In search of open water
Winter begins to spread its icy fingers across the Adirondacks and the Olympic Region during the cold fronts of fall, as northerly winds push waterfowl along our lakes and songbirds through our yards and woods. Because of this, a wide diversity of birds can be found in the region during the late fall, but as fall transforms into December our lakes begin to freeze and the ducks like Hooded Merganser, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, and White-winged Scoter - which had been stopping through places like Lake Colby and Lake Clear – must go elsewhere the find open water.
That means birders in search of waterfowl must also go elsewhere as the cold locks up our lakes. And so birders might plan a short day trio to to the nearby Lake Champlain Region where the wide, lapping waters hold aquatic species like ducks and gulls throughout the winter.
The Adirondack Coast is also the best place to watch for wintering field birds such as Snow Bunting, Horned Lark, and American Tree Sparrow, as well as less common species like Lapland Longspur. Fields are also the chosen haunts of raptors including Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks as Bald Eagles hunt along the edge of the ice on Lake Champlain. Species like Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk occasionally linger into winter and they are sometimes found early in winter in the middle of the mountains – mostly visiting bird feeders. After all, every collection of bird feeders maintains a group of hardy wintering birds which may not only attract a persistent Cooper’s Hawk, but may also draw in a Northern Shrike.
And feeders not only maintain a diversity of common birds during winter and offer the chance to see a raptor grocery shopping, they also present a place to await the arrival of some of our most sought-after winter species. After all, northern finches in search of food often grace not only our bird feeders but also our woodlands during the fall, and the excitement for their arrival heightens as we reach winter. For warm-up, American Goldfinches and Purple Finches often wander through during the fall, some perhaps staying into the winter depending on the weather.
Of more interest to birders are regular Pine Siskins and the potential for Evening Grosbeaks – the latter species already making a short-lived movement through the region a few weeks ago. This year also holds potential to be a good Common Redpoll year and these denizens of the arctic could show up in the coming weeks, potentially hiding Hoary Redpoll in their ranks. More exciting still, there have been growing numbers of reports of Pine Grosbeaks in the northeast and it is a matter of time before this irruptive species is found in the area dining on ornamental fruit trees. The same is true of Bohemian Waxwings - another northern species which is often found in towns and yards eating fruit. And, not to be outdone by birds which routinely come to yards for fruit or seed, both Red and White-winged Crossbills can be found in coniferous forests of the region – chowing down on the seeds hidden within the cones.
Searching for crossbills often takes birders into the boreal haunts of the region where they can not only find the almost nomadic crossbills, but also resident boreal species as well. This makes winter a great time to look for Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, and Gray Jay – the trickiest issue is accessing the locations which may be closed by snow in the cold months. As such Bloomingdale Bog and Bigelow Road are great places to check for these species since they remain accessible to birders year-round, and birders can enjoy a splendid winter day by spotting Black-backed Woodpeckers or feeding inquisitive Gray Jays in search of a handout.
Autumn is a great time for us humans to migrate to the Adirondack's coolest place. Find your nest. 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.