Dunback Meadow is one of my favorite fall birding spots. Low-growing trees and shrubs bordering its trails make it possible to view birds at eye level, and its moist meadow edges are ideal for those warblers that love to lurk. I recall a fall day when I watched three Connecticut Warblers in a single bush.
Ample fruit and seed sources also make it superb for migrating sparrows. A community garden near the entrance is one of the best places to look for seed eaters, but it is good for other species as well. Once I watched a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Philadelphia Vireo in the same field of view. Paths in the meadow are bordered by crabapples, cherries, and a variety of fruiting invasives that attract impressive numbers of Fox Sparrows. Double-digit counts are common, and I have seen as many as 30 on a single November day.
Winter at Dunback can be rewarding as well. In 1981, 22 Long-eared Owls roosted in the pine woods. The number has never been matched, but I have found screech-owls and Great Horned, Barred, Long-eared, and Northern Saw-whet Owls in a single day — and that includes five Long-ears and three Saw-whets! There are plenty of snags in the meadow to search for Northern Shrike, and birches along paths attract redpolls and siskins in flight years. — Marj Rines
Marj Rines is a part-time naturalist at Massachusetts Audubon Society, “Sightings” editor of the society’s journal Bird Observer, secretary of the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee, and a founding member of the Menotomy Bird Club. She is co-author of the three chapters on the Boston area in A Birder’s Guide to Eastern Massachusetts.
Meadow, marsh, pine woods, and mixed pine and deciduous woods.
A short downhill path leads to the main area, which is largely flat and easy to walk. New boardwalks in many places. Not wheelchair-accessible.
Breeders: American Woodcock, Yellow Warbler, Willow Flycatcher, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriole. Spring migrants: Warblers, thrushes, orioles, vireos, kinglets, Bobolinks. Ruby-throated Hummingbird and other fall migrants. Winter: Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks, Northern Shrike, and Great Horned, Barred, Long-eared, and Northern Saw-whet Owls; occasional redpolls and siskins. First state record of MacGillivray’s Warbler.
When to go
Best in fall and winter.
Some boardwalks. No visitors center or facilities. Local bird clubs occasionally lead walks.
Conservation land of the town of Lexington. Admission free, no closed hours. No access except by car. Free parking on Allen St. or in lot at nearby Clark Middle School (17 Stedman Rd.).