Today started the Memorial Day Weekend and also ended my 50/50/50 Birding Marathon in the East. Finding 100+ species in New Hampshire today (May 25th) also meant that I have now observed over 50 species in a single day in all of the Eastern states. Each state has been different in birds, people and places but all have been rewarding, fun and full of wonderful moments and memories and all have shown over and over what a great activity birding is and that our community is fantastic.
Mike Resch was my companion again today as he had been at the start of this marathon over three weeks ago in Connecticut. There may be birders out there as good as Mike, but I don’t think any are better – both in the field and at home doing the preparations and logistics for a trip. He has a sharp ear, a keen eye and a wealth of knowledge and experience. I owe him a lot.
Before sharing the birds and stories of the day, I am going to go back to yesterday (May 24th). A major purpose of my beginning the 50/50/50 Adventure was to visit people and places along the way that had meaning to me – whether returning to old haunts or finding new ones – seeing old friends again or making new ones. On the way from my birding spot in Vermont to my birding spot in New Hampshire, I was able to spend time with my college roommate from Harvard, Charlie Ajootian. For the most part I have lost touch with those long ago days and Charlie and I have had only a few intersections. How appropriate to get together this week as it was exactly 50 years ago that we graduated.
Charlie now lives in rural New Hampshire. He is not a birder but is an avid hiker and enjoys the outdoors as much as I do. He and I were on the Harvard Track team together for 4 years. Charlie was a champion hammer and weight thrower and shot putter and I did pretty well with the javelin. In our rambling get together, we recounted stories from those competitions and our travels to meets not only in New England but also to Europe and to California. It was a stellar team with lots of great athletes. We reminisced about many of them as well. We also talked politics. Charlie’s view of the current state of affairs is even dimmer than mine. We agreed that the best cures for such depression were more birding and more hiking. If I had not undertaken this birding adventure, I would not have had this time with Charlie. It is working even better than I hoped.
A Harvard Track Photo from a Long Time Ago
I had arrived at our agreed meeting place earlier than expected so I squeezed in a little birding when I saw some Wild Turkeys displaying in a grassy field. I took a couple of photos and then just as I was about to leave a Bobolink flew onto a fence just in front of where I was parked. I have now seen several on this trip – never can have too many of one of my favorite birds.
Wild Turkey Strutting His Stuff
After leaving Charlie I drove to my hotel in Dover, N.H. and did a little more birding at the Rochester WTP. The 24 species there included numerous Wood Ducks, a flock of Chimney Swifts and more Rough Winged Swallows than I can recall seeing at one time. Also there was a Black Billed Cuckoo. Before starting this marathon, I had seen this species twice – both times more than 42 years ago and neither time with a photo. I got my Lifer photo of it on my Pennsylvania trip and then another observation and photo at Magee Marsh. I got another photo here – not in the open and not in focus – but a reminder that there are unexpected treats out there to be enjoyed.
Black Billed Cuckoo
So much for appetizers, now back to the main course. I met Mike Resch at one of his favorite spots – Reservation Road in the Pawtuckaway State Park. He had promised great passerines and it was a promise kept. We were constantly surrounded by bird song. With the trees fully leafed out, it was not always possible to see our singers, but Mike got me on most of them. We had 58 species in about 3 hours including 19 warbler species. At Magee March I had my Lifer photo of a Blackburnian Warbler. It was my favorite here as well followed closely by the Magnolia Warbler.
With more than 50 species observed for the day, the rest of the day would be icing on the cake. We dipped on a stakeout Trumpeter Swan (a first for New Hampshire) but at the stakeout for Mississippi Kite, we found it as soon as we got out of our cars. Our only views were of it soaring above us so not the best of photos but all Kites are wonderful birds so I include it here.
After the Kite we were over 80 species and we still had the Coast to bird. We didn’t time the tide very well so we missed some shorebirds but we still added almost 20 species to the day count and finished with 104. Highlights for me were more than a dozen Purple Sandpipers and 3 Roseate Terns. The biggest surprise were the Spotted Sandpipers. I do not recall having seen them in a flock. We had more than 2 dozen around the rocks on the beach including one flock with 15 birds.
Mike had been very generous with his time, and his expertise was critical to the success of this day as it had been earlier. Birding is so different in the East compared to my birding in the West. Knowing songs and calls is always a benefit but it is essential in the East with the many warblers, vireos and other passerines. Also the forests are very different – dense with mostly leafy and tall deciduous trees. My not knowing the songs is bad enough but I also have trouble picking out one song among the many that seem to be present all the time. I have birded with and met many great birders on this journey and they all have a great ear and can quickly identify the species that way. I need a visual to really enjoy the birds. There were many great looks today and more partial views but many of the birds were simply never seen.
I did not take time to visit “special” places in either Vermont or New Hampshire – no battlefields or monuments, but in many ways the entire trip was experiencing a different world and perspective – again an objective of my 50 state project. Everything about New England feels different. The small villages, the curvy roads, the endless trees, the old homes of a very different style than out west. Signs introduce every town proclaiming when they were established – usually more than 250 or even 350 years ago. And there are those damn ticks and black flies. But also lobster rolls and clam “chowdah” and yes, I heard many people pronounce it that way as well as talking about “wobblers” which since they were birders I fairly quickly understood to be “warblers”. Of course I did see a special person – roommate Charlie – a big treat.
I have enjoyed this trip immensely but I am definitely looking forward to returning home and birding in the West again. That transition starts tomorrow with a flight to Las Vegas. I will go for 50 species in Nevada the next day and then return to Seattle. A short rest and then back out again. 37 down and 13 to go. I put on a lot of miles on this trip – about 4,000 – but that will seem like nothing when I next take on Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Lots of good birds ahead.