Home   Birds and Birders at the Arlington Reservoir
By Karsten E. Hartel. 22 April 1999 

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This report is presented to establish baseline data on important aspects of the Arlington Reservoir; namely, the great abundance and diversity of bird life that can be seen in the area and use of the site by birders. This report is written to document the value of the site in these regards.

The Town of Arlington owns the Reservoir and all of the immediate land surrounding it, including an extension along Munroe Brook. The area is under the management umbrella of the Arlington Public Works Department. The Arlington Park and Recreation Commission has jurisdiction over the swimming area. Since the Reservoir is situated in both Arlington and Lexington, its wetland status is under the jurisdiction of both Arlington and Lexington Conservation Commissions. The ecology and public use of the area points out the need for a comprehensive management plan for the area. Indeed, goals in that plan could well include enhancement of the area for wildlife.


The Arlington Reservoir is an important migratory area for many waterbirds and the surrounding uplands provide fair to good habitat for songbirds. Nearly 150 species of birds have been seen in the immediate area (see a full list in Appendix 1). The habitat is probably the "wildest" in Arlington and its diversity attracts the birds even though the Reservoir was artificially created.

The seasonal fluctuation in water level creates good three seasons of spectacular birds. It draws diving ducks and grebes (in the deep end) and dabbling ducks, shorebirds and herons around the weeds and mudflats (shallow end). There are no other habitats quite like these elsewhere in Arlington. At times the Reservoir draws a wider variety of waterfowl than the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord. 


Over the last ten years, birding, or in other words observing wild birds for enjoyment, has grown immensely in popularity. A recent survey shows that there are an estimated 54 million participants in this endeavor in the United States. This survey also shows that birding is participated in by more people than such traditional outdoor activities such as hiking and camping. The number of people fishing or bicycling only exceeds the number birding by three to four million participants.

In April of 1999, a survey of subscribers to local bird listservers were asked how often they visited the Reservoir between Spring 1998 and Spring 1999. The responses (Appendix 2) show that the 76 birders spent 1060 birder visits to the Reservoir. The respondents (and the people who might have been with them) probably represent only a small portion of the birders visiting the Reservoir. Expanding the sub-sample to a total estimate is difficult, but a few thousand day visits is not out of the question over a period of a year. Surely this outnumbers the fisherpeople and maybe even the recreational walkers using the area. 

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