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Old 04-14-2012, 04:19 PM   #1
BushwhackingFool
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Birding/bushwhacking the Pepperbox Wilderness 2011



In the spirit of the old adage ďbetter late, than never,Ē I submit this trip report despite it being almost a year old.

May 20, 2011

I journeyed into the heart of the Pepperbox Wilderness to once again try my luck at the Audubon Societyís Birdathon. The Birdathon is a challenge to locate as many bird species as possible in a single 24-hour period. May 21 was the day set by the Onondaga chapter, and the Pepperbox Wilderness is located in the northern-most part of the chapterís region.

This would be my second attempt to perform the Birdthon in the Pepperbox, as my first was in 2010. This year the route was changed in an attempt to garner more species, but unfortunately it did not help much. My plan was to camp along the western shore of Sunshine Pond tonight, tomorrow follow the outlet of Deer Pond to Moshier Creek, navigate around Moshier Lakes to the north, head south until reaching the Cropsey Pond outlet, and finally head up the outlet to camp at Cropsey Pond. This would set me up for an early morning departure on Sunday to report my results before noon at a payphone in the hamlet of Stillwater Reservoir.

To set myself up for a full day of birding, I started up Raven Lake Road at about 5:30 PM on May 20, 2011. My goal was to get in and set up camp between Sunshine and Deer Ponds before sunset and try to get to sleep early enough to be ready for an aggressive day of bushwhacking/birding on the day of the big event.

The Beaver River was quite high at the bridge at the end of Necessary Dam Road. It was probably flowing about a foot or two below the bottom of the bridge and the current looked fairly swift, judging by the ripples left along the bridge supports.

In the forest surrounding the handicapped-accessible campsite there were many puddles, while the outhouse pit was filled with water; it was just like a flush toilet, sans any handle.

It took me roughly 30 minutes to get packed up and ready to go. The black flies came on quickly, as if they were eager to get a taste of the fresh meat before it moved on without them.

It was raining lightly when I first arrived, but by the time I was ready to start hiking even that had stopped. An occasional patch of blue sky would appear briefly, before being gobbled up by the gray clouds. It appeared a little too much like last year for comfort.

The hike started by crossing the bridge over the Beaver River and heading north along the Raven Lake Road. Raven Lake Road is a limited access dirt road meandering northwest to a private inholding on Raven Lake. The road is the demarcation line between the Five Ponds Wilderness to the east, and the Pepperbox Wilderness to the west. The road continues past Raven Lake as a trail, allowing access to many of the lakes and ponds in the area.

The mile hike up the road passed swiftly, even though I took my time to ensure I was fully stretched out before hitting the old hunterís trail. I was planning on using this old trail for a good portion of my trip into Sunshine Pond. Based on my plans, the hike in was about evenly split between the Raven Lake Road, the old hunterís trail and a bushwhack to the peninsula between Sunshine and Deer Ponds.

It was a little passed 6 PM when I arrived at the hunterís trail on the west side of the road, just passed where the road crossed a major stream and before a large meadow appeared to the west. Given the late hour, I did not dawdle here and started up the trail to the north soon after arriving. The trail was easily followed near its southern terminus, but becomes a little more difficult as one heads northwards.

Within 20 minutes, I was at a slim beaver pond, nestled within a grove of spruce/fir. I did not bother stopping for long, but kept pushing forward given the late hour. At a few places along the old trail, I had to stop and look around for slashes cut into the stems of trees to find my way forward. Within a short time, I started to approach a second pond.

The trail crossed through a boggy and open wetland at the southern end of the second pond, but before reaching this point I started bushwhacking east. Since I have always lost the trail along the western end of the second beaver pond resulting in bushwhacking through thick coniferous forest to get to Sunshine Pond, I decided this time to attempt to stay to higher ground (and potentially easier to traverse hardwood forests) east of this beaver pond.

