After exhausting the beaver ponds along the Cropsey Pond outlet during the early morning hours, an unproductive bushwhack over a couple of ridges, separated by a series of wetlands, are all that lies between me and the more bird diverse Deer Pond drainage. The afternoon hours, when most self-respecting birds are taking their siesta, is undoubtedly partly responsible for this lack of productivity, but it is impossible to discern whether other contributing factors are in play or not.
With the thoughts of getting through this stretch as efficiently as possible, I consult my topo map for the wisdom of selecting the best route. The effort comes to naught however, as inspiration fails me, leaving with the same route as in previous years, through a col between two small peaks lying along the ridge to the north. With the usual feelings of frustration and inevitability, I set off to the northeast, my thoughts dwelling on what I hope to be a more productive Deer Pond drainage.
Despite my best effort to keep any climbing to a minimal, I find myself struggling almost immediately with steeper climbs. The arduous effort, combining with an almost entirely deciduous forest, whose nascent leaves block little of the spring sun, make any past chilliness from earlier a thing of the past. As I approach the top of the ridge, many smaller spruces begin appearing in the understory, blocking some of the precious sunshine, but delivering a glimmer of new hope for finding a new species or two for all my effort.
Date: May 17, 2014
Length: 2.5 miles (3.1 total daily miles; 5.0 total trip miles)
By the time I reach the ridge’s summit, there is no denying my need for a brief rest. My own weakness presents a prime opportunity for the black flies, giving them their first opportunity to make their presence known, which they take avail of almost immediately. I knew this pleasant, black fly free trip could not last forever, but one can always hope.
The black flies make dawdling impossible, unless I wish sacrificing more blood, and enduring the accompanying pain and anguish. Which, I do not! Luckily, the ridge top is narrow, allowing for a less physically strenuous, but equally unproductive on the avian front descent. The descent goes by largely without incident, with the largest pond in the next drainage quickly appearing through the trees.
Soon, I reach the pond along its southern-most bay, giving me an ideal view for my birding pleasure. For once, this proves somewhat profitable, as a pair of mallards swim along the far shrubby shoreline, while a turkey vulture soars far overhead, presumably in search of its next carrion meal or perhaps just enjoying a late morning flight.
Following the pond’s inlet eastward sets me up for my next ridgeline ascent before finally reaching the Deer Pond drainage. Any eastern progress requires me moving back into the forest, thus avoiding the more dense conifers along shore. As I approach the southern peninsula, the temptation to explore and potentially obtain a commanding view of the wetland, with its potential for more bird species, is just too difficult to resist. If memory serves me accurately, this peninsula contains an open plateau overlooking the pond where someone once built a nice campsite, complete with a fire ring.
Unfortunately, my memory is apparently not what it used to be, as the farther out on the peninsula I venture, the denser the coniferous trees become, with no level campsites anywhere within view. My innate stubbornness fails to allow for surrender though, so my struggle continues, despite the assault on my person from the prickly branches, even with the waning opportunity for getting a great view of the pond.
To my chagrin, the peninsula yields no new bird species, making the effort getting there nearly pointless. It does afford a better view of the pond to the west, but that hardly makes up for all the effort. Retreating from the peninsula is just as arduous as getting there, adding more insult to injury.
From the peninsula, I work my way down to the pond’s inlet stream, with the intention of using it as a guide to a convenient beaver dam to cross. Although several old beaver dams provide ample opportunities, I recall the best opportunity being near the outlet of the headwaters for the drainage. So I continue southeast, hoping for a better memory recall on this occasion than the one for the peninsula earlier.
The birds continue their uncooperativeness by being uncharacteristically silent while I follow along the stream, alternating my time between being in the interior forest and out along the open and shrubby shoreline. The sky is mostly clear, with just a slight breeze that still contains a hint of the morning chill.
During one section along the stream, a duck flushes up from the vegetation, catching me completely unprepared, so much so that it is far downstream before I reach for my binoculars on my hipbelt. Soon after continuing along the stream once again, it happens to me again, except this time a hawk flies across the stream instead, disappearing into the forest before I get a good look at it. Given my lack of hawks, this is a crushing blow, as it was probably a secretive Accipiter. Obviously, I need to practice my binocular retrieval skills until they approach that of a gunslinger from the Wild West.
When I finally reach the last beaver dam along the drainage, where I typically crossed in previous years, I decide to try something different and bushwhack around the final pond instead. The boggy eastern shoreline may make this an arduous effort, but a potential bonanza of bird species may be lurking within the many snags standing prominently within the open water. If this fails to pan out, this deviation could end up costly in more ways than one.
