Most times when I go out birding, it is either by myself or with one or two friends. There are times, however, when being out with a larger group of birders is desired. Beyond the pleasures of socialization, there is a lot to be said for having those extra sets of eyes and ears on hand to help identify a species I might not have been able to had I been alone or find one I might have missed altogether. There is also the benefit of that can be gained by being in the company of more experienced birders. When it comes to birds, one can always learn more.
Last Saturday provided just an opportunity as a group of 13 birders, under the sponsorship of NH Audubon’s Mascoma Chapter, set out to explore the Connecticut River’s Vermont side from the Ledyard Bridge to the Ompompanoosuc’s outflow into the Connecticut River in northern Norwich. Our objective was to see what summer visitors might be around still and, hopefully, observe some early arriving fall migrants.
Our morning began in Foley Park, the greensward to the right of the traffic lights just before you take the bridge across into Hanover, under the leadership of Norwich’s greatly respected birder George Clark. Despite its diminutive size, the park can be a very productive area for observing birds. The expanse of water south of the park where Blood Brook passes under the Vermont Rail System tracks hosts numerous waterfowl species during spring and fall migration, and when the river’s water level is dropped, its exposed mud flats attract a variety shorebirds. The thicket and trees at the park’s rear bordering the tracks can provide opportunities to see warblers, flycatchers and other passerines (perching birds) such as cardinals, Baltimore orioles and indigo buntings. We tallied 18 species in a half hour. Mallards were the only waterfowl present. A belted kingfisher and a cooper’s hawk flyover were among the most interesting land birds observed.
From the Ledyard Bridge we car pooled north to the area known by birders as “Pompy Flats.” This broad expanse of water is part of the Ompompanoosuc’s outflow. It can be observed from I-91 or VT Rt. 132. For birding purposes turn onto Old Bridge Rd., park in the boat ramp lot and follow the abandoned road west along the river’s edge. Again, this can be a good spot for observing waterfowl, and when the river is down, shorebirds. As was true at Foley Park, waterfowl activity was light, although we did see three hooded mergansers and a pair of wood ducks in addition to numerous mallards. The clear highlight was the flyover of an osprey. With no record of osprey nesting in this part of the Connecticut, to see one is a special treat. Other highlights of the 21 species observed included a pair of chimney swifts, an eastern wood-pewee and a family of four house wrens some of which looked recently fledged.
Just across the street from “Pompy Flats” is Kendall Station Rd., another unprepossessing area that at times can be very rewarding. For example, a red-headed wood pecker, a rarity for the Upper Valley, was seen there last May. Our visit did not provide that kind of excitement, but we did see both a great blue heron and a green heron, and a pair of squabbling ruby-throated hummingbirds provided a light moment.
Our final stop was out on Campbell Flats Road accessed by taking VT Rt. 132 a half-mile west. The road is a right hand turn just before crossing the Ompompanoosuc. Parking in a pull off at the top of a short hill, we had scarcely exited our vehicles when one of our party announced she had spotted a yellow-bellied sapsucker in the top of a snag. That she was driving when this occurred struck us as either foolhardy or impressive depending on your sensibility. Campbell Flats can be a remarkably rewarding spot. It combines several habitats - riparian, agricultural mixed woods, lawns and thickets - that can bring in a similarly interesting assortment of birds. Our time was brief as we had reached the end of our outing’s allotted time, but we managed 25 species. Another osprey flyover (same bird seen earlier?) generated excitement, and we recorded several species not seen at any of our previous stops including a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a downy woodpecker, a northern flicker and a black and white warbler.
All totaled, we recorded 47 species, enjoyed a lovely foretaste of fall weather and each others company. As it is said in the claymation series “Wallace & Gromit,” it was a “good day out.”
Photo credit: High water at "Pompy" flats Blake Allison/Lyme, NH