The plan worked quite well, as the going was much easier. I clipped the edge of a smaller pond to the east and found a long busted dam that provided me with a very easy way to traverse a meadow filled with old stumps. This open area was not very wet, so I followed along its edge for its entire length.

After leaving the pond the going was fairly easy, as I stayed parallel to the elevation contours until reaching the southern end of Sunshine Pond. It was 7:39 PM and after viewing the pond for a few minutes, I set my mind to finding an adequate campsite for the night. On the ridge between Sunshine and Deer Ponds I found an opening within the tree canopy, which based on the emerging vegetation, is usually full of bracken ferns during the summer. I found a small flattish area near the edge of the clearing where I setup my campsite for the night.

While setting up my tarp, I noticed through an opening in the canopy a rainbow over Sunshine Pond. At about the same time, I heard the rumbling of thunder to the north. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it through my entire dinner before the rain fell, and I had to retire under the tarp to finish the remainder of my meal. This was about the time the rumbles of thunder became more intense, and the lightening lit up the now dark skies. The storm did not last very long though, and I retired into my sleeping bag by about 9 PM.

A more detailed description of my first day on this trip can be read here.

May 21, 2011

I woke up a little passed midnight to listen for barred owls. Unfortunately, I heard none. All was not lost though, as a lone white-throated sparrow was singing within the cacophony of spring peepers and American toads. In addition, only the brightest stars were visible, indicating clear skies and foggy conditions. Twenty minutes later, after I was safely back into my sleeping bag and preparing to become reacquainted with the sandman, a barred owl screeched from a nearby tree. Two species already and it was only an hour into the Birdathon.

By about 5 AM, I was up and recording bird species, making breakfast and taking down my camp. The early morning hours were the most productive; the birds were energetic and almost every species seen or heard is a new record for the day. Unfortunately, this feeling of elation does not last long, as most of the common species were checked off.

By about 6:50 AM, I was heading northwest toward Deer Pond. After climbing the rocky ridge between the two ponds, I descended into dense spruce/fir for a while before luckily locating an old hunterís trail (could it be connected to the old one I hiked in on yesterday?). I followed the trail cut through the dense trees all the way to the outlet of Deer Pond.

The outlet area was a bit more flooded than I was used to, based on my several previous visits. Since I wanted to check out the pond a little for waterfowl, I worked my way north until locating an area where flat and open rocks ease into the water. As the water levels were high there was not quite as much open rock, but there was enough to set down my pack for a little while and explore the area.

A male wood duck and a male common goldeneye took flight when they spotted me leaving the forest and emerging on the rock. A female goldeneye merely swam north toward the main part of the pond. Canada geese were honking to the south, apparently within the beaver pond located there immediately south of the pondís outlet.

I followed along the shore to the north to get a view of the main portion of the pond. Typically this can be done while remaining on the exposed shoreline, but this year I had to retreat into the surrounding shrubbery several times. In addition to the pair of goldeneyes there were a male ring-necked duck and a pair of hooded mergansers swimming on the surface of the pond.

I headed back to the outlet of the pond, retrieved my stuff and crossed the outlet where the swiftly flowing water entered a narrow but deep flume.

When I emerged from the forest along the western shore of the pond to the south of Deer, I was spotted by 4 Canada geese and a female American black duck. The geese immediately started honking, with two of them heading across the pond right in my direction. They continued to move in my direction, continuously honking their discontent with my intrusion on their privacy, until I finally retreated back into the woods.

As I headed west toward the next pond along the Deer Pond outlet, I encountered a green metal oil drum lying on the ground. Obviously the drum was evidence of past logging that occurred in this area.

Just before emerging from the forest along a fairly recently drained beaver pond, I crossed another old hunterís trail. This trail appeared very old, and was nothing more than a slight indentation in the forest floor and more than normal amount of broken branches. It headed northeast in one direction (back to the trail ending on the opposite side of the outlet?) and south in the other direction. Another slight herd path left this main trail and headed north apparently around to the beaver pond now lying before me.

