The first of the season, early morning, spring birdwalk is the perfect tonic for lifting one’s spirits after a long bout with winter. It is a time for hopeful anticipation as one sets out into the field to see which of our summer residents have returned from their winter breeding grounds.
It was on such an occasion that I found myself with eight other eager birders in the mist shrouded “Mystery Trail” section of the Union Village Dam Park in Thetford Center. It was the first of a series of May “Feathered Fridays” walks sponsored by the Mascoma Chapter of NH Audubon, and we were ready to get out to inaugurate the new season.
When it comes to bird watching, not all sites are created equal. Because birds tend to be specific to certain habitats, the more habitat diversity one finds at a particular spot the greater variety of birds one is likely to see. When it comes to diverse habitat, the ”Mystery Trail” has it in spades. Situated on the Ompompanoosuc River’s East Branch the trail offers riparian buffers, a pond with an attendant wetland, open pasture and woodlands comprised of fir and mixed hardwoods. In this varied landscape, on any given spring morning during migration one might see waterfowl, raptors, waders like great blue or green herons, warblers, several members of the flycatcher family and a host of other songbirds.
On this particular morning, the woods enveloped by mist, we set out from the parking area down the narrow dirt lane that is Buzzell Bridge Rd. towards the “Mystery Trail’s” jumping off point. We had high hopes of seeing a few early returning warblers and, perhaps, a scarlet tanager or rose-breasted grosbeak. The woods were quiet except for the occasional chattering of black-capped chickadees, but by the time we reached the “Mystery Trail” the sun’s warmth was causing the mist to lift, and as the sun broke forth so did the bird song.
Over the next two hours we would see or hear a respectable early season total of twenty-five species. Alas, we were disappointed regarding our hoped for target birds. The only warblers we managed to record were two pine warblers, and they were both heard not seen, hidden in the forest’s upper canopy. We came up empty-handed on the tanagers and grosbeaks too. We did, however, get a good luck at a pair of wood ducks circling the pond and heard the drumming of a male ruffed grouse letting any females of his kind know he was in the area. We also saw eight ruby-crowned kinglets; a surprisingly high count for that fussy, smaller than chickadee-sized bird with a forthright, vigorous, long call that belies its diminutive size.
Walking back to our cars we traded anecdotes remarking on birds we certainly should have seen but did not. There were no crows, no cardinals nor tufted titmice; all common species readily observed. But in such a lovely setting, on a beautiful, New England spring day, that hardly mattered. We were back in the field with many more enjoyable mornings of discovery before us.
Photo credit: "Mystery Trail" Pond and Wetland in Thetford VT by Blake Allison, Lyme NH