Monday, September 26, 2016

Numbers confirm, a great day on Mt. Wachusetts

When someone says they caught fifty stripers or saw a thousand hawk in a day, it is certainly difficult to believe. I understand that. I as a writer also know how important credibility is. If people do not believe you, then anything you write is a waste of time.

When I said I saw over one thousand hawks in an hour, I understand that is an unbelievable number. As a person on the Massbird email list, I get daily emails from the Hawk Watch. As you can imagine, I was extremely interested to wake up Sunday morning to read the totals from Saturday.

I wasn't surprised to see the total number of Broadwing Hawks for the day was 2281. Of course, I am sure this number is an estimate, but I bet the actual total is very close to that given the skill level of the observers. As you can see, thirteen bald eagles were seen along with many other hawks.

I did not see all of these hawks and eagles. I got to the top of the mountain around 11 am after my drive and hiking up. I only stayed on top for two hours because my sweat soaked shirt was chilling me. Still, what I saw was unbelievable. I saw four groups of over two hundred hawks each. Sometimes it was tough to tell where one group started and another ended because there were so many in the sky. I clearly picked a good time to reach the summit. I'm sure if I stayed longer I would have seen a lot more hawks. The morning count was "slow" so the big numbers came while I was there and after I left.

Another interesting fact; I mentioned in the below that even in migration, you need good conditions and a lot of luck to have a high hawk day. The number of Broadwing Hawks seen on Friday- 10.
Luck is a beautiful thing

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Hiking and Hawks

Mt. Wachusett
Contrary to what you probably think, it is tough for me to combine my favorite hobbies. When I go hiking of course I'd like to see animals and birds. However, if I'm going on a long hike an extra two pounds of weight is going to be water and not  binoculars. Obviously, I will still see animals, but when it comes to small birds in brush, I'm going to miss out if I don't bring binoculars.

For the most part, birding is the easiest of my three major hobbies physically (hiking and fishing being the others). Hiking requires actual excursion. Also, if I have a destination like a summit or waterfall, I just want to get there.  Birding is much more methodical. I would rarely break a sweat while birding. To be a good birder requires patience and listening. Both of these things are much easier at a deliberate pace. Rushing through the woods will scare away birds. Your noise will make it harder to hear what is going around around you.

Lastly, when I fish, I concentrate so hard on the next cast and look for signs of fish, I can't look for birds. Again, they are nice to see, but if I'm fishing my main goal is to catch a fish. I don't bring my binoculars while fishing since I have enough to carry.

So today was a real treat for me. I hiked up Mt. Wachusett with the sole intention of being part of the Eastern Mass Hawk Watch. Wachusett is one of the best places in the east to see migrating hawks. Every September thousands of hawks migrate south right by the mountain. So in turn, hundreds of birders go to the mountain to watch the spectacle.
Monadnock to the north

Greylock at least 60 miles west

 The hawks ride thermals on their way south. As the sun's rays heat up the surface of the earth the warmer heated air rises. The hawks can ride this rising air so they use less energy as they migrate. The perfect days to see the most hawks are sunny days in mid-September. The wind is important also. As the hawks travel south they want a wind out of the north (preferably northwest because it is dry). From my limited experience a slight northwest breeze is better for observing than a howling wind.

All kinds of hawks and eagles fly over the mountain. Falcons, bald eagles, red tails, and many other species use the thermals. However, the main species is known as Broad Wing Hawk. By far, they outnumber the other hawks combined. Broadwings travel in groups the way fish travel in schools. A group of hawks is called a kettle.

I took the hour plus drive to the mountain. I hiked up to the top. I didn't hike the usual trail from the visitor center. Instead I took a trail from a side road. It was named the Mountain House Trail.  I was hoping it would be devoid of people but I saw a few people on the way up. I assumed the trail would take me an hour to hike. It was much shorted than I expected and was on top in half that.

