Williamstown has many habitats for birds and bird-watching: rivers and river banks, parks and fields, valleys and high mountain forests, all an easy walk from the center of town.
Here are some favorite places and some of the most common species who live there or migrate through.
Williams College Athletic Fields at Cole Field
In the cat-tails along the pond, Great Blue and Green Heron wade, and you may find Belted Kingfisher, Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Mallard, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle and a variety of swallows, Chimney Swifts, and during migration, other dabbling ducks and Osprey.
In the trees at the edge of the pond and the oak and sycamore trees along the drive, look for Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Eastern Bluebird and Eastern Kingbird.
The wetlands along the south end of the pond may yield Swamp and Song Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, and in the woody edge, American Redstart.
Listen for Northern Flicker, Pileated, and Red-bellied Woodpecker in the deeper woods above the pond and for the songs of Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Veery.
On the field itself you may find American Crow and occasional Ring-billed Gulls, and Red-tailed and Sharp-shinned Hawk and Turkey and Black Vulture soar overhead.
Walk across the field toward the smaller pond and along the wood edge to add Gray Catbird, Wood Thrush, Cedar Waxwing and Barred Owl. Listen for Willow Flycatcher in the wetland behind the small pond. Black and White Warblers are common in the riparian woods.
There are several paths to the Hoosic River from the field near the pond. The most direct is the paved drive which leads to the back of the field. Near where the sidewalk ends, take a left onto the gravel road and walk along the river.
Common Merganser, Spotted Sandpiper, Belted Kingfisher, Kildeer, and Black Duck are common here along the water, and Bald Eagles often glide along the Hoosic River corridor.
For less common species from the pond to the river, you may catch a glimpse of Orchard Oriole, Bohemian Waxwing (in winter), many warblers during spring migration, American Bittern in the cattails of the large pond, Greater Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper, and other interesting sandpiper and plover species in late summer on the mud-flats at the river bend.
To get there by car: From Route 2 at the center of town, just east of the Williamstown Theater Festival, head north on Park Street to Lynde Lane and turn right into the college campus. At the 4-way stop at the tennis courts, turn left and head down the drive until you reach the field complex at the bottom and the pond on your right. Park along the guardrail.?
To get there by foot from the center of town (a 10-15 minute walk), you can start on Route 2 at the center of the Williams College, looking toward Chapin Hall, with Paresky Student Center on your left. Walk north past Chapin and downhill toward the cement gray modern dorm, Mission Park, and past it, down the drive, to the bottom of the hill and the pond.
Linear Park north
Williamstown owns land in several places along the Green River, each called Linear Park. At the entrance near the tennis courts, listen for Carolina Wren, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, and all six woodpecker species in the large trees.
Follow the gravel road into the park and along a berm. In spring, look for Wood and other ducks in the stream to the right, and in the tangle to the left of the berm look for Common Yellowthroat and Song Sparrow. During the winter, this is a good place for Tree and White-throated Sparrows.
At the end of the drive, to the right, a road leads into cornfields. To the left a path leads to the confluence of the Green and Hoosic Rivers, a good place for warblers during spring migration.
Heading right to the cornfield, look for resident species including Eastern Bluebird, Song Sparrow, Yellow Warbler, all Woodpecker varieties, Red-tail Hawk and Red-winged Blackbird. In the winter you may see Snow Bunting, Horned Lark, Rough-legged Hawk and Common Raven.
Head toward the river for woodpeckers, American Redstart, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore Oriole, Brown Creeper. The Hoosic River may yield Great Blue Heron, Common Merganser, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, American Crow, Common Grackle, Spotted Sandpiper, and Mallard, Black, and Wood Duck. Osprey (during migration) and Bald Eagle (all year) are fairly common along the river corridor.
To get there: From the Town center, head east on Main Street (Route 2), past the traffic light and the Abuchons hardware store and across the Green River. Across from the Maple Terrace Motel, and just before the brick building for Greylock Insurance, a short unmarked gravel road turns left. At the end of it you will see to the Town tennis court and the trail head with a map. From downtown it?s about a 15 minute walk.
Stone Hill/Clark Art Institute
Walk up the path through the woods from the main museum to Stone Hill, listening for Wood Thrush, Veery, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, American Redstart, woodpeckers and often a Barred Owl.
Where the trail follows the woodland edge, listen for Gray Catbird, Indigo Bunting, Cedar Waxwing, and Chestnut-sided Warbler, as well as the more common woodland birds.
Take a right at the top to reach a gate into the pasture and scan the trees at the field edge for Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore Oriole, Scarlet Tanager and Indigo Bunting. Woodpeckers, especially the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, often light in the trees in the pasture at the top.
