Made the trek to Salamanca, NY last Friday to participate in the 49th annual Allegany Nature Pilgrimage. (Note the spelling: Allegany, not Allegheny or Alleghany) This event is not only wonderful and enriching, it's a well-kept secret among birders, except in the region where it's held.
Located in the Red House Area of Allegany State Park in a rustic campground (called Camp Allegany) the ANP is very much like going to nature camp. People stay in the rustic cabins, or camp in the many campgrounds around this huge state park, and come and go as they please.
The ANP is run by a core group of well-rounded naturalists from four bird clubs in the region. They look not just at birds, but at plants, animals, reptiles and amphibians, insects, spiders, the night sky, and even things such as local history and Native American lore. It's a completely kid-friendly event, so many families participate--some having attended over multiple generations over the decades.
During the day there are dozens of field trips and activities from which to choose. In the afternoon there are programs and more programs at night in a big tent on the grounds of Camp Allegany. You can learn about the Iroquois, make your own paper, go looking for rare plants, learn about black bears in the region, help to band birds, go for a swim in the lake or a bike along the miles of bike paths.
Or you can do what I did, wander around the park looking at birds. There are loads of warblers in their full breeding-season glory. From one spot each morning I could hear or see the following warblers: Blackburnian, yellow, black-throated green, cerulean, black-and-white, magnolia, chestnut-sided, hooded, ovenbird, Louisiana waterthrush, American redstart, and common yellowthroat.
I slept in the BWD van for this year's pilgrimage. There was a higher than expected turn-out and rooms in the camp's cabins were gobbled up. No I was not down by the river eating government cheese. I parked out behind the last cabin, up against the woods and an alder swamp. From what I heard, the cabins (many rooms along a long hallway) were warmer and noisier than expected, so I think I was actually better off. Besides I am a master at building comfy "bunny nests" for sleeping in the backs of vehicles--just ask Phoebe and Liam.
I gave the Saturday night keynote presentation in the big tent. My fellow pilgrims seemed to like it, which was great. Afterwards, we relaxed around a campfire, then I moseyed off back to my van, where I watched the stars twinkling and the planets shifting in the inky-black sky above until a yellow-billed cuckoo sounded off up the mountainside. That was my cue for drifting off to sleep.
Next year's ANP will be the 50th anniversary. It's always held the first weekend in June, so pencil it onto your travel calendar for 2008 and I'll hope to see you there.
And now for some photographic highlights from this year's Allegany Nature Pilgrimage.