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February 9, 2009

Linda and the Canada Jays

Filed under: Birding,Photography,Travel — Steve Hamlin @ 9:30 pm

Canada jay at Second Connecticut LakeAn account of our bonding session with a friendly pair of ambassadors of the North.

On our trip this past October in search of moose, we took two drives from Errol, New Hampshire, where we were staying, to the Canadian border, by way of the Connecticut Lakes. The goal in going up there was twofold: The area surrounding the lakes is well-known for moose sightings, and having lived near the Connecticut River most of my life, I wanted to see its source.

On our first drive past the lakes, we didn’t venture far off the main road, US Route 3. We arrived at the border unexpectedly. I was looking for the Third Connecticut Lake as a landmark to tell us that we were approaching the border, but that smallest of the Connecticut Lakes isn’t identified with a sign. All of a sudden, we arrived at the border crossing.

Moose cow and calf at the Connecticut LakesWe had our passports with us, but we had gone as far as we had intended, so we turned around and headed back. As we crossed over the height of land between Second Connecticut Lake and First Connecticut Lake, I spotted a moose cow and her calf in a wallow just of the side of the road. We parked and photographed them until the cow ambled off down the stream that emptied out of the wallow, with the calf following.

Two days later, we decided to try our luck again, so we drove over to Colebrook and took the back road to Pittsburg. We drove to the Third Connecticut Lake, but this time, not wanting to alarm the Border Patrol, we didn’t go quite as far as the border. We turned around at the lake and began the return route at a leisurely pace.

We stopped to explore the campground just below the Third Connecticut Lake, thinking it might be worth considering in the future. It’s in a beautiful, if remote setting. Having looked around and picked up the fee schedule, we moseyed down the road.

After only a half mile or so, we came on a left turn at a road called East Inlet Road. It sounded like it had potential for ‘moosey’ habitat, so we took it. The dirt road descends for a short distance, and crosses a small wooden bridge. As we drove over the tiny bridge (with the tiny Connecticut River running beneath it), we could look downstream, to a marshy area that opened into the Second Connecticut Lake. The road swung to the right, following the brook.

Just around the bend, there was a wide spot in the road that seemed intended, or at least frequently used, for parking. I pulled off so we could explore the brook and the wetland it emptied into for moose.

Linda and I climbed out and found a path through the wooded strip separating the road from the water. We didn’t see any sign of moose. We were about to continue on our way, when Linda spotted a Canada jay watching us. We had just seen Canada jays for the first time earlier in the week at the Dartmouth Grant, just north of Errol.

Canada jays are well-known for being very tame around humans. I remember reading stories about them, when I was growing up in Springfield, Massachusetts. I romanticized life in the North Woods. In my mind there were no frozen nights or black flies – only moose, aromatic pine and spruce forests… and friendly Canada jays to keep a guy company around the camp.

Canada jays are quite different than their noisy blue cousins. They’re almost silent, where blue jays are raucous and loud. Blue jays are slim and ‘beaky’, with flashy black, white and blue plumage, Canada jays are a little on the portly side, adorned in subdued shades of gray.

This Canada jay was both unafraid and curious. As we watched, it flew across the road, lighting in a low branch just above us. It clearly expected to be fed. It happened that we had a bag of potato chips in the van, remnants of our lunch. I knew it probably wasn’t the healthiest food for a bird (or probably a human, for that matter), but I thought potato chips would be too tempting to pass up. I suggested that Linda get the bag and try holding a chip up.

Canada jay at Second Connecticut LakeSure enough, the bird flew down and, hovering above Linda’s hand, daintily took the chip from her fingers. Linda pulled another chip from the bag and the jay repeated the performance. Before we knew it, the first jay was joined by a second, and the two birds took turns hovering over Linda’s upheld hand, snatching each chip in turn from her fingers, and flying up to a low branch to eat its prize. Soon, the birds were confident enough to land on her outstretched hand, if only for a moment.

I took photos of the birds as they fed from Linda’s hand, then I took a turn feeding them, so Linda could take some shots of them. After about ten minutes, we decided we had fed them enough chips. We left our new friends, and continued on our way. We didn’t end up seeing any moose that day, but we felt richly rewarded, nonetheless.

All text and images © Steve Hamlin
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