(More photos below)
For the Birds by Chris Bosak
I forgot how quiet it could be. Ah, those long walks I used to take in New Hampshire.
Given a rare day with nothing to do, I headed north to take a hike. I used to live in New Hampshire and would walk in that state’s beautiful woods almost every day.
Nothing against the nature centers and other open space in Fairfield County, but I longed for a walk during which I could walk for hours and hardly see another soul.
So I headed to Pisgah State Park in southwestern New Hampshire. At 13,300 acres, I knew I could walk for hours and still not run out of new trails to explore. By contrast, Devil’s Den, one of the largest area’s of open space in Fairfield County is less than 2,000 acres. Most open spaces in Fairfield County are 50 to 100 acres.
So I had more than 13,000 acres spread out in front of me. I’ve walked the trails at the park plenty of times, so I had a game plan in mind. Part of that plan was to not stick to the plan and go where my instincts told me to go.
I headed down a hill to start the walk and quickly got distracted by the butterflies and dragonflies zipping around a small clearing. Suddenly the tall grass shifted not far from where I was standing. It shifted again several yards away from the first spot I had noticed the movement. I had an idea of what it was, but wanted to see it to confirm. I tried “phishing” to get the bird to pop out to no avail. (Phishing is a noise birders use similar to kissing the back of your hand to get a bird to come out of the brush.)
Finally the bird flew across the trail to the tall grass on the other side. It hid instantly, but it was enough for me to confirm the bird as a female yellowthroat — just as I had suspected.
A short jaunt through the woods led to another clearing, this one with a small pond. Dragonflies were the dominant species. I also picked out a pair of black-and-white warblers and a pair of yellowthroats.
I took a left when the trail forked and eventually came upon a classic New England beaver pond. It looked like a spot where a moose might spend the afternoon, but the pond seemed to be void of wildlife — at first. Upon closer inspection I noticed a wood duck. It didn’t fly away immediately like most New England wood ducks do. It was a male wood duck in its brown eclipse plumage. Soon it will regain its gaudy colorful breeding plumage.
A loud, high-pitched “ki-ki-ki” call sharply broke the silence. I caught the large bird of prey as it flew behind a wall of tall pines and disappeared. I’ve heard the multitude of ospreys along Long Island Sound enough over these last few weeks to immediately recognize their calls. This was an osprey making its home along freshwater. It was nice to see an osprey in this habitat.
The trail narrowed and was bordered on either side by tall grasses. I learned quickly that it was the type of tall grass that cuts your skin when you rub against it. I tried to high step it and made some progress along the trail, but it became increasingly difficult. I was so focused on not having my legs ripped to shreds that I lost track of my surroundings. I looked up and noticed the grass on either side of the narrow trail was now towering over my head. That was enough for me. I turned around to get back to the main trail I had veered off.
The next stretch of trail was heavily wooded and dark, a welcome respite from the hot August sun. A few woodpeckers tapping and the flute-like sounds of a distant wood thrush were the only sounds I heard. Then it struck me. Other than those occasional bird sounds and the somewhat constant buzzing of mosquitoes in my ears, I couldn’t hear anything. No cars, no trucks, no trains, no talking, no barking, no cell phones ringing. Nothing. I hadn’t experienced silence like that in years. It was wonderful. I soaked it in for several minutes before moving on.
The next clearing brought the sights and sounds of about a dozen blue jays. A few orioles nervously flew from tree to tree and frogs jumped into the shallow beaver pond with every step I took. My kids would have loved this spot.
Finally the time had come to reverse course. The sun was starting its descent and I was at least a two-hour walk from the car. The walk back was much quicker. I didn’t dally at every clearing like I did on the way out. A few vireos, goldfinches and chickadees were the only wildlife sightings of the return trip. That was fine because the mosquitoes were becoming increasingly nasty and I didn’t want to stop my progress.
It was bittersweet reaching the car. It meant the walk was over and it was a terrific several hours spent in the woods. It did, however, mean an end to the bloodletting at the hands of millions of mosquitoes.
The wildlife sightings were not overwhelming, but the silence — that utter silence — made it all worthwhile.
Be sure to check out Bird Calls every Saturday from 3 to 4 p.m. on WSTC/WNLK AM1400/1350 (in S. CT and nearby NY) or http://www.wstcwnlk.com from anywhere in the world (where there’s Internet access, that is.) Thanks for checking in.