Eric Masterson to speak on “Birdwatching in New Hampshire” on March 8 in Hollis and March 13 in Merrimack
HOLLIS – It’s been a long, snowy winter, but spring is on its way, and with it comes outdoor activities like gardening and birding. Bulbs push up through the snow and mud, trees turn green again, planting season begins and our feathered friends who headed south for the winter begin to return.
To help get you thinking about spring, the Hollis Social Library and Beaver Brook Association are sponsoring a talk by ornithologist and author Eric Masterson at the Lawrence Barn on Depot Road in Hollis at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 8.
Masterson’s book, “Birdwatching in New Hampshire,” was published in April and includes detailed descriptions and maps of more than 210 birding sites around the state. In a press release from the publisher, University Press of New England, the book is described as “the essential guide to birdwatching in New Hampshire for beginners and accomplished regional birders.”
Although it includes many color photographs to help you identify species, “Birdwatching” is far from your typical field guide.
“You think of books that help you identify birds,” Masterson explained, “but this is a guide that helps you find them. There are about 810 species in the guide, and this book is about where, when and how to find the best birding moments in New Hampshire.”
Masterson has divided the state into six regions, each with a variety of birding destinations, and tips on preferred habitats, the best birding weather, timing of migrations, finding the best locations for viewing, equipment and what species are likely to be found in each region of the state.
A native of Ireland, Masterson has been interested in birds since the age of 11.
“I remember the exact day,” he said. “I was out with a friend of the family and he took me to a farm in County Wicklow. I noticed there were several species (of birds), each with a story.”
That discovery led him to study ornithology at University College Dublin. He moved to New Hampshire with his wife, Tricia, in 1999 and has worked in environmental conservation, including eight years at New Hampshire Audubon and at the Piscataquog Land Conservancy.
He currently works at the Harris Center in Hancock, where he is co-chair of the ornithology department and works as a land protection specialist, monitoring nearly 20,000 acres of conservation land held by the Harris Center. Masterson also serves on the New Hampshire Rare Bird Committee, and is a seasonal editor for the quarterly journal, New Hampshire Bird Records.
His interests in land protection and birding go hand-in-hand, and he wrote his book to help others, even beginners, enjoy the abundant bird life in the Granite State.
“On an annual basis, in excess of 300 species are seen in New Hampshire,” he said. “On the continent, there are fewer than 1,000, so that is pretty good for a tiny little state.”
Birders often head to the Seacoast or mountains to increase the number of species they’ve spotted. Mine Falls Park in Nashua is among the prime areas nearby for birding, because it lies within the Merrimack River corridor.
In a book jacket review, Mike Bartlett, president of New Hampshire Audubon, praises the book for the wealth of useful information, illustrations and photographs.
“My only complaint is that Eric Masterson didn’t produce this guide when I first moved to New Hampshire 16 years ago,” wrote Bartlett. “It would have saved a lot of wear and tear on my old body looking for all the right birds in all the wrong places!”
So, just what kind of advice does Masterson offer to the novice, and even experienced, birdwatcher?
“I can tell you how to make sure you are on Pack Monadnock when the hawks are migrating,” he said. “Sixty percent of hawks migrate between September 16th and 19th. They go one or two days on either side so you really have to nail it. How do you pick the right day? A lot of it boils down to weather.”
Masterson explained how weather affects bird behavior and offers that information to readers.
“No bird likes to fly into a headwind,” he said. “Southern tail winds in spring make for ideal weather that brings them into the state. Southern winds also correlate with rain, and birds don’t like to be brought down. When they migrate north in spring, you can have fallout when they seek shelter until the rain passes, and that can be a great time to get out.
“The islands off the coast are a good example. They can become concentrated (with many species of birds) because they’re less likely to fly at night. Even in the city, a large area like a park in Manchester is greenery within a concrete jungle,” Masterson said. “You can get magnification in areas like that that you wouldn’t get elsewhere. Central Park is another good example.”
The coast is a better place for observing migratory birds than inland, but Masterson said March is still a good month for birding throughout the state.
“In March, you get the waterfowl migration and you can see 30 species of ducks and geese heading north throughout the Merrimack Valley,” he said.
In his upcoming presentation, Masterson will offer advice on what’s happening locally and around the state during the spring season. He will also discuss other pointers regarding equipment, such as binoculars, telescopes and cameras.
“I carry a telescope everywhere because you can exponentially increase your world,” he said. “If you can’t identify something with binoculars, you can with a telescope. All this has an expense, but if you get serious, a telescope is a crucial item to have.”
Masterson is quick to point out that the telescope a birder would use is not the same as an astronomy telescope, which utilizes mirrors and creates an inverted image. A good birding telescope costs at least $500, but Masterson said there are frequent birding competitions that will offer binoculars or telescopes as prizes.
Masterson also writes a blog about birding, and offers guided weekend tours at Star Island. Visit www.ericmasterson.com for additional information.
Copies of “Birdwatching in New Hampshire” will be available for sale for $22.95 during the event, and Masterson will be happy to sign them and answer questions. If you miss the chance to attend the Lawrence Barn event, Masterson will also speak at the Merrimack Public Library at 7 p.m. day, March 13.