There are three basic kinds of birding experiences. There are those that are “intentional,” I.E., you set out with a set purpose whether it is to try and see a particular species, do research, go somewhere for a birding outing and so forth. Then there is the “unintentional,” that happenstance occurrence where you are pulling weeds, for example, and an osprey suddenly flies over. Finally, there is the “incidental.” That’s when your primary purpose for being out is not birding, it might have been to attend an outdoor concert, but you’re keeping your eyes and ears open and are observing anyway.
Incidental birding was the nature of a recent outing that found me and five other people hiking the east/west axis of Lyme’s trail system on a breezy and sunny mid-summer’s day. The purpose of the hike was to was to cover in one piece the three trails – Clay Brook, Western Town Forest and Beaver Pond - that comprise the route that travels from the Connecticut River to Orfordville Road, a distance of nearly six miles that included stretches of level terrain but also a few steep up and down grades.
Naturally, I would be keeping a list of whatever birds I saw and/or heard. Given the variety of habitats we would traverse, expectations of finding an equally diverse number of birds were high. Along our way we would pass through hardwood and coniferous forest, open fields and pasture, cornfields, riparian scrub and beaver pond wetlands.
The western portal for the Clay Brook Trail is found on Breck Hill Rd. about a ¼ mile south of Edgell Covered Bridge. The trail is managed by the Upper Valley Land Trust (UVLT) and passes through both private and UVLT conserved land. I had never hiked it, and it was with a sense of heightened curiosity I stepped off into a well-kept pine wood lot and proceeded east.
Interestingly, most of the 24 species I would observe on our town transect were encountered first on the Clay Brook segment, and additional numbers of these were not seen again once we entered the Lyme Town Forest. Among the highlights were black-throated green and black-throated blue warblers, an eastern wood pewee, indigo bunting and a scarlet tanager. It should be noted these birds were all heard, not seen, due to the dense leaf canopy. That’s one of the problems with summer woodland birding, if you don’t know your birdcalls or songs, it will be difficult to make IDs. We would have added another four species if I was more skilled in that regard. We also flushed a large raptor from a tall pine that we couldn’t identify before it disappeared over the tree line.
Our three miles on the Clay Brook Trail were rewarded at the end by a chance to see the waterfall at the western edge of the Town Forest, one of Lyme’s lovely natural features that are known to too few of its residents. Another site in that category is the view from atop the Western Town Forest Trail’s “Ledge” segment. To reach it requires a steep ascent, but once up there we had splendid views across fields and hills that took in Smarts Mountain to the east and Mt. Cube to the northeast.
Continuing east across the Western Trail, we arrived at Mud Turtle Pond Rd., a Class VI Rd. that was closed by gates and bars in 1976. Following it north toward the Beaver Pond Trail’s western trailhead, we passed another sight worth a detour. It is the collection of cellar holes that were part of a mid-19th century farming complex. Research by the Lyme Historians has determined the owner was Joel Converse. Looking at the extensive stonewalls and the solidly-laid foundations of the once extant buildings I only could wonder at the determination that built them and the resolve it took to try and eek out a living from the rock filled soil surrounding. What a formidable challenge. It must have proven too much so, because an 1892 map shows the buildings already had been abandoned.
Oh, yes, and we saw birds too. Surprisingly, we counted only eleven species the entire length of the Town Forest crossing. The sole new addition was a broad-winged hawk crying as it circled somewhere above us, unobservable through the dense leaves.
In the end, the bird count was less than I had hoped even if it wasn’t our outing’s primary purpose. Our main goal was journey of discovery, and there we had succeeded. To borrow the title of a Wallace & Gromit episode, it was “A Grand Day Out.”