A boardwalk through the marshes at Plum Island

A boardwalk through the marshes at Plum Island


I recently spent an afternoon birding at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island. For an inland person like me, it’s a great place to see a wide variety of shorebirds in a relatively small space. Driving south along the access road there are a number of turnouts, many with short trails leading to good viewing areas.

It was a kind of spur-of-the moment decision. My son and daughter-in-law live in Newburyport and I was up visiting when Ben suggested we go birding. I was a bit surprised because he’s spent the first 30 years of his life steadfastly disinterested in birding. He started telling me all the species he’d seen so far, and he showed me the new Audubon app on his smartphone.

With that kind of enthusiasm, who am I to say no?

Maryam was out in Colorado working on her Ph.D., so it was just the two of us. Of course we picked the middle of a day during our recent heat wave, not the optimum conditions for birding. Undeterred, we plunged on. Most of the beach was closed off because the piping plovers were nesting. Oh well. So we decided to explore the marshes along the west side of the island.

At our first stop there wasn’t a lot of activity, a couple of gulls, Canada geese and mallards. I see plenty of them back home. We stopped at the Hellcat area, reputed to be a hotspot for birding. Not today. Walking along the dune trail we stopped to get a better look at a bird that was flitting from tree to tree fairly close to us. We trained our binoculars on it hoping to get a good look at something exotic.

A gray catbird. I’ve got a couple of them hanging out in my backyard. We stopped at another lookout.  More mallards and a few red-wing blackbirds. The fields behind my house are full of them. Off in the distance we did see a few snowy egrets. That was good.

Finally, walking back towards the parking area, a robin hopped ahead of us. Great.

It didn’t matter that it wasn’t a success as a birding expedition, that was really secondary. It was just great to be out with my son in such a beautiful setting.