At the southern end of the tidal waterway called the Lagoon, which has shores in both Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, is a property which is home to the Oak Bluffs Pumping Station, a working 19th-century complex of buildings, machinery and wells which continues to provide a portion of that town’s water supply.
Birders love this place, especially in springtime.
From the south, a small stream flows between high earthen banks to feed a sizable freshwater lake called Lagoon Pond. The lake water escapes into the saltwater Lagoon via a herring run, which crosses an earthen causeway separating the fresh from the tidal.
The habitat here is chock-full of nesting birds in summer. In the fall, because so much exciting bird life can be found elsewhere on the Island, it is not such a draw for birders. However, in winter it can be a “hot” location for waterfowl when open water has frozen elsewhere.
For some reason, the northern section of Lagoon Pond nearest the causeway often remains unfrozen, thus providing food resources for diving and dabbling ducks, coots and pied-billed grebes, geese and swans. Also there is drinking and bathing water for wintering gulls.
Spring is when birding at the pumping station is really special. When the cold waters of Vineyard Sound and the Atlantic are reining back the emergence of new foliage on the Vineyard, this is one place that warms earliest and turns green first. The fresh stream valley bordered by tall beeches, the constant flow of spring water under flowering red maples and furry willows and the great variety of flora produce a habitat most attractive to arriving nesting species and transients looking for shelter, rest and sustenance on their northward passage.
Where young leaves emerge on deciduous trees and blossoms cover fruit trees and shrubs, the insect population thrives. This brings in the birds.
The presence of constant fresh spring water enhances the appeal. Convenient access and the beautiful terrain attract birders looking for both the signs of spring and the potential for seeing some unusual passerine visitors: the earliest swallows, vireos moving through, warblers headed for boreal nesting grounds, flycatchers, orioles, tanagers and grosbeaks.
Visiting here is taking a step back in time: the long graveled walk in alongside the lake, leading to a stone building with portico and tall chimney; slate roof tiles still hanging on; a pair of arched stone windows watching the waterway. The surroundings are unusual for the Vineyard, lush and tangled, with willows sprawling down over the water, concealing the shore like a southern bayou.
It seems like the population density of the nesting birds here is hitched up a notch or two. There is always a kingfisher perched somewhere along the littoral. You can count on black-crowned night herons making a home in the tumble of willows at the very southern end of open water. There is an osprey family atop the stone chimney. Robins drop down to gather mud to make their nests. Red-winged blackbirds scold and chase. Yellow warblers sing on both sides of the lake and careen through the bushes. On the water, cormorants patrol near the herring run and a family of mute swans adds quiet contrast.
This place is beyond pleasant. It is inspiring.
Directions: From the four-way-stop intersection on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, head north toward Oak Bluffs on Barnes Road. Pass the entrance of the Featherstone Center for the Arts on your right. At the bottom of the hill, look for a very small parking lot on your left with a display about river herring. Follow gravel road alongside Lagoon Pond.
Lanny McDowell is a West Tisbury artist and photographer whose fine art avian photos will be available later this summer.