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Berkshire Historical Society spring bird walk at Arrowhead could yield rare glimpses of migratory warblers

WAMC collecting field recordings of birds on the Arrowhead property in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Josh Landes
WAMC collecting field recordings of birds on the Arrowhead property in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

On Saturday, the Berkshire Historical Society is holding a free birding walk on the Pittsfield, Massachusetts grounds of Arrowhead — the historic residence of “Moby Dick” author Herman Melville.

When it comes to the Berkshire spring, it’s hard to find a more idyllic locale than the flowery, rolling fields and lush, emerald foliage of the Arrowhead property. It sits on Holmes Road in southeast Pittsfield, not far from the banks of the Housatonic River.

“So Arrowhead’s got a great, great place, right? When you're looking for a quantity of species, you know, a mixed bag of species, you want different habitats," explained Rene Wendell.

He's the former president of the Hoffman Bird Club of Berkshire County, and works for the Nature Conservancy as a land steward for over 1,000 acres in Western Massachusetts.

“You have the river right by there, so you could get the wading birds and the ducks and the geese and stuff like that," he told WAMC. "You also have a lot of field edge habitat. They got a giant field there that they- I don’t know if they're still using it for agriculture, but they had a little bit of a farm going on there. So you get a lot of birds that are using edge habitat, and they're feeding- Like, the warblers and different stuff. And then you got the forest that's behind there. So then there's a whole ‘nother suite of birds that utilize a forest habitat. So it's the differing habitats there that make that a great place to bird.”

Wendell will lead this weekend’s spring birding walk around the property, first built in the 1780s as a farmhouse and inn. With spring migration fully under way, flocks of birds headed north to Canada are sweeping through Berkshire County to feast on bugs and breed.

“I bet we'll get 40, 50 species just right at Herman Melville's Arrowhead," said Wendell. "The yellow warblers will be breeding. You know, chestnut-sided warblers will be there. Hopefully, we'll get some migratory warblers like Wilson's warbler or Cape May warbler, Blackpoll warbler. Those are those are really sexy ones I'm looking for. Cuckoos are great. Melville's Arrowhead is right next to Housatonic River, so that's a minor flyway. Birds use the river as a corridor. So maybe we'll see, you know, ducks and herons, and you know, anything. We could see anything, Josh!”

While Wendell’s eye is out for rarer species, he wants to make it clear that even the most basic Berkshire birds make for a good time.

“I mean, honestly, you know- What is one of our best looking birds? A blue jay," he said. "You ever just like sat back and like, you know- They're so commonplace, we take them for granted. But just, the next time you see one, look at a blue jay and just think about how crazy awesome beautiful that bird is.”

That said, it’s always special to track down a rarity.

“Some of these rarer birds have more of a buzzy call," said Wendell. "I'm always on the alert for a buzz call. Like, blue-winged warblers will go bee-buzz. It's not like a cardinal singing. If you're hearing the songs that you're always hearing, that's probably one of the more common birds. But something that makes a call that’s bee-buzz, you’ve got to try to get on that bird to see what it is. Yeah, it's something that's really repetitive. Usually it's a male trying to sing and trying to find a mate this time of year.”

Wendell says birding offers something of a tonic to the endless crisis of modern American life.

“I started out like every other kid, playing Donkey Kong and Pac Man," he told WAMC. "I like video games, too. But when you're outside, it's just peaceful. And when you're looking at these creatures going about their daily business, it's just hard not to believe that the world is a great place still, even with all the troubles it faces. There's still this bird, you know, and it's feeding its young, it's building its nest. There's solace and joy in nature that is just- You know, you can't get it anywhere else but nature.”

This weekend’s walk is geared toward birders of all feathers.

“We're going to be walking around outside, weather looks like it's going to be pretty decent," said Wendell. "You don't even necessarily even have to have binoculars. I'll try to be doing some birding by ear, listening to some calls. Even if you have cheap binoculars- I mean, you got to start somewhere. So you can come if you're an advanced birder or you're just a novice. All are welcome.”

The Berkshire County Historical Society’s spring migration bird walk at Arrowhead lead by Rene Wendell starts at 7 a.m. Saturday.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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