Sunday, March 29, 2015

Birding southern Rhode Island

Friday. I did some birding in South County Rhode Island. I hit many spots and had a good time. I am not sure how to report my birding trips. Clearly if I list every species I see the reader will get bored. I know you could care less if I see mallards, geese, and robins. Also reading a list is boring and your mind is going to wonder. So I'll only post number of species I saw. I'll list the good birds and any memories.

I started at the overlook at Cards Pond. I was hoping for, and rewarded by northern pintail ducks. Then I went to Moonstone Beach. I looked into Trustom Pond. I wanted to see the snowy owl that has been reported but no luck.

Then I went to the Trustom Pond parking area. The feeders attract many species. I saw 15 different species. Some of the good birds were house finch, goldfinch, downy woodpecker, American tree sparrow, and white throated sparrow. Even better were 2 fox sparrows. Two hairy woodpeckers had been reported. I hung out until one showed up. I studied it and made sure I could tell the difference from them and a downy.

I ended up with a migraine so I took an hour nap at my next destination. I ate lunch and slept at Charlestown Breachway. I didn't see anything there.
I checked out Perry Pond and saw wood ducks and green wing teal. They are such a pretty bird.
Lastly I went back to Trustom. I was going to sit at the bird feeder but a guy coming back told me the snowy owl was on the rocks in the middle of the pond. I got my scope and hoofed it to Osprey Point. The Snowy was just sitting there. I was so excited to se it. Besides being a life bird, it is such an awsome bird. All of the sudden it started tearing apart what I thought was a rock. It turns out the black "rock" was a duck it had killed. I watched it eat for half an hour. The owl wasn't close, but in the scope, I could see the owl's eyes and blood on the chunks of meat. What an experience.

I ended the day with four deer. I saw about forty species for the day. Many were first of the year birds, including an osprey.  I got the lifebird, but it wasn't about numbers. It was about seeing wild animals and the experience.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Wrapping up Some Winter Plans

Blackstone Gorge
 Before I go on with this post, about winter, I should be on my third weekend of spring fishing trips. Normally I start my trout and carp fishing about mid-March. Mother Nature had other plans, although the ponds should be ice free in a few days, there is still a thin area of ice on most ponds.
So on Thursday I wrapped up a few small things I had wanted to do all winter. None of these things are mind blowing, but they were things I've wanted to do.

First up, I went to the Blackstone Gorge. This is an area in Woonsocket where the river narrows and goes through a gorge. There is about a mile of trail. There is a picnic table. Footing was slippery from ice. I did not do much hiking. I dint expect the snow and was wearing sneakers. I will have to go back again.

From there I went to the Attleboro Art Museum. Somehow I had never been there. I didn't know what to expect. Sadly, I was disappointed. I was hoping for paintings but it was all modern sculpture. It is a small (free) museum. I was only there 10 minutes.  When I left I was going to go King Philips Cave in Norton. When I Googled it, I saw it is near my friend Laurie's house. I'll just go someday when I visit her.

So I next went to the North Attleboro National Fish Hatchery. If there is a more unfriendly place for the public I haven't seen it. There is one display tank. No one of the staff comes outside. This was the first time I have been there since converting from salmon to shad rearing. The display tank still had some big salmon. There is a nature trail in the back. I walked to the pond and saw some ring necked ducks.

Display tank at fish hatchery

Lastly I went to the "Powder House". This was a place that gunpowder was stored at that was used during Revolutionary War and War of 1812.  It is three miles from my home but I haven't been buy in twenty years. I was only there a few minutes, but it was my favorite thing to do all day.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

I'm no expert, but come on now

When I was birding at Plum Island there were not too many people there. I wasn't finding many birds either. I pulled into the last parking lot before the road closure. The area is known as Hellcat, why? I do not know. There is an observation tower. On it were three women. It was quiet and without meaning too, I could over hear their conversation even though I was at the bottom.

I know I am not an expert on birds. I am smart enough and humble enough to take advice from anyone willing to share it. I know when I go fishing that over half the people I converse with don't know anything about the sport. I spend so much time fishing that I can tell quickly if the person
a. is talking out their ass
b. knows what they are talking about and I might pick something up
c. knows more about fishing than me

When the answer is c. I shut up and listen. I once witnessed a conversation between Dave Pickering (the top carp guy in RI) and Ian Sorrell (possibly the most famous carp authority in the U.S.). I listened to them for twenty minutes just soaking it in. I didn't interupt or try to get in on the conversation... I just listened.
That said, when I am fishing or hiking, I can hold my own with all but the true experts. I've been to enough national parks, that I can contribute to a conversation. Same with fishing, spending 200 days a year fishing, if I hadn't built up some knowledge, then I'd be a complete idiot.

