The Yellow Warbler shown in this print was photographed on Canal Street, at the edge of the Holyoke neighborhood known as The Flats:
Below, my field recording of the warbler:
I don’t know how many times I drove by the stretch of empty canal bed near the city neighborhood known as The Flats before it hit me: this would probably be a good place to look for birds.
It’s an area about a quarter mile long, a few dozen yards across, with industrial buildings on either side.
In February the place looks unremarkable in every way — except that, on the day I had my small epiphany, I noticed a stand of cattails at one end, near a maintenance facility for the city’s gas and electric department. Even though it was the middle of winter, I started to imagine that spring would see Red-winged Blackbirds visiting those cattails.
With that picture in mind, it was easy to imagine the rest of the canal bed filling in with vegetation, the gray tangles of brush turning green and filling out with leaves that would provide shelter and draw insects and bloom with seeds.
A perfect stopover for birds during the spring migration, it seemed.
The Red-winged Blackbirds showed up first; not in any great numbers, but with one or two reliably perching on the cattails each time I checked once the weather warmed.
The Yellow Warblers arrived in mid-may, brightening the landscape with their brilliant feathers and sharp, sweet songs.
Walking along Canal Street, it was easy to see a half dozen or more in a short period.
While the Yellow Warblers seemed to dominate this area during the spring migration, the short bushes and trees and small stream here offer habitat potential for a number of species.
It’s easy to slip into the habit of birding just a few reliably productive spots, to the exclusion of exploring new territory. Birding this area after driving by it so many times reminded me that there’s a lot of city left to discover.