Saturday, October 22, 2016

Spending a Rainy Day in Concord, MA

At the parking lot of the North Bridge
The weather this week has been beautiful. We tied the record high temperature for one day last week. Most everyday has not seen a single cloud, that was until my days off. Friday and Saturday forecast was for showers on and off both days. After the rain cleared, the temperature was supposed to drop into the forties and the wind gust over thirty miles/hour. I can verify the weatherman got this one right. It rained on and off the last two days. I just got back from a run and the air temperature was 43 degrees according to a gas station thermometer. The wind was blowing big time. We need the rain, so I'm not really complaining. It just made finding something fun to do difficult.

Friday I went to a movie, visited my brother and caught up on writing in my journal. I was bound and determined not to waste my day despite the weather. The surfcasting was out because the wind has dirtied the water for a week. I decided to visit my favorite town in Massachusetts; Concord

I've done almost everything in Concord. I've been to the old houses that once upon a time authors lived in. I've been to their graves in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. I love the Minuteman National Historical Park and been to the North Bridge many times. So today was not going to be a day full of surprises. I was just looking for something to do that was more fun than sitting in my house.

I started my day at Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. The goal was to see a Northern Pintail duck. Although there were some Great Blue Herons and mallards around, I struck out with the Pintail. The water was drained and most everything as brown. I was hoping for nice fall foliage so I only stayed thirty minutes.

Downtown Concord was
busier than expected
From there I drove to Concord center. I realized of all the times I've been there, I never moseyed around town. I walked down the main streets for a while. I'm not into artisian cheeses and wine, but there were a number of places selling them along with antiques and books. I spent a total of a dollar fifty in a candy store on some Boston Baked Beans. The town does have a Visitor Center I walked over to it. There was a sign for a guided walk at 1pm. It was 12:40 when I saw it. I read the sign a little closer, I noticed the price of $20/ticket. To which, I snubbed my nose to, and kept walking.

After I ran out of streets to walk down I got in my car. I was heading back towards the highway when I noticed some cars parked at a little town forest. On a whim I pulled in. The name of the forest was the Hapgood Wright Town Forest. There was a kiosk in the parking lot with some maps. I decided to go for a walk. Within the boundaries of the forest were a few things worth walking to. Within a three minute walk there is a small lake named Fairyland Pond. The pond is a shallow lily pad type pond. It was at the bottom of a small hill. Then I walked to an old growth pine forest where I saw an immense White Pine. From there I walked on the blue trail back towards the pond.

Brister's Spring. Both Henry David Thoreau and
myself have watched the birds there
 I came upon a spring. The spring's name is Brister's Spring. It was named for a freed slave that lived nearby. Here is the best part; Thoreau used to sit by the spring for hours. Apparently he wrote a paragraph about it in his book Walden. While I was at the spring I saw a number of songbirds. I did not bring my binoculars. I pished to the birds to get them closer. There wasn't anything rare. Mostly they were chickadees and Titmice. I did see two Red Bellied Woodpeckers. As I was walking on, I realized that Thoreau, who was a naturalist, probably did the same thing in that spot a hundred and seventy years ago. It was surreal. From the spring I walked back to my car passing a stone marking the spot of Brister's house.

Lastly I went to the Visitor Center. It was still early and although I wasn't having a jolly good time,
being in Concord was better than being home. On my way to the VC, I got pulled over by a very friendly Park Ranger who informed me I had a brake light out (which I fixed when I got home). There was an actor dressed as a British soldier at the VC. He was explaining a lot about the British army during the Revolutionary War. I watched him communicate with kids. He was very good explaining things to kids of all ages. He let them touch the ostrich feather on his officers hat.  This guy was unbelievably knowledgeable. I really enjoyed talking and listening to him.

I hung out at the Visitor Center for thirty minutes. There was no point of staying for the movie, I've seen it at least five times.

Fairyland Pond on this gloomy day

Friday, October 21, 2016

An update on the Clubs I joined this Year

Ron Arra demonstrating
casting and fishing at the October
Earlier in the year I did a post about a couple of new clubs I planned to join.