Instead of following any path, I headed straight toward the wetland, and down a short but steep slope. I exited the forest almost directly opposite a very high and old beaver dam. The dam was busted open now, the pondís water level almost half of what it had been in its heyday. I was standing near the northern end of the beaver pond, with a forested peninsula blocking my view of the rest of the pond to the south.

A couple gray jays flew over from the opposite side of the pond. They were quite curious about me and came in close until I got my camera out then they became suddenly very shy. After a few minutes they must have gotten bored as they moved off and went about their business.

Before moving on I hugged the edge of the wetland to check out the southern portion around the peninsula. This portion of the wetland was mostly a large mud flat with scattered remains of alders around a murky looking stream. As far as I could tell the water flowing through this entire old beaver pond was still the outlet from Deer Pond on its way to Moshier Creek to the west.

An osprey called off to the west, but regardless of how long I scanned the skies and tree tops I failed to see it. A great blue heron flew overhead as I watched a savannah sparrow pick its way through the tangle of old alders in the mudflats.

I returned to the point where I intersected the old hunterís path, and followed the least traveled side path to the north. Soon the trail cut through a wet area to the north of the beaver pond, and there I lost the subtle trail. From that point, I just bushwhacked around the wetland to the north and then cut back to the southwest before reaching another pond surrounded by dense shrubbery.

At this point I decided to head into the forest to the north before heading west again and reaching the southernmost Moshier Pond. The forest was dense with conifers as I moved away from the beaver pond until I spotted a clearing ahead.

Instinctively, I headed for the opening to find a small boggy wetland surrounded by forest. I stopped here briefly before heading over a ridge covered by hardwoods to the west toward Moshier Ponds. There was some blowdown on the ridge, but it was easily navigated through. Within a half hour, I was near the shrubby shoreline of the southernmost Moshier Pond.

A more detailed description of the first part of my Birdathon 2011 adventure can be read here.

Turning northwards, I navigated along the eastern shore of the southernmost group of Moshier Ponds. The going was not too difficult, despite the coniferous nature of the forest. Unfortunately, this easy going did not last long, as the coniferous forest became denser, and thick with blowdowns. The denseness and blowdowns forced me to the east, leaving me to only capture glimpses of most of the southernmost Moshier Ponds.

After an hour of struggling northward through the coniferous forest, I was beyond the largest and northernmost Moshier Pond. But when I attempted to head west to make my way around the pond I was blocked by a broad and very wet, swampy stream feeding the pond from the north. Not being able to cross (or just unwilling to get wet crossing), I continued northward hoping to cross at some point where the swampy stream was not so broad.

Unfortunately, the denseness of the young conifers bordering the wet area forced me back into the forest to the east, before heading north through the forest. When the opportunity presented itself, I planned to cut back west to check on the status of the stream. Although aerial photographs indicated a couple beaver ponds along the stream, probably with corresponding dams, I never encountered them.

When I heard the rumbling of thunder to the west, I looked skyward to see very dark gray clouds moving overheard. As the rumbling got louder, I changed into my rain gear hoping it would forestall the rain as if by magic. Hunkering down within some dense conifers, I awaited the inevitable thunderstorm. As rain poured down and the thunder crackled overhead, I decided my turnaround point had been reached and that after the storm I would head directly south toward Cropsey Pond, instead of continuing west around Moshier Pond.

Finally after about 45 minutes, the rain stopped as abruptly as it had started. Taking a new bearing to the southeast, I headed directly toward the northern part of Deer Pond. After skirting a wetland to the south, I exited the coniferous forest and was able to make good time over a rise covered mostly in hardwood forest. Another shorter thunderstorm struck through this section, but after its passing I continued on until reentering the coniferous forest around Deer and Sunshine Ponds.

Upon reaching the coniferous forest surrounding Deer Pond, I headed dead south crossing my previous path earlier in the day. I crossed a beaver dam at the southwestern end of the beaver pond directly south of Deer Pond, and headed directly southwest toward Cropsey Pond, much as I did the year before.

