The following is an account of the final day of my trip to bushwhack my way through the Pepperbox Wilderness while participating in the National Audubon Society’s Birdathon. The Birdathon is a 24-hour contest to detect as many bird species as possible and this was the first time I participated since 2002 and the absolutely first attempt in the trailless Pepperbox Wilderness. The final day consisted of hiking from Cropsey Pond through dense new growth due to blowdown back to my vehicle to report my less than stellar Birdathon results by noon.
I woke up around 6:30 AM to a welcome sight of partly sunny skies and warmer temperatures. And unlike yesterday when I needed them, the birds were active and couldn’t seem to sing enough. I thought I heard a red-eyed vireo singing nearby just as I was waking up. I found this annoying since red-eyed vireos are probably the most common bird species in the northeastern forests and I didn’t hear a single one yesterday. Not too much time later, I heard a northern flicker calling across the pond. It looked like I was starting the day after the Birdathon detecting two species that eluded me yesterday.
After getting up, I spent the next two hours making breakfast, taking down the tarp, packing my backpack and taking care of all the other assorted chores. Unfortunately, I had to focus on the tasks at hand instead of exploring the area due to having to report my Birdathon result by 12 noon via the payphone in Stillwater. The whole time I attempted to keep my eyes on Cropsey Pond hoping to see something interesting. A red-tailed hawk flew over the water at one point and landed in a snag on the far peninsula. It stayed there for a while before flying off to the west. As the morning progressed, the skies became less cloudy and increasingly sunny. Before leaving my campsite I heard a yellow-bellied flycatcher, another species uncounted on the Birdathon. I cursed him repeatedly.
At about 8:50, I head off to the south toward the small beaver pond that could possibly have been part of Cropsey pond at one point. After crossing the large beaver dam, I climbed through a hardwood forest thick with young American beech trees due to many large trees blown down on the ground many years ago. Canada warblers, ovenbirds and black-throated blue warblers were abundant in this area. The forest in this immediate area was apparently hard hit by the 1995 blowdown as large uprooted logs were scattered about, mostly all fallen in the same direction. I headed off on a bearing of 114 degrees and continued to climb through the thick saplings and over the occasional log. Softwoods increased in numbers within the forest whenever I crossed a low point as I continued southeast. I was covered with a cloud of black flies whenever I stopped for more than a few minutes. The apparently were starved by yesterdays low temperatures and high winds and were now trying to make up for the lost time. The sky cleared and the sun was shining brightly with an accompanying increase in temperature making the application of sunscreen on my face necessary given the tree’s foliage nascent condition.
This hardwood forest with frequent blowdowns continued until about point 22 when I started to travel downhill on my way to Raven Lake Rd. Soon after starting downhill, the the blowdowns vanished and I made good time traveling through a mature hardwood forest. As I approached Raven Lake Rd., the amount of softwoods increased especially in the understory. At one point I reached the top of a cliff with a 20 foot drop and had to navigate out of my way to the north to find a way down. After reaching the bottom of a steep valley and crossing a small stream, I started uphill for a time until I finally reached Raven Lake Rd at 10:30 AM (point 24).
I leisurely walked down Raven Lake Rd and arrived at my vehicle in the parking area at the end of Necessary Dam Rd around 10:53 AM. With only an hour to report my Birdathon results, I quickly cleaned up, changed and packed away all of my equipment. The skies were largely clear but it was still breezy while I was at my vehicle. I cursed an eastern phoebe and least flycatcher singing nearby for not making an appearance in my vicinity on the previous day while I was cleaning up. I drove back to the hamlet of Stillwater and called in my Birdathon report around 11:30 AM from a barely functioning payphone. After making my report, I had a quick snack before heading back home finishing my bushwhacking Birdathon experiment.