Sunday, July 14, 2013

Jay - 3, Slide Mountain - 0; July 12

On Thursday, July 11, I drove from east of Cleveland, OH to the vicinity of Big Indian in the Catskills, specifically to Oliveria in New York.  From my location on Thursday east of Cleveland in Mentor OH, the distance was 447 miles requiring 7 hours and 13 minutes.  It is a distance of 850 mile requiring 13.5 hours from W Bobbygay Truck Trail near Trout Lake in Michigan, where I was Wednesday, to Oliveria, NY.  The trail head for the Slide Mountain trail is a few miles beyond Oliveria on SR 47.  The trip to the Slide Mountain trail head took me longer than expected, because I was not comfortable with the route that Google Maps laid out for me.  It was a back way that I did not know.  I had been to Slide Mountain before in 2004 to get my Life Bird Bicknell's Thrush and knew my way to the trail head for the trail to the summit of Slide Mountain on SR 47 off of SR 28, but that was on July 9, nine years ago.  I had hoped that I would arrive early enough in the afternoon on Thursday, July 11, 2013, to be able to climb to the summit to hear Bicknell's Thrush singing late in the day with enough time to return to the trail head parking lot before dark.  I was prepared to hike in the dark with two different flashlights as back-up to a head lamp that would provide light for 70 hours.  My alternative plan would be to leave early on Friday, July 12, and take with me enough water and food for the day on the summit if needed just in case I did not get to the summit of Slide Mountain early enough to hear Bicknell's thrush singing early in the morning.

Thursday evening, I approached Big Indian from the west on SR 28 from Oneonta, New York off of I-88 and turned right at SR 47, passed through the little village of Oliveria and arrived at the Slide Mountain trail head at 7:30 to 8:00 pm.  I needed to be sure that my memory of the trail head and the trail were correct.  I walked a short distance on the trail to acquaint myself with how to start the trail and follow the yellow blazes to the short trail with the red blazes to the summit.  A Swainson's Thrush was singing in the vicinity of the trail head.  There would not be enough time to get to the summit before dark.  I expected a hike of about 2.5 hours to the summit of Slide Mountain, ca. 4180 feet, estimated from the contour line on topographic maps, but could be 4,200 feet, suggested by many informal surveys, because of a lack of an official US Coast and Geodetic Survey.  This information was taken from Wikipedia up dated two months ago.  The shortest, red blaze trail to the summit is a 2.7 or 2.75 mile hike, starting at 2,400 feet at the trail head for a vertical ascent of about 1,780 feet or more.  I drove to Kingston about 30 miles to the east to stay the night, hopeful for an early start in the morning. 

Why go to Slide Mountain to see Bicknell's Thrush?  For history.  Eugene Bicknell discovered this thrush on Slide Mountain in 1881, previously thought to be a sub-species of Gray-cheeked Thrush, but recognized as a separate species in 1995.  Slide Mountain is the most southern location to find breeding Bicknell's Thrush, which has a restricted breeding range of high elevation montane forests of Balsam Fir from northern Gulf of the St. Lawrence and Nova Scotia south through the mountains of New England and New York.   The population is thought to be less than 50,000.

Why is the score, Jay - 3, Slide Mountain - 0?  First of all I made it to the top of Slide Mountain, no small feat for a person 70.5 years old, but obviously in quite good shape for the rigors of this hike.  Thus, Jay - 1, Slide Mountain - 0!  At the end of this posting are photos to document that I made it to the top.  I started at the trail head at about 8:30 am, much later than I wanted to because I overslept.  There were singing Least Flycatchers at the trail head on Friday morning, a bird that I recalled hearing on the Slide mountain Trail back in 2004.

Secondly, the score is Jay - 3, Slide Mountain - 0, because I found Bicknell's Thrush calling and one bird singing softly for a total of four Bicknell's Thrushes, as well as two Yellow-bellied Flycatchers.   Score 2 more for Jay.  Yellow-bellied Flycatchers had been reported at the summit of Slide Mountain through June and as recently as July 7, 2013, in e Bird.   I checked e Bird on Thursday night to see when Bicknell's Thrush had most recently been reported on Slide Mountain and found the additional reports of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.