I have been in both the Ocean State Bird Club and the Narragansett Surfcasters for most of the warm weather months now, and couldn't be happier about my decision to join them.

Ocean State Bird Club

Ocean State Bird Club is exactly what the name implies. It is a bird club in Rhode Island. The bird club has many walks throughout the spring and fall seasons. I have gotten to go on a couple. The one I wrote about was at Great Swamp in April. There were quite a few people on the walk including some real experts. I have to say everyone was really nice. I think birders can have a reputation ( not necessarily unwarranted) of being a bit snooty. I met a lot of birders that day from half my age to double my age, and everyone was extremely friendly.

The club also has banding demonstrations and the occasional talk. I missed one last week about feeding birds nutritional foods in your feeder because I fell asleep after work. I was really looking forward to going.

Members of the OSBC at Great Swamp
I appreciate the fact that not all of their walks are on weekends. Since I have every Friday and some Saturdays off from work, I should be able to go on some of the winter walks. Being addicted to my New Hampshire camping trips has made it difficult to go on some of the field trips, but I am still grateful they are offered.

Narragansett Surfcasters

I joined the Surfcasters in May. Just like the OSBC I am very happy I joined.  The surfcasters meet the third Tuesday of each month. The meetings are really fun and I look forward to them. Usually their is a guest speaker that puts on a seminar. Every speaker that they have had since I joined is someone I had heard of. Dave Anderson, Joe Lyons and Ron Arra have been speakers.

During the summer months instead of meetings they have a cookout. I got to the June cookout, but was busy in July and August (that damn NH addiction again). The cookout is at Snug Harbor. The food is delicious.

Many of the guys in the club are hardcore fishermen that fish almost every day. I have gotten to know a few of them. From my first meeting some of the guys made me feel at home right away. They would make a point to come and talk with me a few minutes usually about fishing.

Once September came about and the albies came in, I was in 'gansett a lot. I was fishing the same places as these guys. One of them ( who reads this blog, and has made me feel comfortable since the first meeting) even asked how I got down there so often. This did two things. It gave me credibility with the guys that fish. Since they saw me fishing, I became more of an equal. More importantly, because I was fishing with them, I got to know more members. By the September meeting, I felt like "one of the guys."

In Conclusion

I am not the most social person in the world. I'm not the hermit I pretend to be either. Joining these two clubs has put me in contact with people that share my hobbies. I've picked up a few pointers. I saw some birds because someone else recognized a song. I've been frustrated by albies side by side with another member while one other guy caught them on almost every cast. All in all being a member of both clubs has been a positive experience

I'm not going to sit here and tell you to join the clubs I've joined. They work for me. However, if you have outdoor hobbies, and I would guess you do if you've read this far, you might want to check out the local chapter of a club in your area. You might make a friend or two. You will certainly pick up a pointer. If nothing else, the snacks might be worth it!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Packing 101

When I went to New Hampshire last week, I had worked a ten hour day. Laurie was already at my house when I got home. I hadn't put a thing in my car. Yet, we were out of my driveway twenty minutes after I pulled into it, and that included time for a quick shave. How?

Organization and planning

No one likes to pack, and unpacking is even worse. So I do my best to keep my gear organized. I may be a bit of a slob about some things, but when it comes to my camping gear and fishing equipment, I am meticulous.
My already packed first aid kit on the
left. Hygiene Box on the right

The beginning of my packing actually starts at the end of my last trip. When I pull into the driveway, the first thing I do is take out my tent usually wet from dew the night before and dry it out. If my sleeping bag is moist I dry that too. I'll hang them outside on a rope. If it is raining like it was on Sunday last week, I will dry them in front of a fan in my room.

