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Birding Plum Island and Vicinity

data managed and provided by Mass Audubon

Good for waterfowl.

Its a big swamp and marsh complex. Rusty Blackbirds and rails have been found here.

This is a back-road route that provides more sightings on the way to the state reservation.

Go here to check Emerson Rocks when the beach to the north is closed for the summer breeding season. The tide pools among the rocks here are small but filled with life, and the area is great for wintering ocean birds. A colony of Bank Swallows forms on the eastward slope of the hill in spring.

The blind this path leads to can be the best place from which to search the pool, particularly in the morning when the light is coming from behind you. Crossbills and Red-breasted Nuthatches can be found in winter, and this is the best place in the region for shorebirds in August and September.

The boat ramp where people find rare gulls and shorebirds. The Ross's Gull found in 1975 was a huge story that let the nation know that birding wasn't just for kooks. The flats are exposed when the tide is below 1.5'.

A good river overlook for winter ducks and possibly eagles.

Sometimes lots of waterfowl and sometimes rare ones.

A private home, but also point of reference for birds on the flats. Some parking along the road near here yields access.

Check in migration and in the winter for ducks, grebes, and waders. Sometimes offers passerines in the thickets.

Great spot for wintering Snowy Owls and ground birds. Popular swimming spot, expensive parking. Run by The Trustees of Reservations.

The road dead-ends here, but walk the old cart paths to the left or right to find warblers, thrushes, flycatchers, vireos, and ducks in season. Can be very wet.

The field here is maintained for grassland birds such as Bobolinks. Geese, including uncommon or rare ones, rest and forage here on occasion.

The downstream side of this island is an Amesbury town park. Check for ducks, Great Cormorants, and Bald Eagles in winter.

See Parking lot seven.

Get all the way off the road. Shorebirds are pushed closer as the tide covers the flats.

This Black Gum Swamp, a rare habitat, is a special place in the overall Hellcat area. Find a rare warbler, or just sit and wait while you imagine one.

This is the mecca of birding on the island, and no trip is complete without a stop here. The boardwalks pass through maritime forest, Black Gum swamp, marsh, and dunes. These are habitats for many migrants, sometimes in spectacular numbers. The dike out to the observation platform is great for viewing waterfowl or shorebirds in the pools, especially Bill Forward Pool to the south. The dike itself is good for winter birds like Snowy and Short-eared Owls, buntings, larks, and longspurs. Ludlow Griscom, who taught Roger Tory Peterson about "Field Marks" is memorialized on a plaque in the dunes.

You can walk this old paved road looking for Scarlet Tanagers, Pine Warblers, Barred Owls, waterfowl, and many more birds. Part of the Crane Pond WMA.

Walk past the gate on the old paved road to get great views of the swamp and its birdlife.

Great views of the tidal flats.

This trail parallels I-95 between Hale St and Rt. 113, so it is not great for birding by ear, but can hold some interesting birds year-round.

Wonderful circular route that is great for spring migrants and breeding species including Indigo Buntings, Chestnut-sided Warblers and other birds of edges, disturbed habitats, and secondary forest. Be mindful of hunting seasons.

Good for waterfowl. Ibises and Egrets come here too at high tide. One of the easiest spots to see Saltmarsh Sparrows in season.

In late summer, fledged and adult night herons of both species roosted here in 2016. Don't disturb sport camps or games, but look from the back of the ball field.

Northern Harrier Central! Bobolinks will use this area until the shrubs take over and push them out. Rough-legged Hawks sometimes winter here.

These jetties attract Purple Sandpipers and Great Cormorants in the winter. Scoters and other seabirds hang out at the ends of the jetties and along the beach in winter.

This is a favorite place to wait for Short-eared Owls at dusk in winter, but a good spot any time for water birds in the pool and pannes, and for raptors over North Field. Otters have been spotted in the pool, which has hosted beavers at the south end near the dike at Hellcat.

Good for quiet walks in spring for warblers.

Lovely walks take you to commanding views of the northern parts of the Great Marsh. Birds more common inland and at higher elevations, such as thrushes, creepers, and Winter Wren, are found here.

Information about Parker River NWR here.

There are wonderful exhibits on the salt marsh and barrier Island habitats in this beautiful visitor center. Restrooms, including a bathroom open 24/7 to the left of the front door.

Check here for Saltmarsh Sparrows in breeding season. Look across the marsh for nesting ospreys on the platform.

The parking lot and this platform are great places to see raptors migrating in spring and fall. The platform is good in winter for scanning the dunes for Snowy Owls, Snow Buntings and Horned Larks, and for searching the sea for all manner of wintering and migrating seabirds. You can sometimes see nesting Piping Plovers and Least Terns on the beach to the south from April 1 through July, when the beach is closed for these endangered species.

