The Appalachian Trail (AT) is about ¼ mile from my house as the crow flies. I have walked various parts of it, often birding along the way. The interesting thing about birding the AT is that the habitat varies from woodland, to marsh, to wide open fields. People think of the AT as a Walk in the Woods (Have you read Bill Bryson’s book? Totally hysterical. I recommend it.) And it is. But it is so much more. Maybe because my little piece of the trail (it only cuts across the corner of NJ.) is so accessible, I find myself on it a lot.
Summer is the best time to bird the AT. Many of the migrating birds are nesting alongside the trail. Even if you cannot see them for the foliage, their songs lead you by the ear. One time I was ambling through the woods on a warm sunny summer day listening to the black-throated green warblers, pewees, chestnut-sided warblers, red-eyed vireos, blue-gray gnatcatchers, pileated woodpeckers, titmice, chickadees and the like; when a redstart began playing leapfrog with me. As I walked past him, he would fly up ahead waiting until I caught up, then fly ahead again. What a beautiful spirit guide through the forest.
What can you expect to see on the trail? Anything. But from memory, here is a list of what I have seen or heard.
Open fields: meadow lark, field sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, prairie warbler, raven, crow, yellow warbler, brown thrasher, chipping sparrow, bobolink, mockingbird, eastern kingbird, red-winged blackbirds, both kinds of vultures, red-tailed hawk and once an orchard oriole.
Woodland: black-throated green warbler, redstart, chestnut-sided warbler, black and white warbler, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, red-shouldered hawk, veery, wood thrush, eastern pewee, phoebe, great-crested flycatcher, least flycatcher, cardinal, chickadee, titmouse, orioles, red-eyed vireo.
Marsh: ducks, ducks, ducks: waterfowl of all kinds in migration and in winter. spotted sandpiper, solitary sandpiper, semi-palmated sandpiper, yellowlegs, swans, red-winged blackbirds, red-tailed hawks, harriers, short-eared owls, canada goose (of course), great blue heron, green heron, chipping sparrow, swamp sparrow, savannah sparrow, bluebirds, kingbirds, several of the epidomax flycatchers, and no doubt many I have forgotten. And randomly, jut once, a black tern.
There are many, many trails up here in the mountains, the AT is only one of them. Whether you decide to walk in Abram S Hewitt State Forest or Wawayanda State Park or the Newark Watershed (you will need a permit for this one) keep track of the painted trail markers on the trees and rocks (The AT’s blaze is white), try to get a trail map and carry water. Watch for bears too.
I will be hanging out in the grassland for the next several months, I know a few good places. Come join me off Rte 94 in Sussex county, look for the AT parking sign.