The second thing I take out is my dirty clothes. I wash them right away. The faster they get washed and dried, the faster they get put away. From there, I just clean out my car asap. I hate doing it, but hate having to clean later even more. I know exactly where I put my gear whether in my spare room or the shed so it is easy to find next time

When I pack for a camping trip, the majority of the stuff is ready to go before hand. I keep a bag of clothes in a duffel bag. You probably think it is crazy to keep clothes in a bag or it is a waste of money, but in reality, it makes perfect sense. For hiking clothes I keep a pair of shorts, 2 polyester shirts, and two pairs of hiking socks. I am only wearing this stuff while hiking anyway so it may as well stay packed. Next up is under clothes. I keep a couple pairs of white socks and 2 pairs of boxers. Is it really a big deal to take them out of your top drawer anyway? Of course not.

I keep specialty items packed such as a towel (which I use as a pillow), bathing suit, dish cloth, bandannas, knee brace, and sweatpants for cold nights. Again, are you going to miss having one less towel or bathing suit in your closet?

This leaves real clothes. I never wear pants, so I keep one pair of shorts two tee shirts, and one nice white t-shirt for when I am actually clean. That covers it all. The only other clothing I need (from spring-fall) are a sweatshirt and my raincoat which is always in the car anyway.

When the clothes are dry from a washing after a trip, I put them back in the duffel, and I'm ready to go.

Big Stuff

The majority of my space in my car is taken up by the few biggest items. In my shed are my two tents, sleeping bags, and pads.They go directly behind the passenger seat in the car. As they are the first things I'll take out, I want to make them the easiest to get to. I put my backpack under all of this stuff on the seat, that way when camp is set up, it is the next easiest thing to get to. They go in the same place every time. The backpack always has a raincoat along with most of the "ten essentials" such as matches, space blanket, etc)

Little stuff

This would be the time consuming stuff that wastes the most time. When I was a kid, my mom would make up a list before every trip and it would be so long, but it would be little annoying stuff. Now I keep most of it packed but have it broken down by groups.

Hygiene and first aid kits.

At the beginning of the school year Walmart was selling big pencil boxes for a dollar. I bought one and use it as my hygiene box. In it I carry my toothbrush, paste, soap, etc. It stays packed and actually stays in my car for those times you forgot to put on deodorant after a shower.

My first aid kit also stays in the car because I am much more likely to get hurt hiking/fishing than I am watching tv at my house.

Camping gear/ Food-

There are other small essentials for camping that stay in a cardboard box year round. They might all be needed on a trip, but they come for the ride anyway. To start, I need to eat, so I having a camp stove, fuel canister, sauce pan, bowls,
plates, and silverware. Yes, I went out and spent two dollars on plastic bowls, well worth not having to pack dishware every time out.

I have a water filter, some rope, lantern, toilet paper, shovel all packed in the box. I would have sunscreen and bug spray in the box also, but keep them in my car at all times anyway.

Of course food is an issue camping. I try not to make a special trip to the grocery store for camp food. I'm a guy and hate shopping. So if I go to the store on Sunday for weekly groceries, I buy my camp food then. I put it in a box and it is ready to go (sometimes I do have to make a trip closer to departure day to buy fruit)

On trips that I plan on fishing, I take my kayak which includes accessories of backrest, life jacket, and paddle. I take my fishing rod and box for the species I'm targeting, usually trout in NH

Following these steps allowed me to be fully packed in less than twenty minutes when I got home from work last Thursday. I was with Laurie so I wasn't going to be fishing.

1. I went to the shed and grabbed tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads and camping box

2. I went into my spare room and got my duffel full of clothes.

3. I put the food box in the car.

4. In my car at all times are my camera, battery charger, hygiene and first aid boxes, sunscreen, and bug spray.

5. I grabbed my sandals and hiking boots. Because I thought I might be birding, I grabbed my binoculars also.

Pulled out of the yard

I completely understand that my gear is not your gear. You may want to take a small grill. You may actually want to bring a real pillow instead of using a towel. If you have kids, you obviously need much more clothes. Still, having the clothes already to go is great. How much would it cost to buy an extra shirt or two from a thrift store. Having spare toothbrushes paste and soap is nice. I assume, if you have enough money to go on a camping trip no matter how small your budget, you can afford a spare toothbrush (or use the old one you were going to throw out anyway).

