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A bridge crosses the Green Harbor River at the Daniel Webster Sanctuary in Marshfield. Photo by Sandy Bacon.

One hundred years ago, the Massachusetts Audubon Society established its very first wildlife preserve, the Moose Hill Bird Sanctuary in Sharon. The organization got started in 1896, when its founders, Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna B. Hall, began a well-publicized effort “to restrict the killing of birds and sale of their plumage.” Hemenway and Hall setting out to convince the masses that birds need not be sacrificed simply so their feathers could serve as adornments on fashionable ladies’ hats.

Twenty years later, in 1916, Dr. George W. Field of Sharon donated his estate to Mass Audubon, in order “to attract birds and people interested in birds.” And since then, Audubon has been diligently acquiring, preserving, and maintaining wildlife habitat across Massachusetts. There are now a total of 56 Audubon sanctuaries statewide. And three of those are right here on the South Shore!
These three preserves – Daniel Webster, North River, and North Hill Marsh — are some of my favorite local places to enjoy the natural world. Chances are, if you’ve resided on the South Shore for any length of time, you’ve observed the simple white-and-blue signs encouraging visitors to stop in. And if you’ve gone farther than those signs – up long driveways or down unassuming residential streets to parking areas and trailheads – you’ve experienced some of our areas most lovely open spaces. But if not, here’s a quick overview of what’s right in your backyard. Why not treat yourself and check one out sometime soon!
Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary
Winslow Cemetery Road, Marshfield (off Webster Street)
578 acres, 3.5 miles of trails
“Panoramic” is the word that comes to mind when I consider the Daniel Webster Sanctuary. The parking area is situated on a small rise, and even from there, you can see quite far in almost every direction. The sanctuary’s agricultural history is still evident in the landscape. Visitors can follow well-marked trails through the woods and across wide meadows. There are ponds and wetlands, with two observation blinds. Boardwalks and bridges extend the reach of the trail system across the Green Harbor River and through the red cedar swamp along its banks. Depending on the time of year, you may see turtles sunning themselves, green herons fishing, muskrat and mink hunting, or even (especially at dusk) coyote and white-tailed deer. And of course a diverse array of avian life – bobolinks, purple martins, northern harriers and Savannah sparrows. No pets, running or bike riding. See below for additional visitor guidelines.
North River Wildlife Sanctuary
2000 Main Street, Marshfield (Route 3A)
225 acres, 2.5 miles of trails
Among its many charms, the North River Wildlife Sanctuary offers visitors a spectacular view of the North River and the vast estuary at its mouth. To experience it, you’ll have to walk across Summer Street, through grasslands, and finally through woods, where a boardwalk leads to a platform that overlooks the river. If you do nothing else on your visit to North River Sanctuary, you will have seen one of the South Shore’s most beautiful landscapes. But that’s not all North River Sanctuary has to offer. There are also trails through oak forest, a Sensory Trail for the blind and people with mobility issues, and up-close views of Hannah Eames Brook. You’ll see birds at this preserve, of course, and probably dragonflies too. When conditions are just right in the winter, be sure to look for the harbor seals. No pets, running or bike riding. See below for additional visitor guidelines.
North Hill Marsh
Mayflower Street, Duxbury (in the Duxbury Town Forest)
146 acres, 5 miles of trails
No one wants to get lost in the woods, but if you’d like to “lose yourself” there for an hour of two the North Hill Marsh is an ideal destination. Audubon describes it as “as sanctuary within a refuge.” One of many contiguous open space parcels in Duxbury’s Eastern Greenbelt, this relatively small preserve feels infinitely larger, due to its surroundings. Most of the property– 90 acres — is a pond. The rest is oak and pine woodlands, made accessible via several well-marked trails. I recommend bringing a map, though! (You can download one from Audubon’s website.) It is a home to a wide array of migratory waterfowl – herons, egrets, kingfishers, and a variety of ducks, as well as three types of turtle. Look carefully at the pond’s edge, and you may see mink, otters or muskrats. Dogs are welcome at North Hill, but only on-leash, and please keep them out of the pond. Boating is prohibited.
All of the above sanctuaries are open daily, dawn til dusk. The following guidelines, posted by Mass Audubon for your safety, as well as to avoid conficts with wildlife, apply to all three properties.
Leave everything as you find it, and do not pick or collect items.
Remain on the trails at all times to protect plants, animals, and yourself.
• Refrain from driving motorized vehicles.
• Refrain from fishing, hunting, or trapping.
• Refrain from launching, operating, or retrieving drones or other remote-controlled aerial vehicles.
• Enjoy snacks or picnics in designated areas, and carry out all trash.
• Do not smoke.
For more information, visit www.massaudubon.org or call 781-837-9400.
by Kezia Bacon

April 2016 

Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 20 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com