My work took me yesterday to Lyndon State College, in northeastern Vermont. Since I live on the western side of the state, it took me a couple of hours to get there. After an early start and a morning spent learning about the school, I was free to go. Since I was so close, relatively, to a birding spot I had hit last year, I thought I might give it another try.
I did not have a lot of time and this detour added about an hour to my drive home, but I was so close I couldn’t help myself. I drove north, through Island Pond, and snaked around to Wenlock Wildlife Management Area. I parked in a little dirt lot off the narrow dirt road, avoiding the logging trucks heading in empty and heading out full of logs. I pulled on trail shoes and a looser shirt (a dress shirt and shoes are not my standard birding attire) and headed into the woods.
There were four target birds on my list: Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, Spruce Grouse and Black-Backed Woodpecker. All of them live in the boreal forest and this is a good place, apparently, to see them. I did not have a lot of time–two hours max–and I was hoping to see at least one of them. I walked on the trail through mossy, dense forest, looking and listening carefully. Spruce Grouse, which I have never seen, are not easily spooked; I have heard one can walk right past them. Maybe I did. I certainly did not encounter much.
I found a few Red-Breasted Nuthatches and lots of Blue Jays, but none of the avian quatrain I was seeking. The woods were still and mostly quiet. I hiked downhill and squished my way down to the bog, water sneaking over the tops of my shoes. I stood near the water for a while, hoping for something. No luck. Not even a dabbling duck. So I got back to the car, while feeling great to be out on a fairly warm November day in a beautiful place, a little disappointed.
As I changed my shoes back to my dry ones for the drive home, however, a Gray Jay popped out of the woods and landed a few feet away. It hopped around on the ground, back up to the edge of the trees and then lit on a branch right next to me. “Well,” I said to it. “You are just who I have been looking for.” Then out came another one. I watched them for a bit and then figured it was time to go.
I turned back to the car but then heard a peeping in the brush across the road. It was the soft whistle of a chickadee, the sound I hear most often in winter made by Black-Capped Chickadees. Could I be, I wondered, a Boreal Chickadee? And then I heard it call its chick-a-dee call. Bam! Boreal Chickadee confirmed. I found it in the dense trees and then really did have to hit the road.
So in the end I found two out of the four species I was seeking. When I have more time I will go back to find the other two. I did think that it would be quite a place to visit in the spring, when bird activity is at its peak. The Silvio O.Conte National Wildlife Refuge has a branch just up the road and there are trails to explore there as well. The black flies might be out, but I imagine the birds might be as well.