Just when it seemed the Connecticut River would never shed its icy mantle, a series of warm days and some timely rain opened it up, and spring migration suddenly commenced. It seems hardly a day has gone by since then that has not brought word of waterfowl passing through on the way to their northern breeding grounds or of returning summer visitors; eastern phoebes, chipping sparrows, northern flickers and even an advance guard of pine and yellow-rumped warblers.
Spring migration can be a very rewarding time for birders, but it also can be stress inducing. So many birds, so little time! With so much activity, it’s hard to know how to best take advantage of it. Some members of the birding community will be out every day visiting favorite spots while keeping a tally of who they’ve seen, who should be arriving soon and who hasn’t shown up yet. For others of us, however, that amount of time in the field is a luxury. There are too many places to visit within the time that can be allocated for doing it. Going to one place likely will be at the expense of going to another with the attendant possibility of missing something. What to do?
I have a few places that are on my “must see” list. One is Lyme’s Chaffee Wildlife Sanctuary. This small, 23 acre parcel offers a mix of riparian and grassland habitat that attracts a wide variety of songbirds, waterfowl and raptors. Following the trail into a mixed stand of hardwood and conifers is to be transported away from the busy traffic of NH Rt. 10. The trail also offers view of Little Post Pond and Clay Brook. It is an easy but rewarding walk that provides intimate access for bird observation.
A second Lyme destination is the Grant Brook outflow into the Connecticut River. This wetland attracts many waterfowl species such as ring-necked ducks, common and hooded mergansers as well as wood ducks and mallards. Songbirds abound there too. Adjacent to this area is the recently expanded Lyme Hill Conservation Area, a wooded parcel, protected by the Upper Valley Land Trust. Its network of trails on Lyme Hill affords an opportunity to view forest birds while a neighboring wetland might produce a great blue heron or american bittern sighting.
If it were just a matter of my core sites, spring migration might be somewhat managable, but over the last two years, birding colleagues have complicated things by introducing me to some of their favorite spots. As if I need more choices, but they're good ones.
There’s the outflow and wetlands of the Ompompanoosuc River over in Norwich. Just down the road is the Campbell Flats area whose mix of scrub, agricultural fields and riparian habitat can provide a noteworthy array of sightings in a short time frame – 32 species in the space of an hour one Saturday morning in August 2013. Then there’s Paradise Park and the adjacent Lake Runnemede down river in Windsor. As you might expect, a primary draw for birders are the waterfowl attracted by the lake. It recently hosted a red-throated loon, a species not usually seen here. However, this 62-acre park also offers a combination of scrub, wetland and agricultural field habitat that hosts an interesting variety of sparrows, warblers and other songbirds.
Now you see the dilemma. If I take a morning for Lake Runnemede, I have to pass up Lyme Hill. Go to The Chaffee and Campbell Flats gets postponed. This would not be freighted with such urgency and frustration if the migrating birds would obligingly hang around until I can get to each of the target spots. But they don’t. By the end of May, they’ve moved on to their nesting grounds, and spring migration is done. If only inconvenient responsibilities like work and household chores didn’t interfere.