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Lone Mountain: A Three-Lifer Trip

This past summer, Jonathan Milne and Julia Hanauer-Milne spent a weekend surveying boreal bird species at Lone Mountain Wilderness Sanctuary in western Maine, where Jonathan is now the volunteer monitor for NEWT. The land was entrusted to Northeast Wilderness Trust in 2018, and has been steadily rewilding ever since. Julia and Jonathan’s volunteer time supported the Vermont Center for Ecostudies Mountain Birdwatch citizen science project. You can learn more about the 10-year project’s results near our proposed Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve here

See their adventure below, with a story by Julia and photography by Jonathan!

We pitched our tent in the spongy moss of an old logging yard and I wondered: were we in Alaska? The forest was that remote, that boreal on top of Lone Mountain. Which was, of course, the point: we were there to count boreal birds to help document the effects of climate change in their ecosystem.

I had other questions that June day as we made our way along the access road: Would my diligent practice with birdsong recordings pay off? Would I be able to hike my way to the top? And most of all, how would I cope with a 3:30 a.m. wakeup without a hot cup of tea?

We had chosen to go light on this first foray into Mountain Birdwatching and not taken a backpacking stove. There seemed little point when we’d be up in the dark and needed to be on the move. But my husband knew things would go better with caffeine, and he generously shared his can of Starbucks mocha latte, which was not that gross in the pre-dawn half-light.

The previous afternoon, I was reassured that my training would pay off. Swainson’s and Bicknell’s Thrushes both sang near our campsite along with a Magnolia Warbler. We had cell service, so I confirmed them online. Cell service up a mountain?

I soon wondered something else: would it ever actually get dark? It was still light when I drifted off and lightening already when the alarm went off. Softly singing, the birds were already stirring.

We hustled up the trail to our first station and the counting began: Fox Sparrows, Swainson’s Thrush, and yes, one Bicknell’s Thrush. I could recognize the birds in real life in real time.

The rest of the morning moved quickly—we packed up as we headed to the second station and down the mountain, pausing to count birds along the way.

I had already recorded two lifers (birds I heard for the first time in my life)–Bicknell’s Thrush and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher–when I heard a bird that made me screech to a halt. I had been hoping for a Mourning Warbler, had listened to recordings at home. And there it was! I watched and recorded the elusive little bugger singing away on a bare branch at the edge of a brushy-swampy area. Lifer number three…icing on a great trip.