Orleans Birdwatcher General Store visits the White Mountains
I wanted to call this column “A Bird Watching Trip to the White Mountains”, but it was actually more of a birthday excursion, with a bit of birding… as you might expect. We decided not to leave until after the Columbus Day weekend to avoid the holiday crowds. It seemed like a good idea at the time; This was not the case. Apparently there’s this new thing called “fall foliage” that a lot of people drive by. Why has nobody ever told me about it?
Our first stop was in the town of Lincoln, New Hampshire, which is at the foot of Loon Mountain and at the entrance to Franconia Notch State Park. I thought this was the perfect place to have lunch and recharge my luxury electric car; This was not the case. We encountered more traffic there than I had seen on Cape Cod all summer. Every restaurant had long lines and some places ran out of food, and I’m not kidding. We decided to skip the restaurants and feed ourselves by going apple picking. It was a better idea.
The view from the orchard was beautiful and there were a lot of cute farm animals, not a lot of people and a lot of apples. It didn’t take us long to fill a bag, or rather it didn’t take my wife long to fill a bag. I was immediately distracted by a flock of migrating Yellow-rumped Warblers. The little birds were heading to southern Canada and probably stopped to look for bugs in the apple tree branches… either that or they couldn’t find food in Lincoln either. While I was waiting for my wife to finish talking to the goats, I checked out Cornell’s eBird website and found that one of the best places for birding in the area is the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge. I put it in pencil for the next morning.
I woke up early, just as the sun was rising over Mount Washington. There was only one problem: the valley was filled with fog. I thought the fog was all Chatham’s business, but it was, and a lot. At first, we couldn’t see the birds very well, only seeing small glimpses as they scurried through the branches, looking like ghostly spirits hovering in the mist. It was pretty cool and a little scary at the same time, like a scene in a Stephen King novel.
Eventually things cleared up and we found a short loop trail that led to a wood duck pond. The sun was already out and it was shining brightly on the super colorful woodlands, although I was the only one to see them. My wife had stopped to take pictures of mushrooms and was lagging behind. I wasn’t afraid that she would get lost because we were on a loop track and I knew she couldn’t go astray, at least that’s what I thought. Two minutes later, I received a text saying that she was indeed lost. Endlessly ? How was this possible? It was like getting lost in a roundabout. Although to be fair I saw a lot of people get lost in this horrible Rotary in Orleans.
I returned to find her, but my progress was slowed down when I spotted a Eurasian Wren emerging from under a rotten log. Cape Cod has House and Carolina Wrens breeders, but seeing a Winter Wren is a rare treat, so I stopped to watch it for a bit. I thought my wife’s rescue might be put on hold for a few more minutes. When we finally met, I told her about the Wren and she didn’t seem to care; she had found something unusual on her own, a ruffed grouse. What? Nuts! I had hoped to see a grouse too. Grrr! This is what I get for being slow to run to the rescue of my own wife. I won’t make this mistake again… especially if there is a potential grouse to be seen.
Along the Mud Pond Trail
The next morning we hiked the unappealing name Mud Pond Trail. Despite the crowds swarming the towns, we didn’t see a single person on this trail. (The rude name probably scared everyone off.) Our walk went pretty smoothly, until we saw a large bird take flight from the ground. I was hoping it was another ruffed grouse, but it wasn’t. It was something even cooler… a barred owl. The large bird landed on a branch about 10 feet in front of us and looked back as we focused our binoculars. Like other wood owls, the Barred Owl is nocturnal, but it is sometimes active during the day. Here in Massachusetts, as well as in other areas, the population of this owl is increasing, which is good news.
However, they are still rare on Cape Cod, so this was an especially good sighting for us flatlanders. BTW: All of the trails we visited are part of the 40,000 acre Silvio Conte Wildlife Refuge. Silvio Conte was a longtime Congressman from Pittsfield and a strong supporter of scientific research and environmental protection.
Most of the other sightings we saw on this trip were typical of fall, with the exception of lots and lots of red-breasted nuthatches. Last winter, due to a cyclical natural food shortage in Canada, Cape Town was visited by large numbers of crossbills, siskins, siskins, grosbeaks and nuthatches.
This winter, according to connoisseurs, Canada will have plenty of natural food, so we probably won’t see many of these birds. The exception could be the red-breasted nuthatch. Large flocks of these entertaining birds appeared to be on the move and perhaps heading our way. And with any luck, for my sake, they’ll be back on our feeders this winter.
The White Mountains are beautiful and a great place to look for birds at any time of the year; but if you don’t like crowds, I suggest you avoid foliage season. Also, if you don’t like getting lost, avoid walking on loop trails. I know at least one person who finds them difficult.
This column is written by Mike O’Connor and the staff at Bird Watcher‘s general store in Orleans. Original illustrations are provided by Cathy Clark. If you have a question for bird experts, please email it to [email protected] or call 508-255-6974.