Baker’s Pond at Daniel Boone Park. All photographs by the author.
I first discovered Daniel Boone Park as a young child when my friends and I would fish at Baker’s Pond. Here we caught tiny sunfish and, if we were lucky, the massive chain pickerel that we dubbed “King of the Pond.” Though at this time I was interested in birds, I didn’t keep any serious records besides some drawings in a spiral notebook. I do remember seeing the common birds while fishing: the crying catbirds, the ever-present Red-tailed Hawk, and even a Great Egret—a bird I wouldn’t see at the park for another five years! Back then, Boone was just a mediocre fishing destination to me.
What eventually revealed the magic of this little park was a birding trip with my father one Sunday evening in May 2012. We walked around the park in the last hour before sunset, and the sun’s golden rays lit everything in such wonderful light. Dozens upon dozens of red admiral butterflies fled from my footsteps on the trail, and the birds were out in full force.
Within the span of just a few minutes, I had laid my eyes on a brilliant male Scarlet Tanager, two Rose-breasted Grosbeaks trying to outsing one another, thrushes crossing the trail this way and that, and a White-crowned Sparrow that foraged in the grass exactly where I used to fish in previous years. It was this visit that turned Daniel Boone Park from a fishing getaway to a top birding hotspot.
After that exciting May visit, I didn’t bird the park much until the spring of 2015 when I realized that birding only on the weekends just wouldn’t cut it. I began to rise before the sun on school days in May and make the five-minute walk from my house to Boone in order to take advantage of the spring migration, oftentimes with my friend Nate Dubrow. The park is perfect for intercepting migrants on their way north: a deciduous woodland with a solid water source, all atop a large hill. I began to bird there so much before school that my eyes often sagged with fatigue as I sat in class wishing I had more time to spend at Boone. One week I birded there five mornings in a row. It was this consistent repetition of birding the same spot that taught me how valuable patch birding is.
Gray Catbird, probably the most ubiquitous bird in spring and summer at the park.
The obvious plus about regular patch birding is the heightened chance of rarities. In that consecutive five-day span, Nate Dubrow and I were able to find a Hooded Warbler one day and a Prothonotary Warbler the next, both rare prizes around here. In 2015, I stumbled across a singing Acadian Flycatcher right by the parking area and just this September, Nate ran into a Connecticut Warbler along Baker’s Pond. But how do we have such luck with these rarities at such an insignificant location? It isn’t so much a matter of luck, but rather a matter of putting in the hours. The amount of time spent not seeing rarities largely trumps the amount of time in which rarities are seen. By heading out there every morning, the probability of crossing paths with a rarity greatly increases.
Yet the real treat about birding a patch so regularly is all the knowledge you learn about the species within it. Through the course of my visits, I’ve learned when and where in the park to expect which species. Swainson’s Thrush? Check the side trail off of the Baker’s Pond loop in mid- to late-May. Common Nighthawk? Watch the cemetery skies at dusk and listen for their nasal “peent!” call. Still need a Tennessee or Bay-breasted Warbler? Make a visit to the western edge of Baker’s Pond and check the mature oaks, for many individuals of both species have been seen there. Another interesting aspect of patch birding for me is noticing the fluctuations in populations over the course of the seasons. Take, for example, one of the most abundant species in the park, the Gray Catbird. On a good migration day in May, I’ll see 15 or more on a trip to the park, but during the breeding months I tend to count eight or nine birds on my visits. Come October and November, only the stragglers remain and I’m lucky to see one.
As I learn more and more about this place, I feel the need to bird the lesser known spots of the park more extensively. The little break in the trees on the power line cut that gives a small view of the salt marsh continuously tempts me to bring a scope and look for egrets and other marsh birds. The bordering cemetery, with its sprawling view of the sky, seems to be a good place to watch for raptors even though I haven’t seemed to time it right yet. This just goes to show that even in a small park like Boone, there will continue to be new places to explore and, most importantly, new birds to see.
Miles Brengle is a senior at Ipswich High School and birds primarily around Essex County, spending most of his time at Parker River NWR or at his local patch, Daniel Boone Park in Ipswich.