This weekend our schedules were finally free to get out on a hike together. It had been a busy couple of weekends with Lindsay’s trip to Montreal and the following weekend Andrew had to work on Saturday while Lindsay had plans to go deep sea fishing with Sarah on Sunday. We both got out but on solo adventures. Lindsay went hiking up Mount Morgan and Mount Percival in Ashland, NH. Andrew hiked up to Dream Lake and Bald Cap Peak. But this weekend, we were finally back to our usual routine.
The alarm went off at 2:45 am and we jumped out of bed in excitement. We had an early morning hike planned. We grabbed a cup of coffee and our gear and headed to the Carlton Notch Trail in Randolph, NH. Luckily it is just a 15 minute drive. We were hiking the trail at 3:30am by flashlight. Lindsay’s headlight started losing battery power almost immediately causing her to trip several times and lead Andrew off-trail twice. Neither wanted to stop because we had to get to the ridge before sunrise, so Lindsay made do with sharing Andrew’s light. The woods at this time of night are cool, dark, and exciting. We listened to the trickling of streams along most of the trail. We heard one or two birds wake early and call, but no bird ever called back. This trail follows old logging roads for the most part and is easy hiking until the last 1/4 mile that climbs steeply to Carlton Notch. When we reached the ridge we turned left onto the Crescent Ridge Trail. We had made it to the real reason we had started hiking so early in the morning.
For the past two years we’ve been volunteering with the Mountain Birdwatch 2.0 Survey, organized by Vermont Center for Ecostudies. Our route for the survey is on the western flank of Mount Crescent. We have 6 predetermined survey points where we survey for high-elevation birds like Bicknell’s Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler, and Winter Wren. The survey also includes red squirrel because of their predation potential on bird eggs, and a survey of fresh balsam fir and red spruce cones. The idea is that after a good cone crop, red squirrel populations respond by increasing noticably by the following summer and increasing the likelihood of nest predation.
Lindsay’s job is to listen to the birds and follow the somewhat complicated protocol that includes 4 five-minute listening periods, plotting visual or hearing occurances by distance, including a specific Bicknell’s Thrush 1 minute increment survey for the first 10 minutes. Okay, maybe it sounds more complicated than it really is, but for 4:30 am it’s a lot of thinking and listening. Andrew’s job is to count balsam fir and red spruce cones on 4 trees, one in each cardinal direction from the survey point. The cones are counted from the top 3 meters of the tree. Then we repeat this for each of our 6 survey points.
We found the survey points with much more ease this year compared to last years even though we were given the gps points, pictures, and a site description. Last year they were hard because the site descriptions used snags and fallen logs across the trail for descriptions, but a year later those things tend to get moved off trail. We submitted new descriptions last year that included more rocks and large living trees for reference. These descriptions helped us this year and we were glad we had taken the extra time last year to edit them.
The survey started out without a hitch and we effeciently made our way along until is was 7:30am. We had 30 minutes to spare before protocol would force us to stop. Even though we have only surveyed for two years and that is the opposite of long-term data, we did notice some stark differences from the year before. This year we detected no Bicknell’s Thrush, as compared to last year where we detected them at 2, maybe 3, points. Other noticable changes include: last year lots of cones, this year nearly no cones, last year no squirrels, this year squirrels detected at 5 points, last year no hermit thrush, this year lots of hermit thrush, last year many yellow-bellied flycatcher, this year far fewer yellow-bellied flycatcher. We hypothesized that the early spring could have influenced timing of nesting or migrating birds returning to hotter and drier conditions and nesting at higher elevations or more sheltered pockets on the mountain. But then again, we’re only comparing two years of data…
We thought about what we should do next, either go up to the summit of Mount Crescent or head back the way we came. We had gone to the summit last year and remembered the trail to be tough and fun with boulders. On the other hand, we had actually never hiked the Carlton Notch Trail in the daylight. This thought won us over.
As we hiked back to Carlton Notch we enjoyed how the trail traversed wetland bogs and evergreen ledges (could we ski this in the winter?). We looked around for the gray jays we had seen the year before but there were none this time. We followed fresh moose tracks and even found where it had bedded down for the night in a little grassy opening. As we headed down the Carlton Notch Trail we discovered mossy brooks that we must have hiked over on way up the trail. In the dark the trail looked different but we recognized a few rocks and trees. These things had imprinted in our memory instead of the large stream we had to rock hop or the large boulder beside the trail that was most memorable during the day light.
We knew that we were hiking up an old logging road of some sort, and during the daylight Andrew also noticed several other old logging roads with significantly older untouched forest bordering them, suggesting that the area was once strip cut for logs; was this from a quick post ice storm of ’98 salvage harvest as opposed to a broader managed cut? In no time at all we were back at the car. It was nearly 9:00 and we had already done our hiking for the day. Now it was time for breakfast at The Water Wheel and home to bed!