Birding is different. I assume (usually correctly) that anyone I stand next to with binoculars is more experienced and better than me.So I was caught off guard when I started talking to these ladies.

The water was still frozen near the tower. All the ducks were so far off they were just sillohetts and I could not make out any field marks. The ladies pointed out something to our left (not to me, but again, it was so quiet I could hear. I looked over and only 50 feet away was a river otter. This was awesome. I have only seen a couple otters in my life. Also in keeping track of animals for the year it gave me a species I could never rliably count on seeing (such as robins or squirrels).  It was so close, we could make out the color of it's whiskers and eyes with binoculars

I started walking back to the car. I looked up to the ladies and gave them a friendly wave. One of them asked if I saw anything. I said I couldn't make much out being so far away. I then thanked them for pointing out the river otter. One of the ladies asked what I was talking about. When I pointed in the direction she said and I kid you not

"You mean the seal?"

After I picked my jaw off the ground I explained it was most certainly a river otter. They were happy to know they just saw an otter.

That was when I realized, not everyone
with binoculars in expert.

Ok,  for those of you reading and think it is an easy mistake to make I will explain the difference. An otter is a large beautiful weasel. It might be two feet long. It is sleek. Standing all fours, it is probably 10 inches tall at the shoulder. In New England there are two types of seals. Harbor seals are the smaller of the two. They weigh a couple hundred pounds and have a layer of blubber to keep warm. However, the seals at Plum Island were the larger grey seals. They are FIVE HUNDRED POUNDS AND EASILY SIX FEET LONG. I saw one lying on an ice berg earlier in the day. Laying on its back, it's stomach is higher off the ground than an otter standing up on it's hind legs.
These ladies were very nice, but it did make me realize I might want to double check things before I take them as gospel.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Birding at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

   Last Friday I went birding at Plum Island in Newburyport, MA. I left really early to beat the Boston traffic.  The area just below the New Hampshire border is one of the birding hotspots in the country.

   My first destination was Salisbury Beach. In the few days before I went up there had been a Snowy Owl around. I saw some sea ducks but no luck with the owl. After a fairly disappointing bird search, I went over to the main attraction, Plum Island.

   Plum Island is a barrier beach with all kinds of habitat.. The Merrimack River dumps into the Atlantic at the north end of the island.  The backside of the island is a huge salt marsh where the Parker River forms a textbook delta that you learned about in seventh grade geography. The beach faces the ocean where sea birds are seen. The island itself has everything from pines, scrub brush, sand dunes and fields. It is a perfect place for almost every eastern North American species to stop.

   By the time I got to Parker, my highlight for the day had not a bird but rather two grey seals. At the first parking lot I saw a loon on the ocean and a few ducks and one horned grebe. To be honest birding was slow. The huge salt marsh on the inside of the island was almost completely frozen over. This obviously hurt my chances at seeing many species of ducks and marsh birds.

The last place on the road that a car could go was at the parking area known as Hellcat. At this spot I saw an otter. I was about done at Plum when I was given two tips. The first was of a snow bunting by the maintenance building. I drove up there and ate my lunch for ten minutes but did not see it.

   The other tip turned out to be much more productive. A guy told me about some horned larks and lapland longspurs on the Plum Island Turnpike. I went to the precise location and both species were feeding in the small bare area surrounded by snow. The good thing was the Longspur was a lifebird for me!  On my way out I went to the Chain Bridge in hopes of seeing a bald eagle but did not get a fly by.

   So my day was a bit of a disappointment. I ended with twenty species seen. My highlights were the seals, otter, horned larks and lapland longspurs. I had hoped to also see a bald eagle, snowy owl, red throated loon, and long tailed duck, but got shut out. Oh well, I really enjoyed my day outdoors. Next time when the ice is gone I am sure the birding will be much better.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Big Year and how it has influenced me

   In your life how many books or movies have actually influenced your life? Sometimes a song will take you back and remember what you were doing when you heard it. For the most part movies, music, and books are entertaining. Sure, if you read mostly non-fiction or watch documentaries you will learn something.
Some books have a powerful influence, as the book "The Road" and the poem "Howl" pretty much inspired the hippie generation. Some movies may change how we look at others such as "12 Years a Slave" or "Philadelphia".  For me, after I watched Kevin Spacy play Lester Burnham in American Beauty, I ran everyday for two weeks straight. But I digress, mostly we are entertained.