I hope these tips help. Any time saved when packing can be time spent doing something more fun or for getting an earlier start

Monday, October 10, 2016

New Hampshire Foliage with Laurie

For the third consecutive year Laurie and I went to New Hampshire during the peak of the fall foliage and probably my last time for the year. Sometimes the weather is nice for us and sometimes it is not, it is October after all. All week we were checking the extended forecast to see if was worthwhile to go camping. By Tuesday we were sure we could go even if would be a little chilly camping. I asked weeks ago to have Sunday off from work. I already had Friday and Saturday off so I was pretty excited to have a three day weekend. We left Thursday after we both got out of work. It was almost dark when we left home. Luckily, we found a campsite very easily even in the dark. We have set the tent up so many times by the light of our headlamp that it is almost second nature, so that was no big deal.


We did not have a far drive on Friday. The overnight low was roughly 48 degrees so it was a little chilly getting out of the toasty sleeping bag. The day was perfect though, There wasn't a cloud in the sky the entire day. The daytime high was predicted to be over sixty with very little wind. We had planned to do the Franconia bike trail on Friday. When I found out it would be so clear, I begged Laurie to do a mountain with me so we could get big views and save the bike ride for Saturday.

Because my best friend is so awesome, we went hiking. We actually did a four thousand footer. The mountain we hiked was Mount Garfield. It is 4500 feet high. The hike is ten miles round trip with 3000 feet of elevation gain. We started very early and finished up an hour before sunset. The reason it took so long? We stayed up there enjoying the huge views for as long as we could.

When we got on the summit about 12:30 there were a bunch of people on top. However, most of them left by 1 pm. There is plenty of room on the summit for a few groups of people. But there was never more than six people on top after the first thirty  minutes.

One thing that was kind of fun; the cover photo of the book that describes all of the four thousand footers "The 4000 Footers of the White Mountains" by Steve Smith was taken on top of Garfield. While we were up there we tried to recreate the photo. I found the rock the hiker was standing on with Owl's Head in the background. The light was bad and the best view was backlit. It was still fun and the scenery was amazing. I'd say we took over fifty pictures trying to get the photo. We also saw a Black Backed Woodpecker which is a north woods specialty and a lifebird for me

Just like my hike last week up Isolation, just as we were about to leave, some Grey Jays showed up and wanted some food. For the third consecutive trip I got to feed the jays out of my hand. Laurie did also, the first time since we were in Colorado in 2010. After we fed the jays, we hiked the five miles back to the car. We had about an hour before dark and still needed to eat supper. We drove to the Eisenhower Wayside and enjoyed a close up view of the Presidentials while eating supper as the sun was going down.


The weather forecast for Saturday was sixty degrees but clouding up early and possible rain showers . I knew that hiking a big mountain was not going to be worth it. The plan for the day was to bike ride the Franconia Bikepath in the morning. If it was still nice out in the afternoon I wanted to hike out to a mountain lake. Late afternoon we were going to be "tourists" and hang out in Lincoln during the predicted rain showers.

We got an early start for the bike path. We didn't make it very far before we realized we were too sore to enjoy riding our bike up the hilly path. Laurie turned around very quickly. I chose to ride a couple miles and have her pick me up at the Basin. Because we didn't bike for long, we had plenty of extra time. We drove down to the Kanc to go to our mountain pond.

 I have never seen so many people in New Hampshire. We drove through Franconia Notch. The number of cars parked to hike Franconia Ridge was mind blowing. The cars were parked along the interstate for over half a mile! I heard later the cars ended up backing up a full mile from the trailhead!. This is the busiest weekend of the year in the mountains, but the amount of people was insane. We got off the highway at Exit 32 in Lincoln. The cars were backed up all the way to the ramp. It took us a full half hour to get through town! While we were driving down the Kanc, every viewpoint was full with cars. People were taking pictures not only by the carload, but also the busload. At all the trailheads things were no better. Cars were parked along the road for places like Greeley Ponds and East Pond.

