Published on October 18, 2021

A Favorite Birding Spot at Ashumet Holly

A restored clearing has become a birding hotspot at Ashumet Holly Wildlife Sanctuary

One of my favorite spots to check for birds at Ashumet Holly isn’t along a specific trail but in the recently restored fields in the first 8-10 acres of open space around the swallow barn at the information kiosks.

Historically enclosed in a moonscape of invasive porcelain-berry vines, this area has been opened up to many more native species by good management practices over the last several years.  It's usually an active area for all birds, with ornamental wind breaks protecting several of the 65 holly species planted by the well-known holly tree horticulturalist Wilfred Wheeler back in the 1920’s. The cover also offers protection for songbirds from speedy falcons and accipiters.

Busy with Fall Birds

In particular, the shrubby narrow field edge habitat invariably is busy with tricky “little brown jobbers” (also known as LBJs) with streaky breasts and caps, or the lively yellow and green-colored birds whose bouncing around in the treetops causes stiff necks! This narrow edge divides the field along its border with Currier Road and the mostly open oak woods in the neighborhood across the street.

Starting Your Walk

Starting along the west side of the field (left of the parking lot) is the best bet since the sun hits the trees here first, warming pockets in the brush which hide the insects that sparrows and warblers are scouring for to fuel their fall migration. But beware: this stretch is notorious among staff for the ticks that are present, and it is always a good idea to use repellent and prevention techniques to avoid picking any up while checking this part of the property.  

But the calculated risk is usually worth it. On my last visit I encountered several song sparrows that responded to “pishing”, a sound birders make that mimics bird alarm calls and entices hidden skulkers out into the open for better viewing.  It was a pleasure to find a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, although this spot at Ashumet Holly is the only place I’ve had one regularly. I also pulled off a sweep of Cape Cod’s year-round woodpeckers, the Red-bellied and both the Hairy and Downy woodpeckers.

In any season this is an area that shouldn’t be overlooked when visiting Ashumet Holly and it can be very easy to spend an hour or more exploring.


Chris Walz is property manager for Mass Audubon Cape Cod’s Mid Cape sanctuaries. He occasionally leads birding programs throughout the year.