This past weekend, a friend and I headed out with Wren for some nighttime birding in the Madawaska complex north of Paul Smith's. We drove in during the early evening while it was still light which helped us negotiate the soft and rutted road – a precursor of things to come. We parked in the parking area near Indian Rock, and hiked the mile and a half or so to Madawaska Pond on the wide two track trails. Birds were relatively quiet as the evening shadows fell, but we did find a calling merlin – a recent arrival for the season.
On our way to the pond, we took a spur trail where a chorus of spring peepers and wood frogs were calling. We would hear both species throughout the night. There we also found an American woodcock displaying, and we had just enough light to spot him as he cleared the horizon for his twittering display flight before losing him against the darkening sky. Then we'd spot him again against the western horizon as he returned back to the ground to call. We listened to him give his low, buzzy call several times before moving on.
Madawaska Pond itself was quiet save the clap from the tails of beavers disturbed by our presence. As it finally became dark, I hooked Wren up on a leash. Although she stays close off lead, I always feel more secure with her on the leash in the dark.
We looped past the pond and returned to it listening with interest to a low, almost moaning call which sounded akin to the spooky noise some villain might make on Scooby-Doo. In this case we decided it was a beaver, and not some far-fetched scheme to frighten people. We walked in closer for a better listen. We stood intently concentrating on the call across the lake, when another beaver came quietly next to us in the water and slapped its tail scaring us half to death! Then another beaver slapped its tail across the lake in response, and the echo from the tail slaps bounced across the hills, sounding like gunshots!
I shone my light across the water, but didn't find the distant beaver – I only managed to spook a pair of Canada geese and a couple common mergansers. Then as we were walking away, we heard a common loon begin to call. We stood and listened beneath the blanket of stars to its wails, transfixed by the dark canvas of wilderness stretched before us. We finally turned towards the car.
It was only then that the adventure began. My friend was considering sleeping out to record nighttime bird calls, and so we stopped in a few places to listen for saw-whet owls, but heard none. We did, however, hear a distant barred owl. We continued down the road and came to a wet looking stretch of road and I hesitated. Hmm...we hadn't any difficulty on the road so far. Foolishly I started into the mud without checking it out on foot first. I soon had two of my tires stuck up to the frame on the passenger side of the car – not how you want your car to look after 11pm!
We thankfully were able to get out fairly quickly. After a few vain attempts, and the car stalling out on each, my friend got out and the lighter load and his push got us over the hump, and I was able to steer out of the quagmire. I felt like I should do a commercial for Subaru after getting out! I let the car sit and looked at the road to see if there any pieces of the car lying there! There were none.
As we collected our thoughts and let the clutch cool, we heard our first saw-whet owl of the evening. A few minutes earlier we had thought we might have heard a distant saw-whet tooting, but then had decided that perhaps we hadn't. This bird gave their less commonly heard "scream" call, confirming that our ears were not lying to us.
Rather than turn around (which had been our original plan) and take our chances with the mud – this time heading up hill – we decided to take the long way around to head home, looping us past Santa Clara on our way out of the woods towards Route 458. We stopped in several more places and soon thereafter heard a pair of barred owls calling.
Then in short succession near Dexter Bog we heard a winnowing snipe, another tooting saw-whet owl from which I elicited a response by tooting myself, and a chorus of spring peepers and wood frogs (again, they were everywhere that night) which included our first northern leopard frogs of the season. It was a nice ending to our night, and although we wanted to check out more places, we were tired and sleep was beckoning. We followed the dark road home, happy to crash into bed.