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Birding at Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord!

Updated: Jan 4

What a way to put a cap on birding in 2022! On Saturday, December 31st, the Mass Young Birders Club set out to get some good looks at winter residents here in MA at the Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge in Concord.


View of a slightly iced over pond with rolling hill in the background and grassy reeds in the foreground. Gray skies and gray water.
View of one of the ponds from the lookout tower at Great Meadow National Wildlife Refuge.

We started our adventure at the lookout tower scanning the two ponds for any signs of unusual ducks. We spotted some Mute Swans, Canada Geese and a good mix of Mallards and Black Ducks. Although the ponds seemed to be filled with the usuals, we were excited at the activity below the lookout tower as we watched three types of sparrows forage for food. We saw White-throated Sparrows with tan-crowns, American Tree Sparrows and Song Sparrows fluttering about in the shrubbery below.


After some time spent hoping for an interesting duck to fly in, we began our trek across the dike the separates the two ponds at the refuge and headed to an overlook with great views of the open water. Of course, we stopped multiple times to investigate movement in the reeds that almost always turned out to be a Song Sparrow.


While scanning the pond, we watched a Northern Harrier, identified by its unique white rump, soar across the water line and land on top of a beaver lodge! We were able to get our scopes on it and watch as the impressive raptor preened itself and picked at something on top of the pile of sticks. We were amazed at how brave the Mallards and Canada Geese were as they floated right by the harrier – not a care in the world!


We left the overlook and headed to an adjacent stream to see if we could figure out where all the ducks flying overhead were landing. Alas, the stream did not have a single duck floating when we got there, but we were able to hear American Robins, Blue Jays, White-breasted Nuthatches and a very loud but invisible pair of Carolina Wrens.

A silhouetted Red-tailed Hawk perched on a branch. All the branches of the trees are clearly silhouetted due to the lighting and the lack of the leaves on the tree.
Red-tailed Hawk overlooking the path. Photo: Kim/Oliver Pocknett

As we continued around the pond, observed a Red-tailed Hawk right above the trail, who was looking for rodents in the tall grass below. We got wonderful looks at its brick-red tail and hooked beak! This stretch of the path had reeds and pond to the right and trees and pond to the left, which made it look like something out of the Everglades. We were delighted that in the mysterious swamp looking habitat was a very well camouflaged Great Blue Heron resting on the base of a downed tree. We were again able to put some spotting scopes on the bird and really see it's blue and gray coloration as well as the unique textures of its different feather types.


Nearing the end of our walk, we were amazed that the Northern Harrier was still sitting atop the beaver lodge – it had almost been an hour and a half! As we said our goodbyes we were mocked by a Pileated Woodpecker in the distance and then promptly greeted by a flock of Eastern Bluebirds that swooped in at the last second.


A wonderful end to the 2022 birding year!






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