The climb over the first ridge and the descent into the valley located between Deer Pond and Cropsey Pond was largely uneventful. When reaching a series of beaver ponds, I was forced northwest until I found an old beaver dam just before a large open marshy pond. From here, I headed directly over the next ridge and descended down into the valley containing Cropsey Pond.

At the end of the descent, I realized I was west of Cropsey. I headed upstream to the southeast, through a series of old beaver swales just like the previous year. I swore to come up with an easier route next year as I refused to make a late day dash for Cropsey for a third time in 2012.

I finally reached Cropsey at about 7 PM, where I searched out the same identical camping spot as the year before along the southern shore. I set up my campsite in the dwindling light as the sun set below the forest canopy to the west.

A more detailed description of the second part of my Birdathon 2011 adventure can be read here.

May 22, 2011

The next morning found me waking to overcast skies and fog around the pond. Since I had to be out by noon to report my Birdathon findings, I stayed focused and packed up my campsite before stopping for a brief breakfast.

After eating, I set a bearing southeast toward Raven Lake Road and then made my way through the small beaver ponds just south of the main pond. When I finally crossed the inlet just below a beaver dam, I followed my bearing up slope and into the dense young hardwood growth.

Navigating through dense hardwood blowdown and new growth, I followed a bearing set for intersecting the road in the shortest possible distance; heading more east than south. When I reached about a third of the way to the road, I was stymied from heading further east by cliffs, with a small open wetland at the bottom. I continued to skirt the cliffs (and the wetland) by heading south until I could return to my original bearing.

This cliff skirting got me off bearing, and soon I encountered a rocky stream heading down steeply to the southeast. The black flies became increasingly intolerable along the stream, until finally I could not take them any longer and I took a new bearing northeast away from the stream. This new bearing headed straight for some cliffs. Unfortunately, there was no avoiding the cliffs and eventually I turned dead north and continued through some dense conifers until the cliffs finally leveled off.

At this point I knew the road was close by since I heard a vehicle driving down it. After a short stretch uphill, I finally caught sight of the road and hurried to it for a final rest before heading on down to my vehicle. As I was resting, the DEC vehicle that I heard previously sped past me, apparently oblivious to me standing along the edge of the road.

After the brief rest, I kept a good pace all the way back to my vehicle at the end of Necessary Dam Road. By 10:40 AM, I was back at my vehicle. I washed up leisurely before heading to the hamlet of Stillwater Reservoir to report my findings via a pay phone.

After the results were reported, I took a quick walk through the nearby store, purchased something to drink and headed out for the long drive back to Syracuse. Another somewhat successful bushwhacking Birdathon within the Pepperbox Wilderness was now under my belt. Perhaps I will return for a third one next year, but there is no way I am going to try and get around Moshier Ponds again.

A more detailed description of my third day on this trip can be read here.

A complete list of the bird species encountered during my Birdathon 2011 adventure can be found here.

Last edited by BushwhackingFool; 04-15-2012 at 10:58 AM..
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Old 04-14-2012, 09:27 PM   #2
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birding...it's a funny word, and i am not into it. but i appreciate your passion. nice report, and congrats on a productive 24 hours.
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Old 04-14-2012, 09:33 PM   #3
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birding...it's a funny word, and i am not into it. but i appreciate your passion. nice report, and congrats on a productive 24 hours.
Back when I first started it was called bird-watching, but somewhere along the way the new term came into general use. Whatever it is called, it's fun!!
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Old 04-19-2012, 06:30 PM   #4
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How about bushwhacking to Beaver Lake Mountain where the fire tower once stood. How can that be done? I'm interested in doing it. It looks hard.
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Old 04-19-2012, 09:32 PM   #5
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How about bushwhacking to Beaver Lake Mountain where the fire tower once stood. How can that be done? I'm interested in doing it. It looks hard.

I actually visited Beaver Lake Mountain fire tower many years ago when I first started exploring the Pepperbox Wilderness. As I recall, there really wasn't much left but the four cement bases and a board or two. There was no view, although there might be one in the fall when the leaves are off the trees.

