Birding the Berks
Our county is filled with cool birds, and cool places to see them
A Philadelphia vireo at Springside Park in Pittsfield is among 300 avian species that have been identified in the Berkshires.
Photos Joe Oliverio
On a crisp morning that feels like both the last day of summer and the first day of fall, three of us arrive at Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary. My friend, Amber, my son, Jay, and I begin our bird walk. Within a minute, a dark, chicken-sized bird erupts from the edge of a pond, weaves in front of us, and lands unsteadily in a tree 50 feet away. “Green heron!” calls Amber. We focus our binoculars, and sure enough, that’s what it is. (Pictured below.)
A half-hour later, the list of birds we’ve seen includes spotted sandpiper, killdeer, eastern kingbird, red-tailed hawk, common raven, chimney swift, wood thrush, eastern phoebe, song sparrow, Philadelphia vireo, and cedar waxwing—all just minutes away from busy downtown Pittsfield.
The Berkshires may be best known for Tanglewood, film festivals, and world-class museums, but it’s also a fantastic place to look for birds. The county’s diversity of landscapes, with everything from rivers and lakes to mountains and farmland, provides an extensive variety of habitats for our local birdlife. Well over 300 species of birds have been seen here.
As for places to look for them, there’s also no shortage. Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary, where we came today, a mile from Pittsfield’s center, comes complete with wetlands, meadows, woods, and a series of well-maintained trails where a birdwatcher can find everything from woodpeckers to warblers to waterfowl. One of three Mass Audubon sanctuaries found in the Berkshires (the others being Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox and Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Sheffield), Canoe Meadows is a terrific birding destination.
Bartholomew’s Cobble in Ashley Falls is regarded by many local birders as the place to go birding in the Berkshires. Managed by The Trustees of Reservations, the Cobble offers hillsides from which you may spot a bald eagle, forests filled with woodland birds, and a lively bird-feeding station. Further, Bartholomew’s uniquely alkaline soil supports an amazing array of spring flowers and features one of North America’s greatest diversities of ferns.
A drive to the spruce-fir forest located atop Mount Greylock in the Mount Greylock State Reservation in Adams makes for an exciting birding experience. In summer, the woods here are filled with the sounds of juncos, white-throated sparrows, warblers, and thrushes that breed nowhere else in Massachusetts. And the expansive view of five states that can be seen from the summit is unforgettable.
Of course there are many other places to go birding as well. Linear Park in Williamstown, Springside Park in Pittsfield, and Kennedy Park in Lenox are perfect places for a bird walk. In October, Monument Mountain in Great Barrington, Berry Pond in the Pittsfield State Forest, and Mount Everett in Mount Washington offer opportunities to view migrating hawks. Pittsfield’s Onota and Pontoosuc lakes and the Stockbridge Bowl are home to waterfowl in the fall and early winter. More ambitious bird-seekers may want to head to the Tyringham Cobble, the October Mountain State Forest in Lee, or the remote Eugene D. Moran Wildlife Management Area in Windsor.
While the point of birdwatching is not necessarily to find rare species, any birding outing may turn up something unusual. For example, in 2011 a white-tailed tropicbird—a species more associated with Bermuda than the Berkshires—showed up on Onota Lake in Pittsfield during Hurricane Irene. Snowy owls are unusual here, but any winter drive through the Berkshires may turn one up. And just this past August, a Baird’s sandpiper, which hadn’t been seen in the Berkshires since 1976, turned up on the shore of Williamstown Reservoir. The potential of such sightings adds excitement to any outing.
There’s even a Berkshire-based bird club—the Hoffmann Bird Club, named after Ralph Hoffman, born in Stockbridge in 1870 and a forefather of Berkshires birdwatching. The Hoffmann Bird Club holds regular meetings and field trips that are open to the public. (See hoffmannbirdclub.org for information and a schedule of field trips.)
The Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary offers a variety of bird-related classes for adults and children, and the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health has begun offering a class entitled “Birding and Mindfulness,” in collaboration with Mass Audubon. I recommend The Sibley Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America as a reference when bird watching.
If nothing else, turning yourself over to the birds for a day—even if you don’t see a lot of them—is guaranteed to give you a new perspective on the Berkshires and help you find places you’ll want to go back to again and again.
Bird It (Pictured: a ring-necked duck and a redhead at Cheshire Lake.)
Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary
OCT 15 @ 11:30 AM-1 PM, Bird walk led by Orion Magazine editor-in-chief Chip Blake and Mass Audubon’s Berkshire Sanctuaries director Becky Cushing.
Followed by Berkshire Magazine/Art in the Barn Opening Reception at 1-3 PM, Mass Audubon’s annual photo contest winners exhibit. Free, open to all.
OCT 22 @ 7 to 11 AM, Birding the Berkshires: Waterfowl Migration.
Registration at massaudubon.org.
Open year-round, hours vary by season. Admission: $5 per adult, $1 per child, parking extra; free to members of The Trustees of Reservations.
Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary
Open 7 AM to dusk, year-round. Admission is free (though donations to Mass Audubon are encouraged).
Mount Greylock State Reservation
Visitor Center in Lanesborough. Summit road closes NOV 1. mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks, 413-499-4262.
Recommended companion: The Sibley Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North Americaeturemp ernatiis eniendi psandip suntur