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Trip Plan: Birdathon 2013 – Hopefully Back to the Pepperbox Wilderness

Cropsey Pond

Almost a year ago, a knee injury forced me off the hiking trails, yet alone allowing any bushwhacking off-trail through forest, swamp and meadow. Fortunately, my knee appears to be healing adequately, and once again, I am thinking about future trips into the backcountry, one in March, another in May, and a final one probably in June.

Coming up at the end of March is the Frostbite Overnight (FBON). Every year, during the three days before Easter, I journey down to the Catskills with some friends of mine. This trip is a team effort, and since the FBON’s destination is out of my hands, I have my sights set on the next trip.

The Birdathon arrives in mid-May, and hopefully this year I will be healthy enough to participate. The Birdathon is a yearly event where members (and some nonmembers) of the Onondaga Chapter of the Audubon Society span out throughout Region 5 of New York in a day-long search for as many bird species as they can find.

Now heading into the Adirondacks is not the wisest course of action if discovering the maximum number of bird species is the ultimate goal. Nevertheless, for me the excuse for an adventure in the Adirondack backcountry is what matters, and the chance of obtaining some ‘singles’ (those species only found by a single team). Plus, I like the added effort of trying to find birds at the same time as navigating through swamps, meadows and thick forests.

Last year, I planned to return to the Pepperbox Wilderness in the northwestern Adirondacks for the third straight year in a row. My knee had other plans. Unfortunately, the weather was ideal, sunny and clear the entire day. I doubt I will be so lucky this year, but I can always dream.

If the weather looks decent for this year, I will return to the Pepperbox Wilderness, with pretty much the same plan I came up with for last year. Unlike the last two years I participated in the Birdathon, there will be no attempt to get around Moshier Lake, especially since they both proved disastrous.

Instead, this year Cropsey Pond shall be my starting point, where during past years it was my final destination. The Cropsey Pond area has great diversity in habitat, with newly regenerating hardwoods to the south, replacing those blown down back in the microburst of 1995.

After spending the very early morning at Cropsey, I will follow the outlet stream through a series of meadows where once beaver ponds stood.

From where the outlet stream takes a sudden turn, my path shall turn northeast over a ridgeline and down into a deep ravine containing a large wetland complex. This area looks ripe for bird species, even though there were few apparent on my late day visit back in 2011. The size of the wetland begs for more than my compact binoculars, so my spotting scope may accompany me on this trip.

Following this wetland complex to the south, I will cross one of the several beaver dams and head due north, up and over a series of hills until dropping into the Deer Pond’s drainage. This area yielded a gray jay two years ago, and I hope for a repeat performance for similar boreal species this year.

My route continues upstream all the way to Deer Pond, a treasure trove of duck species two years ago. After spending some time along the shoreline, I will continue east to the large Sunshine Pond. Unless time allows, this very well may be my campsite for the evening.

If daylight remains, I can continue around Sunshine Pond to the south and head for a large wetland to the east, just shy of Raven Lake. I visited this wetland back in 2010, and found it to be quite diverse, with the northern portion a bog, the middle a grassy wetland and an open beaver pond to the south.

Beaver meadow along Cropsey Pond outlet

Although probably pushing my luck, if there is enough of the day left, I will continue to Raven Lake with the hope of spotting a common loon. I will not plan to go any further than this; there is little chance of pushing the day’s effort any further. Somewhere along the western shore of Raven Lake will be my camping site for the night. Perhaps I will hear some owls here.

The next morning, I need to be up early, to report my findings by noon. From near the shore of Raven Lake, I need to head south toward the Raven Lake Road. Shallow Pond lies south of Raven Lake and its western shoreline is very steep, so I may have to move west to avoid any possible cliffs. Although the total distance back to my vehicle is about twice that from Cropsey Pond, most of the planned departure follows the dirt road, and therefore should be much easier going. Just do not warn the black flies.

After returning to my vehicle and performing a quick cleanup, Stillwater Reservoir will be my destination, where I will use the payphone to report my results. Hopefully, that phone still exists, otherwise I will be screwed since I have no idea where I will find another one. Someday I might just have to get myself a cellphone.

If the weather report for Birdathon day is overly dreary, I may just abandon this plan entirely as nothing is worse than bushwhacking in the rain AND looking for birds. Instead, I will bird the hiking trails within the Five Ponds Wilderness, much like I did during the Birdathons in the early 2000’s. The lean-tos shall provide a respite for any rain, and the trails will decrease the chance of injury.

Or maybe if the weather report is bad, I will just blow the whole thing off altogether.

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