Needless to say, I was disappointed to know solitude was probably not going to happen. There were so many people in the mountains it really didn't matter where we could go, there was no escaping them. Can't blame anyone for being there, the scenery was amazing. The foliage was at its peak and the weather was really nice for October standards.

The mountain lake I chose to visit Saturday was only a flat mile from the road. However, it is out of the way. Not too many people know about it. Still, I figured even if a few people knew about the pond it would be crowded. The trail had one thing going for it to deter people. The very beginning of the trail crosses a river right near the parking lot. The river is wide enough and deep enough where you have to get wet to cross it. There is no way to rock hop.

When we pulled up to the parking place to my surprise no one was parked at the parking area! We took our shoes off and crossed the river in sandals. We hid our sandals behind a rock and walked to the pond. The pond did not disappoint. There were views of big mountains right behind the pond in all directions. All the mountains were dressed in their best bright colors. We found a nice flat rock to eat a picnic. It was so peaceful and relaxing we stayed on the rock for almost two hours before we went back to the car.

After we got back to the car we drove back to Lincoln to be tourists. There was a traffic jam by one of the viewpoints. Back in Lincoln the traffic was no better. I found a parking spot and we walked around. There was a large craft fair going on that we walked through. Then we went to the Mountain Wanderer book store and talked with the owner/famous hiker/author Steve Smith for a few minutes. Then we bought a pizza before going back to camp. Soon after we got back to camp the rain started. It rained most of the night.


Big Cherry Pond
Having a rare Sunday off, I didn't want to waste it. Even though we woke up to crappy weather, I didn't want to just drive home early and throw away a Sunday off from work. We got up early and drove to Cherry Pond. There were a few people already there. It turns out there was a birding group there for the day (my people). We talked to them for a while. They had scopes and were trying to see how many species they could find from the boardwalk. I contributed to there count by finding a Great Blue Heron on the opposite shore. By far the highlight was not a bird but a moose! It was the first moose I've seen in three years. It was already across the pond and we only saw it for a few seconds.

Elbow Pond
After a few hours at Pondicherry we packed our wet tent in the car and drove towards home. We stopped at Elbow Pond in North Woodstock first. It wasn't raining but it was a raw windy day. We cooked some mac and cheese and took some pictures. I'd never been to Elbow Pond so it was nice to explore another mountain lake before making the three hour drive home.

Things I learned

It is a waste of time for me to bring my bike to NH. I'd rather walk up a mountain than ride a bike up one. It was a pain in the ass taking the bike rack on and off.

Next year it would be better to go up on my Thurs/Fri off from work than the Saturday. There were so many people it was uncomfortable.

I'm going to try to go to Pondicherry next year during the breeding season. The area is very birdy.

I forgot how grand the view is from Garfield

Friday, September 30, 2016

Two more great days in New Hampshire

When I looked at the weather outlook on Tuesday, the weather for my area in MA and RI was northeast wind and rain forecast for five straight days. This sealed the deal that albies would be gone for another year.

However, the weather forecast for the White Mountains in New Hampshire was for clear skies on Thursday and cloudy but not rainy for Friday. So after work on Wednesday evening I made the three hour drive to my happy place.  When I got to the mountains I found a campsite while it was still light. It was chilly though. After I set up camp I was huddled in my sleeping bag watching the stars by 7:30.

The temperature didn't exactly warm up over night. When I finally forced myself out of bed at 7 am,
Left to Right
Monroe, Washington, Boot Spur from
it was 39 degrees. However, there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I made the hour long drive to the Rocky Branch trailhead for the fourteen mile roundtrip hike up Mt. Isolation. Isolation is just over four thousand feet (4003). It has a great view of the southern Presidentials. The one thing it does not have in its favor, is the trail is long. It is 7.2 miles from car to summit, and obviously, the same distance back. I wanted to be hiking by 7:30, but since I stayed in my bag too long, I started at 8:30. 