Its southern shoreline proves more trouble than it is worth however, with blowdowns frequent and young conifers growing everywhere around them, making each step a potential disaster. The thunderous noise from my passing makes wildlife scarce, my sightings including only a midland painted turtle sunning itself on a log near shore, and two turkey vultures soaring overhead, taking advantage of the mid-day breeze.
With few birds seen or heard, my snail-paced progress gets the best of me; finally beating a hasty retreat before even reaching halfway along the pond’s southern shoreline. Returning from whence I came is out of the question; the blowdowns and ingrowth are too dense for a second go-around. Instead, moving back into the forest allows me to avoid the worst of the carnage, with me returning to the shoddy dam in a fraction of the time.
The dam is long and meandering, ending at a short but steep slope. Crossing does not prove too difficult, but its shoddy construction requires carefully placing each footfall or risking slipping off into a watery abyss. Using roots and young spruces growing in strategic positions as handholds and steps, I scramble up the slope on the opposite bank as best I can after the crossing.
Upon reaching steadier (and flatter) ground, my path continues along another drainage heading northeast. This new drainage is slow and meandering, flowing into the boggy pond that I just attempted (and failed) going around. To avoid reliving the previous experience of blowdowns and coniferous regrowth, I keep the drainage well to my south, well out of view through the dense conifers guarding its perimeter.
My attempt to avoid most of the drainage works out until I eventually intersect with a boggy stream that feeds it from the northwest. This is probably my last encounter with water until reaching the Deer Pond outlet to the north, so I take a moment to collect any bird species I can. Unfortunately, this spot yields fewer birds than I would like, with only a Nashville warbler singing off to the east farther into the drainage, while both a black-capped chickadee and ovenbird turn up in the surrounding coniferous forest. Slim pickings, indeed!
Wet feet are always something I typically avoid at all costs, so my route north is temporarily postponed until I can navigate around the boggy stream without getting my boots wet. After a short detour to the west where the stream peters out into a spongy forest floor, my sojourn resumes northward again, with an old beaver meadow along the Deer Pond outlet being my next stop of note.
With the last waterbody behind me, the rolling hills before me remain covered in mostly deciduous forest. The trees’ young leaves give the canopy a faint lime green hue, producing little shade from the mid-day sun. Although my bearing continues generally north, I drift eastward, ensuring that I end up on the eastern side of another spruce embedded wetland south of Deer Pond’s outlet stream.
Upon reaching the summit of the last hill before the descent into the Deer Pond drainage, I find an ideal lunch spot, one very close to the one I chose the previous year. At this distance from any active stream system, black flies should be at a more reasonable concentration, at least compared to the rest of my remaining route. At nearly three in the afternoon, the meal is either a late lunch, or a very early dinner. I decide on the former.
Unfortunately, the black flies in my vicinity easily zero in on me, making my body ground zero for their own late lunch. Despite covering all exposed flesh in bug repellent, the stuff only works for a short period before the nasty little biting flies return in full force. While eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I alternate between swatting away the hordes as best I can, and darting back and forth in a serpentine pattern, trying desperately to throw them off my scent – unsuccessfully, I might add.
My lunch is not completely birdless however. A curious male black-throated blue warbler flies in for a closer look – perhaps interested in my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but I doubt it. Most likely it is the tasty flies hovering around my head that capture the little bird’s attention. A female hairy woodpecker comes in close too – perhaps interested in the same blood-sucking morsels. Off into the distance, a hermit thrush flutes its pretty song, a welcome sound of spring indeed.
After finishing my lunch, I continue north once again, descending slowly until reaching a lower coniferous forest. Rather than entering these difficult bushwhacking conditions, I stay near its border but within the mostly deciduous forest, where the hiking is by far easier. Although I could deprive myself of a few coniferous-loving bird species from this vantage point, it preserves my sanity, which takes precedence at this late hour in the day.
My sanity preservation strategy sends me too far east, causing me to double-back toward the beaver vly southwest of Deer Pond. As the vly draws near, the surrounding terrain becomes increasingly familiar; perhaps returning to the same area every year for the Birdathon is leading to a personal relationship with the area. Nah, most likely it is just my imagination.
Soon the beaver meadow becomes visible through the forest. As I draw closer, the sound of rushing water dominates the audio landscape, leaving me increasingly anxious, imagining a stream the size of the Mississippi River. Will it be necessary to bushwhack way out of my way to cross it, or just build a raft?
Thankfully, when I finally emerge from the forest, my worrying proves mostly unnecessary. Although the high water has taken rock hopping off the table as a viable option, the depth and width of the stream are not so excessive as to prevent fording.
After a quick change into my Crocs, the birding of the Deer Pond drainage can commence.
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