Colors and Shapes
Autumn in the northern Adirondacks is defined by colors and shapes. It is buried in changing and falling leaves – of maples, birches, aspens, and beeches. It blooms in roadside and trailside asters, goldenrods, and other wildflowers. And it arrives in the feathers of migrating birds.
Fall in the bird world begins during our summer. While we are sitting by the lake and enjoying the warm, summer sun, birds are molting, dispersing, and some are already beginning to migrate south. Many of the earliest migrants are shorebirds which may be found stopped over on any mudflat, bank, or sandy spit. The best places in the area to look for shorebirds is along Lake Champlain, and interested birders should check out that website to learn more.
A Diversity of Songbirds
Here in the middle of the Adirondacks, late summer and early fall are best noted by mixed flocks of songbirds which move through the bushes, trees, and along the edges of the lakes and trails, feeding on their way south. Birders can spend hours sifting through such flocks, as they may hide colorful gems which must be discovered, much of the excitement stemming from the fact that finding almost anything is possible.
And so birders can look for:
- Swainson’s Thrushes
- Scarlet Tanagers
- Gray-cheeked Thrushes
- Rose-breasted Grosbeaks
- Philadelphia, Blue-headed, and Red-eyed Vireos
- Black-billed Cuckoos
- Least Flycatchers
- Yellow-bellied Flycatchers
- Olive-sided Flycatchers
- Eastern Phoebes
- and many others.
Migrants on the move
The quiet Adirondack soundscape also allows birders to listen to a river of migrants overhead at night – with many of the thrushes being among the loudest and easiest to identify. Other chips and zips come from the diversity of warblers which stream overhead during the night and fill our bushes and forests with life and color during the day. These include any species of warbler which breeds in the Adirondacks or moves through the region – from Tennessee Warblers to Bay-breasted Warblers to Canada Warblers to American Redstarts. The assortment seems to change daily.
As September advances, most of these birds get flushed south on the north winds of early fall cold fronts, but birders can still find late and lingering warblers like Yellow-rumped, Palm, and Pine mixed with fall flocks of Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Black-capped Chickadees, and both Red and White-breasted Nuthatches. And the fall is also an excellent time to search for resident boreal species like Black-backed Woodpecker, Gray Jay, and Boreal Chickadee in places like Bloomingdale Bog, Bigelow Road, and Madawaska.
Sparrows, Finches, Raptors and Waterfowl
Soon after the waves of warblers have landed on another shore, sparrow numbers build and our breeding Dark-eyed Juncos, Swamp Sparrows, Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and Chipping Sparrows are joined by White-crowned Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, and Vesper Sparrows, with the potential for others. They may also be joined by migrating American Pipits, Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, and Pine Siskins – and in some years late fall and early December is marked by the arrival of other northern finches such as Common Redpolls. This year has also been excellent for both Red and White-winged Crossbills, and we will likely keep some around during the fall and through the winter.
Raptors are also on the move during the fall – once the thermals of September have given way to the cold fronts of October, and everything from Broad-winged Hawks to Red-shouldered Hawks to Bald and Golden Eagles move through the region. And while the Champlain Valley may be the best place to find raptors on the move, these birds can be found anywhere, and birders should keep one eye on the sky above them as north winds move across the region.
These same winds also begin to bring aquatic species from their nesting range to our north and our area lakes offer respite on their long journey. As a result, places like Lake Colby, Lake Clear, and Barnum Pond should be checked for collections of birds which may include Pied-billed Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Black, Surf, and White-winged Scoters, Brant, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, and any other aquatic species which moves through the northeast. They will remain in the area and on our lakes until the advancing ice pushes them south – and winter begins to tighten its grip on our landscape.
And so fall is a polychromatic world of pattern, texture, and shape which leads us into a splendid world of white.
Find your nest in Saranac Lake. Saranac Lake has great places to dine, along with miles of trails and waterways for hiking and fishing — two great ways to get your birding on. So what are you waiting for? Come join us — you'll be glad you did.