Appalachian Mountain Club Boston Chapter Local Walks/Hikes Committee
Nature walks are different from other types of hikes. This page is about what to expect from an AMC nature walk, what to bring, and where to go on your own nature walks.
What to Expect on a Natural History Walk
Donít look for an aerobic workout. The pace on a natural history walk is very slow, with lots of stops to look at and to learn about things: birds, bugs, plants, tracks, scat, rocks, features of the landscape, the sky.
If this does not sound like your sort of outing, probably you should choose another walk.
Because there will be lots of stops to look and talk, the number of walkers is usually limited by the leader. If the group is large, whatever is being looked at canít be seen by everyone, and comments and questions canít be heard by all. The leader may ask that the front half of the group move past the object of interest so that the second half can move closer. In that way, everyone has a chance to see and hear.
The leader of a natural history walk is usually a passionate amateur, someone who is knowledgeable and deeply interested in the wonders of the natural world. But leaders donít know everything, and will be delighted if you have information to add, or spot a feature the leader has overlooked. Speak up.
Most natural history walks do not place great physical demands on the walkers. Leaders tend to choose trails that are easy and relatively flat. So do not worry about having to scale great heights or about long slogs up. Ask the leader what footgear s/he recommends.
What items to bring? Binoculars might be useful. If you have a little magnifier, you could bring that too, and a favorite field guide to plants, or birds, or whatever your special interest is. The leader will doubtless have some equipment for the group to borrow, as well as a few field guides. But mostly just bring your curiosity. Equipment is not at all necessary.
What is necessary, though, is water and sunscreen. The best protection against both sun and annoying bugs is to cover up, and water, in all seasons, not just the warm ones, is an absolute necessity.
What you see on a natural history walk changes with the seasons. There is always something new. Natural history walk leaders warmly invite you to come out with them and search out the wonders to be found in plain view!
- Hilary Hopkins
- General Nature Guides
- National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England by Peter Alden and Brian Cassie, Alfred A. Knopf, 1998, 447pp, $19.95. Covers birds, animals, trees, wildflowers, insects, weather, and more.
- A Sierra Club Naturalist's Guide: Southern New England by Neil Jorgensen, Sierra Club Books, 1977.
- A Guide to New England's Landscape by Neil Jorgensen, Globe Pequot Press, 1989. Introduction to the geology and plant geography of New England with photos, maps, and 140 recommended places to visit.
- Plant Guides
- Newcomb's Wildflower Guide by Lawrence Newcomb, Little Brown, 1989, paper, $17.95.
- A Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-Central America by Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret McKenny, Houghton Mifflin, 1998, paper, $19.
- National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers: Eastern Region, Alfred A. Knopf, 2001, paper, $19.95.
- Never Say It's Just a Dandelion: 125 Wonderful Common Plants for Walkers and Walk Leaders by Hilary Hopkins, Jewelweed Books, 2001, paper, $10, available from the author (send email to Hilary at firstname.lastname@example.org), and at Amazon.com, Wordsworth and The Harvard Coop in Cambridge, and the Mass. Audubon Drumlin Farm book shop, 208 S. Great Rd. (Rte. 117) in Lincoln, and at walks led by Hilary. More information on the Local Walks Authors page.
- Bird Guides
- A Field Guide to Eastern Birds by Roger Tory Peterson, Houghton Mifflin, 1998, paper, $18.
- Birds of North America by Chandler Robbins, Arthur Singer, and Bertel Bruun, St. Martin's Press, 2001, paper, $15.95.
- The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region by John Bull and John Farrand, Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, paper, $19.95.
- Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 3d edition, National Geographic, $21.95, 1.4 lbs.
- A Birder's Guide to Eastern Massachusetts, American Birding Association, $16.95, spiral-bound, describes 23 prime locations for birding.
- The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley, Knopf, softcover, $35, 2.6 lbs., very thorough.
- Bird Observer: The New England Birding Journal, published 6 times a year, http://massbird.org/birdobserver/.
- Insect Guides
- Butterflies through Binoculars: The East by Jeffrey Glassberg, Oxford University Press, 1999, $18.00.
- Stokes Beginner's Guide to Dragonflies by Blair Nikula et al, Little, Brown and Co., 2002, $8.95.
