Tag Archives: appalachian trail

Birding the Long Trail

bald eagle

The sun was beating down mercilessly as I trudged down a particularly open part of the Appalachian Trail.  I would not call what I was doing hiking, frankly, it was more of an amble.  Sweat trickled down my my cheek.  Stopping to pull off my hat and mop my brow, I saw a through-hiker staggering under the weight of an enormous pack coming around the bend in the path.  As he approached, he slowed to pass the a few words of cheerful greeting.  He asked about water and shade.  I was thankfully able to reassure him that shade was close by and I had just dropped off 2 gallons of water by the kiosk.  The relief spread over his face.  His parting comment tossed over his shoulder was, “I’ve been seeing lots of birds.”  I shouted at his back, “Good for You!”

“I wish I was,” I muttered as I turned and pushed on.

Birding had been light at best. Yes, it was the doldrums of the day in the dead of summer, but still I had expected more than I was seeing.  As I made the turn around a pond, I looked up to see a kettle of swirling vultures.  Watching them I saw a flash of white.  In hawk-watching terms, these birds were bigger than pepper specks, maybe even large grained pepper, but you needed bins to see them.

There!  Another flash as the bird banked.  Hot diggity.  White at tail AND head.  There was a Bald Eagle slumming with the boys in the hood.  I stood there in the blazing heat losing him in the pale sky and haze; then catching sight again as the sun reflected off the white.

A group of 3 fully-loaded hikers and a dog strode toward me.  They stopped when they saw me standing in the middle of the path craning upward.

I looked over grinning.  “Ever seen an Eagle?”

None of them had.  They shrugged out of their packs and we stood sharing my bins watching majesty in the sky.  They were thrilled.  Heck, I was thrilled.  Watching eagles never gets old.  And sharing with nature-loving strangers is the best.

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Birding the Appalachian Trail

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.

Wawayanda State Park

Wawayanda State Park

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.

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