    I know who I am, and I know what I like, so I read about things I am already interested in. Usually I read about sports, history, and fishing. I have stacks of guide books and hiking trails.  I have maps and pinpoint the trails I read about on the map.

My friend Brian suggested I read the book "The Big Year" by Mark Obmascik. The book follows three obsessed birders on their individual travels across the U.S. in an attempt to see as many species of birds as possible. One of the birders already had the record for the most North American species seen in a year. He went back to see even more so his record would be unbeatable. The other two fellows, of course, are out to beat his record.

In the book is a brief history of competitive bird watching in America. There are a couple other books mentioned about the sport (see photo above).

All three men travel to various parts of North America at the appropriate seasons to see birds. They criss cross the nation several times. It is amazing considering how big the continent is that they bump into each other more than once. I loved the book and had it read within 24 hours of first picking it up. There is a movie based on the book. It is good. The names are changed of the three main characters. It stays mostly true to the book, but Hollywood does take some liberties that were rather unnecessary.

Half way through reading the book I was ordering two others from Amazon to read when I was finished. I bought "Kingbird Highway" by Kauffman and "
Wild America" by the famous Roger Torey Peterson. Both books follow travelers across the country questing to see birds. Peterson and his travel partner James Fisher were already famous naturalist when they travelled. Kauffman was a nineteen year old high school dropout that loved birds. Personally , I enjoyed Kauffmann's book more.

What does this have to do with my original question? Well obviously, I feel these three books may have influenced my life. No, I am not going on a "big year". I do not plan on taking a year off to bird. Although I admit, I dream about traveling for years at a time ALOT! I have become very interested in birding again. I have gone a couple of times this winter to see the winter birds and have enjoyed myself tremendously. I had not really done any serious birding since 2010.  In those five years, I fished a lot, then started hiking. I moved away from birding because it took time from fishing and gas from New Hampshire.

I have said before that my calender year usually ends up with a theme. It happens organically. I'll find a new challenge and ride it as long as I can. The year I went striper fishing the first time, that is all I did that year. A few years ago, I started trout fishing, so that spring I went as much as I could while still making time for carp and stripers. Other years have been about New Hampshire, vacations (and little else because I was saving or having post vaca blues), bass fishing.

I can see it coming, that I will spend a lot of time this wear with binoculars around my neck I have daytrips already mapped out (because that's the dorky shit I do). I'm looking into three and four day weekends in Maine and Cape May, NJ. I don't know if I will get to those spots this year, but they are new to my bucket list, and certainly feasible.

The problem? Guess when birding is at its best? Answer: the same time fishing is at its best! The weeks from mid-April till Memorial Day are the best weeks to fish all year. I am out every single day fishing and it still doesn't feel like enough time. I cherish those weeks. I fish for stripers, carp, trout, and carp some more, in April and May. I honestly wouldn't trade a day the first two weeks of May for Christmas.
You know what else is going on then? Spring migration. Most birds are heading north that same time period. To see a lot of birds,I'll have to take time away from what already feels like to short of a season.

I do have a plan. I will fish on weekdays I am off from work and bird on Saturdays. This will workout pretty well on both fronts. My fishing spots have less people on weekdays. I can carp fish with my friend Dave on my Thurs/Fridays off from work. When I have Saturday off I will go birding. There are two positives to that. First I can go to birding hotspots north of Boston (like Plum Island) without having to deal with weekday commuter traffic. Secondly, as opposed to fishing, the more people the better. Having two people looking for a rare bird doubles your chances. As someone far from an expert, it is wise to bird with those that know far more than me. As opposed to secretive fishermen, birders want people to see the birds. They are more than helpful.

So as if I didn't have enough outdoor hobbies, it looks like I have one more. Sometimes, I just can't stop myself. I never should have read that damn book! Thanks Brian!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Pictures from my Snowshoeing Adventure

This photo and the ones below are from Lonesome Lake
looking across to Franconia Ridge

 Below are views of Bridal Veil Falls in  the Kinsman Notch are
The Amphitheater of
Bridal Veil Falls

A few more views of the frozen falls

The hike in was a winter wonderland

Coppermine Shelter is about 100 yards from the falls

Someone built a kick ass snow cave near the shelter
it was at least 6 feet deep and the roof and sides were

Yours truly at the shelter

Friday, March 13, 2015

Snowshoeing in New Hampshire

This week I did a snowshoeing trip in the White Mountains. All winter I have been doing local snowshoe trips. I knew it was time to take the next step and do some hikes with some elevation gain. I wasn't planning on doing any winter backpacking trips, but knew I was ready for shorter mountain trips. I tried to keep driving to a minimum so I stayed around the Lincoln area. For friends and family, I promise I will visit, but wanted to use every bit of daylight in the mountains.

