Boreal Chickadees (BOCH) are on the move. Whenever more than a handful of
birds of this non-migratory species show up outside their lowland boreal or
montane forest haunts in New England, it's probably safe to claim that an
"irruption" is underway. Following an October 31 sighting of a single BOCH
on Hunger Mt. in Worcester and Paul Wieczoreck's report yesterday of a bird
from Molly Stark Mt. in Huntington, I decided to hike up Mt. Ascutney this
morning. With red spruce bearing a heavy cone crop across the region, I
figured Ascutney's higher-elevation forests would be the Upper Valley's
best bet for BOCH, if any had moved this far south.

As I began hiking the Windsor Trail at 7:25 am, the woods were quiet and
wet under a low-hanging cloud cover, with temperatures hovering around 30
degrees. My expectations weren't exactly sky high for encountering BOCH.
However... as I entered the lower belt of the fir-spruce zone, with some
heart-leafed paper birch still present, I heard my first chickadee call of
the hike. Figuring it was a Black-capped, I pished, hoping to draw it in
for a closer look. Suddenly 2 birds with distinctly brown crowns and
chestnut flanks appeared at close range, giving their more raspy and nasal
call -- BOCH!! I tried some playback, in hopes of getting an iPhone
recording, but the birds didn't react as vigorously as a Black-capped
probably would have, and after ~2 minutes, they drifted off.

The location was about exactly halfway between the junctions of the Blood
Brook and Fortune's trails, ~0.6 mile below the summit. From there, I
broadcast BOCH call playbacks all the way to the summit, thinking there
might be others up there. I found none, but the mountain's higher
elevations were quite windy, shrouded in clouds, cold, and wet, with a skim
of ice on exposed rocks and the fire tower. There were no detectable birds
of any species up there. I rebroadcast BOCH playbacks on the hike back
down, stopping at the spot where I'd found the 2 birds earlier, but none
responded. I'm guessing birds like these, which are basically on the move
anyway, wander around a site in search of food, rather than setting up shop
in one location. I'd encourage others to go up and look for them, ideally
on days that are relatively calm, dry and warm(ish).

In reviewing the eBird map for BOCH records this fall, there are several
birds in New England that have appeared well outside (mostly south) of the
species' year-round range. There have now been 3 sightings in VT, one in
coastal southern ME (see this checklist for an unusual habitat association:, 5 in southern NH (including a
spate of records from Pack Monadnock, from late September through October),
and 2 in western MA during the past week. Whether this irruption will
continue, and maybe even increase in volume, is anyone's guess, but it's
worth keeping eyes peeled and ears tuned!



Chris Rimmer
Vermont Center for Ecostudies
PO Box 420 | Norwich, Vermont 05055
802.649.1431 x202