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.

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

October Birding in the Northeast Kingdom

My family went away for a few days last week–took a trip south while I stayed home and worked. Since they were gone for a while I thought I would take a weekend day to do some birding some place new. I thought about driving out of state–maybe to Plum Island or to the Maine coast somewhere. But then I thought I would stay close to home. There are lots of places in Vermont I have not been at all, and plenty where I have not been birding. So I headed north and east on Sunday morning to see what I could find.

A couple hours of driving took me to Wenlock Wildlife Management Area. I parked in a pull-off on a dirt road and headed out with binoculars in hand. Just down the road was a bog with lots of standing dead trees. I thought this might be a good spot to find Black-Backed Woodpeckers. That was a no go, but I did see and hear lots of other birds–Juncos, White Throated Sparrows, Ruby Crowned and Golden Crowned Kinglets. I had read about a trail off this road that offered good birding habitat and and access to Moose Bog. It took me a bit to be sure I had the right spot, but eventually I turned off into the woods.

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Cedar and spruce and moss–where are the Spruce Grouse?

The day was cold (eventually it hit 40 degrees but not until the afternoon) and the woods were quiet. I was hoping to find at least one of four species I can’t find at home: Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Black Backed Woodpecker and Spruce Grouse. The habitat was there but the birds were not. I walked slowly, headed down a side trail to Moose Bog in a couple of spots but I struck out. Maybe it was too cold, maybe it was just the wrong time of year. It was certainly beautiful, and peaceful, and I was happy to explore.

Moose Bog

Moose Bog

Once I tapped out Wenlock I drove up the road to find the Sylvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge. I found a loop trail and tried that, with only a few Black Capped Chickadees, more Golden Crowned Kinglets, and a Robin or two. Again, quiet. I headed back up the road to the visitor’s center to try there. That place is beautiful–a stone and wood building with a fine view, some displays, information and lots to learn. I tried the river trail that loops from there.

Golden Crowned Kinglets were the bird of the day for sure. There was another passel of them here, flitting and singing and making themselves known. The trail wound by the river, which was high, so I couldn’t hear much for a good ways. Again, I found few birds but the place was beautiful, even after peak foliage had passed. If felt great just to be out there. I just don’t do that enough.

Nulhegan River

Nulhegan River

The color to be noted that day was yellow. Aspens were still holding on to yellow leaves and tamaracks were turning and shedding needles. Yellow dotted the hills and any open spots in the woods, and a carpet of yellow needles covered the ground in spots. It was cold, it was calm, and I felt energized by the quiet of it all.

Tamarack needles on the trail

Tamarack needles on the trail

If you see all those four species I was seeking in one day you can call it the Northeast Kingdom birding grand slam. I was pitched a no-hitter. But I will go back there one of these days. There is a state park nearby and maybe this summer we can go up as a family.¬†Maybe in the summer I can manage to get a hit, even if I don’t hit it over the fence.

Birds I saw that day:

Canada Goose
American Crow
Common Raven
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black Capped Chickadee
Red Breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
Eastern Bluebird
Golden Crowned Kinglet
Ruby Crowned Kinglet
Swamp Sparrow
White Throated Sparrow
Dark Eyed Junco