Isolation is a rare mountain where you get most of the climbing done in the beginning of the hike. In the first two miles you climb 1700 feet. After that, you can't even notice you are climbing. However, after the initial climb you have to cross the Rocky Branch River five times. The main reason I chose to do this hike this week instead of next year is the drought he have experienced. It made more sense to do these river crossing now then next June and deal with snow melt and high rivers. This was a good call. Every crossing was very easy. 

The other thing that made the hike a little difficult was the constant rock hopping. For miles, the trail is wet and puddles. You have to tediously hop from rock to rock to keep your boots dry. This would be kind of fun except it really goes on for miles slowing you down adding hours to an already long hike.

None the less, I found the hike pretty enjoyable. Because of the rock hopping I did not make good time. Also I crossed the river in a spot that looked like a trail but wasn't. I kept trying to find the trail on the other side. This cost me quite a bit of time. 

When I finally reached the summit, I really only had an hour to hang out. Even still, this only gave me three and a half hours to hike down before dark. The view was awesome. The weather was perfect. There wasn't any wind. There weren't any clouds or humidity. I could see for a hundred miles. The view was absolutely grand. It is almost 360 degrees but the highlight is by far the view of the Presidentials. 
Just as I was packing up and ready to leave a family of grey jays came by begging for a snack. I got some more pictures of them eating out of my hand like they did on Star King. It was getting late so I couldn't hang out with the jays too long. I went down as quickly as I could but only made it down ten minutes before total darkness. Because I was pressed for time, I only took two pictures on the trails. I drove back to camp and huddled in my sleeping bag for the night.


Cherry Pond
I knew after doing fourteen miles I'd be a bit sore. I also knew the forecast called for clouds. So I wasn't doing any four thousand footers. When I woke the sky was red (Red sky in the morning, sailor's take warning" So even though there wasn't any clouds yet, I figured it was going to become overcast throughout the day. 

There is an observation deck at Cherry Pond.
On the right you can see the northern Presidentials
I figured since it was still clear I'd hike out to a pond with a view. I hiked to the Cherry Ponds off of Rt. 115. The area is known as Pondicherry. The trail to Cherry Pond is an extremely flat dirt road. Just perfect for someone sore from a big hike the day before.The area is known for being a good place to go birding.I've never actually birded in New Hampshire so I brought my binoculars. (I had been to Cherry Pond before many years ago). 

I wasn't disappointed. I saw a baby Cedar Waxwing, some wood ducks, confusing fall warblers, and a pied billed grebe (FOY).I took a walk to little Cherry Pond also. There were some more wood ducks on the pond. On my way out I had a Ruffed Grouse walk right in front of me, and I had my camera around my neck.
Ruffed Grouse

After the hike I went to Lincoln. I got a cheat meal and devoured some McDonalds food. I also visited the Mountain Wanderer Bookstore and asked the owner/author/ hiker Steve Smith a bunch of question about future hikes I want to do. Then I went out to another lake.

My next destination was Peaked Hill Pond. It is off of Rt 3 between Exits 29 and 30 on I-93. The trail is 3.4 miles. There is about 550 feet of elevation gain. Almost the whole trail is on a wide dirt road type path. It is almost all uphill to the pond but the footing is smooth and not at all steep. I was there in less than an hour. The pond has a backdrop of a pointy mountain known as Peaked Hill. There were frogs and newts in the water. Since I was a half hour closer to home and I didn't want to hit Boston traffic, I lollygagged on the sitting rocks for almost two hours. It was pure joy.

Peaked Hill and Peaked Hill Pond
The hike back was less than 45 minutes. Then I had a two and a half hour drive home after drive home after a couple fantastic days in the Granite State. The weather once I got into Massachusetts was nasty raw rain. Wish I could have stayed in the woods.

Trail miles exactly 22.0 miles 
Animals seen- a dozen wild turkeys on road sides, frogs, newt, ruffed grouse, grey jays eating out of my hand, heard barred owl, cedar waxwings, many white throated sparrows, red breasted nuthatch, wood ducks, red breasted mergansers, many warblers.

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