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Trip to the Quabbin Reservoir

A trip to the near west:

A few weeks ago a customer came in and purchased a copy of Bird Finding Guide to Western Massachusetts. After taking the guy’s money, I started wondering why I don’t do more birding in Western Mass. After all, the Berkshires are beautiful, but they also happen to be a long drive from the Outer Cape (even though they aren’t as far away as some really distant place, like Falmouth). Regardless, I went right home, found my own copy of birding Western Mass and two days later we (my wife wanted to tag along) were on our way to the Bay State’s western frontier. Our first stop was the massive Quabbin Reservoir. I’d bet most people in Eastern Mass forget that the Quabbin even exists, but this place is pretty special and should never be forgotten. Back in the 1930s, Boston and its surrounding neighbors needed more water to drink, so the State decided to build a 412,000,000,000-gallon reservoir situated just east of Amherst. In order to construct such an immense, reservoir land was taken from seven area towns, and four towns – Dana, Greenwich, Prescott and Enfield – eventually became totally submerged and lost forever. In addition, over 1,000 buildings had to be removed and 2,500 folks were forced to relocate, and all the animals were gathered up two by two. (Wait! I may be confusing that last one with a different story.) The whole project really is mind-boggling. I mean, today people freak out over a windmill, but in the ‘30s entire towns were completely flooded, all for the good of others. Perhaps back then we did a better job of preparing for the future.

Most of Quabbin’s 120,000-acre watershed is inaccessible, but there is a large tract of land known as “Quabbin Park” that has parking and hiking trails for the public to enjoy. This is where we headed. We arrived at the park, and its gorgeous Enfield Lookout, about 6:30 AM and spent the first few minutes admiring the view below. As the morning mist lifted we could see a ginormous body of water, a long unspoiled shoreline, several tree-filled islands, and a handsome white-tailed deer that was standing in a field directly in front of us. The deer was completely calm and seemed pleased to see a fellow vegetarian (although it kept a close eye on my carnivorous wife). An obscure trail led us into a dark, fern-filled forest where we were immediately accosted by the chilling screams of a very upset Merlin, which must have had a nest nearby. Eventually, the trail brought us to the edge of the reservoir where we witnessed something that I had only seen on the National Geographic Channel. A female Common Merganser was swimming along the shore, with her six baby mergansers following close behind. When the vigilant mother spotted us she quickened her pace, but her little chicks couldn’t keep up. So, in order to help her struggling chicks, the hen lowered her body in the water. This enabled the tiny ducklings to scramble up onto her back, where they sat while mom quickly transported them to deeper water. Wow! Just like on TV, only better…much better.

We spent about five hours exploring Quabbin Park, took lots of photos and saw lots of interesting birds, including a very noisy Black-billed Cuckoo, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that was digging sap wells in a tree, and a super-friendly Veery, which is a member of the thrush family. After eating a tofu sandwich in nearby Amherst (I love those hippie towns), we drove to the Williamstown area, where we rented a house that had one bathroom and no bedrooms. (Yes, you read that right, no bedrooms. Maybe I don’t like hippies as much as I thought.) The house was furnished with super-modern European furniture and the windows were completely covered in cathedral-style stained glass. It was like spending a night in Our Lady of Ikea. The house may have been a little funky, but it was perfectly located for our next day’s outing, which was climbing Massachusetts’ highest peak, Mount Greylock.

Acquired way back in 1898, the Mount Greylock State Reservation is the Commonwealth’s first wilderness preserve. Encompassing over 12,000 acres, the reservation offers a variety of habitats for all birders to explore. We arrived early and parked at the reserve’s north entrance, where we were immediately greeted by a very showy male Indigo Bunting. After taking several photos of the bunting, we proceeded to the trailhead. This is when we found out that it’s a seven-mile hike to the top, via a trail that was listed as “strenuous.” That was enough for me. We turned around, got back in the car and ascended to the summit by means of the park’s well-paved road. I know I sound a little wimpy, but I figured if the State went through all the trouble of building the road, who was I not to use it?

I’ve lived in Massachusetts all of my life, but have never been to the top of Mount Greylock, and that’s too bad for me. What a wonderful place. We traveled through rich forests, hiked to a picturesque waterfall (even I’ll do short hikes) and admired the vistas of the farms and small towns below. When we arrived at the summit I was a little disappointed to find that clouds had shrouded the summit and the famed Bascom Lodge, but I decided to simply enjoy the enchanting atmosphere. The majestic stone lodge is…oops, out of room. I’ll wrap up our trip to the Berkshires next week…if we can find our way off the mountain through the fog.