I was so excited about the trip I woke up at 3:30 Thursday morning. I knew I wanted to start hiking about 8:30, giving the air a little time to warm up so I forced myself to stay in bed until 5:30.  The first 120 miles were uneventful. However, as I approached the mountains it was snowing. This was not forecasted! Speeds dropped from 70 to 40, then behind a plow doing 20 mph. It was killing me to go so slow. I finally made my first trailhead at 9:30 (so much for my eight-thirty start.

I chose to hike out to Bridal Veil Falls in Kinsman Notch. First off, although the snow stopped it was still cloudy. So doing a hike with a view would have meant a view of clouds. Secondly, I chose this hike because the waterfall was frozen! I have seen frozen lakes, and I've seen snow capped mountains, but a frozen waterfall, that I wanted to see. So I put on my snowshoes and went out. The trail was packed down and made really good time. It was a gradual climb with nothing that I would consider steep.

I got to the waterfall in no time. It was a frozen amphitheater. Icicles were hanging down from a bowl shaped ravine. It was pretty spectacular. Interestingly the ice formed different colors. Some of it was yellowish, some white and some a deep blue. Really neat to see. After a few minutes I went back down the trail to Coppermine Shelter and ate my lunch. There was a nice snow cave someone dug out near the shelter. The sweat started to dry and I started to chill so after lunch I beelined it back to the car. The hike was all down hill so I made it back to the car in about 30 minutes (2.6 mikes each direction)

After I got back in the car I went to Lincoln and bought some hot soup. I then went to the Mountain Wanderer book store where I talked to owner, author, and New Hampshire's most famous hiker Steve Smith. I bought a trail map for my son and talked about 20 minutes. Steve has hiked every mile of trail in the Whites. I told him my plan for my next hike (Lonesome Lake) and he gave me a couple pointers.

I got to the trailhead at 2:45. Lonesome Lake is 1.6 miles and a thousand feet above the parking lot. When I got out of my car to dress up, the wind was screaming. Steve told me it was predicted to be over 100 mph on Washington. It was easily forty miles per hour in Franconia Notch, probably more. I thought about calling it a day and getting back in the car. The hike was only 3 miles round trip so I figured "what the hell, just go for it". I had never been to Lonesome Lake. The place is a zoo on summer weekends. I tried to go over the summer. The day I tried the parking lot was so full at least 25 cars were parked along the interstate.

 I put on my snowshoes and went up through the forest. The hike is a little up hill followed by two loonngg switchbacks and a short stroll from the switchbacks to the lake. The trail was so packed out, I didn't need snowshoes. I could have done it in sneakers. Since the trees were bare, the whole hike, I had views of Lafayette and Lincoln across the Notch. I must say, the hike might have been the easiest thousand feet of elevation I have ever done. The grade was so consistent with just a few steep pitches. I sweat of course, but it was easy all things considered.
I made it to the lake pretty quickly. Normally it is a four tenths walk around the pond to the hut on the other side, but since the water was solid, I could just walk right across.

It did not take long to understand the popularity of Lonesome Lake (possibly the most ironic name of anything in the mountains). Besides the easy hike the view was amazing. Walking across the lake I had one of Canon's minor summits to my right, a Canonball. Walking across the lake I had the huge bulk of Kinsman in front of me. However the best view was behind me. With every step away from the trees towards the other side Franconia Ridge got bigger and bigger. Lafayette and Lincoln with their snow capped peaks and deep ravines were spectacular in there winter attire of white. The wind was howling across the lake but the reason I couldn't catch my breath was because of the view. The sky had cleared thanks to the cold uncomfortable northwest wind. That same wind brought a  bluebird sky. I had a snack at the hut and headed back down. As I crossed the lake (with Franconia Ridge now directly in front of me) I took a ton of photos.

Since the snow was so packed, I bungeed my snowshoes to my backpack and put my microspikes over my boots. I wanted to try them out on a slope. I was impressed with them. I did not slip at all even when I tried. I flew down, but made sure to enjoy my views across the notch stopping four or five times to take mental snapshots.

My only regret was not going up earlier. From the lake it is 1.9 miles to Canon's summit. It was too late and I did not have time to add another four miles to my trip. I purposely planned on these short hikes as the next step in my "snowshoeing evolution" I did not take me long to realize I could have done a lot more without pushing my limits. I am by far the best shape I have ever been in March. If I would have done a 4000 footer, I would have felt like it was a major accomplishment...
Next time

Animals seen- red squirrel, raven
Trail miles-about 8
Pictures to follow