If you asked any of the folks in the photo above about what birds they saw, they would be able to describe in wonderful detail the cant of the Wilson's Snipes' bills as they flew by in a rapid blur, or the diagnostic vertical white stripe on the sides of the Green-winged Teals that kept slipping out of sight behind reeds on the faraway side of the marsh. They could also cock an ear to a sound and tell me immediately that that was the call of the very elusive Virginia Rail, or the constant chatter of several Swamp Sparrows, or the ritardando drumming of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker as it pounded away on a hidden tree in the woods along the trail.
At the end of the walk, my birding friends were able to count over 30 species they'd either seen or heard, and I was happy to take their word for it and be amazed. As for me, I couldn't even see this Ruby-crowned Kinglet circled in the photo below until after I had blown up the picture on my computer. My companions kept pointing at this shrub just a few feet from my face, so I pointed my camera and snapped a shot of the twigs, hoping the camera would catch what my eyes could not.
Happily, this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker announced its presence with more fanfare, so that all I had to do was wait until the bird made its way back around the trunk it was pecking at with its distinctive pattern of knocks.
The multitudes of Red-winged Blackbirds also were not shy about showing themselves, and I did actually lay my eyes upon two Brown-headed Cowbirds profiled against the sky. For the most part, however, I just took pleasure in knowing what others were seeing and kindly attempting to show me. Of course, there were many botanical pleasures to be had, as well, such as these tiny Panicled Dogwood leaves lit up like Christmas-tree lights by the early morning sun.
Along the way to the mountain top we passed by a beaver pond, beautifully serene in the still morning air and a place of welcome refreshment for our doggy companion, Brio.
I believe that Ben Wood Mountain offers one of the finest payoffs for the least amount of huffing and puffing I have ever experienced. Wide logging roads at an easy incline brought us out onto this rocky overlook, with views of the many-tiered mountains beyond.
Accompanying us all along our trail were three of the sweetest singers in all the forest: the piccolo-plaintive White-throated Sparrow, the coloratura Winter Wren, and the mezzo-soprano Hermit Thrush, a bird I think of as the Marilyn Horne of the north woods. How wonderful to have these marvelous voices back among us! We were also serenaded by the constant twittering of dozens of Pine Warblers high in the treetops. I've heard that this bird looks something like a flying lemon when viewed from below, but this is all we could see of them, even though these pines were alive with fluttering flocks of them. Evelyn did catch sight of one with her binoculars, but only a glimpse that allowed her to be quite positive as to the species.
We also saw masses of Hepaticas, a flower that's nearing the end of its blooming time down in Saratoga but which still bloomed profusely along the Pack Forest trails.
Considerably more cryptic in its coloration, this American Toad would have remained unseen if it had just stayed put. At least it didn't hop so far and fast I couldn't snap its photo.
The next phase of our day's adventure took us to the southern end of the Pack Forest tract, to a well-marked nature trail that took us into the heart of an old-growth woods, where pines of astounding height and girth towered over our heads.
But find the Goodyera she did, a nice patch of it, at least 15 plants clustered near the shore of an open marsh. This is the smallest and least common of our native Goodyeras, with the most appropriate name of Dwarf Rattlesnake Plantain. The distinctive pattern of the leaves, as well as its diminutive size, are what set it apart from the other two Rattlesnake Plantains we can find in our area, the Downy (G. pubescens) and the Checkered (G. tesselata). All bear tiny white orchid flowers in a tall spike later in the summer.
I think this photo should reveal how amazing it is that Evelyn found those tiny plants. Once she had shown them to me and I now had a search image, I, too, found a single plant not far from the patch she had found. We shall have to come back again in July to maybe find them in bloom.
Almost as hard to see as the Goodyera, this Wood Frog tried to hide itself among some Hemlock blow-down.
As long as we were here and so near, we decided to visit Grandmother, as this enormous pine that stands along the boardwalk is called. What's remarkable is that this particular tree hardly stands out, surrounded as it is by other giants. But yes, when you stand right beneath it, its girth impresses mightily as its top disappears in the faraway canopy above. How lucky it is, that last summer's hurricane did not bring it down, as it did so many other huge trees in surrounding areas.
This sign explains how the tree got its name. We noticed a gash caused by lightning along its trunk, reminding us that even giants can be vulnerable. So if you live anywhere near it, be sure to visit this amazing tree while it still stands.