Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Whiteface, Bicknell's Thrush

Since before I even started the big year, I had been told by several people that one of my big year requirements was going to be a pilgrimage to the mountain top: specifically, to the top of one of the several mountains in the Adirondacks where Bicknell's Thrush breeds. The time had come (Bicknell's arrive in late May/June), so I packed up the car with my girlfriend Jessica and with Monkey we headed north.

I was working Friday to Sunday on a shoot, so we left Sunday afternoon and got up near Whiteface Mountain around 8:30 and checked into a motel. We ate and were asleep by 10:30, and then up at 3:15am. We were at the base of Whiteface at 3:30, and started hiking the 5 miles and 2500 foot incline we needed to cover to get to the top. We were hiking a road that you can drive, but only after 9am, and I didn't want to miss our only opportunity because we got there too late. We started with headlamps, but first light hit by about 4:15, and by 4:30 we were starting to hear bird song. This is one of the tough things about birding this time of year...first light is very early, unlike in January when it's still dark at 7am. About 1.5 miles in we heard a thrush, and then another and another! I started to record, and we started to talk about getting to turn back early, when I realized that the call was not Bicknell's, but Swainsons Thrush. Chastened but undaunted, we soldiered on up the mountain. We heard many birds on the hike, but it wasn't until we were about 500 feet from the top that I finally heard the Bicknell's call. Just as I started recording, the bird flew across the road! It was perched briefly, but I managed to get a shot off with my camera. It was thrilling to see the bird as well as hear it, and we happily hiked the last leg to the top of Whiteface to enjoy a panoramic view of the Adirondacks with the mountaintop all to ourselves. We took a minute to get a photo of Monkey, who at the time was probably the highest elevated Border Terrier in North America. On our way back down we had two Bicknells singing in same spot, and got some more recordings. We made good time back down the mountain, and were back at the hotel by 10am.

We tried for several other birds on the trip, including Three Toed Woodpecker at Ferd's Bog and Spruce Grouse, but no luck. Surpisingly we didn't see a single Ruffed Grouse (which I've seen but need a photo of), nor did we hear a Barred Owl (which I've yet to see), so the Bicknell's was the only new bird for the trip. Nonetheless, I think we all felt satisfied (and tired!) on the way home.

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