Just a day after returning home from a terrific excursion to Cape Cod, I was on the road again, headed up to New Hampshire for a weekend of birding with Jim Orrico. Our trip was centered in central New Hampshire, in the heart of the White Mountains. We only intended on visiting two main stops, one on each day, both of which proved to be excellent.
Our first stop of the trip, on Saturday, June 8th, was the Trudeau Road area of Bethlehem, New Hampshire, where a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers was known to be nesting. Thanks to the help of New Hampshire birder Zeke Cornell, we were able to locate the nest and obtain great views of the parents as they continually moved back and forth between the nest tree and surrounding forest in search of food for their hungry chicks, heard calling just inside the nest hole. It was truly an unforgettable experience. Getting to enjoy the domestic lives of such an uncommon and mystical species was quite a treat.
Besides the woodpeckers, we noted a number of other highlights at this location out of a total of around thirty species. These included a number of awesome northern breeders, ten of which were warblers: Yellow-bellied and Alder Flycatchers, Blue-headed Vireo, Common Raven, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Swainson’s and Hermit Thrushes, Nashville, Magnolia, Blackburnian, Black-throated Blue, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green and Canada Warblers, Ovenbird, American Redstart, Northern Parula and White-throated Sparrow.
After a great experience with the woodpeckers and other denizens of the Bethlehem area, we moved on to our lodging for the evening.
We awoke before dawn on the morning of Sunday, June 9th, and headed to our principal location for that day’s birding, the Caps Ridge Trail in White Mountain National Forest. It was here that we were joined by Leslie, who was surveying the Bicknell’s Thrushes in the area and proved to be a wonderful companion throughout our entire hike.
We spent nearly six hours at the unbelievably beautiful and serene location, tallying an array of high mountain specialties, including the poster bird for this habitat, Bicknell’s Thrush.
Although we never laid eyes on this denizen of the stunted spruce forest as on our last visit to the White Mountains, we nevertheless got to revel in the ethereal and gorgeous song of these birds, with a voice that kept us full of wonder as it danced up and down the scale.
The highlights on the trail were numerous, many of which are uncommon or completely absent as breeders in Connecticut. Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were incredibly numerous and vocal on the middle and upper areas of the trail, with seventeen recorded on the morning. A single Boreal Chickadee, the rarer spruce-loving cousin to our familiar Black-capped Chickadee and one of my favorite boreal birds, was present in the vicinity of the Pothole Rocks. A male Mourning Warbler sang incessantly from an opening in the forest just below the aforementioned rock formation, providing us with a rare chance to hear this bird’s song in the field. Blackpoll Warblers were simply everywhere. With thirty-six recorded on the morning, we began hearing Blackpolls the moment we emerged from the car, and continued hearing their nonstop singing as high as we went. A singing male Purple Finch, positioned nearly equidistant from the parking lot and Pothole Rocks, reminded us that we were now more than halfway to our destination, be it on the way up or down.
Other fun birds along the trail included Blue-headed Vireo, a possible Philadelphia Vireo that never provided a visual (but with a rather convincing song), Common Raven, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Swainson’s Thrush, Mourning, Magnolia, Blackpoll, Yellow-rumped and Black-throated Green Warblers, American Redstart, Northern Parula, White-throated Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco. To me, a coastal birder from Connecticut, the Dark-eyed Juncos looked especially odd atop a mountain, instead of at one of the coastal thickets I regularly survey in the winter, or even in my own backyard for that matter. Alas, that is the nature of my coastal bias, but I was certainly ignoring the fact that some of the youngest members of the junco flocks I was seeing at my coastal haunts were derived from areas like the Caps Ridge Trail.
After having arrived at the trail around dawn, we emerged into the openness of the parking lot at noon, the birdsong greatly diminished, but our excitement peaking, just like the mountain, high above, enshrouded in mist. It had been another awesomely successful couple of days in a whirlwind week of birding, transporting me from the pine barrens of Cape Cod to the stunted spruce forests of the White Mountains, from barrier beaches in Barnstable to bogs in Bethlehem. It was a week I would never forget.