The trail up was tough, but I was able to do it because I have kept myself in shape with an exercise program over the years, and I did the tough hiking and mountain biking on Attu last month, conditioning for the Slide Mountain trail (?).  Not really (Smile!).  I also walked 10 miles in one day at Seney NWR in Michigan on July 9.   I made it up the yellow blaze trail without stopping to rest very much, but I needed to go slowly to pick my way up the steep very rocky parts of the trail, and was quite happy that I did not try this trail in the dark with a head lamp and flashlights.  By the time that I got to the red blaze trail, I was getting quite tired and settled on hiking about 10 minutes with 2 minutes of rest by leaning against large rocks and trees.  The first time I rested, I sat down and found it too hard to get back up with a full back-pack, even with the tree limb walking stick that I picked up from the pile left at the tail head by other hikers to be used and returned.  As I got close to the summit, the trees started to change to Balsam Fir, the primary tree at the summit.  I could tell by both sight and smell.  The trail also got less steep; therefore hiking got less strenuous.  Not long after getting into the Balsam Fir that bordered both side of the trail, I saw a thrush along the trail, but it disappeared into the shadows.  I suspect that it was a Bicknell's Thrush, because on my way back down I heard a Bicknell's Thrush calling at this location.  As I approached the peak, where the trail was flat, I heard a Bicknell's Thrush calling, giving the two syllable down slurred and burry "vee-ah."  Gray-cheeked Thrush has a similar thin high abrasive call, "preu," but its call is not as distinctly two syllabic.  I turned on my cell phone and briefly played the song of Bicknell's Thrush, which is similar to Gray-cheeked Thrush but ends on an up-turn in the last note while Gray-cheeked Thrush is a series of thin reedy notes ending on a downward inflection.   The calling Bicknell's Thrush immediately responded to the recording.   I could see the shadow of the bird as it flew in the trees above me, and sang its song softly once.  Once the bird flew right at my head and whizzed by along a few feet away, confirming the identification.  I didn't play the song most of the time.  During a resting period of song playing, the Bicknell's Thrush sat on a dead lower branch of a Balsam Fir in the sun.  I saw the very yellow bill and quite reddish tail two field marks that help to distinguish Bicknell's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, although the confirmation usually is by the song or more specific measurements on the wings and tails during banding.  As I looked closely, I saw the yellow bill was caused by an almost completely yellow lower mandible, unlike the Gray-cheeked Thrushes I saw outside of Nome in Alaska last month.  Gray-cheeked Thrush has a distinctly dark bill tip on both upper and lower mandibles.  My experience with about 100 Gray-cheeked Thrushes heard calling and singing in the willows outside of Nome (most common bird outside of Nome) helped me to immediately recognize the differences in the call and the one song I heard from the Bicknell Thrush on Slide Mountain.   I saw Bicknell's Thrush twice, not counting the first thrush I saw at the crest but could not see well enough, and heard four calling and the first well seen bird singing for a total of four Bicknell's Thrushes.

While I was watching the first Bicknell's Thrush, two empidonax flycatchers flew into a Balsam Fir above my head, chasing each other.  I could see the yellow under-parts, the throat, breast and belly, the dark blackish wings and the complete eye ring and the olive colored back, nape and crown.  These were Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, a second new bird within the first ten minutes at the summit.  See photo below.  Later, I played a recording of the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher once and the flycatcher flew in to observe, confirming the identification.

I walked a small distance to the rock ledge where there is a plaque commemorating John Burroughs, the naturalist and writer, who became famous for his writing and hikes on Slide Mountain.  See photos and one with me beside the plaque proving that I did indeed make it to the top and back down.  I ate lunch near the rock ledge and started back down the trail at about 1:00 pm.  It was easier going down the mountain, except that I had to be real careful not to aggravate old knee injuries from playing soccer.  I arrived back at the trail head at about 2:30 pm, left my borrowed walking stick for someone else to use, and checked out on the trail register indicating that I had safely made it up and down.  I added a note of pride about doing this at 70.5 years old!

On my way up to the summit of Slide Mountain, I heard quite a bit of bird song, 8 Ovenbirds, 2 Black-throated Green Warblers, 2 Blackburnian Warblers, 1 Swainson's Thrush, 1 Black-throated Blue Warbler and 1 Blue-headed Vireo, and 14 Red-eyed Vireos, and much the same on the way back down except for one more each of Black-throated Green and Black-throated Blue Warblers.

At 3:00 pm I started driving to a spot near Indian Lake in the Adirondacks about 2.5 to 3 hours away, where a Philadelphia Vireo has been reported on e Bird during June and as late as June 20.  I arrived at the pull-off along Route 30 at about 7:15 pm, but very few birds were active or singing.  The woods were in the shadows of the mountains to the west, probably causing a reduction in bird activity.  I thought I heard a distant vireo singing, but could not locate it and decided that I would try again in the morning.  I drove north to the village of Indian Lake just to look around the area, and then I drove south 12 miles from the pull-off to Speculator to stay the night.

Bicknell's Thrush and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher raise the total to 537.

View to North just before Summit
Rock Ledge with John Burroughs Plaque

Jay at John Burroughs Plaque
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

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