Why Migratory Birds Need the Mt. Holyoke Range
As we gratefully welcome spring this year, bird song is beginning to fill the air. When you walk in the woods, many of the songs you hear come from migratory birds as they announce their breeding territories in their most colorful plumage of the year.
In the Valley, we’re fortunate to have a large, contiguous woodland that hosts a wide variety of some of our most charismatic songbirds. This is the Mount Holyoke Range–part of the Mount Tom/Mount Holyoke/East Mountain Range complex that includes more than 8,000 acres. The Mount Holyoke section is geographically unique because it runs roughly west to east. Mass Audubon officially designated this region as an Important Bird Area (IBA): a distinct region that provides essential habitat for bird species while breeding, wintering, or migrating. (Read more here.) These high-value places are key sites for conservation, which is one reason Kestrel prioritizes conservation of lands on the Range.
The Connecticut River is an important migration route for many species of migratory songbirds and birds of prey. The unusual orientation of the Range and its proximity to the river attract many species of birds, either to rest and refuel during migration or to establish breeding territories.
The area also provides a rich mix of habitats with its ponds, wetlands, woodland streams, rocky cliffs, talus slopes, and grassy former ski slopes.
Large tracts of forest provide important breeding habitat for interior forest birds like the Whippoorwill, Worm-eating Warbler, Cerulean Warbler (photo above), Eastern Towhee, Scarlet Tanager, Veery and Wood Thrush. Peregrine Falcons once nested on the rocky cliffs of Mount Tom as well.
To glimpse some of these distinguished visitors, try walking the Skinner State Park Road toward the Summit House on a morning in May. The stretch between the Summit House and the Halfway House offers plenty of bird sighting opportunities. Or take the hiking trails deeper into this important habitat for forest birds, all along the Range.
This article was contributed by Anthony Hill of South Hadley, an amateur ornithologist, retired microbiologist, and member of Kestrel’s Board of Directors.