Mount Washington (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)


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May 11, 2020 | by Alex Lamoreaux

Cog railcar descending from the summit of Mount Washington (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Mount Washington is the highest peak in the northeastern United States, at 6,288 feet, and boasts some of the worst weather and strongest winds ever recorded. Despite this impending reputation, in spring it is a truly beautiful place. Each year in early June we savor the winding drive up this iconic mountain during our ‘Maine: Mountains & Coast‘ tour. As we climb up higher, our minds are razor-focused on tracking down our birding target – the very rare Bicknell’s Thrush.

These thrushes are one of America’s most range-restricted and localized birds, and they are the only breeding bird that is endemic to New England and southeastern Canada. They have only recently been considered a distinct species from Gray-cheeked Thrush, and current research suggests this species is actually more genetically similar to the Veery. There are only a few, scattered high-altitude locations in the northeast that offer the specialized habitat this unique thrush requires and in my opinion, Mount Washington is the best locale. As we slowly weave our way up the mountain, crisp morning air rushing past our faces, you can watch out the windows at how the habitat changes from low elevation beech, birch, and maple deciduous forest; to spruce and hemlock coniferous forest; then to dense, stunted spruces; and finally the rocky and barren alpine tundra. A surprising change of scenery in just a few miles! You’d expect something like this in the Rockies, but it can be mind-blowing for easterners to realize this mountain is quietly tucked away in New Hampshire. Climbing up through different habitat zones, you can even hear how shifts in the warbler communities are perfectly in sync with the habitat zones! Chestnut-sided Warblers give way to Yellow-rumped and Black-throated Green Warblers, and near the summit the handsome Blackpoll Warbler rules! Mount Washington is a very unique place, and provides a glimpse into the life of a very unique bird – the Bicknell’s Thrush. We hope you’ll join us next year to explore the hidden treasures of New England during our ‘Maine: Mountains & Coast‘ tour, and see Mount Washington for yourself!

Bicknell’s Thrush (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)


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