As I recall it wasn't all that hard to get there. I visited all the ponds west and south of Bear Pond during that trip. The most interesting aspect of that area was the very high and narrow ridges; their steepness and great height was impressive. Just don't get trapped on one.
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Old 04-20-2012, 07:40 AM   #6
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Birdathon! What a great way to get into the woods! Kudos!
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Old 04-22-2012, 09:43 PM   #7
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I actually visited Beaver Lake Mountain fire tower many years ago when I first started exploring the Pepperbox Wilderness. As I recall, there really wasn't much left but the four cement bases and a board or two. There was no view, although there might be one in the fall when the leaves are off the trees.

As I recall it wasn't all that hard to get there. I visited all the ponds west and south of Bear Pond during that trip. The most interesting aspect of that area was the very high and narrow ridges; their steepness and great height was impressive. Just don't get trapped on one.

I just set foot on the southern tip of the wilderness through Moshier Falls. The parking area is on the south side of the road. There is a trail there that leads .3 miles east, upstream of Sunday Brook. When I reached the end, I heard a boom. Does the power station make these noises?

Coming back to the parking area, I crossed the road to find another trail. The trail took me down to Sunday Brook again and crosses it over a foot bridge. This time it was flowing the opposite direction. I had to check my map to see what was going on here. Sunday Brook does a 180 around the parking area before merging with the Beaver River just a few hundred feet from the trail crossing. About a minute or two later I came to a fork. The left fork took me to a road. It's a canoe portage route. I followed the road across the Beaver River and there was a path on the left. Down the path was a landing on the Beaver River.

Following the right fork took me to another bridge over the Beaver River. Looking uptream I could see what I believe is a powerhouse. It was an old brick building with stone archs at it's base. Transmission lines where leading out of it. A huge pipe was coming down from behind. There was also a water tower. The River was entering in from the left of the dam as a Cataract. There were huge rocks with water pouring over them. But where was the Dam? I later found out the dam was over a mile away. It is called the Moshier Reservoir.

After crossing the Beaver River I noticed the left side of the trail was heavily posted. The hunting club was definitley making it known. The trail finally passes under the transmission lines and enters the wilderness with the Beaver River on the right. There is a sign saying Pepperbox Wilderness no marked trails. I proceeded a short distance. A foot path continues on the left side of the river going upstream.

What I would like to know is where does this unmarked path lead to? Bushwhacking west leads to another stream according to the maps. Does this path do that or is there another path that does? If yes that will make my trip a whole lot easier. What I did notice is that bushwhacking dosen't seem too difficult in those woods. My plan is to follow that stream north up the Three Mile Beaver Meadows to reach the southeast slopes of Beaver Lake Mountain. According to Martin Podskoch's book the original trail approached from the Alder Creek side somewhere from Buck Point Rd. It would travel parrellel to the ridges, passing between the two larger southern ponds, to the summit. Does anyone now anything about this route? Has time and private land destroyed all trace and possibility of using it? I have noticed the unique ridges in this region. On the topomaps the mountain appears to have been cut into slices or grooved. The summit appears to have to twin peaks. It's like some great force had split it in two.

