Sunday, May 24, 2009

VT Camping Trip

Being a huge fan of nature and camping and the outdoors in general, I was elated to finally get out on a camping trip this season.

One of my favorite places to camp, bird, hike, swim.... everything.... is Silver Lake Campground inside the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont. The closest town is Goshen, and the closest town with anything in it is Forest Dale, Vermont.

I've come to enjoy learning how the migration process spreads up the coast and northward bound into Canada. As the spring migrations slowed here in Connecticut, it was still booming in north-central Vermont.

Last year, granted while still rather green, I managed 61 species of birds on my Sat-Mon camping trip to Silver Lake. The obvious highlight of the trip was when my buddy and I were very lazily floating around the lake on our tubes and a majestic adult Bald Eagle soared over head. I had thought I missed him on this trip, until I noticed him and two Turkey Vultures hitting up the thermals created by the mountains and lake.

Silver Lake sits between two low rolling mountains (Chandler Ridge to the west) in a very pristine, and primitive habitat. According to legends, there are Native American artifacts sprinkled all over the area. My friend, and summer host Lenny, informed me of a hidden cave said to be filled with arrowheads, spear tips and other native tools. On the far south end of the lake there are two sunken canoes that were made by carving out the bulk of a tree.

Just thinking about the ingenuity and dexterity of Native Americans (or any native people for that matter) makes me think how lazy we humans really are. Imagine cutting down a tree with a trunk big enough to fit 2-3 adults.... without any power tools, or even steel hand tools. Now imagine burning out the inside, then chipping and chiseling away the charred insides to make a canoe. Even further, now imagine shoving off in that canoe with a spear to catch fish. No $300 dollar open-face crank reels or graphite shafts. No spinner baits or bobbers. No knives, metal hooks.... just you, nature, and what you can create with you natural surroundings. It truly makes me want to live that life. Obviously it is more than do-able.

Silver Lake is part of the Green Mountain National Forest, and is protected by several miles of wooded padding. Once one drives through the town of Forest Dale and reaches the first forest road in Goshen (FR-32), it is apparent you are in the mix of a beautiful place. The trees begin to hug the corners as the road hugs a parallel river. There are homes scattered every couple miles or so, and once you get to FR-27, you are in the wilderness. It is about a 2.2 mile drive on a dirt road to reach Silver Lake road. Then, it is another 1-2 mile drive on a dirt road to the parking lot. Home free?? Not even close. From the parking lot, one has to chose a 0.6m windy, rocky trail to reach the campsites.... or take the 1.2m hilly dirt road to the campsites. Either way... there is no driving in and everything that goes in, must come out. No running water, shelter, garbage cans.... just you and the wilderness (and anything you can muscle in!!).

This year I arrived on Friday afternoon and stayed until noon on Monday, instead of arriving on Saturday afternoon. This allowed for more birding time, and as a direct result, more species seen. My species tally for the weekend (entering VT on I-91, throughout the trip, and back to the VT/MA border) made it to a surprising 86. (see list below).

Other wildlife seen were Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies, Red Efts (juv. Eastern Newts), Red-backed Salamanders, Garter snakes, voles, and several signs of very recent moose activity. Purple and Painted Trillium, violet/yellow/white colored Violets, Canada Mayflower, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and Pink Ladies Slipper were among the blooming wildflowers.

I did a lot of fishing (nothing crazy...just classic worm and bobber from the shore) and a lot of fishing meant a lot of fish. In the beginning of the season, Silver Lake is stocked with Brook and Rainbow Trout (neither a native species of VT). Species of fish caught were Black Crappie, Dace (new for me... never caught, seen, or even heard of), Bluegill, Brook Trout and Yellow Perch. By far the most abundant (and tasty!!!) were the Brook Trout.... we stopped counting when we went over 30 individual Brook Trout. The next most common catch was then Crappie.

One of the most memorable moments of this trip was when my camping partner and I decided to make the .6m hike out the lot and drive to get some coffee. While driving out on Silver Lake Rd. (FR-27), a stunning Barred Owl (photo above) flew low across the road and landed near-by in a tree. I have heard and seen Barred Owls before, but never in such good light or with such a trusting subject. These owls can be heard all over Silver Lake.

Another highlight of the weekend was hearing the classic ghostly wail of a breeding Common Loon. I had yet to hear one as they breed at more northern climes and one has to get the timing right to hear them in migration here in CT. His breeding plumage was striking and his large size put the Common Mergansers, also a pretty waterfowl, in their place.

Silver Lake campground is not at all for the inexperienced. First off, everything you bring has to be carried/hauled in (I can't begin to explain how helpful hand-trucks are). Further, there are zero amenities on-site. The only thing of convenience is an outhouse that has an actual toilet over the hole.... it's still an outhouse, but it has a lid! But nonetheless.... if you can handle it, it is well worth the work. It is a quiet, very clean, gorgeous campground set in an amazing area. And the town of Woodstock and the VT Country Store are very nice stops along the way.


Location: Silver Lake, spots in Forest Dale
Total Species: 86
Dates: 5/15-18/2009

1- Common Loon
2- Great Blue Heron
3- Canada Goose
4- Wood Duck
5- Mallard
6- Common Merganser
7- Turkey Vulture
8-Cooper's Hawk
9- Broad-winged Hawk
10- Red-tailed Hawk
11- Bald Eagle
12- Osprey
13- American Kestrels
14- Wild Turkeys
15- Solitary Sandpiper
16- Ring-billed Gull
17- Mourning Dove
18- Barred Owl
19- Chimney Swift
20- Ruby-throated Hummingbird
21- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
22- Downy Woodpecker
23- Hairy Woodpecker
24- Northern Flicker
25- Pileated Woodpecker
26- Least Flycathcer
27- Eastern Phoebe
28- Great Crested Flycatcher
29- Eastern Kingbird
30- Red-eyed Vireo
31- Warbling Vireo
32- Yellow-throated Vireo
33- Blue-headed Vireo
34- Blue Jay
35- Common Raven
36- American Crow
37- Northern Rough-winged Swallow
38- Bank Swallow
39- Tree Swallow
40- Barn Swallow
41- Tufted Titmouse
42- Black-capped Chickadee
43- Red-breasted Nuthatch
44- White-breasted Nuthatch
45- Brown Creeper
46- Winter Wren
47- American Robin
48- Wood Thrush
49- Veery
50- Swainson's Thrush
51- Hermit Thrush
52- Gray Catbird
53- European Starlings
54- Northern Parula
55- Yellow Warbler
56- Chestnut-sided Warbler
57- Magnolia Warbler
58- Black-throated Blue Warbler
59- Blackburnian Warbler
60- Yellow-rumped Warbler
61- Black-throated Green Warbler
62- Pine Warbler
63- Blackpoll Warbler
64- Black-and-white Warbler
65- American Redstart
66- Ovenbird
67- Northern Waterthrush
68- Common Yellowthroat
69- Canada Warbler
70- Scarlet Tanager
71- Rose-breasted Grosbeak
72- Indigo Bunting
73- Chipping Sparrow
74- Savannah Sparrow
75- White-throated Sparrow
76- Song Sparrow
77- Lincoln's Sparrow
78- Dark-eyed Junco
79- Red-winged Blackbird
80- Rusty Blackbird
81- Common Grackle
82- Baltimore Oriole
83- Purple Finch
84- House Finch
85- Pine Siskin
86- American Goldfinch

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