Birding at Merryspring

by Kristen Lindquist

Birding at Merryspring holds a little something for everyone. The diverse habitats encompassed by its 66 acres host a wide variety of birds, especially during spring migration.

From the lawn and gardens around the Ross Center, you can follow the well-marked park trails to explore all that the property has to offer. Trail 1 follows the park’s forested perimeter, twice crossing a shrubby power line corridor, and at one point opening onto a young stand of White Pines and wet farm field bottomlands along the property line. Trail 2 runs out between two large fields (that are circumnavigated by Trails 5 and 6), passing several old apple trees on its way. Trail 4 enables a hike along the dense junipers that follow the power line corridor, with the trail’s south end dipping into wet alder thickets. An exploration of the arboretum reveals a vernal pool near its entrance. Trail 3 meanders through an experimental American Chestnut grove. And with all that to choose from, sometimes the most productive birding of the day is in the trees right around the parking lot!

During spring and early summer the gardens and trees around the Ross Center commonly host Eastern Phoebe, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, Chipping, Song, and White-throated Sparrows, American Goldfinch, and Purple Finch. Yellow, Chestnut-sided, and Black-and-white Warblers and American Redstart can be found flitting around the edges, joined by many more species during migration. Great Crested Flycatchers call from the treetops; Rose-breasted Grosbeaks serenade from nearby branches. The surrounding woods is typically filled with birdsong: the loud teacher-TEACHER song of the tiny Ovenbird, the trill of the Pine Warbler, the buzzy notes of the Black-throated Green and Black-throated Blue Warblers,joined by Eastern Wood-pewee, the lyrical Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireos, and the flute songs of the Hermit Thrush and Veery.

On the right spring morning, 16 – 18 species of warbler are possible, including Blackburnian, Nashville, Magnolia, Cape May, Blackpoll, and Tennessee, in addition to those species already mentioned above. You might find waves of dozens of these colorful little birds moving along the forested edges of the gardens and fields. Many of these birds are simply resting and refueling before they resume their northward journey to nest in the northern boreal forests of Maine and Canada. Other unusual species that have been seen at Merryspring include Prairie Warbler, a bit north of its typical breeding range, and Golden-winged Warbler, a species whose numbers have been greatly reduced in recent years.

Along the power line corridor and in other shrubby open spaces, the Common Yellowthroat, a warbler that nests here, reliably pops up from one bush to the next. The big trees along the power line are a good place to look for perched Barred Owls, as well. In early spring, American Woodcocks carry out their strange sky-dance amid the wet alder thickets at the south end of the power line corridor, and the Ruffed Grouse’s drumming wings beat their low rhythm from within the surrounding woods. Any time of year you might expect to see a Wild Turkey or six. Pileated Woodpecker is another year-round resident that you might hear drumming loudly in the woods or catch flying across the power line corridor. At any time of year, Eastern Bluebird is a possibility, as well; in the winter, flocks of robins and bluebirds move around throughout the area in search of berries and other food. Cedar Waxwing, another year-round resident, does the same, sometimes joined by its northern cousin, the Bohemian Waxwing, in winter.

In addition to waxwings, watch overhead for Tree and Barn Swallows, which nest nearby in summer.Broad-winged Hawk, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Turkey Vulture, and other raptors are resident locally during the breeding season and can be frequent flyovers, as well. Bobolinks have been seen in the North Meadow in the past. Now that dogs have been banned from Merryspring and the fields are being managed with wildlife in mind, these charismatic birds will hopefully return to once more perform their aerial displays above the tall grass.

The vernal pool beyond the entrance to the Kitty Todd Arboretum is worth a look in spring, as well. Northern Waterthrush is possible there, in addition to Spotted or Solitary Sandpipers. The wetter edges of the property are also worth exploring for Alder Flycatcher, in addition to the expected Yellow and Chestnut-sided Warblers.

This is in no way a comprehensive list of the species that have been and may be seen at Merryspring. So take your time and explore all the trails and habitats the park has to offer in every season. You never know what you might find, and a birder that visits regularly is bound to turn up something interesting!

Visit our Merryspring Birds page for a more complete listing of birds that may be found at Merryspring.