Joel scopes the southern horizon on a spring sky watch session. Photograph by the author.
On a sunny afternoon in April 2011, we four Eckerson brothers—Jonathan (then 12), Matt (then 10), Joel (then 9), and I, Andy, (then 11)—began documenting the bird species within our local patch, Oak Top. With four sets of eyes and ears almost always present for several years, we have documented a variety of exceptional records and sightings at Oak Top. The "Oak" is derived from the abundance of oak trees on the property and the "Top" is derived from an elevated vantage point that overlooks the private farm portion of the property. Oak Top is a combination of three parcels in Dighton, Massachusetts: our home, a private cattle farm, and a section of town property. The combination of these three parcels covers over 150 acres of land with several different habitats.
This particular area of southeastern Massachusetts is home to vast hardwood swamps, lush deciduous forests, stands of eastern white pine, and a variety of microhabitats that fill in the rest of the landscape. Oak Top is blanketed by deciduous trees, a small stand of conifers, and a few farm fields. The portion of Oak Top that is town land is a third-growth hardwood forest, made up of mainly northern red oak and white oak trees. This portion was burned over in a 1986 brush fire. Our property hosts an eastern white pine stand covering just over 10 acres. It also has a small field that is bordered by a patch of young deciduous trees. The private farm consists of hay fields, a few small ponds, and an overgrown slough area. The private farm also has a manure pile area that has small pools seasonally.
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