Bushwhack for Berkshire birds
Fishermen are cautiously vague when it comes to sharing their favorite fishing holes -- but birders anxiously announce to other birding enthusiasts what they have seen, and exactly where and when.
The Berkshires offer a treasure of birds, some 165 nesting species across two river valleys, the Hoosic River in the north, draining the Taconic and Hoosac Mountain Ranges, and the Housatonic River, which begins in Central Berkshire and flows south to Long Island Sound.
The mountain ranges in northern Berkshire, said to be "island" extensions of the Green Mountains, contain the largest stands of spruce-fir and northern hardwoods in the Commonwealth.
The Mount Greylock Summit, the highest such "island," rises 3,491 feet above sea level and is the highest peak in Massachusetts.
It offers the only sub-alpine ecosystem in the state and one of the southernmost extensions of the boreal, or spruce-fir forest, normally associated with Canada.
The fir woods draw a concentration of such northern nesting species as red-breasted nuthatch, golden-crown kinglet, Swainson's thrush, yellow-rumped warbler, blackpoll warbler, white-throated sparrow, and dark-eyed junco.
The olive-sided flycatcher rarely nests elsewhere in the state, and red crossbill and pine siskin may be found here any month of the year.
Some 40 years ago the Bicknell's thrush nested near the summit. Many local birders still listen for it from late May through mid-July.
The Mount Greylock State Reservation covers more than 12,500 acres of upland habitat with many trails, waterfalls and incredible vistas. And the plaintive "Oh Sam Peabody, Peabody" whistle of the White-throated sparrow on a summer morning alone makes the drive to the summit worthwhile.
Along with Onota and Pontoosuc lakes during spring and autumn migration, where an exciting variety of waterfowl come to rest, the two properties owned by the Massachusetts Audubon Society are birding hotspots.
Birder Rene Laubach, of Becket, director of the Berkshire Sanctuaries in Lenox, has been active for 50 years, 28 in the Berkshires. He and Lorraine Schultz, of Lenox, a 40-year birder, both recommend Canoe Meadows in Pittsfield. The 262-acre lowland property boasts 194 bird species and 83 different confirmed nesting species.
In Lenox, the larger Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary has seven miles of trails through heavy woods, open meadows and active beaver ponds. Birders have recorded 164 different bird species and 81 nesting species here.
In late summer, the Cove area along Center Street, off Route 20 in Lee, attracts shorebirds including greater yellow legs and solitary sandpiper, great blue and green herons and great egret.
Park between the cove and small ponds along the roadside to access this area. While there, search the Housatonic River for merganser, bald eagle and osprey.
Farther south, Smiley's Mill Pond -- a.k.a. Mill Pond, or Egremont Pond in South Egremont -- often offers the birder more than one surprise.
Look for wood duck, gadwall, American wigeon, ring-necked duck, hooded and common mergansers.
Rarities like the white-fronted goose and American coot have visited, while pied-billed grebe and moorhen have nested.
This is a definite stop if heading to Mount Everett State Reservation, Bash Bish Falls State Park, or Mount Washington Area, all decent birding destinations.
Finally, the 300-acre Bartholomew's Cobble preserve is according to many, the premier birding area, the place to expect the unexpected. With the Housatonic River flowing by, an oxbow pond and floodplain forest, it is no surprise that the Cobble has seen 237 species recorded here and 103 nesting.
Everyone interviewed for this article listed the Cobble as their favorite South County birding destination, including naturalist Rene Wendell, who has been birding all his life but got serious when he began working at the Cobble 10 years ago.
The Trustees of Reservations manges the fields here for grassland birds, and a variety of wooded habitats including mixed, hardwood and conifer forest are home to many more species.
Birding north to south in the Berkshires
Leslie Reed-Evans, of Williamstown, who has been birding for 45 years -- and bought her first pair of binoculars with S & H Green Stamps -- suggested North County favorite places: Greylock Glen in Adams, Notch Road Reservoir in North Adams, and in Williamstown, Eph's Pond and Cole Field.
Reed-Evans also enjoys the birding outside her office door on Sheep Hill, a 50-acre former dairy farm. Reed-Evans is executive director of the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation, at at WRLF's Sheep Hill property she knows of 117 species of birds recorded and 35 confirmed nesting species, including the now-uncommon kestrel. Sheep Hill is an especially kid-friendly area with a "nature cabin" full of surprises.
Pittsfield's 237-acre Springside Park is noted for springs and streams that attract a variety of birds, especially during migration.
Enter at the main entrance on Route 7 (North Street) or the Benedict Road at Doyle Memorial Park, where you follow the service road.
In mid-September, look for migrating hawks from the vista over the golf course.
Housatonic Wildlife Management Area
The Housatonic Wildlife Management Area in Pittsfield, Lenox and Lee, runs along the Housatonic River. Either drive, walk, canoe or kayak; each offers different opportunities for enjoying the bird life of the river, floodplain, swamps, marshes, northern hardwood forests, and agricultural lands along this 850-acre Housatonic River corridor.
Getting there ...
What: Mount Greylock
Where: The summit may be reached from the north taking Route 2 to Notch Road in North Adams or from the south taking Route 7 to Rockwell Road in Lanesborough.
Several turnoffs give ample opportunity to stop and enjoy the views, plant, and bird life.
What: Sheep Hill
Where: The entrance is on Cold Spring Road, Route 7, about 1.2 miles south of Williamstown Center.
What: Canoe Meadows
Where: Holmes Road, Pittsfield
From Route 7 south of Pittsfield, near the Lenox town line, turn right onto Holmes Road at the traffic light and follow it 2.7 miles to the sanctuary entrance on the right.
What: Pleasant Valley Sanctuary, a Mass Audubon property with seven miles of trails
Where: West Dugway Road, Lenox.
From Route 7 south, approaching central Lenox, watch for the Audubon sign at the right turn onto West Dugway Road and follow the road 1.6 miles west to the parking area on the right.
What: Housatonic Wildlife Management Area
Where: From Route 7 south of Pittsfield, take New Lenox Road (just south of Holmes Road, the turn for Canoe Meadows), and continue through East Street, across the railroad tracks. On left find parking for WMA; on the right lies parking for the canoe/kayak launch.
What: Cove Area
Where: Take Route 20 to downtown Lee. Turn onto Center Street just south of the railroad tracks, drive about 0.3 mile, pull off the pavement near the river and walk back.
What: Smiley's Pond
Where: Parking pull-offs on Route 41 and Mount Washington Road. From Route 7 in Great Barrington, take Routes 41 and 23 (south-west) through the village of South Egremont. Continue and park on roadside turn-offs either on Route 41 or on Route 23.
What: Bartholomew's Cobble
From Route 7 south in Sheffield, turn right onto Route 7A and follow for 0.5 miles. Turn right onto Rannapo Road and follow for 1.5 miles. Turn right onto Weatogue Road to find the entrance and parking on the left.
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