat when a call of Dolphins came over the loudspeaker. I ran out and enjoyed a pod of about 40 Common (Saddleback) Dolphins but with the sandwich, I didn’t take photos.

Fortunately, I had finished by the time the Pilot Whales showed up. There were about 12 and they stayed beside the boat for quite some time.

Pilot Whale:

Pilot Whale

And not too long after that, we found a huge pod of dolphins that came over and investigated us. I really needed a much wider angled lens to get a good shot of the whole pod, but these will do.


More Dolphins

Jumping Dolphin

Also, see Christopher’s blog for some video of the dolphins.

We continued on, attempting to reach Nantucket Shoals, but found yet another huge pod of dolphins, this time loaded with shearwaters. I finally got some decent shots of Sooty and got my first photo of Manx of the day. There was also a funky looking jaeger that was called a Pomarine that I barely saw. Numbers of everything were spectacular.

Sooty Shearwater

Manx taking off

We then had to race back. We slowed down for some Grampus, which stayed distant. Somewhat fortunately it became foggy again, so we couldn’t stop for birds. We didn’t get in until almost 10:30 and it was midnight before I got home, a very long day.

See Rick’s full report. I missed the fin, minke, and other unidentified whales and dolphins, the saddlebags, and the flying fish, mahi mahi, and tuna but otherwise think I saw everything. I can’t say the turtle was a leatherback, but I did see a head.

Other people have started posting their pictures, I’d suggest starting with the Virtual Birder archives (start with June 29 and probably go into July). Also, check out the map Steve Mirick made of our route.

To close, here’s a selection of Cory’s Shearwaters. I was looking for a Scopoli’s and a couple of these seem to have lighter underwings. Remember that you can click on any photos on here to get a larger view.

Right one:

Cory's Shearwaters

Cory's Shearwater

Wings look fairly normal, but the bill seems slightly thin:

Cory's Shearwater

Typical borealis:

Cory's Shearwater

Place 1: Paine Estate

I’ll start the 100 places with one I know well. It’s the Paine Estate, also known as Stonehurst. Landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central Park and the Emerald Necklace fame), it’s mostly wooded (technically the Storer Conservation Land) with some fields as well.

There’s quite a few trails around the estate (maps are posted in several places and can be viewed here). The main one is the Bull Run Trail, which runs from the building itself to the high school parking lot. Most of the other trails are linked to the Bull Run in some way. It’s hard to get lost as you’re never too far from the Bull Run and it’s very obvious if you leave the estate.

One thing to note is that a lot of people walk dogs and not many follow leash laws. Fortunately, they tend to stay on the main paths and recent enforcement and new regulations has cut the problem somewhat. But stay on side paths and you should be ok.

I have a few preferred walks. One is to take the trail in the northeast corner of the parking lot up and left until it rejoins the Hobbes Trail that also starts in the parking lot. I then follow the Hobbes Trail to the vernal pool, taking the Hemlock Trail across. As the Hemlock Trail meets the Bull Run Trail, I’ll take Storer Path to the abandoned parking lot. After poking around there, I’ll work my way back towards the estate, staying to the right until I reach the field. That path can get a little wet in spring, but it’s usually passable. After wandering through the field, I head back, often cutting through the hemlock grove.

Other times I’ll head downhill from the parking lot on the Morrison Trail (southeast corner) and then follow the loop around at the bottom of the hill and then go back up the road. You can also take the uphill trail from the parking lot and then loop to the right and down the hill as well.

If I’m coming from the high school, I’ll follow the Bull Run trail and take one of the first two trails that run to the right. I’ll work my way along the edge and either rejoin the main trail or reach the old parking lot. I’ll often follow the Hobbes Trail on my way back.

The best birding is generally around the first route I described above (from the parking lot to the vernal pool to the old parking lot to the open field and around the building). However, things can be just about anywhere in the woods. I’ve had good luck right by the high school and and way down along the western edge (Storer Path).

Butterflies and dragonflies are best at the field to the west of the house, especially before it gets mowed early in the summer. The parking lot and surrounding area is also good. The middle of the woods is not, as expected, although several years running my first butterflies of the year have been between the abandoned parking lot and the stream. Jewelwings can be all over.

Bird highlights include Yellow-billed Cuckoos, which appeared to be nesting somewhere below the building last year, Indigo Buntings, many woodpeckers, and owls. I’ve had good luck hearing owls on Christmas bird counts, although I’ve yet to actually see one. However, my parents had a Great Horned on the count several years running.

Insect highlights include Indian Skippers, Painted Skimmers, and Ebony Jewelwings all over the place (may not be unusual but they’re so spectacular). I’m sure more time will find more good things.

My lists are on this website, available on the Paine Estate Nature page.


The parking lot is at the end of Gentleman’s Way in Waltham, which is off of Beaver St., right near the rotary. Follow up the hill and the lot is to the right. You can also park at Waltham High School. There’s almost always parking on the hill, even when school is in session.

Trails are fairly easy. One or two may be a bit rough and several get wet in spring. Most are marked handicap accessible, although I find very few of them actually are. Update: I figured out that the signs actually are indicating how accessible they are based on the angle of the line under the wheelchair. Most are therefore not terribly accessible, and I’m not so sure about the ones that are marked as flat.

The building itself is quite spectacular, it’s well worth arranging for a tour at some point.