The Babcock Wildlife Management Area in Colchester is a great site for birding, and it is especially productive at this time of year. The abundance of June is always well represented there, and the forest is filled with neo-tropical migrants ready to nest.
We arrived there just as the sun crested the horizon and a low filtered light reached through the trees and lit up the freshly unfolded ferns. There was still a mist brooding over the reservoir that the forest surrounds and protects. The sky was gaining color and had lost the gray hues we saw before the sun crested.
We thought quietly, "What mysteries could the morning reveal?" The woods were ours at this early hour before the activities of man and the assurance of the familiar. A deafening chorus of birds greeted us before the distant drone of traffic and hum of lawn mowers began.
The first bird we saw was a male northern oriole. He was flirting with the sky as he hung in exaggerated postures from high branches, occasionally dropping to those lower and closer to our sightline. The oriole is a common bird, but it's still a thrill to see one after their long wintertime absence. I could hear the lazy song of a red-eyed vireo singing from high up in the canopy near the oriole, but we could not spot the bird just yet.
Our trail was at first a wide path bordered by brush consisting of mostly honeysuckle that could not be contained and grew in wild tangles with native shrubs. Eastern towhees scratched and kicked leaves to and fro in search of insects beneath the leaf litter. Common yellowthroats appeared from the brush to check us out. Soon, we entered a meadow where wild apple trees grow.
It was there that we witnessed two great-crested flycatchers quickly fly from their perch on a dead apple tree. Simultaneously, everyone in my tour looked at each other as it occurred to us that they were a male and female with a nest inside the rotted tree trunk. Great-crested flycatchers are canopy-dwelling birds and usually do not linger so close to the ground unless at the nest.
So, we waited, and sure enough they were back at the tree. The male quickly flew off, acted as a sentinel from a lofty perch, and the female entered the tree through a hole in the top of the rotten trunk to her new nest within. The nest site was a rare find, but the morning had other surprises for us.
In the forest we spotted an oven bird, wood thrush, veery, scarlet tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak and a barred owl. Along the edge of a pond we watched an eastern phoebe, blue-gray gnatcatchers, a great blue heron, a possible least flycatcher and broad-winged hawks.
Finally, as we walked back back to the car, the red-eyed vireo was caught off guard and we saw it in full view.
Soon the sunlight intensified and the mystery of the woods vaporized with the morning mist. It was another successful excursion into the Babcock Wildlife Area. I highly recommend this site, which is easy to find off Route 2, Exit 18, and left onto Route 16 (enter Miles Standish Road). Be sure to get there early.
Robert Tougias is a local birding author. He is available for slide presentations and readers can send him questions at email@example.com.