Western Mass, part two:
This is the second of a two-part column about a birding trip my wife and I took to Western Massachusetts. In last week’s piece I talked about birding Quabbin Reservoir’s massive (and often ignored) wilderness area. When I left off, we had just reached the top of Massachusetts’ tallest mountain, Mount Greylock. There are several hiking trails that lead to the summit, but we opted to drive up the mountain because we were short on time…plus we’re lazy.
After we parked at the summit we headed over to the famed Bascom Lodge. The Civilian Conservation Corps built this old-world manor in the 1930s. It is constructed of local stone and timber and looks less New England-ish and more like something you might see in Scotland or one of those other foggy countries. For nearly eighty years the sturdy lodge has been a welcome sight for day-trippers, as well those brave souls hiking the adjacent Appalachian Trail. While birding the summit we saw the usual assortment of summer warblers and vireos, but the birds I was most pleased to see were the Purple Finches. Purples Finches are fairly rare on the Cape, but on Mount Greylock they seemed to be singing from the top of every pine tree. There were also lots of juncos. It was strange to see the so-called “snow birds” on a warm summer’s day, instead of searching for food after a blizzard.
Entrance to the Mount Greylock reservation is free, but there is a $5.00 fee for parking at the summit. Speaking of fees: Now that I’ve reached a certain age (and I’m not saying what it is), I’m able to obtain a lifetime pass for both the National Parks and the Massachusetts’ state parks. The National Park pass is small, about the size of a library card, and can easily fit into my pocket. However, the stupid state pass is a giant yellow placard, which must hang from my rearview mirror like a massive air freshener. It announces to the entire world that I’m old. I’d rather pay the five bucks.
After exploring Mount Greylock, we spent a few days in the Stockbridge corner of the state. What an adorable area this is. Everything looks like a Norman Rockwell painting (which it truly is, since Norm did most of his best work in Stockbridge). The top birding location in all of Berkshire County is just south of Great Barrington in a place called Bartholomew’s Cobble. I know Bartholomew’s Cobble sounds like the pie shop at a renaissance faire, but it actually boasts a bird list of 217 different species. I arrived at the cobble at sunrise, all by myself. My wife doesn’t mind birding, by not if it interferes with her sleep. Nothing gets in the way of that. As I stopped to read the trail map, I was scolded by an irate phoebe. I wondered why this bird was so upset with me, since it didn’t even know me yet. Then I noticed that the bird’s nest was sitting on the top of the post I was leaning on. I apologized to the phoebe and moved on to investigate the flurry of sounds coming from a nearby field.
Across the street was a field filled with battling Bobolinks. (Hmm, “Battling Bobolinks.” I think I just came up with the title for a new video game.) When the males weren’t chasing each other, they were chasing the females (but not for the same reason). Not far from the bobolinks sat a pair of Cedar Waxwings, which were busy passing berries to each other. Like cardinals, mate feeding is how waxwings strengthen their pair bond. It’s kind of cute, although not totally sanitary. After enjoying the waxwings, I spotted yet another white-tailed deer, only this time the female was followed by her young fawn. The tiny deer bounded after its mother like a puppy…a puppy with ridiculously long legs. Super cute.
Not far from Bartholomew’s Cobble is Mass Audubon’s little known Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary. Here is where I experienced one of my favorite parts of the trip. It was still early in the morning and thus I had the entire sanctuary and the birds to myself. I was on one of the back trails when a female Ruffed Grouse appeared in front of me. The bird proceeded to run down the trail in an erratic, zigzag manner, moving like a cross between a roadrunner and Groucho Marx. The hen grouse then started giving a high-pitched nasal call, which sounded like someone squeezing the air out of a balloon. As I walked towards the bird, trying to figure out what her problem was, six baby grouse scurried for cover about two feet away from where I had just been standing. What? There was nothing wrong with the grouse, she was merely trying to distract me from her tiny grouselings, and I totally fell for it. I would make a lousy predator.
By now it was late morning, which meant my wife would soon be crawling out of bed. I drove back to the hotel, picked her up and headed over to the nearby Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox. This place is beautiful and has plenty of birds, but the real stars of the property are the beavers. These long abused creatures are protected here and are safe to build their dams, raise their kits and entertain anyone who wants to come and enjoy them, and that’s exactly what we did.
We both really liked our birding trip to Western Mass. (Although I think I enjoyed it a bit more than my wife did, since I was awake for more of it.) We plan to return again in the fall when we have more time. And with the extra time we might even hike to the top of Mount Greylock, instead of driving. Oh, who am I kidding? We all know that’s not going to happen.