Date: 11/13/20 7:21 pm From: Chris Rimmer <crimmer...> Subject: [VTBIRD] Boreal Chickadees on Mt. Ascutney
Boreal Chickadees (BOCH) are on the move. Whenever more than a handful of birds of this non-migratory species show up outside their lowland boreal or montane forest haunts in New England, it's probably safe to claim that an "irruption" is underway. Following an October 31 sighting of a single BOCH on Hunger Mt. in Worcester and Paul Wieczoreck's report yesterday of a bird from Molly Stark Mt. in Huntington, I decided to hike up Mt. Ascutney this morning. With red spruce bearing a heavy cone crop across the region, I figured Ascutney's higher-elevation forests would be the Upper Valley's best bet for BOCH, if any had moved this far south.
As I began hiking the Windsor Trail at 7:25 am, the woods were quiet and wet under a low-hanging cloud cover, with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees. My expectations weren't exactly sky high for encountering BOCH. However... as I entered the lower belt of the fir-spruce zone, with some heart-leafed paper birch still present, I heard my first chickadee call of the hike. Figuring it was a Black-capped, I pished, hoping to draw it in for a closer look. Suddenly 2 birds with distinctly brown crowns and chestnut flanks appeared at close range, giving their more raspy and nasal call -- BOCH!! I tried some playback, in hopes of getting an iPhone recording, but the birds didn't react as vigorously as a Black-capped probably would have, and after ~2 minutes, they drifted off.
The location was about exactly halfway between the junctions of the Blood Brook and Fortune's trails, ~0.6 mile below the summit. From there, I broadcast BOCH call playbacks all the way to the summit, thinking there might be others up there. I found none, but the mountain's higher elevations were quite windy, shrouded in clouds, cold, and wet, with a skim of ice on exposed rocks and the fire tower. There were no detectable birds of any species up there. I rebroadcast BOCH playbacks on the hike back down, stopping at the spot where I'd found the 2 birds earlier, but none responded. I'm guessing birds like these, which are basically on the move anyway, wander around a site in search of food, rather than setting up shop in one location. I'd encourage others to go up and look for them, ideally on days that are relatively calm, dry and warm(ish).
In reviewing the eBird map for BOCH records this fall, there are several birds in New England that have appeared well outside (mostly south) of the species' year-round range. There have now been 3 sightings in VT, one in coastal southern ME (see this checklist for an unusual habitat association: https://ebird.org/me/checklist/S75830582), 5 in southern NH (including a spate of records from Pack Monadnock, from late September through October), and 2 in western MA during the past week. Whether this irruption will continue, and maybe even increase in volume, is anyone's guess, but it's worth keeping eyes peeled and ears tuned!
Chris Rimmer Vermont Center for Ecostudies PO Box 420 | Norwich, Vermont 05055 802.649.1431 x202 http://vtecostudies.org/