Salisbury Beach State Reservation, located on the northern coast of Massachusetts, just south of the New Hampshire border and north of Plum Island, is a destination well known by birders. The park itself is 521 acres of mostly sand dunes, scrub grasses, 3.8 miles of coastline and infrastructure, and has many amenities, including a playground, updated bathroom and shower facilities, a picnic area and pavilion, and boardwalks for walking along the dunes. There’s a large day-use parking area, as well as an extensive campsite with overnight parking and access for swimming, boating, fishing and camping.
New England is known for its distinct seasons and ever-changing weather, so the best way to enjoy a visit to Salisbury Beach is to prepare for anything. Summers are typically hot and often muggy, while winters can be bitter cold, but any given day can bring unseasonal weather. Because Salisbury Beach is on the coast, an ocean breeze is typical, so it usually feels a little cooler than it does farther inland. In terms of dress, layers are the way to go—a jacket and long pants can both shelter you from the sun and wind as well as keep you comfortable regardless of temperature.
I traveled to Salisbury Beach during an irruption year when northern bird species migrate farther south than usual due to scarce food in their typical winter range. When I arrived, there was large group of photographers crowded around where a snowy owl had been spotted. Not wanting to disturb the bird, I wandered farther into the park and spent the afternoon photographing white-winged crossbills. On my way out of the park, I spotted the snowy owl near the exit road and not another photographer in sight. I slowly approached the owl over the course of an hour, taking photos and observing for any signs of stress as I went. In this photograph, I purposely included an out-of-focus, snow-covered sand dune in the foreground to create a pleasing soft blur. When the cloud cover broke, allowing a hint of pink sunlight through, I got my shot.
Unless you are a fan of crowds, the absolute worst time to visit Salisbury Beach is during the summer as it is one of Massachusetts’ most popular ocean beaches. Camping is permitted in the park from early May to mid-October, and during peak season the 484-site campground is packed with hundreds of RVs and campers. At other times of the year the park is considerably quieter, and it’s much easier to enjoy, explore and photograph nature.
If wildlife photography is your thing, fall and winter are ideal seasons to visit Salisbury Beach. At this time of year, one can often spot harbor seals sunning themselves on the rocks and along the jetty. Birds migrate along the coast through this area, and pitch pine trees throughout the easy-to-navigate campground provide ample foraging for many species, including uncommon northern birds during irruption years.
Contact: Salisbury Beach State Reservation, mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks/region-north/salisbury-beach-state-reservation.html
See more of Kari Post’s work at karipost.com.