I'm doing this, because I'm trying to bag all the fire tower locations inside the park. I guess you can call it the ultra fire tower challenge. The only probelm is I identified 12 of them were I need to obtain permission from a private owner to get to them. On another note I have noticed that the area is loaded with pine siskins. In fact I have notice that the entire central and western part of the park is loaded with them. They are everywhere. Also I learned a new bird sound. It's the Ruffed Grouse. They have been freaking me out with their drumming. I finally figured out it was them. It's low thumping sound that increase rapidly then stops
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Old 04-23-2012, 07:49 AM   #8
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Lonehiker. Good call on the ruffed grouse. When they're drumming in the spring (and sometimes fall), you can mimic them by cupping your hand and thumping your chest; slowly at first, then picking up the pace. If they're close enough and you've had enough practice, they'll come off their drumming log and check out the "intruder". I second your observation on the siskins. They're everywhere this spring.
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Old 04-23-2012, 12:55 PM   #9
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What I would like to know is where does this unmarked path lead to? Bushwhacking west leads to another stream according to the maps. Does this path do that or is there another path that does? If yes that will make my trip a whole lot easier. What I did notice is that bushwhacking dosen't seem too difficult in those woods. My plan is to follow that stream north up the Three Mile Beaver Meadows to reach the southeast slopes of Beaver Lake Mountain. According to Martin Podskoch's book the original trail approached from the Alder Creek side somewhere from Buck Point Rd. It would travel parrellel to the ridges, passing between the two larger southern ponds, to the summit. Does anyone now anything about this route? Has time and private land destroyed all trace and possibility of using it? I have noticed the unique ridges in this region. On the topomaps the mountain appears to have been cut into slices or grooved. The summit appears to have to twin peaks. It's like some great force had split it in two.
Lonehiker,

The unmarked trail (actually it is marked with gray blazes) goes north to an old beaver meadow at about the same latitude as the largest pond in the Threemile Beaver Meadow. Along the way there are a couple of side trails. The first (and closest to the power line) goes both east and west. The east one ends at the Beaver River, while the western one goes around a beaver meadow then turns north. The spur trail further north heads west and goes along the stream through the ThreeMile Beaver Meadow before ending at a large hunting campsite. Both of these could be used as a starting point for access to the Beaver Lake Mountain tower site.

Take a look at a write-up of this trail that appeared on my blog a while back here. I'm in the process of writing this trip up for the forum (yeah, I know it is a little late), but haven't finished it yet.

I hope this helps. If you have any other questions, just private message me and I'll try to answer them.
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Old 04-23-2012, 02:16 PM   #10
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Lonehiker,

The unmarked trail (actually it is marked with gray blazes) goes north to an old beaver meadow at about the same latitude as the largest pond in the Threemile Beaver Meadow. Along the way there are a couple of side trails. The first (and closest to the power line) goes both east and west. The east one ends at the Beaver River, while the western one goes around a beaver meadow then turns north. The spur trail further north heads west and goes along the stream through the ThreeMile Beaver Meadow before ending at a large hunting campsite. Both of these could be used as a starting point for access to the Beaver Lake Mountain tower site.

Take a look at a write-up of this trail that appeared on my blog a while back here. I'm in the process of writing this trip up for the forum (yeah, I know it is a little late), but haven't finished it yet.


I hope this helps. If you have any other questions, just private message me and I'll try to answer them.

BushwhackingFool,

So, there really are herd paths that lead all the way up there. Thank you very much. This is all very helpfull. I could go up there as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
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Old 04-23-2012, 02:42 PM   #11
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BushwhackingFool,

So, there really are herd paths that lead all the way up there. Thank you very much. This is all very helpfull. I could go up there as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
None of them go to the tower site but some go in that general direction. It would still be a significant bushwhack, but not a terribly difficult one. I would probably go up along the western side of the Threemile Beaver Meadow, and then cut over when you get near the northern most open pond. Since all those ridges run southwest to northeast, if you get between two of them then it shouldn't be too bad. Watch that you don't get caught up on one though, as some of them just kind of stop with no easy way down (except straight down).

Enjoy!
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Old 04-28-2012, 06:40 AM   #12
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Lonehiker. Good call on the ruffed grouse. When they're drumming in the spring (and sometimes fall), you can mimic them by cupping your hand and thumping your chest; slowly at first, then picking up the pace. If they're close enough and you've had enough practice, they'll come off their drumming log and check out the "intruder". I second your observation on the siskins. They're everywhere this spring.
Thanks, Tick Magnet

I will be writing about my encounter with them on another thread, because I didn't exactly hear them in the Pepperbox Wilderness. I heard them in the Independence River Wild Forest near by.
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