A trip to Iceland…not:
This was supposed to be a series of columns about my birding trip to Iceland. However, our plans fell through and we ended up going to the next best place…the Connecticut Lakes, which, as it turns out, aren’t even in Connecticut. (Thank goodness for trip insurance, and GPS.)
In spite of the name, the four Connecticut Lakes are actually in New Hampshire. They form the headwaters of the Connecticut River and are situated way up near the U.S. border, and are actually farther north than some parts of Canada and all parts of Vermont. The area is noted for its breeding warblers and for boreal birds that aren’t typically seen in the rest of New England. For years, birding groups have stayed in a cluster of rustic cabins known as “The Glen.” The Glen sits on the First Connecticut Lake and is just north of the town of Pittsburg. (That’s Pittsburg with no “H” or steel mills). This is where my wife and I were headed.
We were about an hour south of Pittsburg, driving on Rt. 3, when something caught my eye and I hit the brakes. Most wives would have been startled if their spouse suddenly made a U-turn, but my wife never even flinched. She figured it was about a bird and there was no reason to be concerned. But in this case, it wasn’t a bird, but a sign that had grabbed my attention. It was a sign for the Fort Hill Wildlife Management Area. I love Eastham’s Fort Hill, so I thought this other Fort Hill would also be good. It was.
There are no cars allowed on the property, so we parked along Rt. 3, which isn’t a problem…I hoped. A short walk led us to some railroad tracks. We took a right turn on the tracks and soon came to a large freshwater marsh. Before we could even scan the marsh for birds, a duck flew over our heads and landed on the top of a tall dead tree. I assumed it would be a Wood Duck, but it wasn’t. It was a female Hooded Merganser. Like Wood Ducks, these mergansers also nest in tree cavities. I tried to stay focused on the duck in hopes of learning the location of its nest, but was momentarily distracted by a kingfisher. By the time I looked back at the bird, it had already “ducked” into its nest cavity and I missed it. Nuts!
A few minutes later I came upon a ginormous snapping turtle. While I was snapping at the snapper with my camera, my wife yelled that she had found an American Bittern. When I heard this news, two things immediately came to mind. First of all, I didn’t need to rush; bitterns never move. When they sense danger, they totally freeze, allowing their natural camouflage to hide them. Secondly, since when does my wife know what a bittern looks like? I was impressed. This “new” Fort Hill turned out to be an excellent place for birding, but our time was limited, so we pushed on.
We arrived at The Glen at midday and while my wife was settling into our cabin, I took a short walk around the property. I found a handful of warblers, a few nondescript flycatchers, a raucous Pileated Woodpecker and a pair of Swainson’s Thrushes (plus a shy red fox and a nosey woodchuck). But the highlight of our visit came well after dark. Sometime around midnight, the lake’s resident loons (two pairs) decided to get into a major turf battle. When most people hear the haunting call of a loon, they have warm memories of past vacations. There was nothing warm about what was going on here. It was nasty, like being in the middle of loon Armageddon. Even with the windows closed, the yodeling and wailing were super loud and it continued non-stop for hours. Finally, at 4:25 AM, I got up, got dressed and stepped outside. Surprisingly, the lake was now dead calm. What? Somehow, between the time I got out of bed, dressed and walked outside, the warring factions had called a truce and there was peace in the valley. Well, the loons may have been at peace, but I was now wide awake. My wife was still asleep (she can sleep through anything), so I went for a very, very early bird walk.
A short distance from The Glen is East Inlet Road. This is an old logging road and on some days it can be one of the best birding locations in the state. This was not one of those days. Even though I walked around for hours and tried several different locations, things were quiet. (Such is the life of a birder.) The best “bird” I found on my walk was actually a moose, which is still pretty cool and it made me glad I had gotten up so early.
On our way out of town we took a quick detour along Tabor Road. I loved this road. It runs through a quiet valley and is flanked by small farms and blooming meadows. The houses on the road are covered in muddy Cliff Swallow nests (reported to be the largest gathering in the state) and the homeowners didn’t care. They appreciate the birds. (In contrast, last week a not-so-tolerant Cape Codder complained to me that a Song Sparrow had pooped on her porch. Seriously.) There was a tiny stream near the end of the road, where my wife swore she had seen a duck. This didn’t seem right to me, so I checked it out and discovered her “duck” was actually a Wilson’s Snipe. Snipe, which are real birds, are nearly as hard to find as bitterns, yet my wife found one. And even though she thought it was a duck, she still gets credit for the discovery. Those are the rules…according to her.
Our trip to the Connecticut Lakes area of NH wasn’t quite Iceland, but it was a nice getaway. I only wish we could have stayed longer. Unfortunately, more important things needed my attention back on Cape Cod, such as dealing with the Song Sparrow poop crisis. My job is so glamorous.