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Eight great places for bird-watching in New England

Not a birder? Or new to the flock? These serene Northeast destinations will delight even those who merely enjoy a lovely walk in the woods.

Illustration of a bird in a tree
Jack Richardson for the boston globe

Even newbie bird-watchers find springtime rewarding, as billions of feathered creatures wing their way north from their winter homes in the South. How thrilling it is to spy species with plumage transformed into brilliantly-hued finery, their intense songs piercing the quiet landscape. All six New England states sit along a major north-south migratory pathway (the Atlantic Flyway). Not a birder? These eight serene destinations will also delight those who merely enjoy a lovely walk in the woods.

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MASSACHUSETTS

Halibut Point State Park’s setting — along the Cape Ann peninsula that thrusts into the North Atlantic — couldn’t be more dramatic (978-546-2997, mass.gov/locations/halibut-point-state-park). Trails weave through woods and heathland, veering to the rocky shore where harlequin ducks bob about the breakers. As you stand at the scenic overlook, an enormous mound of granite blocks, focus on the rugged coast where white-winged scoters surf the waves. The park’s interpretive trail circling the water-filled Babson Farm Quarry educates history buffs on this former source of granite; this venue is also alluring to bird-watchers who listen for the distinctive songs of the male chestnut-sided warbler and scan the water for green herons hunting for small fish.

RHODE ISLAND

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Located just 4 miles from Newport, the Norman Bird Sanctuary (401-846-2577, normanbirdsanctuary.org) is threaded with picturesque ridges that make this birding paradise appealing to hikers as well. For birders, the woodsy trek along the Nelson Pond Trail is especially enticing, with opportunities to spot the rose-breasted grosbeak feeding on insects and seeds along the forest floor. You might also notice the vivid hues of the Eastern bluebird in the open fields where artists take inspiration, setting up easels on the adjacent Mabel’s Studio lawn.

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Stroll the many, often sun-dappled trails weaving through Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge, (401-364-9124, fws.gov/refuge/trustom_pond) home to the state’s only undeveloped coastal pond. Dawn is especially vibrant, the air alive with the chorus of warblers. Wander to the end of the Osprey Point Trail and enjoy the observation deck overlooking Trustom Pond, where pied-billed grebes dive for small fish. The botanically inclined will be interested in the native grasses — such as big bluestem — lining the Farm Field Loop Trail. Here, American woodcocks perform their elaborate courtship display while in flight. Linger at the Farm Pond platforms, watching snapping turtles plow through the lily pads.

CONNECTICUT

Stretching along a windswept peninsula, Hammonasset Beach State Park (203-245-2785, portal.ct.gov/DEEP/State-Parks/Parks/Hammonasset-Beach-State-Park) is blessed with more than 2 miles of sand fronting Long Island Sound. Fishermen can cast from jetties, hoping to snag striped bass, while geology nerds explore the Moraine Trail, which is clustered with boulders from the region’s last glaciation. In the spring, birders will be captivated by sightings of bright yellow male warblers high in the tops of oak trees along the shaded Willard Island Trail. The Cedar Island observation platform is the place to spot iridescent glossy ibis probing for snails in the mud of the saltwater marsh, or pure white snowy egrets gliding across the foliage.

Peppered with myriad fishable ponds as well as the sweeping Bantam Lake (noted for its water sports), the 4,000-acre White Memorial Conservation Center (860-567-0857, whitememorialcc.org) is one of Connecticut’s prime inland birding spots. If you stroll along the Little Pond Boardwalk, you may find green-winged teals foraging through the cattails. Horned grebes often dive in Bantam Lake, while rusty blackbirds perch in the large oaks and silver maples along the lake’s north side. Among the 40 miles of multiuse paths, the Mattatuck Trail provides opportunities to spy black-throated green warblers and ovenbirds in the densely forested Catlin Woods.

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VERMONT

Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area’s expansive property (802-759-2398, vtfishandwildlife.com/watch-wildlife/dead-creek-visitor-center), sliced by the slow-moving, canoeable Dead Creek, can be explored by car and on foot via the pedestrian-only East and West Branch roads. First, stop at the visitors center for a brochure outlining a self-guided tour, then drive to the goose viewing area, listening for the curiously buzzy song of the male bobolink. Meander West Branch Road and search for black-crowned night herons stalking frogs and fish along the marsh edges. Vibrantly colored male wood ducks feed and mate in shallow coves, where rainy nights may bring out the elusive blue spotted-salamanders, a treat for amphibian lovers.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

At Pawtuckaway State Park, (603-895-3031, nhstateparks.org/visit/state-parks/pawtuckaway-state-park) the big draw for spring bird-watchers are the warblers — more than 25 species pass through — including the stunning Blackburnian warbler that’s found high in the hemlocks along the Middle Mountain Trail. Hiking the Boulder Trail (dotted with giant rocks from the last ice age), you might get lucky and hear the emphatic song of the rare Acadian flycatcher. The climb to 900-foot-high South Mountain in this more than 5,000-acre state park offers sylvan views as well as possible sightings of dark-eyed juncos and hermit thrushes, species more typically found farther north in the state. Mountain bikers are also fond of Pawtuckaway, thrilled by the single track along the Woronoco Trail.

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MAINE

Set on a peninsula fronting the Kennebec River and Whiskeag Creek, Thorne Head Preserve (207-442-8400, kennebecestuary.org/thorne-head-bath), though petite and close to the city of Bath, is a birding gem with water views aplenty. Walk the Narrows Trail and, from a scenic viewpoint, you may spot blue-winged teals foraging in the Kennebec shallows. Another path leads to the much photographed concrete “Mushroom Cap,” a picturesque spot for picnicking and spotting bald eagles soaring overhead. Attracting mountain bikers, hikers, and birders alike, trails course through woods dense with white pine, Eastern hemlock, and maple, an ideal habitat for black and white warblers feeding around large tree limbs.

* Official COVID-19 guidance changes frequently. Check state and local regulations before traveling.


Jeanine Barone is a travel writer based in New York City. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.