My first overnight trip with the bird club! By happy coincidence two of the destinations were just a hop down the road from my friends, who really needed a visit. (Hi Millers!) An afternoon of catching up, an exhibit opening at the Antique Boat Museum, and early to bed for the big day ahead.
So the first stop of the trip wasn’t that close. The Tug Hill Plateau, west of the Adirondacks, is best known as the snow capital of New York. Montague, the town where I met up with the rest of the group, holds the state record for heaviest one-day snowfall — 77 inches! Fortunately the day, while chilly and damp, was snow-free. We rambled down Running George Truck Trail (and no, I don’t know who George was or why he was running) near Lowville. It was quiet down there and the birds busied themselves with more important things than entertaining the out-of-towners.
From there we ran up a few more exits on I-81, getting off at Watertown. We spent a few hours at Chaumont Barrens, a rare alvar grassland habitat — a thin layer of soil over limestone that supports plants found nowhere else in New York State.
The other endemic rarity at Chaumont is the Golden-winged Warbler. A population in serious decline, they hybridize with and often sound like more common Blue-winged Warblers. We heard a brief burst of song, but no sighting.
The limestone is exposed in places, revealing fossils.
The trail loops through the open plains, over a limestone expanse with ankle breaker crevasses, through a dark and ominous forest, and back to a softer woodland floored with wild phlox, the closest I’ve seen to an English bluebell wood.
When I returned to Chaumont the next morning to finish walking the loop, I finally heard, loud and clear, the distinctive bzz-bzz-bzz! of the Golden-wing. Despite peering for a half-hour, I never did see the bird though he called constantly from the same spot, frustratingly just out of sight. Given the fragility of the landscape, I didn’t want to go thrashing through the undergrowth in the hopes of getting him to move. Sometimes you have to accept what the bird is willing to share with you.
From there we went on to Perch River WMA, nearly 8000 acres of wetland. During waterfowl migration it must be an awe-inspiring sight, the empondments filled with hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese, and swans. In late May we were seeing the resident birds. Black Terns and Caspian Terns danced overhead, Marsh Wrens giggled in the cattails, American Bitterns skulked in grass not quite tall enough to hide them, their beaks pointed skyward convinced of their invisibility.
My notes got a bit scrambled, but I’d estimate I saw about 70 species over the two days. And when I run away up north to see my friends again, I’ll have two amazing natural places to revisit. Maybe the Golden-wing will honor my persistence with a glimpse next time!