- Dragonflies Through Binoculars: A Field Guide to Dragonflies of North America by Sidney Dunkle, Oxford University Press, 2000.
- Written in Stone, A Geological History of the Northeastern United States, 2d edition, by Chet and Maureen Raymo, Black Dome Press, 2001, paper, 176pp, $16.95.
- Roadside Geology of Massachusetts by James W. Skehan, Mountain Press Publishing, 2001, paper, 379pp, $20. Covers the geological history of the state, based on a series of drives along mostly major highways.
- Puddingstone, Drumlins, and Ancient Volcanoes by James W. Skehan, Boston College. Introductory geological field trips in eastern Massachusetts.
- Natural Area Guides
- The Massachusetts Wildlife Viewing Guide. Trips to see wildlife and their habitats, from the summit of Mt. Greylock to the depths of Stellwagen Bank, 96 pages, $8.95 at any MassWildlife office, or send $8.95 plus $2.00 for postage and handling to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, Westboro Field Headquarters, 1 Rabbit Hill Rd., Westboro, MA 01581.
- Nature Walks in Eastern Massachusetts 2d edition, by Michael Tougias, Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 1998, paper, $12.95. Describes 40 nature walks within about 40 miles of Boston. Most walks suitable for children. Maps are incomplete, has a number of typographical errors.
- Sierra Club Guide to the Natural Areas of New England by John and Jane Perry, Sierra Club Books, 1998, paper, $15. Covers 350 natural areas throughout New England, including state and national parks, forests and wildlife preserves.
- Walks on Weston Conservation Land: A Guide by Elmer E. Jones, Weston Forest & Trail Press, 1999, paper, $15, available at Dragon Books in Weston center, at www.weston-forest-trail.org/membership.html and at walks led by Elmer. More information on the Local Walks Authors page.
- Hand lens
- Brock Magiscope, a simple, rugged microscope for outdoor field use, www.magiscope.com. Recommended by Hilary Hopkins.
Elmer Jones suggests: "The best size is either 7x35 or 8x40. (Higher magnification produces too much image shake.) Buy only brand-name binoculars of good quality. Expect to pay $100 to $200 for entry-level binoculars. If you have hand tremor, try image-stabilized binoculars."
If you are serious about birding, save up for high quality binoculars ($300 to $600 for the conventional type). The roof prism type is more compact, retains alignment better, and is waterproof, but costs more ($500 and up). For advice on choosing binoculars see www.optics4birding.com and www.betterviewdesired.com
- Spotting scope and tripod, for viewing distant birds, 20X or more - a 9X to 30X zoom scope is useful, or interchangable eyepieces can be used to change magnification from, say, 25X to 40X. The tripod should be sturdy to prevent wind from shaking the image. For advice on choosing scopes see www.optics4birding.com and www.betterviewdesired.com
Stores Carrying Binoculars and Field Guides
- Massachusetts Audubon Society, Drumlin Farm, 208 S. Great Rd. (Rte. 117), Lincoln, MA, 781-259-9661.
- Bird Watchers General Store, 36 Rte. 6A, Orleans, MA, 800-562-1512, www.birdwatchersgeneralstore.com.
- Barnes and Noble Bookseller, 98 Middlesex Tpk, Burlington, MA, 781-273-3871, and other locations, www.bn.com.
- Bromfield Camera Co., 10 Bromfield St., Boston, MA, 617-426-5230, www.bromfieldcamera.com
- Hunt's Photo and Video, 100 Main St., Melrose, MA, 781-662-8822, www.huntsphotoandvideo.com
- Newtonville Camera and Video, 249 Walnut St., Newton, MA, 617-965-1240.
- Zeff Photo Supply, 11 Brighton St., Belmont, MA, 617-489-3311, www.zeffphoto.com
Birding and Nature Walk Areas
Areas favored by the AMC Local Walks nature walk leaders. There is additional information on many of these areas on the Hiking Areas page.
