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Marion Larson

Marion Larson

Outreach Coordinator, MassWildlife

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Birding at Winthrop Beach In January, my husband and I went on a birding exploration that took us to urban birding “hotspots” just north of Boston. Believe it or not, there are some wonderful urban locations where you can see a wide variety of birds. After taking the MassPike to Boston, zipping past Logan Airport we exited in East Boston which led us to Belle Isle Marsh, a property owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

We were the only people walking along the marsh and over a boardwalk with a viewing platform—we saw a flock of two dozen tree sparrows, four red tail hawks, and a woodpecker, heard a chickadee, and watched some ducks and Canada geese in the open water. This is a very convenient spot with the MBTA Blue Line Suffolk Downs T Station almost directly across the street! 

Winthrop was our next destination. With the scope set up on a side street, we watched waterbirds such as eiders, gulls, and mergansers floating in the water and the jets (birders sometimes call them gas hawks!) landing at Logan Airport on the opposite shore. At Winthrop Beach, on the seawall, we saw more gulls, brant geese and a lot more eiders and buffleheads bobbing up and down in the waves. The third spot was Heath Park, an old fortified location owned by the town. We had a spectacular view of Lynn Harbor and Nahant—the water birds were farther away, but sparrows and chickadees flitted about in the underbrush nearby.

View of Belle Isle Marsh from boardwalk

The next stop was Revere Beach, another DCR property. The most interesting sight here was the results of the post-Christmas Blizzard that hit the coast. The tidal wrack line was littered with sea clams, moon snails, and razor clams and gulls were having a field day picking among the open clams. The beach pavilions, filled with drifted snow, provide an old-fashioned feel to the beach. I tried to find the DCR Passport Box to stamp my booklet, but it must have been buried in the snow!

Gulls among the washed up clams Revere Beach Our final area of exploration was Nahant—a community on what is essentially an island connected to the mainland by a causeway. Houses were plastered with snow and ice, though it all was falling off in the unseasonably warm temperatures. Eiders and buffleheads dominated the coastal waters and coves, with a couple of diving grebes and some mergansers and mallards basking on shorelines. We also checked on “The Thicket” a small 4-acre property of red maples and thick tangled shrubbery owned by MassAudubon —but the parking area was completely filled with snow and we didn’t have snowshoes with us! Our bird finding guide says this area is especially good for seeing spring migrating songbirds.

This trip is just one example of the ample urban birding opportunities available. A great source of birding information and locations is the MassBird website. Here you can link to local bird clubs, follow blogs and newsletters with information on birding locations and recent bird sightings. Since I live in Worcester County, the Forbush Bird Club and the Athol Bird and Nature Club sites we follow.

There are MassAudubon Society urban sanctuaries in Boston, Attleboro, and Worcester. Also in the Boston area are the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, Boston Harbor Islands, the Boston Public Garden, the Boston Common and The Fens. In Cambridge, there is Mt. Auburn Cemetery or Fresh Pond.  

Anyone else know of about urban hot spots for birds?

Below are some other birding resources.

Mass Audubon statewide bird sightings information 

The Essex County Birding Trail

Birding Guidebooks

  • A Birder's Guide to Eastern Massachusetts (American Birding Association bird-finding guide) published by the Bird Observer
  • Bird Finding Guide to Western Massachusetts Available at local bookstores and some Audubon shops

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