I traveled around the Adirondack High Peaks the past week, surveying mountain after mountain for Bicknell's Thrush. I began with Wakely on the 12th. It was a pleasant hike in to the base of the mountain, and then a grueling climb straight up to the top on exposed bedrock. I was relieved it wasn't too slick after the previous week of rain. I discovered a very well kept ranger's cabin at the summit, which made the extra poundage of my tent seem even heavier after all the rest stops I had to take on the hike up. I climbed up the fire tower warily, since it seemed a little decrepit with some of the landings sagging under my step, and was able to look down on the Blackpoll Warblers singing from the treetops. It was plainly obvious from that height how many cones were on the fir trees. Seems like a moderate cone year after all. I fell asleep on the porch of the cabin to Bicknell's singing all around and a snowshoe hare hopping about the clearing.
The next morning's survey was uneventful, although I was happy to hear a Boreal Chickadee on my way down. The rain crept in and I was forced to camp down low Saturday night. Fortunately, Lake Harris has an active loon pair and I was able to listen to their nocturnal antics. Next up on my list was the Santanoni Range. I had heard it was a mud-bath of a trail, with lots of bugs to boot, so I was prepared for the worst. All I could think of though, was that it was nowhere near as bad as my trip in to Wallface Ponds last summer. Nowhere near as much mud, standing water, or mosquitoes. I was thoroughly delighted. The rocky river created some very inviting pools, which reminded me how cool this June has been compared to the last few. No 80 degree days so far.
While struggling to keep the black flies out of my head net that evening at the lean-to, I glimpsed a large dark bird with white in the tail fly across in front of me. My impression was a super-sized junco, so maybe a Gray Jay? I didn't think they were around here, but I whistled and pished anyway. No response. I went back to the black flies. Ten minutes later a female Black-backed Woodpecker foraged quietly from tree to tree. I was surprised, but then thought about all the beaver ponds and dead trees around. Swainson's and Bicknell's Thrushes were all around as the flies gradually cleared out in anticipation of the approaching thunderstorm. Bradley Pond was calm and reflective the morning of the survey. Despite all the Bicknell's in the area, I only heard one at the five survey stations. I managed to hike out before the storms rolled in, but I was still drenched from all the previous night's rain hanging on the vegetation along the narrow trails.
I was to head up Hopkins that evening, but the storms were unrelenting. I called up a friend and Mountain Birdwatch volunteer for Giant and asked for a dry place to crash for a few hours before I got up at 2am Tues morning. This time, I hiked up the Ranney Trail from route 73, not the back way I had so much trouble following two years ago. It was a pleasant hike with a nice stream bubbling alonside much of the way. I was looking forward to seeing it in the daylight. As is normal for Hopkins, there were no Bicknell's present, but the view is so commanding, I recommend it. There is also a nice patch of Pale corydalis, which I first saw on Smarts Mtn in NH last summer.
Later that evening I hiked up Pitchoff. I was tired by this time (as you might imagine) and when I finally got to the second summit with a 360 degree view, I set my pack down and collapsed on the rock. I laid there perfectly still for a few minutes and then started at a loud whooshing sound behind me. I sat up and watched as a first year Bald Eagle not 20 feet away banked away from me and continued to circle around a bit before flying away. I sure felt tired, but did I look dead enough for an eagle to check me out? Apparently! Either that or it had just crested the mountain and was as surprised by me as I was of it. Pretty cool either way. They are huge birds! The Swainson's Thrushes were quite vocal all evening, but the Bicknell's were being moody. I did some playbacks in the evening, but no response. I didn't hear one sing until 9:24pm. The next morning I heard five or six, all at locations where I had done playback the night before. Like I said, moody little birds.
This weekend looks wet, but I'm still hoping to fit in a survey or two in VT, now that I'm re-energized after a day of rest.