Hiking, Birding, and Bearing at Hitchins Bog

Birds on my way to the Bog

The other day, I stopped off at Sabattis Bog along Sabattis Circle Road on my way to Hitchins Bog. Sabbatis sits right along the road and gives easy access to a splendid stretch of boreal habitat. I listened to singing Hermit Thrush, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo and Common Yellowthroat. I was running a bit later than I had planned so I continued on to Hitchins rather than linger, listening for birds along the winding Sabbatis Road on the way there.

Along the Railroad Tracks

Hitchins Bog can be accessed either by canoeing along the Bog River or by walking the railroad track that runs between Sabattis and Horseshoe. I was walking the southern approach from Sabbatis Road where it ends at a large parking area and the site of the old Sabbatis Station. From there Wren and I walked north along the old rail line reaching the bog after a couple miles.

Hitchins Bog
The old railroad bed is one of the ways to access Hitchins Bog. We hiked from the south, beginning at Sabattis.

The day was warm and breezy as the clouds raced across the blue sky – sometimes filling it and shading us and at other times creating gaps for sunlight to pour down on our shoulders. The birds were relatively quiet, but little by little we began to amass a short list of species as we walked alternating between the rail ties and the gravelly edge of the railroad. Blue-headed Vireos, Red-eyed Vireos and Yellow-rumped Warblers sang from the mixed forest which dominates the hike and we soon heard Common Yellowthroats and Swamp Sparrows from some of the brushy and marshy margins as well. It tried to solicit a Virginia Rail to call in a small marsh, but had no luck.


From the start of the hike, Wren seemed preoccupied and even a tad unsure as we walked out along the railroad bed. The rail ties can be a minor nuisance to walk on in places, but that wasn't her issue. She was nosing everywhere and returned to the same place a few times to track a smell. She was slinking along, and appeared hesitant to go far ahead. After I was able to coax her to get moving, she stayed rather close to me, head low to the ground to smell, but eyes up always looking ahead. I began to wonder what she smelled that had made her uncertain.

The Black Bear

The answer seemed to come several hundred meters later. A little better than 100 meters ahead of us a small-ish Black Bear came out from the right side of the tracks nosed here and there, pawed the ground, and eventually cross the tracks and disappeared. It seemed to be moving the same direction as we were, and Wren and I stopped to watch it. It was perhaps two years old or so – likely only recently having left its mother. Since the bear was apparently moving north like we were, it made sense that it may have walked the rail bed not long before we were on it – making Wren a bit unsure and on the alert. She likely knew the bear was there long before I did! After all many animals use trails and old railroads for movement – our path was dotted here and there with old, dried out Coyote scat as it was.

As we approached where the bear had been I began talking loudly to Wren and clapped my hands to help avoid spooking it suddenly if it had lingered out of view. We never did see it again, however. Once we were beyond that point on our hike, Wren seemed to calm down and behave more normally – lending credence to the theory that she had smelled the Black Bear all along. She soon found a few mucky patches of water to jump into along the tracks, I making a note she would need to be cleaned off later.

The birds remained quiet for the most part but I did come across a few bands of Black-capped Chickadees, pishing them to excite them and draw other species in. In this way we found Black-and-White Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and I had looks at Red-eyed Vireo. The bog and boreal habitat that line parts of the railroad line can be productive for species like Gray Jay and Black-backed Woodpecker, but we found none on this day. I even hooted for Barred Owl to see if I could agitate anything, but only succeeded in annoying some Blue Jays, American Crows and more Black-capped Chickadees and vireos.

Swamp Sparrow
We found a few Swamp Sparrows in the marshy margins along the railroad tracks. Photo courtesy of Larry Master at www.masterimages.org

Even time for a swim

We turned and walked south towards where we were parked, Wren choosing a less objectionable body of water for a swim this time which helped clean her a bit. I found a Magnolia Warbler and a few more Golden-crowned Kinglets as we went but as things quieted down we walked fairly steadily on our return trip. My plan was to get to a nice lake and cool off with a swim – which offered the duel benefit of cleaning Wren from the muck. There are nice swimming options along Sabattis Road, and we happily took advantage of them.

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