The top was very busy. There is a road with a large parking lot. There are also many trails from all directions. There were many hawk watchers on the platform of the fire tower. At least ten people were there with scopes and dozens with binoculars.

There were some high clouds in the sky. Even with the clouds, there was very little humidity. I could see for miles. To the southeast was the Boston skyline. To the north was the always amazing Mt. Monadnock. Monadnock is at least twenty five miles away. Believe it or not, to the west we could see Mt. Greylock, which is at least sixty miles away (91 miles driving a fairly straight line). With a spotting scope the tower on Greylock could be seen. The view was awesome.

I picked out a spot and started looking for hawks. It didn't take long. Every minute or so a hawk or two would fly by. Some close, some miles away. Some of these people could identify a hawk miles away just by shape or wingbeats, it was impressive. I contributed to the hawk finding. I have pretty good eyesight so I spotted a few hawks without my binoculars. I'd point out "bird" and others would say what kind.

All those black dots are not spots on my camera lens. They are
hundreds of Broad Wing Hawks. This was just one
small section of the sky 
About 11:30 am, the sunlight that had been hitting the ground all morning must have done its job. No longer were single hawks coming by. Broadwing kettles were soaring by us. These kettles were huge. Believe it or not, I saw kettles of hawks that had hundreds of birds. At least four times in less than an hour did I see different groups that were larger than 200 each! It was unbelievable how many hawks were in the air. They were using the air currents to get extremely high, then using the north tailwaind to go south. I have never in my life seen a mass migration like I did today.

More Broadwings against a bluer sky

In less than ninety minutes I am sure I saw over 1000 hawks. The guy that keeps the final tally of the
count was hoping to reach 1500 for the hour of 12-1 pm! I get emails everyday from the hawk count, so I will be extremely interested tomorrow to see the total numbers. Besides the Broadwings, I saw many other species. They include 3 bald eagles (others were seen but I couldn't find them) and multiple ospreys. The hawk watchers would get disappointed when a raven would show up. I was more than happy to watch a half dozen ravens do acrobatics in the wind. I also saw Coopers, Sharp shinned hawks and a couple merlins.

The meadow/orchard at intersection of High Meadow Trail
and Bicentennial Trail
I stayed on top with the hawk watchers for a couple hours. Unlie most of them, I had to hike down and drive an hour home. since the hike up took less than a half hour, I chose a longer way down. I started back down the Mountain House Trail. I veered right on the Jack Frost Trail until it connected to the High Meadow Trail. I took that to the Bicentennial Trail, which connected back to the Mountain House Trail near my car. This hike was slightly longer. It was scenic. The Jack Frost Trail went through a nice Hemlock Forest. The High Meadow Trail did go through a meadow/orchard.

When I got down I drove to the other side of the mountain. I wanted to see the Balance Rock. I took the Bolton Pond Trail an easy half mile to the rock. It was neat. There is a huge boulder on top of another boulder. I got a picture, headed back to my car and went home.

Useful information-

Balance Rock
 Seeing hundreds of hawks isn't an everyday thing even in migration. Just like fishing you have good and bad days. You need good conditions and luck. For the best hawk viewing you want a wind out of the north (northwest). You want it to be dry and sunny because you want the ground to warm up to produce thermals. Lastly, from my experience, you don't want a thirty mile an hour wind. The best time to see the hawk migration is in mid September. Obviously today is closer to the end of the month but it was great. Birders will still be up there counting birds into October, but there will be a lot less birds.

It was 65 degrees at the bottom. It was much chillier at the top. I bet the wind chill was around fifty degrees. Dress appropriately. I had my raincoat with me and used it as a windbreaker. That said, I got cold and was glad to heat up again as I hiked down.

If you like hawks it is well worth the trip. If you don't want to hike, I believe there is a five dollar fee to use the state park.

