After four weeks (for me) and 11 survey routes later, the Mountain Bird watch (MBW) season has come to an end, but of course not without a few great stories and moments up in the mountains! I didn’t tackle all 11 routes by myself, but was accompanied by VCE seasonal biologist Grace Mitchum , whose company made the trips even more rewarding. Our first venture was up Mount Tremont, a steep trail with switchbacks at the top, but with the most stunning view from the summit. In fact, the summit also happened to be point 2 of our MBW route, the perfect place to sit and wait for the sun to rise as the birds sang their songs. At the top of this near vertical slope we found the most perfect mossy spot hidden by the trees to set up our tent. With the moss underneath us and with the help of my sleeping pad, I almost forgot I was sleeping outside and not in my bed! When dawn came and the temperature was warmer than we expected, we set off to survey our birds. When we reached point number two at the summit, perfectly timed with the sun’s arrival, I sat there peacefully and knew that I was in for an incredible summer filled with sunrises, bird songs, new hikes, and new experiences.
While this trip was only for one night, we had several other 2 nighters and even a 3 night stay in the mountains, covering multiple MBW routes in one trip. Our 3 night expedition started with Mount Martha and when the route was done, we drove to the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center, reserved two nights at the Hermit Lake Shelters (since camping off trail was not allowed, due to re-vegetation in the area) and up the trail we went. The trail was beautiful and we crossed over several bridges, letting us walk over the rushing water below. Once we arrived at the shelter and set up our gear, we took some time to explore around Hermit Lake, which was absolutely gorgeous. We planned to use the rest of the next day after our survey to explore the trails around the shelter. That morning, since we didn’t need to pack up our tent, we were able to sleep in until 3:50 a.m.! We started with the Tuckerman Ravine route which was quick with only three points. Up here in the Whites we heard several Bicknell Thrushes calling, which was very exciting and good news for us to record. Once finished with the route we returned to our tent for a 3 hour nap, letting ourselves rest before our day of exploration!
We decided to follow the rest of the trail of the Tuckerman Ravine route, assuming it was going to be short and lead to a nice little outlook. However, we were surprised to find that around every corner, the trail continued. Jokingly, I thought how funny it would be if this trail went all the way to the top of Mount Washington, but soon enough, Grace and I found out that it did!
After hiking for a little while, we came across a sign that pointed to Mount Washington, letting us know it was about one mile away. We excitedly climbed up the rest of the trail, completely astonished that we just summated Mount Washington on a whim! At the top, we were informed that it was motorcycle day – the parking lot was filled with hundreds and hundreds of bikes and the mountain top was covered with more leather than I had ever seen. This, I believe was one of my favorite surprises during Mountain Bird Watch, a surprise summit up the mountain with the “World’s Worst Weather.”
During our hikes and surveys, birds weren’t the only animals we saw and heard. While hiking up to Carter Dome and talking about whether we prefer to run with or without music, Grace, walking in front of me, suddenly stopped in her tracks. I stopped behind her and saw she was staring into the woods to the left of the trail. I followed her gaze and was met with the sight of a black bear standing on his two back legs, examining the trees before him. Of course, I know the thing to do is to make loud noises and appear big, but in the moment I forgot it all and whispered quickly “What do we do? What do we do?!” Without taking her eyes off the bear, Grace began to clap her hands together, and I followed suit, adding in a yell. After applauding the bear and cheering him on, he scampered up the hill and out of sight. To my surprise, the bear didn’t make me nervous at all, but I was so thrilled that I had seen one so up close. Now, I’ve seen bears before, but either in my back yard or out the car window – but never while standing in the middle of a trail, so removed from everything else.
Not only did we see a bear while hiking in the woods, but to our more startled surprise we also saw a hiker walking bare-naked! Not really knowing what to do, Grace and I stepped aside on the trail to let the hiker pass and made sure to look anywhere except at the hiker. Not shy at all, the hiker decided to stop on the trail and ask where we were going and how our hike was. After some quick responses, we scurried up the trail and decided we would set up the tent very far off the trail behind a very dense thicket of hobblebush shrubs. This was one of our more surprising, and startling, encounters, but a bit humorous to look back at now!
After completing our 11 MBW trips (10 survey routs, but we needed to survey Whitcomb Mountain a second time after being chased away by a thunder storm at 2:16 in the morning), I found some themes with our mountain top birds. The Swainson’s Thrush was by far the most common bird we heard, making an appearance on, I believe, every single route, along with the Winter Wren. Another popular bird was the White-Throated Sparrow, singing its song “Poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” or depending on how far North we traveled “Oh Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.” The Blackpoll Warbler made a few appearances, while we Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees on only 2 or 3 mountain tops. Of course, other of the target birds were heard, as well as some others not on our list, but these birds were heard with the most frequency.
Now that we have finished with Mountain Bird watch, Grace and I will move on from hiking and camping, to kayaking around beautiful ponds and lakes in Vermont, helping Eric Hanson on VCE’s Vermont Loon Conservation Program. We will examine shorelines for nests, observe loon pairs and solitary loons, count chicks, and watch for loons in distress (caught by fishing line, etc). This next series of adventures will also provide me with the opportunity to really experience my home state like I never have before while kayaking for days on end, one of my favorite summer-time activities.
So far, I can say that this is one of the most exciting, adventurous, enriching, and wonderfully fun experiences I’ve ever had. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity this internship has given me and I look forward to the rest of the summer!
Stay tuned for more blogs about my upcoming month of loon work. Thanks for reading!
List of MBW routes covered:
Whitcomb Mountain (x2)
Middle Mariah Mountain