At the top of the hill, you can look out across Williamstown. As you walk back down the hill through the pasture (keeping an eye out for cows), watch for a variety of species flying overhead.
Although the pasture isn’t rich enough for their nesting, occasionally a Bobolink will lift its yellow head above the meadow grasses. Check the hedgerows for Gray Catbird, Common Yellowthroat and Yellow Warbler, Song Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Phoebe and Red-winged Blackbird.
To get there: The Clark Art campus on South Street is an easy walk from the center of Williamstown. To walk or drive from Spring Street, you can follow Route 2 to the circle and turn onto Suoth Street, or take Walden Street west to Hoxsey Street and turn left up the hill; watch for signs and keep to the through-street, and it will lead you through The Knolls to South Street. Turn left to reach the museum. The trail system begins beyond the reflection pools to the south and winds through the woods to the top of the open pasture, with opportunities for woodland, edge and field species.The museum has maps of several miles of trails.
Williams College Hopkins Memorial Forest
Hopkins Forest is a college-owned woodland on Northwest Hill Road where students carry on research during the semester. As you walk up the dirt road to the trails, listen for Louisiana Waterthrush and Winter Wren in the nearby stream. All six woodpecker species, Brown Creeper, House Wren, American Redstart, Least Flycatcher and Veery are all likely here.
Walk up the drive and look for Tree Swallow, eastern Bluebird, Baltimore Oriole, Yellow and Chestnut-sided Warbler. In migration season the apple trees to the left of the drive are a good place to look for other warbler species, such as Magnolia, and Northern Parula.
Around the Rosenburg Center and Moon barn, look for birds associated with mature woodlands perched on snags, including Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Great-crested Flycatcher and Indigo Bunting.
The trails through the forest lead through mature hardwood forest and conifer plantations. Deep-wood species flock here in spring, including Red-eyed, Blue-headed and Yellow-throated Vireo, Wood Thrush, Wood Peewee, Barred Owl, Purple Finch, Black-throated Green, Blue, and Black and White Warblers, Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawk. Hermit Thrush and Ruffed Grouse sometimes appear at the higher elevations of the forest.
Hopkins Forest touches other trails and properties from here to the Taconic Crest, including Sheep Hill on Cold Spring Road (Route 7), a conservation property and headquarters of the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation, a land conservation trust.
Its expansive meadow with hedgerows and a small pond yield birds all year round including rarer sightings of American Kestrel, Eastern Towhee, Wilson’s Snipe, Field and Savannah Sparrow, and Barn Swallow. Trails on the hill allow very accessible bird-watching and the view of Mount Greylock from the top of the hill is stunning.
You can reach Hopkins Forest from Main or Bulkley streets, a walkable distance from the town center with an uphill climb.To get there, head north on Route 7 (there is a sidewalk), take a left on Bulkley Street and continue up the hill. Stay straight when the pavement ends. The sign for Hopkins Forest is on the left. Park in the lower parking lot and walk up the drive toward the Rosenburg Center and Moon barn.
Alternate route: head west on Main Street to the traffic circle and continue until you reach an intersection with a right-hand turn option only. Turn right and continue on the paved road until a gravel road goes left. Turn left and look for the Hopkins Forest sign.
Field Farm, a property of The Trustees of Reservations
A wide mix of habitats make this conservation property a great destination for birds and nature viewing. Check the wetlands for Green and Great-blue Heron, Wood Duck and nesting Canada Geese, and during migration Greater Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper.
The hay fields on both sides of Sloan Road will yield Bobolink. Other uncommon species include American Kestrel, Brown Thrasher, and a great variety of warblers including Chestnut-sided. Check the apple trees near the Guest House for Eastern Bluebirds. Unusual winter birds include Northern Shrike, Bohemian Waxwing and winter finches.
Getting there: On Sloan Road at the Five Corners: From Williamstown Center, follow Route 7 South towards South Williamstown. At the intersection with Route 43, take Route 43 West and immediately take a right onto Sloan Road. Follow Sloan Road a mile uphill to the entrance on right. If you reach Oblong Road and Cricket Creek Farm, you have just passed it.
In any of these places, you can see common visitors: White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Downy and Hairy Woodpecker, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Crow, Eastern Phoebe, House Wren, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, American Goldfinch, and House Finch.
Leslie Reed-Evans is an avid Williamstown birder and served for many years as director of the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation. For more information about finding birds, bird and nature walks, and reports of rare species, contact the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation, www.wrlf.org, or the Hoffman Bird Club, www.hoffmanbirdclub.org.