Before the BBC Pelagic this past Saturday, James Orrico and I decided to detour north to Cannon Mountain, home of the rare and declining Bicknell’s Thrush. We drove up Thursday stopping in one of my favorite towns, Woodstock, VT (read more about a birding experience in Woodstock). We reached Littleton, NH in good time, excited for what was to come.
The next day, we awoke early and after a breakfast departed our hotel en-route to Cannon Mountain. We were able to reach it in time for the 9am tram. 9am is not an ideal time to see Bicknell’s but because the Caps Ridge Trail, our first choice, was closed, this was our best option. I realized they may not be singing and the risk we were taking for this bird. The ride up in the tram was fun and scenic and quick as we were at the top in 7 minutes. When we got there we started to hear singing White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. A Red-breasted Nuthatch called from a tree nearby. It was a beautiful scene at the top. The green valley below coupled with the mountains across made for a heck of a view. I enjoyed studying the stunted spruces at the top and noting their similarity to Christmas trees.
After taking in the views we moved on as we had a job to do. The rest of the noisy group had gone up the trail so we waited behind until they were gone. Then we started up the trail ourselves, keeping quiet and watching for movement in the pines. A Brown Creeper was foraging on a tree trunk, calling softly. We continued until we came to a clearing with a stone bench. We decided to wait sit here quietly and wait. And wait and wait. The insects started to become agitating, biting away. I noted we hadn’t heard a song once. Hope and time were running out. We had to get on the road soon if we wanted to make it down to Cape Cod.
Finally we started to become desperate The next tram would be arriving soon, bringing loads of noisy people onto the trail. Finally, I did something I never thought I would do, something I’m still angry at myself for doing. I played my Ipod. All of a sudden there was a Bicknell’s Thrush singing it’s ethereal song in the tree RIGHT NEXT TO US! Then another started singing across the way. I stood up to try to see if I could catch a glimpse. A bird flew up onto the top of a dead tree. Bicknell’s Thrush!!! In my excitement I moved too quickly and missed my photo op. Then another Bicknell’s appeared right on the trail! Again I missed a great photo opportunity. 4 Bicknell’s Thrushes surrounded us, all singing their incredibly beautiful songs. Amazing, just amazing. I put the camera down and just listed. The singing went on for about ten minutes until the thrushes went quiet and the songs of White-throated Sparrows took over the chorus.
Wow! We were shaking from the experience we just had, it was utter joy to know our efforts finally payed off! We stayed a little bit longer to enjoy the views and search for any other Bicknell’s that may be nearby.
Finally, it was time to go. We thanked the Bicknell’s Thrushes for an incredible experience and headed for the tram.
On the way down we enjoyed views of some pretty cool rock formations:
It was a great morning. Some terrific birds and terrific scenery. I also learned an important lesson: sometimes you just have to put the camera down and look and listen for yourself.