All directions to Wachusett and trail maps are on their website

Friday, September 23, 2016

I made the wrong decision

Pectoral Sandpipers
In my last post I discussed whether I should go hiking or birding on my days off this week (Fri and Sat). I also said, the worst case scenario when I went fishing on Wednesday I would be seeing albies way out but not catching any. Well, that is exactly what happened. I went to Narragansett on Wednesday. I caught a few blues. I saw some albies way out, but while I was there none were caught. My friend Dave caught one while I was checking out another spot (catching some bluefish).

On Thursday I bought groceries for New Hampshire. However, at the last minute I decided to stay home and fish instead. My reasons were three fold

1. Dave caught four albies on Thursday and fish were breaking for a quite a while.
2. I haven't seen Laurie in a week because she was visiting her father in South Carolina
3. I could watch the Thursday night Patriots game if I didn't go to New Hampshire.

Happily the Patriots destroyed the Texans. Happily Laurie came over to watch the game and we had fun. Friday, not so much fun

Ruddy Turnstone
I left my house before 6 am. I was in Narragansett very early. I tried multiple spots. I saw some albies very far out at two of them. I casted at each spot for 30 minutes. My goal today was to find fish. By 10:30 I hadn't seen any albies in over two hours. I kept going back to spots multiple times. The problem today was the lack of bait. I never saw any sign of bait around. There wasn't any bait balls, I didn't see any birds working. Other then the few albies way out at daybreak, nothing was feeding.

So at 10:30 I made a decision. I could either keep hoping for albies to show up which was certainly not a sure bet. Or I could take a few hours off from fishing and go birding. So that was what I did. I left Narragansett and drove to Westerly and walked out to Napatree Point. There wasn't a ton of birds but there was enough to make it worth my time. Besides the really common shorebirds I saw Ruddy Turnstones and Pectoral Sandpipers. I basically found the bunch of birds. I sat down, watched them, and took pictures for an hour.   While walking back to my car I spotted some Saltmarsh Sparrows.They were a lifebird for me. By far, the highlight of my day was the birding at Napatree.

Saltmarsh Sparrow
I got back to Narragansett at 2 pm. My friends Dave and Tom got there at about the same time. To make a long enough story a little shorter, I had one hit. Dave had two hits. I stayed fishing all the way until it was getting dark. I had one hit all day. Man, am I glad I went birding for a while. However, I absolutely should have gone to New Hampshire instead!

I obviously don't have any pictures of any fish but got some really good photos of birds and a decent sunset

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Big Decision of the Week

As I write this is is 80 degrees and humid. It is 9 pm and the temperature feels like an  August night. Still, I know that fall weather is right around the corner. Any day now could go from a beautiful seventy five to a chilly 45. I'm still going to be outside during crisp fall weather. However, before that happens I want to do as many of my warm weather activities as I can.

Which leads to this week's dilemma, what to do on my days off this week? My two options are go to the ocean and fish for albies. There is certainly the chance they have left and won't be back again.

The other option is to go hiking in New Hampshire. Assuming the weather is decent, I could hike two more four thousand footers. This would leave me only three more hikes next year to join the 4000 footers club. One of my goals this year was to hike enough mountains to be able to finish them next year. It would be a lot easier to finish them with three hikes instead of five.

I won't go to New Hampshire and hike if twenty two miles if it is going to be rainy. So assuming the weather will be fall like, then the mountains are "a sure bet"

The albies on the other hand are a gamble. They could still be around, they might not be. You may be asking, why gamble on the fish, go enjoy your weekend? The answer, albies are here for such a short amount of time. If I have the opportunity to catch  them I should. I do think about them all year. 

I try to do pluses and minuses for decisions like this. I try to think about best and worst case scenarios. As I said, if its raining, I'm not going to NH. That said, if it rains, there probably won't be any albies either. 

I am going to 'gansett on Tuesday. I have a surfcasters meeting anyway. That day I'll go to the ocean and fish after I get out of work until the meeting. If I somehow walk into a bunch of albies then I'll probably stay home. If I don't see any, I will be extremely interested to know if any are caught on Wednesday.

