February 3, 2011

Where to bird watch in New England this weekend – Plum Island

The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) encompasses dune beach, salt marsh, pitch pine forest and river estuary. Parker River NWR is located on Plum Island east of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Parker River NWR itself is affectionately known as Plum Island though it occupies roughly ¾ of the entire island leaving the most northerly portion open to development, beach parking, and a few summer clam shacks. Plum Island is connected to the mainland by the small chain bridge on “Plum Island Turnpike” (though there are no tolls and few cars). It is separated from the contiguous United States by three bodies of water: the mouth of the Merrimack River to the North, the smaller Parker River to the west and south, and most obviously, the Atlantic Ocean to the East. From the northern tip of Plum Island one can see Salisbury Beach State Reservation and New Hampshire in the distance and from the south tip of the Island Ipswich Bay and Cape Ann. This long barrier island throngs with coconut perfumed bodies in the summer, breeding Piping plovers, and teaming parking lots. In the non-beach months however, Plum Island is known for its tremendous bird life. A stop off for migrating ducks, shore birds, raptors, swallows, and songbirds in the spring and fall it then turns into a frozen tundra appealing to northerly birds like Rough-legged hawks, Snowy owls, longspurs and Snow buntings. From the ocean overlooks the winter also turns up numerous sea ducks, loons, alcids and grebes.

Tom Wetmore’s website, Recent Bird Sightings from Plum Island is the most updated, accurate list of bird sightings and will give you a good sense of what to look for. Find the official map of Parker River NWR here or for other locations near by view this map I created. Though the Snowy owls have not, as of yet, shown up at Plum there are still plenty of ducks, hawks, and winter variants to keep the snow bound birder happy.

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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