Saturday, February 11, 2012

Have You Ever Tried Birding By Bus?

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.
 Have you ever attempted birding by bus before? If not, then why not give it a try? It can be a fun and economical way to add variety to your birding experience. 

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.


Brian King said...

Nice shots of the doe and falcons! And I've never tried birding by bus.

Kathie Brown said...

Larry, you are one brave and dedicated birder!

Larry said...

heyBJK-thanks. It was a nice test run but next time Im going to go to the right spot at the right time.

Kathie-It's not so bad once you decide to do it.It's nice to get a break from driving-keeping track of the scheduling is the only real pain.

Sallie ( said...

That's a good idea Larry! It wouldn't work here in Florida sadly but we spend summers in Oregon and with careful planning I bet I could do that -- I'll let you know next August how it works! (and I'll drop in to see you before that -- I like your blog!)

Larry said...

Sallie-Thanks-If I were in Florida I'd want to travel around looking for birds on one of those fan boats!

troutbirder said...

Interesting post. I thought from the title you were going to explain about attending one of those festivals where guides take people around in herds on a bus. Thats not for me! We and another couple went up to Sax Zim a week before the festival and I got my first northern goshawk.... :)

Larry said...

Goshawk! What a great find! No, I've never been on a bird tour before. Just trying to save a buck and looking for new ways to enjoy birding in CT.

chris said...

I've never donw that but I guess this is something we could do too over here ;-) Thanks for the tips ;-)

dguzman said...

That's a cool idea, Larry, and thanks for the tips. I guess it all depends on the availability of mass transit and one's flexibility. You certainly made a good show despite setbacks. And nice Peregrine shot!

Larry said...

Chris-It would probably be a little unsettling for a photographer like yourself as yo'd have less control over getting the best light in time.

dguzman-It does-we don't have the best mass transit here so it takes more planning.