- Birding Areas
The peak seasons are during spring migration and nesting from late April to mid-June and fall migration in September. All of the Audubon wildlife sanctuaries have good birding (complete list, maps, and directions at www.massaudubon.org). Each issue of Bird Observer: The New England Birding Journal has a "Where to Go Birding" article with a detailed description of a birding area. For more information see http://massbird.org/birdobserver/. To download maps of many local birding areas, go to http://massbird.org/birdobserver/Content/WhereToGo.htm.
- Acton Conservation Land, Grassy Pond & Nagog Hill, Nagog Hill Rd., Acton, MA. Among the highlights are pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers, and brown creepers.
- Bare Cove Park, Beal St., Hingham, MA. Shore birds on the Back River estuary and migrating birds in the adjacent fresh water marsh.
- Blue Hills Fowl Meadow, Brush Hill Rd., Milton, MA, best birding area in the Blue Hills.
- Bolton Flats Wildlife Management Area, Rtes. 117 and 110, Bolton, MA at Lancaster line. On the Still and Nashua Rivers. Good area for egrets, snowy ibis, and herons. During migration, many black ducks, mallards, pintails, snow gesse, and blue geese. Hunting allowed in season (stocked with pheasant). Adjacent to the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge.
- Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary (Audubon), Winslow Cemetery Rd., Marshfield, MA, woods, grasslands, 2 ponds, Green Harbor River, Wharf Creek. Shorebirds, raptors, migratory waterfowl.
- Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary (Audubon), Eastern Point Blvd., Gloucester. 43 acres. On the Atlantic ocean and Gloucester harbor plus a non-contiguous section at nearby Niles Pond. Views of the ocean and Gloucester harbor. Shorebirds, loons, sea ducks, and other coastal birds in Gloucester Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean and Niles Pond, especially during migration. Migrating monarch butterflies in the fall.
- Estabrook Woods, Estabrook Rd., Concord/Carlisle, MA, www.estabrookwoods.org, www.walden.org/scholarship/e/ells_steve/estabrook
- Great Hill, Rte. 27, Acton, MA, bluebirds and scarlet tanagers.
- Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Monsen Rd., Concord, MA, river, marsh and 2 large ponds, observation tower, seasonal bird guide available at the entrance. Best inland location for viewing water and shore birds, and migratory waterfowl.
- Great Salt Marsh, Duxbury, MA. A top East Coast stopover for migratory birds. Located behind Duxbury Beach, a 5-mi. long barrier beach.
- Heard Pond (Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge), Pelham Island Rd., Wayland, MA. Parking area is at end of Heard Rd. off Pelham Island Rd.
- Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary (Audubon), Topsfield/Wenham/Hamilton, 87 Perkins Row, Topsfield, MA. Ipswich River, marshes, pond, observation tower. Bring birdseed to feed birds from your hand.
- Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary (Audubon), Risley Rd., Marblehead, MA, best during spring and fall migrations.
- Mount Auburn Cemetery, 580 Mt. Auburn St., Cambridge, MA, birdline: (617) 547-7105 ext. 824, www.virtualbirder.com, opens at 6 AM in May and early June for spring migration, map and bird checklist at the entrance. Widely renowned for an amazing variety of warblers and other spring migrants.
- Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge, Still River Depot Rd., Harvard, MA. Largely open water, marsh and swamp bounded by the Nashua River on the west. Migratory waterfowl, herons, woodcock, pheasant, grouse. Much beaver activity. Adjacent to the Bolton Flats Wildlife Management Area.
- Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, 261 Northern Blvd., Plum Island, Newburyport, MA, 978-465-5753, http://northeast.fws.gov/ma/pkr.htm (USFWS). Friends of Parker River website: www.parkerriver.org. One of the best places in New England for birding year-round. Good spots are the salt pans 0.8 mi. south of parking lot 1 and on the Hellcat Swamp Trail where there is an observation tower. A spotting scope is helpful.
- Quabbin Reservoir Gate 40, Rte. 32A, 4 mi. south of Petersham Common, Petersham, MA, provides access to the Dana townsite and the east-central shore of Quabbin. Many other access points. Raptors, owls, loons, etc. Many others during migration.
- Wachusett Mountain State Reservation, Mountain Rd., Princeton, MA. Best spot for hawk watching in eastern Massachusetts. Fall hawk migration peaks in mid-September.
