Birding in the Nashua River Watershed
According to a recent national poll, one of the top five hobbies of Americans is bird watching. The Nashua River watershed, with its diverse, high quality habitats within a relatively small area, is a very good region to watch birds all year round. Habitats within the watershed range from pockets of northern hardwood – conifer forests in the hills of Ashby and Townsend, to freshwater marshlands in the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge. The most common habitats in the watershed, including mixed pine-oak forests, overgrown hay fields, and the ‘open forest’ of older suburban areas, feature a diversity of species that can thrill and challenge birders of all stripes.
The eastern hardwood forests are home to some of North America’s most brilliantly colored bird species-- the neo-tropical migrants-- which include many types of warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and birds such as the Scarlet Tanager and Baltimore Oriole. These bird species nest in our eastern forests and then head to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America for the winter months. One of the thrills of seeing these birds is the knowledge that they migrate over such large distances.
The greatest diversity of species can be seen during the spring and fall migration periods. The spring migration starts in March with the arrival of such birds as Red-winged Blackbirds, grackles, robins, and Eastern Bluebirds. April brings more species, including Chimney Swifts and Tree and Barn Swallows. Early to mid-May is the peak of the spring migration period, when the majority of neo-tropical species arrive at our latitude, including many that breed further north in the spruce-fir forest of the White Mountains, northern Maine and Canada. May is the only time to see many of these species in their bright breeding plumage.
Fall migration gets underway in mid-August, when many of the neo-tropical migrants leave in what we would consider late-summer in order to get a head start on their long journeys to the tropics. One of the highlights of the fall migration is the annual flight of many hawk species, including Broad-winged and Sharp-shinned Hawks, over our larger hills and mountains (including Mount Wachusett and Mount Watatic). On peak days in mid-September, it is often possible to see many thousands of hawks soaring in the thermals over these high points of the watershed. Fall birding can be very challenging as many of the species molt into more subdued plumage, tend to sing and call much less, and are often seen at a distance that requires powerful binoculars or scopes.
The majority of summer resident birds have left by mid-October, leaving behind the familiar year-round resident species such as chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, cardinals, and woodpeckers. In addition to these year-round residents, many far northern species come out of Canada to spend the winter in our relatively warm and food rich environs. These include Tree Sparrows, Northern Juncos, Snow Buntings, Snowy Owls, Evening Grosbeaks, and Bohemian Waxwings.
No matter the season, there are always interesting birds to see and pursue in the watershed. If you are a beginner or casual birder, one of the best ways to expand your birding skills is to attend a bird walk led by more experienced birders. The Nashua River Watershed Association organizes birding trips. Be sure to check our Upcoming Programs for bird walks and presentations, and sign-up for our enews for our monthly enewsletter for our latest news and advance notice of our programs. And visit our Featured Photo Gallery and Nature Photo Gallery to see bird photos submitted by local birders.