In July, local birdwatching venues are relatively free of tourists, who arrive on the North Shore by the thousands during the spring and fall migration seasons.
And much like Cape Codders who look forward to the off-season, some North Shore hikers and birders cherish the time of year when the trails and beaches are free of the birding crowds.
“Of course, there will be some activity,” laughed Chris Leahy, a bird expert with the , which operates sanctuaries in 90 communities across the state.
Right now, sandpipers and yellowlegs along coastal areas join the usual suspects - suck bluejays, wrens, cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, swallows and others in both inland and coastal areas. (Recent, albeit undocumented, sightings by Patch included a scarlet tanager at the Ipswich River trails and a pair of barred owls near Beverly Farms.)
As for venues, Hamilton-Wenham birdwatchers are indeed lucky. More than 400 species visit or live in Essex County for all or part of the year — no doubt attracted to the North Shore’s diverse landscape of old-growth woods, marshes, hayfields, orchards, riverlines and coastlines.
Since it would be tough to limit a best-venues list to five, Patch asked the experts at Audubon to choose four (reserving one for a Patch favorite).
Cedar Pond (Wenham): Though not in the usual pantheon, this Audubon preserve has diverse wildlife, is easily accessible from Route 97 or Route 1A with a parking area on Cherry Street, and it's not terribly well known so it is always peaceful. See the PDF attached to this story for detailed information.
Ipswich River (Topsfield): Covering woodsy Topsfield and the Great Wenham Swamp, this site is home to rare as well as common species — prompting Audubon to encourage care among hikers and kayakers traveling to and from Perkins Island. Get ready to tag your bird lists with a rose-breasted grosbeak, and see if you can find the rare (and vulnerable-status) pied-billed grebe.
Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary
87 Perkins Row, Topsfield
Endicott Park (Danvers): Open fields, meadows, and ponds attract many types of species. In summer, look for the foraging swallow.
57 Forest St., Danvers
Hours: 9 a.m. to sunset
Cox Reservation (Essex): Another of Leahy’s must-visit places.
“A land trust, the oldest in the country, this is a very successful effort to preserve open space,” he said.
It’s run by the Essex County Greenbelt Association, a member-supported nonprofit that has conserved nearly 14,000 acres of county land. Boasting greenbelts comprised of rivers, trails and other natural corridors plus coastal systems and visually intact landscapes, it’s home to many grassland birds, such as kestrels and blackbirds.
82 Eastern Ave., Essex
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Joppa Flats (Newburyport): Home to the Parker River, this premier Audubon site has a rich population of shorebirds and waterfowl, with visitors also listing sightings of bald eagles, snowy owls and warblers. Look for the long-billed dowitchers.
Joppa Flats Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary
1 Plum Island Turnpike, Newburyport
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, plus Monday holidays, 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Many of the places listed here have events for adults and children.
It’s a rich legacy to be sure. However, conservationists urge visitors to think of the big picture.
“At Audubon, our goal is the protection of biodiversity — all the plants and animals that live on these properties."
All visitors, he said, can contribute to actively conserving these places, just by caring and being aware.