Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.
My trips, or as I like to call them pilgrimages, to the Great North Woods have changed over the years.
Back when I was making the trips alone, I would have a hard time sleeping the night before so I would eventually just get out of bed and hit the road around 2 or 3 in the morning. That would get me to my destination, usually Pittsburg, N.H., shortly after sunrise.
On one of those overnight drives I saw the most spectacular sunrise while driving through the White Mountains.
Lately, however, I have been making the trip with one or both of my sons. They are excited to get up there, but do not share my neuroses about it and can sleep through the night. Even so, I usually toss and turn most of the night wishing we could just get on the road already. I typically allow them to sleep until 5:30 or 6 before I start rallying the troops.
Such was the case a few weeks ago, when I made my first trip of the year up north. My older son, Andrew, now 14, finished school two weeks before his brother Will, so I brought Andrew and one of his friends along.
Waking up at 6 and getting on the road by 7, and adding a few stops along the way, got us to our destination at about 2 in the afternoon. Not a prime moose watching hour.
But, as is often the case, the Great North Woods held a pleasant surprise for us. Scanning the sides of the road on the way to the campground, I noticed a moose in a swampy area. It was a yearling and we all got a good look at the young animal before continuing.
I was surprised not only that we saw the moose in the middle of the afternoon, but also that we saw a moose at all. The moose population decline, due to winter ticks, has been well researched and documented, and I have noticed the decline anecdotally with far fewer sightings than I used to encounter.
So, we had our moose sighting already. It was a relief as it took the pressure off. If we hadn’t seen it, I would have been pressed for the remainder of the trip to find one. That would mean evening drives, early morning canoe trips and long afternoon walks in search of the mighty moose. I still did all those things, of course, but I enjoyed them without the self-inflicted pressure of finding a moose.
Other wildlife happenings occurred during the trip, too, of course. Our campsite was on the edge of a large pond, and we saw a pair of loons during the day and heard them calling at night. There is nothing quite like that experience and I was glad my son and his friend were there for it.
At one point, in fact as we were packing up to leave, a bald eagle flew over the pond. Earlier in the trip, an osprey, with fish in talons, flew over the pond.
Other birds associated with the Great North Woods also made appearances. A pair of gray jays, with a noisy youngster, hung around the campground for the entire trip. One afternoon, a small flock of Boreal chickadees worked its way slowly through a stand of evergreens.
On one morning, I was awoken by what sounded like someone throwing a flat rock into the pond. I could tell from the light coming into the tent that it was just around sunrise, far too early for a pair of teen-aged boys to be awake, so I knew it wasn’t them.
I glanced out my tent window and confirmed my suspicion. It was, of course, a beaver swimming in the pond. Something must have startled it and it slapped its flat tail on the water to warn other beavers of potential danger.
But, to me anyway, the most memorable sightings were of wildlife of a much smaller variety.
During an evening canoe ride, I witnessed hundreds of mayflies hatching. It was a first for me and I was amazed at the sheer number of the insects.
Finally, shortly after the bald eagle flew overhead, I noticed a large gathering of tiger swallowtails gathered at the pond’s edge. I went in for a closer look and noticed dozens of the beautiful butterflies congregated, soaking up salt and minerals from the ground. I have seen this phenomenon before, often congregated on wildlife droppings, but the sighting was extra special this time.
Things usually are in the Great North Woods.