The day after the Birdathon is often a letdown. All the excitement of the chase for new bird species is over, leaving just the responsibility of reporting the results, and the necessary frantic exit from the backcountry that goes along with it. The only redeeming part is the dream of doing better next year.
This year, the bone-chilling cold of the morning makes the feeling even worse, especially after a less than stellar Birdathon the day before. The chill keeps me from exiting my sleeping bag, the fetal position being my best chance at maintaining some semblance of a life preserving temperature.
Nature has no sympathy though, as my full bladder balloons to an unnatural size since last night. Exiting my sleeping bag is no easy feat though, as my backpack and other gear lie underneath me for additional insulation, along with a plastic bag covering the bottom half of the sleeping bag. All in a futile attempt to stay warm at all costs, but with only limited success.
After finally dealing with my urgency, the subdued bird chorus comes more into focus. Very few birds are singing, making me thankful that today is the day AFTER the Birdathon. The drumming of a nearby ruffed grouse is the only obvious sign of bird life, making the area appear lonely and depressing.
Date: May 18, 2014
Length: 3.2 miles (3.2 total daily miles; 9.3 total trip miles)
Heavy fog surrounds Sunshine Pond, erasing the eastern shoreline from my sight. As the fog slowly lifts from the pond’s surface, parts of the shoreline become suddenly visible before the white once again engulfs it. The shifting visibility around the pond, combining with the surrounding quiet and stillness, makes this spring morning seem more like autumn.
Fortunately, the bird activity picks up some as the temperature rises with the sun emerging above the eastern ridge beyond Sunshine Pond. Checking my small thermometer, the temperature reads around 35 degrees Fahrenheit, bone-chilling cold for mid-May for many places, but obviously not the western Adirondacks.
As I slowly work through my morning chores, the bird activity continues, with much of the same birds heard or seen from the previous day. A Lincoln’s sparrow supports my assertion that I heard one yesterday. A song sparrow sings its heart out, despite its silence the day before, making it the first bird I curse for being missing in action when it really counted. Throughout much of the morning, I hear ducks either landing or taking off from the water, most of them departing before reaching my precious binoculars, most likely due to my presence.
Another cursory search for my missing stake takes priority after most of chores are over, as a last ditch opportunity to find my single piece of missing gear. Nothing comes from the search, just like those performed the previous evening. Looks like the search will need widening to either Cropsey or Sitz Pond later in the spring. If the lost stake does not show up in one of these places, I will have no choice but to purchase a replacement.
While preparing a cold breakfast, the blackflies make their first annoying appearance for the day around half past eight. With it still this cold, their return comes as a very unwelcome surprise indeed. Their presence gives me just the impetus I need get off my butt and start packing up my campsite as fast as possible, not as I need any more reasons given the need to report my findings by noon – or else.
Within another half hour, my backpack is full of gear (sans one stake) and I am ready to take my leave of Sunshine Pond. The lost stake compels me to make one last pass through the entire area, mindlessly kicking at the leaves hoping that it turns up before taking my leave of the area. Sadly, it does not. With no more time to waste, I head south around the southernmost tip of the pond, hoping that my poor stake is waiting back at Cropsey Pond.
Crossing the small inlet stream proves a little trickier than usual this year, as it appears more like a standing strip of water than an actual flowing stream. Once making my way around it, I turn southeast toward a ridge, which should guide me south to an old beaver vly. From there it is a short hike west to pick-up an old hunter’s trail that leads all the way back to Raven Lake Road.
The surrounding forest begins as a mixture of coniferous and deciduous trees, as it was back at my campsite, but as I climb toward the ridge, hardwood species increasingly dominate. Once the transformation is complete, the bushwhacking becomes easier, even pleasant.
By the time I reach the ridge, my bushwhacking legs are firing on all cylinders, with the forest flying by as I bob and weave around standing and downed trees alike. Changing things up from previous years, I follow along the base of the ridge, which contains more downed trees to negotiate around or climb over. Change has its costs after all.
It requires just a little more bushwhacking before the old beaver vly starts appearing through the forest. Approaching the clearing brings a return of coniferous trees into the forest, making the hiking a little more arduous than before back near the ridge. This is entirely worth it, given the payback of walking entirely unimpeded upon reaching the vly. In this case, haste certainly does not make waste.
The vly remains much as I remember it from the previous year’s trek. The vly contains two parts, the wider northern one in which I emerge, and a thinner one further to the southeast. The forest intrudes somewhat in the middle, giving the entire vly the appearance of a bowtie or pair of sunglasses.
The large ruptured dam lies directly across the beaver meadow from where I emerge from the forest. A small, murky pool of water lies at the base of the dam, while snags, old stumps and other flotsam and jetsam are scattered about, primarily in southern half. I pick my way along the eastern edge, trying my hardiest to avoid the wetter places in the meadow interior.