The worst case scenario would be to go fishing on Tuesday and see just enough breaking way out to keep me interested. That would suck. If I saw some breaking a quarter mile from shore, I'd obviously hope they would come close enough to catch. If they don't I'll wonder if they are moving on or just not near shore that day. 

Decisions, decisions!

Author's note. I understand this is a good problem to have. There are much more serious problems we all face than wonder if I should fish or hike. That said, I'd prefer not to bring my real world problems onto my blog ( like I was robbed last week and my bank doesn't want to give me the money back from my stolen credit card!) so I concentrate on the things that make me most happy. That is why I write about hiking vs fishing, albies, and birding.   

Saturday, September 17, 2016

No albies, I'll go birding instead

Not a great picture but the back bird in the
middle is a Caspian Tern
Since the wind turned east Thursday, my dreams of fishing dawn till dusk for albies on my days off were shattered.  I did not have a back up plan because the weather was going to be clear. When I woke up today I decided to get some important errands out of the way in the morning. I was productive and by 11:30 I was free.

I decided if I couldn't go to the ocean to fish, I could go to bird. I haven't been birding much lately. The shorebirds are migrating south from July through September. I enjoy seeing them so at noon I left for a day of birding.

My first stop was Charlestown Breachway. There were very fey birds there. Of the acres of mudflats, there were only a few birds. They were mostly semi-palmated plovers and black bellied plovers. However, I did have one really good find. I found a Caspian Tern. This was a life bird for me.

I gave myself two hours but since there were so few birds I was done in half that time. For once I was ahead of schedule. Next I went to Trustom Pond. There was a reported Pintail Duck there this morning. Pintails are the one fairly common duck I have yet to see in Rhode Island this year. I walked down to Osprey Point with my scope but did not find it.

From there I had a choice, it was almost 4 pm. I could have gone north and tried fishing in Narragansett. I would have been closer to home. Or I could go south to Napatree Point and see if the Marbled Godwit was still there. Marbled Godwits are a large shorebird with a slightly upturned bill. They are fairly rare around here. I have only seen one in my life. Also reported at Napatree were Red Knots. I had never seen one before.

Marbled Godwit to the left
Willet to the right
So I went south. I found a parking spot and made the long walk out. Napatree Point is a long sand spit that sticks out into the ocean in Westerly, RI. Along the way there is a small salt pond that was an outlet to the ocean. There were a lot of birds in this area. I saw fifty American Oystercatchers. Before today I'd seen maybe 10 in my life! There were also many Black Bellied Plovers and gulls. No Godwit.

I kept walking toward the point. I was walking into the sun. My plan was to walk almost to the point and then turn around. This way I'd have the sun at my back and it would be easier to identify birds. After I turned back toward the car I found the Godwit. It was hiding in some tallish grass. It came out and was surrounded by Willets as they wanted to hang out with the cool kid.

After I left the Godwit I came across many other shorebirds including Red Knots.  In the spring these guys are actually red. Like most birds there plumage fades throughout the summer. They turn grey just like every other shorebird. However they are a little bigger and more plump than most shorebirds
The chunky bird in the middle is a Red Knot.
Notice that most shorebirds are grey. It makes identification
extremely difficult for all but the experts which I am
so they were fairly easy to pick out.

All in all I had a fun afternoon. I stuck out with the pintail but had other good species. I saw two lifebirds in the Caspian Tern and Red Knot. I also got other first of the year bird in the Marbled Godwit. I saw tons of other birds most notably all the Oystercatchers and Black Bellied Plovers.

Friday, September 16, 2016

It was fun while it lasted

I had known I'd have Thursday/ Friday off from work this week in September since February. In my opinion, the best time to fish for albies is between September 11-18. I had off Sept 15, 16. Better yet, my days off this week are Thurs/Fri so I could avoid the weekend crowds.

