A Place I’ve been wanting to Explore
I had been planning to check out Quebec Brook (part of the Madawaska complex) with my canoe ever since the DEC managed to renegotiate the access with a local landowner, so when a friend of mine contacted me that she and a couple other folks were hoping to go there, it was an easy choice to join them. The access which had been in question comes off Rt. 458 about a mile north of the junction of 458 and Rt. 30, and we planned to meet near the gate in the morning. It was cool and pleasant when I arrived and my friends were already there, having found a few birds of interest along the road. We caravanned down the bumpy route (6.1 miles) slowly – stopping regularly and working it for birds as we went.
The Bumpy Road on the way in
My friends had heard a Mourning Warbler before I arrived – I’ve found them at the gate in the past – and not far down the road they discovered a small family of Mourning Warblers. We soon began to tally a list of birds which included other species of warblers as well – such as Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Yellow-rumped, Chestnut-sided, Ovenbird, and a lone American Redstart. Earlier in the summer we would have had an easier time finding more species and individuals, but as July lengthens, song drops off and we worked through mixed flocks of birds – the prelude to fall in the bird world.
This isn’t a bad thing, mind you. Sorting through flocks of mixed species is always fun - full of surprises about what you can turn up. And many birds – like a few of the Magnolia Warblers – were still singing, or at least singing partial songs. The latter is something I swear birds do simply to annoy and confuse birders – or at least that’s my complaint. In an effort to return the favor and annoy them instead, I hooted for Barred Owl part way down the road and received a chorus of angry scolds for my impersonation. Whether it responded to the Barred Owl or not, a Black-billed Cuckoo began to call – too far away for us to see - but it continued to call consistently as we made progress down the road.
Further down the road, a Canada Warbler was also not apt to keep quiet – singing a full song for us rather than the truncated version done by so many of its brethren. And even a relatively quiet morning can yield birds and we had soon amassed a list that included the likes of Blue-headed Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Hermit Thrush, and Veery. In fact, we poked our way so slowly along the road that we arrived late to the put-in!
An Amazing Paddle
From the parking area, the boat launch is about 400-500 meters down a relatively easy trail. We tried to configure the most efficient way to lug our boats and equipment to the water before schlepping everything down to it – to the tune of Pine Warblers in the trees. And so after a lot of carrying, we were finally ready to push off – later than we had originally hoped but the productivity along the road on the way in helped make up for it.
Those canoeing at the site can either head south and west towards Madawaska Pond, or they can head east along Quebec Brook. We chose the latter and wound our way around s-turn after s-turn, cutting a straight path when we could. Despite the warm, quiet day, we were in awe of the landscape which stretched out before us and we followed the meandering path of the channel, chasing up Belted Kingfishers and spotting Great Blue Herons and a lone young Wood Duck. After all, the entire area is a splendid boreal panorama, and we began noting many of the same species we had found previously along the road on the way in – from Winter Wren to Nashville Warbler. And deciduous forests near the stream increased the diversity by offering us Red-eyed Vireos and a Scarlet Tanager, among others.
There were also many tucked away bog mats which seemed to instantly place us in northern Canada, and we paused again and again hoping for either a Palm Warbler or Lincoln’s Sparrow. Both of these species occur in numbers in Madawaska and would have been vigorously singing earlier in the season, but we had to work for them on our trip. In the end we found a couple Palm Warblers and I caught a snatch of Lincoln’s Sparrow song. But that was it.
After additional effort, we also eventually found a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and after stopping for an enjoyable lunch – Wren was happy to be out of the boat – we headed back toward the launch, pausing in a continuing search for an Olive-sided Flycatcher to go with it. This bird too had proved difficult to find thanks to its late summer silence, but our persistence paid off when we heard their characteristic Pip, pip, pip calls, so often heard later in the summer. We moved toward the put-in, now working hard against a growing wind.
The wind presented the biggest problem for me as my friends in their low-profile kayaks presented a smaller target for it to hit. At one point the wind took my hat off my head and I circled back for it, struggling to get my canoe pointed into the wind again. But we reached the shore, spotting one of the mink frogs which we had been hearing as we paddled, and we began the process of carrying our boats and equipment back to the cars. Perhaps because we were no longer in any sort of rush to get out on the water, the reloading process seemed easier and quicker and we were soon bumping back down the dirt road toward Rt. 458.