Thursday, June 27, 2013

Birding Pawtuckaway State Park in Nottingham, New Hampshire

A Cedar Waxwing perches on an exposed branch at the top of a steep hill in Pawtuckaway State Park in Nottingham, New Hampshire. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
During a recent birding day trip to Pawtuckaway State Park and the surrounding area with a group from Mass Audubon's Drumlin Farm wildlife sanctuary I couldn't help thinking back to those chilly days in January and February when I slogged through frozen wetlands, waded through snow drifts and scanned the freezing surf for scoters and other ducks. Where once there was windburn, ice and frozen sand we now had humidity, mosquitoes and the looming possibility of pop-up thunderstorms to consider.
Fortunately, though, we got an occasional breeze and the presence of so many exciting birds definitely helped to take my mind off the occasional dark cloud overhead.

We started out by visiting a lovely wetland area along a side road somewhere south of Pawtuckaway State Park, where we scanned the thick green vegetation and surrounding forest. On one side of the road there was a large, shallow pond, brimming with weeds. Here we saw a female Wood Duck in the distance, moving slowly and almost indisit6nguishiable amidst the tangle of Lilly pads around her, a White-tailed Deer wading against the far shore and in the trees on the opposite bank Great-crested Fly Catchers, a Scarlet Tanager and a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers which swooped in overhead, landing in a tall tree by the edge of the road. Although the wetlands looked like prime terrirotry for Virginia Rail we didn't see any there, although I suspect that there must have been one or two tucked away deep in the vegetation, staying safely out of sight.

In early summer wetlands like the one above in southern New Hampshire are excellent spots to look for rails and other marsh birds. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
It was also at this location where I added two more species to my year list - an Eastern Wood Peewee and the Scarlet Tanager. Throughout the day we heard and saw a number of peewee's, which was great since I have been working on improving my birding by ear skills, which are somewhere between non-existent and pretty bad at this stage. Nonetheless, the peewee and a few other thoughtful birds became my teachers for the day, and with the expert guidance of our trip leader, Strickland Wheelock, I actually managed to learn to identify at least 3 more species by ear, which was really nice. This is definitely one of the major advantages of the Mass Audubon birding trips, that you not only get to see a lot of birds but you can always learn something new as well.

Our next stop was a power line cut near the state park where I added three more species to my year list: Field Sparrow, Indigo Bunting and Prairie Warbler. I have written here before that in my opinion the Bobolink has the coolest songs in the avian world, but after listening to the Prairie Warbler I may have to rethink that assertion. If you've never heard it I highly recommend taking a listen to its call and song. We heard several of these talented singers as we hiked a little way down the power line road,where we were also treated to great views of a swirling kettle of Turkey Vultures and a lone Broad-winged Hawk.

This fire tower sits atop a hill at Pawtuckaway State Park in Nottingham, New Hampshire and is surrounded by a variety of bird feeders. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the state park, driving along the narrow dirt roads with the windows down and stopping to look for birds as we went. Using this technique we found a number of very productive places, including a beaver pond and wetland where a Virginia Rail came within a few feet of our group, as well as several American Redstart, two Louisiana Waterthrush and a forested areas that produced both Blue-headed Vireo and Yellow-throated Vireo, two very striking birds and a lot of fun to watch as they moved quickly through the canopy overhead. We also hiked up to the top of a steep hill where we ate lunch and watched numerous Purple Finches and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds visit a multitude of feeders that surrounded a fire tower. It was in this spot that I also saw my first Common Raven of the year. By the end of the day I had added 11 more species to my New England birding big year list, bringing the total to date to 172 species seen. This was my first serious birding effort in the Granite State, and with so many beaver ponds, wetlands, forests and mountains to explore up there I'm looking forward to doing more.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

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