Hiking and Birding on the Jackrabbit Trail

My wildlife research (focusing mostly on birds) has me in many places across the region at this time of year, and one of them is the Jackrabbit Trail in Saranac Lake as the trail heads out from McKenzie Pond Road. The trail leads into the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness and is one of the routes which hikers can take to both Mt. McKenzie and Mt. Haystack, two of the recently designated Saranac Lake Six.

Wren and I started early on a cool morning, and I immediately began to hear birds – both as we hiked and when I stopped to officially conduct surveys. The habitat along the Jackrabbit is diverse – varying from pine to balsam to cedar to mixed deciduous woods, and the bird communities run the gamut of habitats as well.

I almost immediately began to hear Nashville, magnolia, black and white, and black-throated blue warblers. Red-eyed vireos and blue-headed vireos (among many others) also sang from the trees. And so our bird list began to grow as I progressed down the trail surveying. Any walk along the Jackrabbit in June should yield at least ten species of warblers, and this day was no different. We soon added blackburnian, yellow-rumped, black-throated green, American redstart, common yellowthroat, northern parula, and ovenbird to our list. Strictly deciduous sections of the trail were less diverse (as usual) and were dominated by red-eyed vireos, ovenbirds, hermit thrush, and black-throated green warblers. 

About a mile into the trail we crossed the outlet stream from McKenzie Pond which was practically a raging torrent thanks to all of our recent rain. I intentionally do not have any survey points set up close to the stream where the noise of the water would make it difficult to hear singing birds. Fast water or not, Wren was quickly in the stream for a swim and a drink, and she picked up sticks and dropped them at my feet for me to throw into the water. We had work to do, however, and so I promised her that at the end of the morning we would have time for her to chase sticks.

Perhaps a half mile along the trail from the stream a snowshoe hare bounded out into the middle of the trail from the side and sat perhaps 12 meters from us. Wren watched intently with her ears perked and we all stood still watching each other for a couple minutes. I don't allow Wren to chase wildlife not only to avoid harassing it, but also because I don't want her getting tangled up with the wrong thing – such as a porcupine. Finally, the hare gave up its statuesque pose and took off down the trail. This proved too much for Wren's self control, and she started to chase it – but with one quick word of command from me she skidded to a stop on the trail, watched the hare bound away, and returned to me wagging her tail. Gosh she's a good dog.

As we continued on, I heard my first Canada warblers of the day – one of my favorite warblers. The birds were singing in their preferred wet, brushy habitat and I unfortunately didn't have time to hunt for them. We passed the trail which leads into McKenzie Pond and climbed the long hill which marks the knees of the mountains where we finished our surveys before turning around. We had hiked a few miles and had reached our final survey point. We descended back down the hill, and took a detour to the pond where I kept my promise to Wren. She excitedly jumped in to retrieve stick after stick. It was the highlight of her day. 

Birding in Massawepie Mire
Birding in Spring Pond Bog

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About The Author

Alan Belford has spent much of his life outdoors exploring and learning about wildlife – particularly birds. Alan is often out hiking, paddling, running, or cross country skiing – with his Labrador retriever Wren at this side. A certified teacher and former cross country, baseball, and ultimate frisbee coach, he loves teaching others and has taught multiple natural history (specializing in ornithology) courses for both college students and the general public. He is a licensed guide in New York State, he has traveled widely both domestically and internationally, and he is also a published travel writer and photographer – focusing on outdoor and nature writing.

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