I got up extremely early on Thursday and was fishing by 7:10 am. There were fish breaking all along the Narragansett shoreline. I hooked a fish on my second cast but it came off. I caught a couple in the next hour. At 8:40 all hell broke loose in front of me. Albies were busting bait all over the place for a couple hundred yards for ten minutes. Birds were diving, bait was jumping out of the water, it was wild! I caught two in this time period.

After the fish stopped showing, they were still around and I was catching fish. It was dead calm when I got there. There was a light breeze out of the north. Around 9:30 the wind shifted east. Of course conditions were still calm at first but I could clearly tell the water was getting choppier.

I was still catching. At 12:30 my total for the day was ten hits, fought nine, released eight (one came
off during the fight). Any day when you can catch an albie from shore is a good day. So having fought all those fish made for a great morning!

However, during this time, the east wind was getting stronger and the waves were building. I never got another hit all day. I fished for four more hours.

I'm sure other fish were caught during the calm conditions of the morning. Hazard and Newton Ave were so busy I couldn't park there. By mid-afternoon there was barely a fisherman around. Many guys would come down look at the water for a minute and leave or talk to others doing the same. I didn't just look, I casted and casted. The fish took off in the damn east wind.

This wind is not going to let up for a few days. Will the albies return when the wind turns west? Who knows. I sure hope so. I dream all year of fishing for albies. I got down to the ocean three times for them this week catching 2, 4, 8. I sure hope they come back, if not, I will be crushed, but it was fun while it lasted

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

More 4000 foot mountains

Before the albies came in, I went back to New Hampshire on my days off last week. I got up there early enough to go for a short hike. I did a quick loop of Ammonoosuc Lake. It was close to dark, but it was a short flat stroll. I was just happy to be in the mountains.
 The next morning I climbed Mt Waumbeck. To get there one has to go over Mt. Star King. There are great views on Star King. Sadly, it was overcast. Most of the view was blocked by the clouds. By far the highlight was this Grey Jay. These guys are not shy and will eat out of your hand

                                                     Waumbeck's Summit is wooded, but I climbed it hoping to enjoy Star King.

 Waumbeck is in the northern Whites. After I got down at 1 pm, I drove around the area. I came across this spring and filled up my water bottles

And turned around in the Santa's Village parking lot

I was aggrivated that I climbed a mountain without a view thanks to the clouds. The weather cleared throughout the day. I decided to climb Mt. Avalon in the evening. Although much shorter than Waumbeck, I found it difficult. The view of the Presidentials was amazing though.

The cliff scared mountain is Mt. Webster. This was a great place to admire how rugged it is!

I was almost even with the clouds

There was a very steep pitch with jagged jumbled rocks that slowed me down.

The next day I hiked the Kinsman's. First stop was  Lonesome Lake. North and South Kinsman's in the background.

The cairn on S. Kinsman. The Kinsman's were hard. I knew it was a long hike. Ten miles round trip. I did not expect the steepness climbing from Lonesome Lake to North Kinsman.

There is a great flat ledge on North Kinsman. It was a great view of the Franconias. It was clouding up with rain showers in the afternoon. Lincoln was under the cloud ceiling, but Lafayette a couple hundred feet higher was hidden

White blazes in the mountains are the Appalachian Trail. All other trails are marked by different colors.

                                                   Kinsman Pond

 This is the view from Lonesome Lake of Franconia Ridge. I was there two winters ago.

 This was the view in March 2015. The air temp was about ten degrees. That does not include the wind which was easily blowing at thirty miles an hour.

I had a good couple of days. Both Kinsmans and Waumbeck are four thousand footers. Both Avalalon and Star King are under the catagory of "52 with a view". I only have five more hikes left to join the "Four Thousand Foot Club".

Things I learned- I was glad to find the spring on Rt. 2. It is south of the junction with Rt. 115.