Another Visit to Moose Bog

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Boreal forest–that’s what it is up at Moose Bog. Fir, spruce, tamarack trees. Moss, ferns, green. I went up looking for a few birds. I had only a little time. I found a few birds. Regardless of that, I enjoyed being there. The place is beautiful.

I needed to be in Lyndonville for a late morning meeting. Since I live on the other side of the state, I figured I would make a stop at Moose Bog. It wasn’t that far out of the way. It added close to an hour and a half to my trip, but I was going to be so close. So I got up early, although it would be have been better to get up even earlier, and headed north.

I hadn’t been there for a while and somebody made some improvements. Where I used to park in the small lot on the gravel road off the not-so-main road, then walk up the road to the trail, there now is a well groomed trail starting right at the parking lot.  And it is a gravel trail. It will not wear out too soon, but it was a bit loud, what with all the crunching under the shoes. Hard to sneak up on birds with that going on.

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And it was a quiet morning. Granted, it was August, and I arrived later than I might have, but still, for a damp, cool morning, there was not a lot of bird song. I did hear a Gray Jay, one of the birds I was seeking, but nothing else unusual, at least at first. I walked to the end of the trail, maybe a mile, past where the gravel ended and the single smooth dirt track picked up. Still, it was still.

One side trail heads down from the ridge to the bog/pond. There used to be multiple trails but now everyone is steered toward one. And it is improved. The first time I was there I got pretty wet trying to maneuver out to see the water. It is a bog, after all. Now, however, there is a boardwalk that leads to a platform, with benches and railings for enjoying that stunner of a spot. It was indeed nice to keep my shoes dry.

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Don’t go that way. Please.

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It was cloudy and threatened rain. I encountered some downpours on the way there, windshield wipers slapping back and forth on high speed, but, other than the soaking I got from the wet foliage, I stayed dry.

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I stayed for too long, as always happens when I go birding, and I had to get out of there. I drove slowly down the gravel road, with the car window down, just in case, you know? And I heard something. Boreal Chickadee? I stopped. Then I turned off the car. Birds were zipping about all over the place. I got out. I walked down the road.

I did find that Boreal Chickadee, plus a Canada Warbler, and a few other warblers. I kept walking further, but I really had to go. I ended on a high note there, for sure. I was late for my meeting, but my colleagues forgave me at least. If I lived closer I would go there more often. Apparently it is a reliable place to see Spruce Grouse, although I have never seen one. I will have to make the pilgrimage again. If I give myself more time, I might get lucky.

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Another Go at Birding in the Northeast Kingdom

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The trail to Moose Bog at Wenlock Wildlife Management Area

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.

Moose Bog on a Gray Day with no Gray Jays

Moose Bog on a Gray Day with no Gray Jays

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.

Gray Jays

Gray Jays

A Great Day to Get Up at 4:00 A.M.

IMG_3957The hike up is not that long but it is a bit brutal. After taking one route up a couple of times I realized there is a shorter and easier route, at least for the first bit of the hike. That shorter route cuts off about a half mile of hiking but still, it ain’t easy. This isn’t one of the highest peaks in Vermont and I don’t even end up on a summit, but I tell you it is a tough one.

I hiked up to the Skyline Trail that connects Mount Worcester and Mount Hunger in the Worcester Range, which parallels the Green Mountains. This was my fourth year doing it and each time I think it won’t be so tough. Each time I am humbled. I hike up there so I can camp out and then get up at 4:00 in the morning to find birds. Most of the birds I don’t even see but simply hear. I know, it sounds silly–take a tough hike to rise super early to find birds you can’t see? But it is pretty great.

This is my 15th year volunteering for the Mountain Birdwatch program, which surveys high elevation birds in the Northeast. You know, Bicknell’s Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler, Winter Wren, those birds most people have never heard of. That is part of why I do it, I guess. To hear a Bicknells’s Thrush sing, which only happens in early summer and only and higher elevations in northeastern North America, is a treat. Most people simply are not going to hear that song. It is a rare sound and something I cherish. It gives me hope each year that things are not as bad in the world as they might be.

The survey protocols require listening and looking early in the morning. The birds sing the most just as it is getting light and a little while after the sun rises. Being high on a mountain as the world awakens, the smell of firs floating over the trail, bird song ringing out–seriously, it is life lived at its most divine. Of course, I also have to take care to mark down all the birds I detect of specific target species, how far away they are, if I saw or heard them, how many, that science-type stuff, but it feels then like I am doing something that maybe matters, that maybe will help to keep these places and moments around just a little longer.

I agreed to take this route after the one I had been doing for a decade had been discontinued. So it goes when scientific rigor comes into play. The old route just didn’t make the cut when the protocols got changed a few years ago. It was a bummer to let that route go but it gave me a chance to see someplace new. I had heard the new route was tough and it was. It is steep and rugged and not often used. It is slippery and sometimes hard to follow. And it is a just a little more challenging with a pack full of a tent and binoculars and warm clothes and a notebook and so on. I have given up on bringing a stove to cook dinner–too much extra weight; I just bring food I can eat straight up.

This year was particularly nice. It was clear and sunny and just a gem of a June day on both the hike in and the day of the survey. There were no clouds and there was no wind. The birds were out. Last year I hiked in and had to abort because it was too windy in the morning. I had to go back and try again the next weekend. This year the weather could not have been more perfect. OK, it was 35 degrees when I started at 4:00, and I did keep my sleeping bag wrapped around me for the first hour, but it warmed up soon enough. I heard all the birds I expected to hear plus another rare one for that area (a Boreal Chickadee) and called it good after collecting some data.

The hike out was tough but not as tough with the gravity assist. Back at the car I changed into clean shorts and shirt, opened the car windows and headed into Waterbury for a slice of pizza. I was tired–not enough sleep and some solid hiking–but I watched the sky turn pink at the beginning of day, and I heard rare birds sing, and for a full cycle of the sun I was immersed in a beautiful place. If my wife could have been there it would have been perfect. I guess perfection will have to wait, for now at least.

Bluebird day on the hike down

Bluebird day on the hike down