Twice when I awoke during the night and heard it raining, I thought of how ironic it would be if all 3 "buffer" routes were rained out after doing 30 straight. Never fear, although cloudy and wet, the survey was completed. It was a 40 mile drive from the motel to the starting point - a forest road in the Hiawatha National Forest. I didn't know whether to be excited over the 2 singing Swainson's Thrushes outside my window or stressed by the huge mud hole staring me in the face just past stop 1. Since I'm still running my "doughnut" spare, I'm a little more apprehensive over road conditions than usual. However, I made it through ok and also through another mud-filled stretch where some road repairs had been done. I began to wonder if road conditions would do me in. More on this later.
The route went through 2 worlds - the first 31 stops traversed mostly closed northern hardwoods with few openings or wetlands. Stops 32 through 50 were in the world of pines, mostly jack and red. Habitats varied from newly planted pine plantations to beautiful, very open, barrens-like stands of red pine to young and old jack pine stands - again no wetlands and little habitat diversity within these varied pine stands. In the more open areas, all of the bracken fern was brown, having been recently frosted. The ground was covered mostly with blueberries and reindeer lichen with pockets of Canada mayflower and starflower in full bloom.
After the first couple of miles, the road improved significantly until the "road" started through the pine; here the road wasn't much more than a 2-track in places, and the very wet vegetation along the sides was so close that I needed to turn on the wipers. It was cloudy, with a gusty but light wind, damp, and quiet - from both animals and humans. At some stops I only was able to detect 1-4 birds. The ONLY human I encountered along the entire route was a lost damsel driving a jeep who passed me at stop 15 but then returned 3 stops later from the other direction. She stopped and admitted she was lost. Again, the DeLorme map proved its great worth. She was leaving a friend's cabin and had gotten lost on the many forest roads through the forest.
Looking at the results from the 3 times the route was run, 1992-94, I expected about 50 species. I ended up with 47. The species I expected to find mostly were found, but numbers of the more common species were down, and in some cases, way down. To illustrate, the warbler count for the other 3 counts were 182, 233, and 176 birds; I found only 102 warblers. Numbers of Red-eyed Vireos, thrushes, and flycatchers also were down. Reason? Who knows but is wide open to many speculations.
After completing stop 38, the "road" became even smaller, and after stop 39, I was faced with a batch of stop, do not enter, trespassers will be prosecuted, gates, fences across the road, etc. that I was to travel to stop 40. After some expert maneuverings, which included driving a logging trail and down a power line right-of-way, I was able to pick up the route from the other end and complete the route. The BBS office will hear about this one! Toward the route's end, I was on 4.5 mi of the straightest road I've ever seen. Near the road's end I could look through the vegetation "tunnel" and see the haze blowing in from Lake Superior, less than 2 miles away; the temperature went down to 52 degrees.
Overall, certainly a different route with different experiences.