Silver Lake: Athol
Located near downtown Athol, this glacial kettlehole pond is an excellent place to watch for resident and migrating waterfowl. Mallard Ducks are common through the summer and are joined by Hooded Mergansers, Wood Ducks and an occasional specialty like Long-tailed Duck . While you’re there look for Great Blue and Green Herons, Belted Kingfisher, Eastern Kingbird and Eastern Phoebe. The area is excellent for car birding as a road circles the edge of the pond; about 2/3 of it is paved and open for public vehicles.
Branch Bridge: Athol – New Salem
The long causeway is over the “branch” of the Millers River which now makes up the Lake Rohunta complex. Lake Rohunta has sections named Eagleville and Partridgeville. Branch Bridge is located between White Pond Road in South Athol and Blackington Road in New Salem. From mid-March through late spring, and again in the fall, the area is visited by flocks of waterfowl. This is the local “best” waterfowl spot in the North Quabbin. Ring-necked ducks can number in the hundreds and are joined by Lesser and Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Hooded and Common Mergansers, Bufflehead and Green-winged Teal. The unpaved causeway is good for car or wheelchair birding.
Barton’s Cove: Gill – Turners Falls
Described in the “Birdwatchers Guide to Western Mass,” this Valley birding hotspot is easily viewed from two locations. The first is off Route 2 between the DCR Public Boat Ramp (also a good viewing spot) and the Turners Falls Bridge. By exploring the neighborhood adjacent to the river you will easily find quiet streets and be able to see resting waterfowl during the spring and fall migration. Large numbers of Mallards, Black Ducks and Canada Geese are joined by Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Mute Swans, Common and Hooded Mergansers. In winter large flocks of gulls gather on the ice and the savvy observer may find among the Herring, Great Black-backed, and Ring-billed Gulls such specialties as Iceland, Glaucous, or Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The streets and boat ramp are good for both car and wheelchair birding.
A special treat each spring is the return of the nesting Bald Eagles. A spotting scope is helpful in observing the birds across the cove. A stop at the Silvio Conte National Wildlife Refuge Discovery Center (just over the Turners Falls Bridge from Route 2) will allow you to view the Eagles’ nest on closed-circuit TV, and the Center’s accessible exhibits are not to be missed.
An additional stop at the Turners Falls Rod and Gun Club (watch for sign on left as you head for the airport from the Discovery Center) allows a view of a different section of the river and in addition to the species mentioned above is one of the best places to view Canvasback Ducks in migration. A Red-headed Woodpecker once spent several months there.
Quabbin Reservoir: New Salem – Petersham – Hardwick
Several of the many gates giving access to the reservoir are open for bicycling, and suitable for wheelchair birding. There is room for wheelchairs to get around the locked gates. Best birding gates are #29, #31, #35, #40, and #43. These are rich in wildlife from spring through fall, but are especially good for migrating Warblers, Thrushes, Flycatchers, Vireos, and other songbirds in April and May. At #35 ravens have nested for several years. If you can get as far as the open water of the reservoir (often half a mile or more), Common Loons, Horned Grebes, Scoters and Bald Eagles can be seen.
Other Accessible Sites
Several other accessible birding sites, for which directions and descriptions can be found in the “Birdwatchers Guide to Western Mass,” include the “Canal” at Turners Falls, The University of Massachusetts Campus Pond in Amherst, and Quabbin Park in Belchertown.