Heaven! Blue-winged Warblers once were common here, and are still nesting in small numbers. Rails, cuckoos, orioles, Yellow-throated Vireo.

These are salt pannes that host interesting shorebirds and waders in migration. Wilson's Phalaropes are reported here every spring, and the marsh area in the vicinity is a good spot for Glossy Ibises and the occasional White-faced Ibis.

Bobolinks, Wild Turkey, Savannah Sparrow, good views of the south end of the dike and Bill Forward Pool.

Great views of nesting osprey in season.

The "Pines", as you will hear this area called, often hosts a different mix of species in migration. Great Horned Owls have nested and roosted here. Some conifer-dependent species winter and nest here.

The airport attracts grassland birds and sometimes upland shorebirds during migration.

A big colony of Purple Martins is maintained here every summer.

The North End of Plum Island is great in winter for sheltering seabirds such as eiders, scoters, loons, grebes, and others. In the summer, Piping Plovers nest in the low dune areas just to the east of this waypoint. Terns and gulls pass through the mouth of the river on their way between the estuary and the sea.

Sue McGrath maintains this colony diligently. Bathrooms are here too!

This un-staffed Wildlife Sanctuary is a collaboration between Mass Audubon and Essex County Greenbelt. Trails allow you to explore the beautiful islands that dot the inland side of the Great Marsh. A large field full of forbs (non-woody, not-grass plants) is a good place to look for insect pollinators.

Check here for Glossy Ibises during spring migration.

Cliff Swallows nest under this bridge on the north end and there was a Peregrine Falcon nest there in 2017. Great harbor views in the winter.

Good spot for waterfowl in season.

In winter, Red and White-winged Crossbills may be found here. Horned Larks and Snow Buntings are occasionally found in the campground, along the beach, or in parking lots.

In winter, gulls and ground birds are found in these lots, and Snowy Owls show up on the marsh and dunes. Rocky coast birds are found on and around the jetties. In summer, this is crowded with campers and beach-goers. Restrooms available.

Sandy Point is state land managed by DCR. The beach is accessible in summer, and there have been many pairs of Piping Plover nests behind the string fences, which are maintained by Mass Audubon staff from the Coastal Waterbird Program. In many years past, Least Terns have nested here, but in 2017 the colony was washed out by a Memorial Day storm; no terns returned to nest. The beach around to the west (right from the path) is a good place to look for loitering and feeding terns and shorebirds.

This parking lot fills with beach-goers in summer, but is accessible at other seasons and early or later in the day during summer.

Look for snipes, ducks, or anything that likes a wet meadow during spring migration. Flocks of swallows, including Cliff Swallow, weave a net of insectivory as they pass through.

Herds of Harbor Seals arrive at these rocks as the tide ebbs. When the water goes down they haul out for lengthy periods of sunning and other behaviors. Check these rocks in winter for eiders, Red-breasted Mergansers and grebes.

Scan this area for marsh birds and shorebirds on your way south. Check the remnants of wooden staddles for raptors, including Gyrfalcon in the winter.

Fields here are great in the fall for sparrows, pipits, Horned Larks, etc. Accessible via Little's Lane or by a foot path via Plum Island Airfield.

Parker River NWR parking lot for access to Nelson's Island. Island open to birding only on Sunday. View salt marsh and pannes at any time of the year. Road to Nelson's Island floods at high tide.

Many ducks are found here in winter when the water is open. When the water is low, shorebirds will use the flats to forage at high tide.

Ducks and other waterfowl shelter here in the fall, winter, and spring.

Salt pannes are shallow pools started by large rafts of wrack which kill the marsh grass. They fill with rainwater, and at the highest tides with salt water. Salinity varies widely, selecting for the Mummichog, a small plump fish that many waders and terns feed on. Least Terns come here from nests on the beach to forage for fish. If the panne dries up it provides a high tide feeding area for migrating shorebirds. The refuge is experimenting with altering the water levels in this large panne, which attracts many waterfowl in winter when the water is deeper. You must stay with your vehicle in this parking area.

The tall trees along this section of road are great for warblers and other migrants every spring. Hermit Thrushes winter in these woods some years, and will flash in front of your car as you slowly pass through.

The few trees on the marsh side of the buildings can host rarities of many types, but the area is one of the best for unusual sparrows and nesting barn swallows. Search the North Field south of this lot for all kinds of things, from Rough-legged Hawks to Bobolinks.

Wet meadows here can be filled with snipes and other migrating shorebirds in spring.

When fields are wet in spring, shorebirds show up here.