Friday, September 18, 2009

An account of a trip to New England etc in fall 2009

Getting to the East Coast

August 26, Wednesday

Various delays had forced a late start and haste getting to the east coast where I hoped to catch the southbound shorebird migration. First I headed north into Missouri, and a place called Eagle Bluffs CA, south of Columbia, where the local birders had established it as hotspot. I hadn't been there before. It was deceptively hard to get into since there was a single route, and none too direct. Once there, it had great promise, but not on the particular day I arrived. I spent an hour there, and lost another from the detour. I was attracted by the promise of shorebirds there as well as at my next stop, Otter Slough CA, which I had been to and which was very attractive, as well as the area roundabouts. Once more I came up short on shorebirds, but did manage a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. I found several of those on the trip, and though generally just a flitting form in the canopy, the distinctive call was a theme for the trip. Per-weee. A lot like a Peewee but without the tonal dip in the middle, and never followed by a second installment of we-ooo. It's surprising that they call so much in the fall.

From there I crossed into Tennessee, and made a stop at the north end of Reelfoot NWR. It wasn't very birdy, but there was one critter on a fence-line that reminded me of something I'd seen in a field guide, but never could find it. Just another mystery. From there it was north into Kentucky where I camped at a Land-between-the-Lakes campground. Reasonable and fully equipped, and a short drive to the morning target. I drove 500 miles in fourteen hours, so there really wasn't much birding.

August 27, Thursday

In the morning I birded around the campground briefly, then north back out of the park and over to the Clark's River NWR office as they opened. It's the only NWR in Kentucky. It's new enough that it's not very consolidated or developed, so the map is a patchwork, stretched out in pieces along the river. I picked a couple of spots that didn't require a long drive and birded those. I managed to hit 30% in KY, but the rest of the day was mostly driving. I cut into Indiana for Big Oaks NWR, but found that access was limited in time and space, it's an old military proving ground, complete with UXOs (Unexploded Ordinance), orientation sessions, and signed waivers. Good thing I got there too late to actually get to an accessible area. But there's a state park SW of Madison, Clifty Falls, that looked really promising, river access on the Ohio, geology, and access to the historic part of town. Some other time.

Back across the river to Big Bone Lick SP, site of early paleontological finds that put the early US on that science's map and caught Thomas Jefferson's attention. Too bad that the genuine sites have been swallowed by the meandering river, and camping seemed too dear as well. I kept driving. I was following the river, passing lots of big industry, some active, some moth-balled by the current bad economy or the march of far eastern technology. Still very impressive. I drove well into dark along the northern bank, 620 miles for the day. Finally found camping north of Ironton at Vesuvius Lake. I was in good position for West Virginia the next day.

August 28, Friday

The morning was drizzly and I was up before dawn hoping for owls. Found parking at a boat launch on the lake, and played tapes to no avail. As it got lighter a trail appeared at the end of the lot, handicapped accessible, and excellent habitat. It went through an area that was an early American iron works, and ended at a neat overhanging bluff that the Indians must have loved. Good birding. Added a couple of tics for OH in an hour. Then back across the river into WV, and a stop at Green Bottom on the Ohio R, again hoping for shorbs. There aren't many places in WV that hold a lot of promise that way. My notes say the birding was good there, but I only added 1 tic. A long drive across the state to the northern edge and Cranesville Swamp. I've never had good luck there, not in line with how interesting the habitat looks. It's a relict alpine pothole, vegetation from much further north, and significantly colder than the surrounding countryside, which may account for the paucity of birds. I managed to feed myself a nice supper at "Melanie's" across from Cathedral Grove SP before going to the swamp, and afterwards crossed into Maryland, Garrett County, targeted for it's high altitude Appalachian birds. Stayed in Garrett State Forest sleeping long in the rain.

August 29, Saturday

A drippy morning and a slow start, but after looking around where I'd parked and slept. I started back for the highway and made a stop by a small wetland. Hit the jackpot. Several warbler species new for MD, some other passerines, and for a finale, an Evening Grosbeak. I made a couple of other stops in Garrett County, including another park and a different section of Garrett State Forest. Managed to find one of those non-roads in the GPS database, and its consequent long backtrack, but in all picked up ten new species for Maryland. After that I was happy to get into Pennsylvania and simply drive to my brother's house near State College, with just one stop at Black Moshannon State Park. I need to stay there overnight sometime in the spring, it's great and unique habitat, an extensive boggy wetland and shallow lake with upland Allegheny woods all around. At Chris's it was visit and wifi and steak dinner on the barbie with his son, my nephew John, and a couple of his classmates at Penn State.

August 30, Sunday

In the morning I hiked up the road that runs in front of Chris's cottage. The area is called Fisherman's Paradise and it is. There's a beautiful 50 foot wide bubbling trout stream right down the middle of the narrow little valley, and at the upper end, a State Fish Hatchery. I poked around in there, watching fish and looking for birds. Mostly they were scarce except for Ospreys, about twenty of those, I'd never seen so many so close and close together, and even a Bald Eagle for an accent. Got back to the house and hung out until we took a drive later in the day. I had found a description of a nature center nearby, and we poked around in the PA byways until we found it. Walked around in there about an hour, Chris had never been there and really liked it. On the way back we stopped at a nice restaurant for sports food and baseball games on TV, then he showed me some more back-ways including the road that runs above the Paradise valley on the side I had never approached from. Whiled away the evening with more Internet surfing and Little League championships on the tube.


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