The Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield, Massachusetts, is the perfect place to discover why a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The feeling of a nuthatch or black-capped chickadee landing on your palm or fingertips is simply incredible! Their tiny claws cling so briefly they actually tickle. You have to experience it for yourself to totally appreciate the magic of it all.
Trails and Boardwalks
With over 12 miles of connecting trails, the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary is one of Mass Audubon’s largest sanctuaries. The trails wind through forests and meadows, while boardwalks guide you through the marshes and wetlands. There’s plenty to see no matter which trail or boardwalk you take — including some pretty impressive beaver dams!
As you wind your way through the wetlands, the scenery changes throughout the seasons. Autumn brings colorful reflections, while the barren trees of winter showcase such structures as the stone bridge.
Birds! Birds! Birds!
A wide variety of birds visit the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary throughout the year. So many, in fact, that the sanctuary has created a checklist that you can print out and carry with you. This impressive list certainly comes in handy. I’ve found myself “Googling” the different names to see what they all look like. Apparently there is a birder locked inside this photographer!
During my visits to the sanctuary I’ve found the black-capped chickadees to be the most friendly — and hungry. I’ve also discovered that late winter is an especially active time for them to hand feed. The summer crowds have not yet appeared and the number of outstretched hands are far fewer than those in the warmer months. One little chickadee in particular totally impressed me with his sheer determination to lift and open a pistachio nut.
You can’t miss the distinctive color of a red-wing blackbird. Such was the case when this beautiful male briefly landed on a branch as I walked along a wetland trail. Native to North America, the red-wing blackbird is a sure sign that spring has arrived.
The Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary has set up specific areas on the property with numbered nesting boxes for the Eastern bluebird. These areas have defined boundaries to keep people at bay and the birds undisturbed. The sanctuary staff keeps a close eye on the number of nesting bluebirds and their breeding results. Although it is tempting to approach the nesting boxes, please respect the boundaries when visiting.
The Tufted Titmouse is one of my favorite birds. I love their coloring and their tufted heads. There’s also something very cute about their black eyes and small, round bill. To me their shape slightly resembles that of a cardinal, only more compact. Their skittish personality is quite fun to watch. They are constantly on the move. What I find particularly entertaining is their seed-opening process. On this day I watched one methodical titmouse grab a sunflower seed, fly over to a branch, and whack the seed against the branch while using his bill to crack it open. He did this over and over. Apparently it worked like a charm. He was quite content — and so was I watching.
At the sanctuary, I discovered tree swallows love to frequent the Eastern bluebird nest boxes. The swallows’ metallic coloring continually caught my eye. When walking the trails, I found them primarily in the open fields or near the woods flitting from nest box to nest box. I’ve learned that tree swallows primarily feed on insects, so no wonder my sunflower seeds were of no attraction to them. In winter, however, they have been known to feed on berries. Perhaps I need to bring some with me next time I visit.
Of course other wildlife also exists at the sanctuary. The gnawed trees and large beaver dams surely convey that fact. While walking along the wetland boardwalks, it can be worth your while to keep your eye on the water’s edge. You never know what might slither by…
Cute Little Redheads
While a wide variety of feathery friends take to the sky, nest boxes and shrubs, there are some furry friends who traverse the sanctuary on land and jump from tree to tree. Just like the nuthatch, black-capped chickadee and tufted titmouse, the red-tailed squirrel also enjoys a tasty sunflower treat.
There’s always plenty to see and do at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s a great place year round to walk, hike and photograph. For early risers, deer can often be spotted at the edge of the woods or crossing a trail.
Special events are also offered periodically throughout the year. Now that the weather is getting warm, it’s the perfect time to explore all that the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary has to offer!
~ Liz Mackney