I set the alarm for 2:10. I was going to set it for 2:00 but I figured I could use an extra ten minutes of sleep. Typically when I set the alarm I wake up before it goes off. Not at 2:10. I slid off the bed in the dark and headed to the bathroom. I had planned ahead, sleeping in my contact lenses and leaving the rewetting drops next to the sink so I wouldn’t have to open the noisy drawer. I brushed my teeth and headed downstairs. My clothes were ready to go. I dressed while the espresso was brewing and the water was boiling. I mixed the two, added some cream in my travel mug, grabbed my backpack and headed out.
I don’t usually have a fear of the dark. I know my way from the house to the car. I did hesitate this morning, just for a moment, however. Skunks are about. Surprising one would have added a complication to my morning plans. Once I was driving it was smooth sailing all the way to Bolton. I passed two other cars on the way.
Coffee polished off, I started hiking in the dark. I have hiked that same way many times. The moon was full but it was mostly hidden by clouds. Nonetheless, I did not use my headlamp most of the way. The trail is not all that rough and I had enough light. Once I got to the wet part of the trail that hides between tall trees, I had to use a light. I got to my starting point at about 10 minutes to 4:00.
The idea is to listen between 4:00 and 6:00. When I first started doing this survey the suggested hours were 6:00-8:00. That did not prove as successful as these earlier hours. My route was a lot harder as well so even getting done by 8:00 was pretty much not happening. The route changed a bunch of years ago to what it is today–same mountain, easier navigation. I had not heard any birds on my hike. The first song was at 4:03, a white-throated sparrow. I waited a few minutes to officially start and even then heard only three birds in ten minutes of listening.
At the second of five points I had better luck. The main target species here is Bicknell’s thrush. I heard three of them at this point, which is rare on this survey route. I have heard two before, but never three at once. Hearing one is exciting enough. Knowing that these diminutive, shy birds have flown all the way back from Dominica is truly heartening. By this time all the birds seemed to wake up. This morning chorus was rich, so many birds singing and calling that I had to concentrate to distinguish them all. The silent woods came alive.
On the way to point three I heard another two Bicknell’s thrush and they kept singing so I heard them during my official point count. I heard a sixth one at point five. I heard all of the other four target species, along with lots of others, so the morning was a success. I stopped to take a couple of photos. The ones above were taken at about 5:15. Then my camera battery died. Too many videos of the children apparently.
I took my time hiking back down. Twice I got a good peek at blackpol warblers through my binoculars. Plus, I found 35 cents. What a deal. I was back at the car and changed into dry clothes by 7:00. In the parking lot of On the Rise Bakery in Richmond I called home. The family was awake and happy. I headed inside for a maple latte and some home fries, content that I had done a good day’s work. And they hadn’t even started serving brunch yet.