Thursday, September 17, 2009

Into New York, western Mass, and Vermont Spruce Grouse

August 31, Monday

I had called ahead on Sunday to Ithaca, NY where my friend Laura Erickson is the editor of Birdscope, the non-technical publication of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. We arranged for lunch and maybe some birding at Sapsucker Woods, the lab's woodland habitat setting. I got out of Fisherman's Paradise before sunrise and arrived at the lab, which was easy to find since I'd tagged it into the GPS. Got there a little earlier than we'd planned to meet, so I walked around some, especially the loop trail around their small lake, then checked in with Laura. We walked around more extensively, since she naturally knew her way through the woods. She's published several books, and was thrilled when Cornell hired her, which was smart of them since she's eminently qualified. She's a way better birder than I am, but I was happy to catch and point out a calling Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. She says, so that's "per-weee". We went to a local quality sandwich place, really good, what you'd expect in a major University town. A great visit and a chance to see the insides of the premier academic ornithology center for the US, and possibly the world.

From there I headed into Adirondack State Park and stayed at one of the campgrounds on the south end. Arrived too late to do much birding, the place was mostly empty, no staff around. Same in the morning and a quick scan of the lake there revealed very little. Too early for waterfowl and I couldn't find any shorebird habitat.

September 1, Tuesday

It took a couple of hours to get to the approach road for Mount Greylock in Massachusetts, but it was immediately wonderful. I'd been there once before, but had found the road closed for a major rebuild, and had to retreat to a nearby SP in the rain. This time it was a beautiful late summer day. I'd stop every couple of miles at a pull-off, walk into the woods a hundred yards, play the owl tape, and harvest tics. At the top there's some kind of memorial, WWI I think, but I was more interested in birding around the mountain-top. The road down the other side was through more open woods with some meadows, hence different critters. Made a final stop at the Visitor Center at the south entrance, there's camping and some good mature woods there as well as the usual brochure and info grazing opportunity. In all about 3 hours on the mountain and six new tics for MA. Headed back north into Vermont, several stops including a good wifi spot in a library, but no particular luck finding shorebirds, not many promising spots, and what few there were failed their promise. I ended up just heading all the way north, and camped out at Wenlock WMA east of Island Pond. A pretty good day, but still mostly driving.

September 2, Wednesday

The reason I was at Wenlock was to try again for a Spruce Grouse. It was almost a nemesis bird, and I and two excellent birders from Rhode Island had failed to find one in the same place two years previous. I had studied the bird-finder book very thoroughly and decided that I had to be willing to walk to the very end of the trail, way beyond where we had turned back. I also had the advantage this time of an earlier start, and the quiet of a one person approach. I got hiking before sunrise with heavy dew on the trail, took my time, stayed quiet, didn't play the tape on the way in, and wasn't having any luck until it was there. I froze, expecting a flurry of feathers and a brief glimpse, since I was only about 30 feet away, maybe less. It had obviously seen me, and was watching. Then it stood up, slowly. It looked me over out of one eye, then the other. Very slowly it started turning around, ready to fly. But it kept turning, two full rotations, and by then we had both calmed down. I had the glasses on him, a beautiful male, speckled black with a greenish sheen on the chest, red around the eye, mostly above. The gold rim of the spread tail feathers was striking. He was displaying to me. After at least a minute of birder heaven he flew, but only went to a limb in a nearby tree. Stayed there for another minute, and finally dropped back into the woods. Everyone asks if I got a picture. No, but i got a camera that fits in a pocket and don't go without it now.

As far as I was concerned the trip was a success already. Walked back out to the road, like always amazed at how far I'd walked into the woods not really paying attention to distance. The sun was well up and I walked down to a bog near the trailhead where the road crossed it. The tape did its wonders there, and another birder came by and talked about finding Black-backed Woodpeckers, which I'd seen once in California. She drove on down the road that loops the WMA, and I played the woodpecker call. And one flew in, then the female as well. I hung around knowing she would have to come back by since the road is dead-end. Maybe twenty or thirty minutes later she came back, and I said she should stop and get out and I played the call again. Back they came, and then crossed the road over our heads and landed in a tree about twenty feet away. She got her picture, I didn't. Now that is a morning of birding at its very finest. Ended up with seven new tics for Vermont.

It was only about noon, and I drove on into New Hampshire and north to the Connecticut Lakes area. I had just missed a Spruce Grouse there also, when I arrived for a meeting with another excellent birder who had seen one just a minute or so before I arrived. I was greedy, and figured I could use another look in another state. Didn't happen. Drove around the area, making small stops which were productive, including a Cape May Warbler. I slept in the truck after birding around as the sun set, in a good spot for owls and already in place for the dawn action. Had four new tics for NH without much trouble. Finally had a day with more birding than driving, and slept well.


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