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88. Mason Farm Biological Reserve, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

This natural area next to Finley Golf Course is the place to see Yellow-breasted Chat, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Hooded and Prothonotary Warblers, and Red-headed and Pileated Woodpeckers.

The golf clubhouse belies the hotspot found just behind it, so you’d be forgiven for thinking at first glance that Mason Farm Biological Reserve isn’t much. That was the impression I shared upon my first trip, but once you find the gravel road in the back of the parking lot, you’ll soon realize how wrong first impressions can be.

Mason Farm was the first place I went birding when I moved to North Carolina, and I still find myself going back often because the birding is so consistently good in all seasons.

In February, if I’m really lucky, I can witness the bizarre aerial display of the American Woodcock from the parking lot at dusk. On an easy two-mile walk in spring and summer, the fields teem with Blue Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, and Yellow-breasted Chats. Prothonotary Warblers sing from creekside woods, and White-eyed Vireos vehemently defend every willow thicket. And Hooded, Kentucky, and Yellow-throated Warblers come here to nest.

The site list, which contains nearly every species of bird seen in the region, attests to the amazing potential of the farm, something I’m reminded of on nearly every visit. — Nathan Swick

Nathan Swick is the eBird reviewer for North Carolina and is active in the Wake Audubon Young Naturalist Club. He writes about birds and birding at

88. Mason Farm Biological Reserve, Chapel Hill, North Carolina


Mason Farm Biological Reserve is a 367-acre natural area adjacent to a golf course in Chapel Hill. From I-40, take exit 273 and go west on Hwy. 54. Drive about 2.5 miles, and turn left on Finley Golf Course Rd. Go 0.7 mile to the golf clubhouse, and turn left into the parking lot. Drive to the southeast corner of the lot and follow the gravel road to the gate.

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
35°53’32.66″N 79°0’59.35″W


Brushy fields, oak-hickory forest, wet meadows.


Flat. Two-mile mowed grass and gravel trail.


216 species. Winter: American Woodcock, Rusty Blackbird, Song, Lincoln’s, and Fox Sparrows, Blue-headed Vireo, Winter Wren. Spring and summer: Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-breasted Chat, Indigo Bunting, Common Yellowthroat, Summer Tanager, Kentucky, Hooded, Prothonotary, and Yellow-throated Warblers, Acadian Flycatcher, American Redstart, Orchard Oriole. King Rail has nested. Fall: Olive-sided Flycatcher, fall warblers. Year-round: Red-headed and Pileated Woodpeckers, Eastern Bluebird, Barred Owl, Pine Warbler, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher.

When to go

Spring, fall, and winter are excellent. Summer is good but can be buggy.


Recent sightings list and map near the reserve sign by the parking lot. The Chapel Hill Bird Club occasionally hosts bird walks. No facilities on site. Restrooms and water fountains are available at the North Carolina Botanical Garden’s Education Center, less than one mile to the west.


North Carolina Botanical Gardens natural area. A permit and key card for the electronic gate are required and available with a $5 deposit or purchase at the Education Center. Parking is free.


Be prepared for ticks, chiggers, and biting insects during summer and early fall. A low bridge must be crossed to get to the reserve’s parking lot; after heavy rains it can be impassable.

For more info

North Carolina Botanical Gardens, (919) 962-0522.
Chapel Hill Bird Club
Wake Audubon Young Naturalist Club
Carolina Bird Club

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