Salisbury Beach to Plum Island
In general the Salisbury Beach to Plum Island area is not as productive a seawatch area as Cape Ann or the Maine Coast. It is entirely public land and some parts can be birded from the car
What Can You See?
Seabirds to look for are Kittiwakes, grebes, loons, and ducks. Alcids seem to prefer more rocky coasts while this is an area of sandy beach. No birder goes out in winter to look exclusively for seabirds and this description will include opportunities for other birds. This area also produces owls, Crossbills, Hawks, and sparrows.
Directions To Salisbury State Park Beach
From Newburyport, Massachusetts take Route 1A north across the draw bridge over the Merrimack River. At a large traffic light, Route 1 A turns right onto Beach Street. Follow Beach St ( Route 1A ) north for some distance past several motels. Opposite a miniature golf course is the entrance to Salisbury Beach State Park. Turn right into the park.
Look for Rough-legged Hawks, Snowy and Short-eared Owls in the marsh to the right of the entrance road. Follow this road through the entrance gates ( No charge in winter). Just past the entrance to the camp ground make a left turn into the parking lot for the beach. To your right as you enter the parking lot is a playground and a handicapped accessible bathroom here which is open all winter. (No water. )
To the left is the beach and seawall at the mouth of the Merrimack River. Scan here for sea ducks, loons, grebes, and Black-legged Kittiwakes. Check out the seawall for Purple Sandpipers.
Retrace your route back to the main park road and enter the campground. Just past the sewage dump is a grove of trees which should be searched for Sawwhet and Long-eared owls. Proceed to the south end of the campground to the boat ramp and park here. Handicapped birders can park parallel to the water. Scan the river for gulls and ducks.
Drive up and down the camping rows to search for small owls. In recent years both White-winged and Red Crossbills have wintered here feeding on the pine cones.
From Salisbury State Park return to 1A and turn left. Follow 1 A for some distance until you cross the bridge into Newburyport. At the end of the bridge take the right off ramp to Water Street. Make a left turn onto Water Street and follow it through downtown Newburyport. The road will eventually run along the river past the Joppa Flats Audubon Center and accross the causeway to Plum Island. At the first intersection turn right to enter the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
There is usually no attendant at the gate to collect entrance fees in winter, but visitors are expected to put fee of $5 per car into a pipe safe just inside the gate. Duck Stamps and Golden Age Passports (Now called the Interagency Pass) are accepted. Refuge is open from sunrise to sunset with an automatic gate.
There are several ocean view platforms within the refuge for viewing. None allow viewing from the car, but some are wheelchair accessible and all are easy walking. There are plenty of opportunities for viewing other birds within the refuge from the many lookout points and short walking trails.
Parking Lot #1
The first stop inside the gate to Plum Island is parking lot #1 on the left. There are restrooms and a small visitors center open only in season. There is no view of the ocean from the parking lot.