With the temperature rising further, I discard a few more layers before continuing with the next phase of my journey back to civilization. This time I strip off both the fleece socks (not removed since I put them on last night) and my rain pants, stuffing them into my backpack wherever I can find some spare room. Removing the rain pants may be playing with fire, as a line of dark, foreboding clouds lie off to the west.
When I enter the southern portion, I look about for an old rusty coffee can nailed to a snag in the center of the vly. How the can got there is anyone’s guess. Perhaps someone nailed it there using a canoe when the vly was a full-fledged beaver pond.
Unfortunately, the rusty can is missing. The tree appears to still be standing (as far as I can tell), but the old can has been removed. I navigate over all the downed limbs, trying my best to avoid the mud and murky little stream between us. When losing my balance on a log, my homemade hiking poles sinks deep into the muck, but never reaches bottom. Luckily, I regain my balance or I might still be at the bottom of the endless muck right now!
Searching around the area of the old can’s snag yields nothing – no evidence of a snag falling, a rusty can or anything else. Maybe some well-wisher decided it was a non-conforming structure in the Pepperbox Wilderness and packed it out. Despite the unlikelihood, if this do-gooder is reading, please comment or email me, as I would love to know that the can ended up in a good home (or a nice recycle container).
With my second search for a metal object of the day yielding nothing, I retrieve my backpack and continue through to the opposite end of the clearing. Climbing back into the forest, I head southwest soon after leaving the meadow behind, certain that I should cross the old hunters’ path before it crosses the boggy edge of another beaver pond to the northwest.
Although narrow and indistinct, I worry little about crossing the path without noticing. Removing my handheld Garmin GPS, I consult it to determine the distance between where I marked the trail last year and my current location. Typically, I avoid navigating with my GPS, but I cannot afford to waste time now, and I definitely want to avoid going the wrong way on the path, like I did last year. The Birdathon results reporting waits, after all.
Shortly past ten, I locate the hunters’ trail and do a quick change, discarding my lightweight long johns, which I wore all the way from Sunshine Pond. Now on the trail, I should make much better time, and I do not need to saturate my good long underwear in the process. With the quick change behind me, made uncomfortable by the horde of blackflies taking pot-shots at my exposed flesh, I head south on the trail toward Raven Lake Road.
The hunters’ path winds its way through the surrounding forest as it approaches a small, slim beaver pond to the south. The rut in the forest floor reveals the herd path making it easy to follow, but occasionally excessive understory growth or a fallen tree obscures all signs of my route. Each time, I stop and survey the surrounding forest, looking for the obscured rut, a blaze cut into a tree trunk or evidence of cut limb or log. Sometimes this is not enough to locate the trail and walking about in a semi-circle from the last known location is the only way to regain it. Thankfully, herd paths do not make frequent sharp turns or I might have to bushwhack out. Heaven forbid!
When the trail enters a dark stand of spruces, the slim beaver pond comes into view to the west, signaling the half-way point to Raven Lake Road. This is traditionally a resting spot, and this time is no exception. I avoid wandering downhill to the pond’s shoreline though, as I am schedule this time around.
The hunters’ path is more distinct from this point on, where it stays to the east of the outlet stream of the pond. When it finally curves around the end of a large beaver vly, it crosses the stream just a short distance from the dirt road that acts as my last phase of my exit from the Pepperbox Wilderness.
When I reach Raven Lake Road, just north of where the stream crosses the road, I lose my pack and take a short rest before continuing with my trek out. The blackflies see their opportunity and attack in large numbers once again, requiring my short rest to be even shorter than I would like. Within a few minutes and a couple swigs of water, I begin walking at a stiff pace down Raven Lake Road back toward my car.
The last mile goes by quickly, with the surrounding forest flying by as I march toward the inevitable end of this year’s Birdathon adventure. Soon I emerge from the forest and within minutes appear at the bridge over the Beaver River. From this point, it is just a hop, skip and a jump to my car, where I will clean up a little before driving off to the payphone to report my results at the parking area for Stillwater Reservoir.
Before cleaning up, I sit down for a snack at the picnic table for the nearby campsite. While sitting there, my attention turns toward my Asolo hiking boots. The gouge is deep and in the right sole near the heel. After a more thorough examination, I find another one on the left boot, but it is not nearly as large or deep. A repair job is definitely necessary in the near future.
Cleaning up does not take long, leaving me plenty of time to return to the Stillwater Reservoir and report my disappointing Birdathon results. Upon reaching the parking lot, I make a quick visit to the restroom before reporting my Birdathon results and buying a snack at the store nearby.
With my results reported and my stomach somewhat full, I start the long drive back to civilization, marking the end of another year’s Birdathon in the Pepperbox Wilderness. Here is hoping I get to do it again next year.
I spend a good deal of the 2+ hours drive home thinking about when I will be able to return and search for that missing stake at Cropsey Pond. Hopefully, it will be soon.
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