- Wompatuck State Park, Union St., Hingham, MA, 781-749-7160. Veeries, Winter Wrens, waterthrushes (including Louisiana) and warblers (including Worm Eating).
- World's End Reservation, Martin's Lane, Hingham, MA, peninsula park on Boston harbor with a wide variety of habitats. Great horned owls, woodcocks, and bluebirds nest here. Good place to see herons in summer, warblers in migration, and ducks and sea birds in winter.
- Nature Walk Areas
- Acton Arboretum, Taylor Rd./Main St., Acton, MA. Formal gardens, woods, old apple orchard, esker, bog.
- Acton Conservation Land, Grassy Pond & Nagog Hill, Nagog Hill Rd., Acton, MA.
- Arnold Arboretum (Harvard University), 125 Arborway, Jamaica Plain, MA, (617) 524-1717, www.arboretum.harvard.edu. Botanical garden with 14,000 kinds of trees and shrubs.
- Bearsden Forest (Athol Conservation Land), at end of Bearsden Rd., off Rte. 2A, Athol, MA, 1000 acres, about 20 mi. of trails, several large hills with views, 2 small reservoirs, duck pond, brooks, bounded on north and west by the Millers River. Map at http://homepage.mac.com/efortmiller/files/xc/bearsden.html
- Beaver Brook Association, 117 Ridge Rd., Hollis, NH, (603) 465-7787, 1700 acres, 35 miles of trails and fire roads, 14 ponds, marshes, beaver dams, Beaver Brook, Nissitissit River, no hunting. Operated by a nonprofit charitable educational corporation. Map: $1, in box at main lot and at the office, also USGS Townsend MA.
- Blue Hills, Milton/Canton/Randolph/Quincy, MA. Parking lots on Rte. 38 (Trailside Museum and Ponkapoag Golf Course), Hillside St. (Houghtons Pond), Willard St. (Shea Rink), and elsewhere.
- Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, 280 Eliot St. (Rte. 16), S. Natick, MA. Woods, ponds, streams, marsh w/boardwalk, Charles River, and nature center. Plant list, wildflower list, bird list and trail map available.
- Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, 869 Rte. 6A, Brewster, MA, 508-896-3867, www.ccmnh.org, $5 admission, free salt marsh and fresh water marsh nature trails with many birds, particularly during migration.
- Duxbury Beach, Duxbury, MA.
- Fox Forest (NH Division of Forests and lands), Rte. 107, Hillsboro, NH, (603) 464-3453, www.nhdfl.com/for_mgt_bureau/Fox/fm_foxforest.htm. 1445-acre research and education forest with forestry museum (open summer Saturdays only), old-growth forest, ponds, brooks, quaking bogs, nature trails, plant and bird lists.
- Estabrook Woods, Estabrook Rd., Concord/Carlisle, MA, www.estabrookwoods.org, www.walden.org/scholarship/e/ells_steve/estabrook
- Garden in the Woods (New England Wildflower Society) 180 Hemenway Rd., Framingham, www.newfs.org/garden.htm. Botanical garden with 1600 varieties of native plants and wildflowers, varied topography, 45 acres, 6 mi. of trails. Open Apr.-Oct., 9-5. $6 fee (may have changed).
- Great Hill, Rte. 27, Acton, MA, good variety of spring woodland wildflowers, including lady's slippers, nodding trillium, and fringed polygala.
- Hale Reservation, 80 Carby St., Westwood, MA.
- Harvard Forest (Harvard University), 324 N. Main St. (Rte. 32), Petersham, MA, (978) 724-3302, www.lternet.edu/hfr, 3000-acre research forest, forestry museum w/dioramas depicting history of New England forests, 0.3- and 1.5-mi. nature trails. Museum open M-F 9-5 year-round, Sat., Sun. 12-4 May-Oct., free.
- High Ridge Wildlife Management Area, Rte. 140, Gardner, MA.
- Horn Pond and Horn Pond Mountain, Lake Ave. at Arlington Rd., Woburn, MA.
- Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary (Audubon), Topsfield/Wenham/Hamilton, 87 Perkins Row, Topsfield, MA.
- Maudslay State Park, Curzon Mill Rd., Newburyport, MA. Pond, marsh, Merrimac River, bald eagle nesting area.
