One of the things I've wanted to try for a while is birding by bus. I thought it would be a good way to reduce my fuel consumption while at the same time adding a new twist to the birding experience.
Connecticut has several individual busing transit systems in different regions throughout the state. Traveling around within one of these regions by bus is simple enough but trying to get around the entire state can be difficult. There are buses that connect one transit area to another but they run on limited schedules and many of them don't run on weekends.
After studying several route maps I came up with a plan for my first birding by bus trip. I took the 55 bus from Middletown to Hartford at 7:30 am. In Hartford, I transferred to the 88 bus which arrived at Center Street in Manchester CT at 8:45am. From there it was just a short walk to the Laurel Marsh portion of the Hockanum River Trail. This looked like a place with good birding potential so I was eager to get started.
I walked 30 feet into the trail and could not believe my eyes when I saw this sign. The trail was closed! All that planning down the drain! I took a brief moment to feel sorry for myself before moving on to plan B.
I figured out that was able to gain access to the trail further down the road. It was a well maintained trail with boardwalks and bridges provided where necessary.
The river itself is slow running in this area and flows through tall grassy areas lined by small trees and thickets. I didn't see any unusual species but there was plenty of bird activity to keep me entertained for a couple of hours. I saw sparrows, finches, woodpeckers, Mallard Ducks, and Red-tailed Hawks patrolling the area. I'm guessing this would be a good place to visit from late March into the summer months.
The area is bordered by the Manchester landfill, a highway and other urban blight but within those borders is a natural oasis. The deer in the photo didn't show any fear of me at all. We just stared at each other for several minutes before we both wandered off in different directions.
I returned to Middletown in the early afternoon and ended the day by walking across the bridge into Portland. Along the way, I found two Peregrine Falcons sunning themselves on the underside of the bridge.
I didn't have high expectations for m first birding by bus trip. It was more like a practice run but I'm looking forward to the possibilities as the arrival of spring grows closer. I've already picked out other birding by bus locations to try including Cedar Hill Cemetery and Station 43. These are both popular birding spots in Connecticut.
Birding by bus requires planning and flexibility but I found the experience rewarding. Oh, by the way. The cost of my 50 mile round trip birding adventure? $2.60 in bus fare.
Here are a few tips if you are planning a birding by bus trip:
- Study the route maps and schedules on bus transit websites. It may be easier to pick a place to go birding that is along an existing route rather than trying to find a bus route that will bring you to a specific destination. This is where it helps to be flexible.
- Call the customer service number on the websites and ask questions. They can provide detailed information about the routes and can also send you free route schedules by mail.
- Pack only what you need and if possible, use smaller binoculars. There are many high quality mid-sized roof prism binoculars on the market these days for less than $500 that offer a good compromise between portability and performance. (I still prefer 8x42 sized binoculars for most situations because they offer a better depth of field). I used Vortex 8x 32 HD for the trip. I'd give them a solid B+ overall. The Meopta Meostar 8x32 I tried a while ago were better (but more expensive).
- Make sure to keep your equipment on you at all times! It's one thing to lose a pair of gloves but you wouldn't want to leave behind your camera or binoculars.
- Don't pick a day when you're on a strict time schedule. There are many benefits to birding by bus but time efficiency is not one of them.
- Don't forget to carry exact change.
Note: Here are a few bus links to get you started if you live in Connecticut: Connecticut Transit , Middletown Area Transit, 9 Town Transit . I was also recently told about a service called Megabus by a driver. From what I understand, you can travel out of state at at ridiculously cheap rates (as low as $1.00) using this service.