Bigelow Preserve

Bigelow Preserve
Bigelow Preserve is remarkable. The Appalachian Trail ascends the highest peaks, while other spurs scale the remaining ridgeline. All are well tended by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Trailheads begin in a hardwood zone dominated by hermit thrushes, least flycatchers, scarlet tanagers, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers. Warblers are primarily blackburnian, northern parula, black-throated green, black-throated blue and ovenbirds. The black-throated blue Warblers persist as the trail winds upward into a mixed zone with more balsam and yellow birch.

Beyond here, Swainson’s thrushes begin to replace hermits. One or two hours into the climb, the spruce zone begins, often abruptly. Blackpoll warblers and yellow-bellied flycatchers become audible. Where stunted birches fight the spruces for control of the slope, American redstarts, magnolia and Nashville warblers find the sparse, sunny exposure they enjoy. Dark-eyed juncos join the chorus and the chance for bay-breasted warblers increases.

After the birches give up the fight, the remainder of the mountaintop is boreal. Blackpolls and white-throated sparrows are abundant, boreal chickadees and yellow-bellied flycatchers are common, Canada jays are present, and spruce grouse is possible. There is no logging at these heights, so dead trees remain standing and attractive to black-backed woodpeckers.

At an elevation of 3000 feet, most mountains are in the krummholz zone - an impenetrable zone of short, stunted spruce. In a band that roughly follows the Appalachian Trail from the White Mountains to Katahdin, this is the zone for Bicknell’s Thrush.

Bigelow Mountain is a strenuous hike that will take most of a day to complete. Bicknell’s thrush habitat at the top of the mountain is extensive, but by the time most hikers have reached it, the quarry is silent save for occasional call notes. Patience scanning from a ledge above the krummholz may be rewarded by the view of a foraging thrush among the spruces. Cranberry Peak offers another possibility. This peak barely surpasses 3000 feet and the zone for Bicknell’s thrush is small, but the summit may be reached in as little as two hours.

Directions: A major trailhead is located prominently on Route 27 which accesses all trails on both sides of the road. An alternative set of trailheads is located within the Bigelow Preserve on Stratton Pond Brook Road. This entrance is easily overlooked. It passes a few private cottages before entering the preserve. At 0.8 miles the Cranberry Peak trailhead is located just 100 yards down Public Lands Road. The Appalachian Trail is at 1.0 mile, with a larger parking area for the Stratton Pond trails at 1.5 miles.