- Middlesex Fells, Medford/Stoneham/Winchester, MA. Parking lots on South Border Rd. (Long Pond and Bellevue Pond), Rte. 28 (Sheepfold), Woodland Rd. (Flynn Rink), Pond St. (Stone Zoo), the Oak Grove T station, and elsewhere.
- Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary (Audubon), 293 Moose Hill St., Sharon, MA.
- Mount Auburn Cemetery, 580 Mt. Auburn St., Cambridge, MA, landscaped arboretum with 600 varieties of trees.
- Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary (Norcross Wildlife Foundation), 30 Peck Rd. (off Monson-Wales Rd. off Rte. 32), Monson, MA 01057, (413) 267-9654, www.norcrossws.org. Private research, educational, and conservation reservation open to the public, 4000 acres, 3 mi. of nature trails, 2 natural history museums, large bird population, bird checklist, guided adult walking tours (reservation required). Closed Sundays, holidays, and winter Mondays.
- Odiorne Point State Park, Rte. 1A, Rye, NH. Wide variety of habitats including seashore, salt and fresh water marshes with many migrating birds, and wooded trails. Seacoast Science Center with aquarium.
- Ponkapoag Pond and bog boardwalk, Blue Hills, Rte. 38, Canton, MA, 0.5-mi. boardwalk through a white cedar and peat bog with bog plants, including pitcher plant and sundew.
- Quabbin Reservoir, Gate 40, Rte. 32A, Petersham, MA, and other access points.
- Swift River Reservation (Trustees of Res.), Petersham, MA. Entrances on Nichewaug Rd., Rte. 122, and Glen Valley Rd. 439 acres, 5 miles of trails and woods roads, Swift River, beaver ponds, marsh.
- Thanksgiving Park/Russell Millpond, Chelmsford, MA. Southern entrance is through the Great Brook Farm State Park.
- Tower Hill Botanic Garden (Worcester County Horticultural Society), 11 French Dr., Boylston, MA, 508-869-6111, www.towerhillbg.org. Thousands of perennials, shubs, and trees; education center, 132 acres, 2-mi. nature trail, view from Tower Hill, Tues.-Sun., 10-5, $7 admission.
- Wachusett Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary (Audubon), 113 Goodnow Rd., Princeton, MA. Swamp boardwalk, upland meadows, beavers, mink, otters, wood ducks, and herons. Hawks in late spring and September.
- Ward Reservation (Trustees of Res.), Prospect Rd., Andover, MA. Quaking peat bog with boardwalk.
- Weston Conservation Lands, Weston, MA, see Elmer Jones' guide on the Local Walks Authors page.
- Willard Brook State Forest, Rte. 119, Townsend, MA.
- Wills Hole, Nagog Park Drive, Acton, MA. Quaking peat bog, esker.
Hawks migrate south in September and October by gliding on northwest winds and rising on thermal updrafts over mountains and large hills. Peak numbers occur during the broad-wing hawk migration in the second and third weeks of September and can be as high as several thousand per day when the wind shifts to the northwest. When the wind is from the southwest there may be none at all. Good viewing locations include Wachusett Mountain, Wachusett Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary, Mount Watatic, and Pack Monadnock Mountain.
When walking through tall grass and brush, beware of ticks carrying Lyme disease, especially in coastal areas. Tuck pants into socks, use repellent, and check for ticks. See www.vineyard.net/vineyard/health/lyme/. Also, learn to recognize and avoid poison ivy.
Click a link to see the photo.
- Hobblebush, Mt. Monadnock, Jaffrey, NH, 4-21-02 (JB, 400x400, 20KB)
- Lady's Slipper, Breakheart Reservation, Saugus, MA, 6-2-02 (JB, 400x400, 32KB)
- Painted Trillium, Wachusett Mtn., Princeton, MA, 5-11-02 (JB, 400x400, 32KB)
- Pitcher Plant in Bloom, Heywood's Meadow, Walden Pond Res., Concord, MA, 6-29-02 (JB, 220x400, 27KB)
- Wild Geranium, Prospect Hill, Waltham, MA, 5-19-02 (JB, 400x400, 25KB)
Photo credits: JB - Jack Boudreau