A Cold and Snowy Time of Year
With the holidays and colder months of the year looming, some folks may think that birding in our area has gone into hibernation with many of our mammal species. But in fact the winter months can be a great time to explore the quiet, white woods, and it can be a particularly good time to search for boreal species of birds. After all, while most of our species migrate out of the area during the fall, some of our most noteworthy boreal species stick around all year.
Intersecting with these species is often a lesson in time and patience and birders may find the trickiest issue to tackle is that of access during the snowy months. Many great coniferous and boreal habitats aren’t accessible once snow and ice have covered the winding roadways which are used to reach them. That fact is partly what makes the complex of boreal habitats in Bloomingdale Bog and along Bigelow Road so attractive. The hiking trails turn to snowmobile trails during the winter, they are easy to reach and easily walked or skied, and they offer some of the best boreal birding available all year round.
Exploring the Bloomingdale Bog Complex
Wren and I regularly explore the area. On one day I’ll be on skis, on another snowshoes, and depending on snow depth, I may simply be on foot. For her part, Wren is always on foot; her large feet functioning like built-in snowshoes while I fuss with the straps on mine.
This week has been no different and we’ve explored various spots near Bloomingdale Bog in search of boreal birds. Just this morning we went out to the parking area for Bloomingdale Bog along Route 55 in a light, wet snow. We walked south into the bog itself and it wasn’t long until I noticed that a Gray Jay had started to follow me down the trail in the hopes of a handout. The jays in that stretch of trail are the most commonly sighted in the park, thanks in large part to the dog walkers who regularly feed them. The jay was soon joined by two other Gray Jays and they formed an entourage for us while we walked. I stopped walking in order to take photos as they came in to inspect us – and our potential for having food - more closely. I didn’t have any food, but they stayed for a while eyeing us curiously. At this point the snow began to fall more steadily and I found I was only succeeding in getting my camera wet while waiting for the jays to pose. So I stowed it back into my backpack and Wren and I continued walking. I kept my retinue for a time, but they eventually disappeared back into the woods.
The rest of the walk was peacefully quiet, marked by the soft sounds of snow landing on my raincoat. The only birds we heard were Black-capped Chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets but as we turned and hiked back to the car, the Grays Jays began following us again.
A Black-backed Woodpecker Along Bigelow Road
Once back at the car, I decided we should check out Bigelow Road so I drove the short distance to the junction of Bigelow and Oregon Plains Road, and parked. Immediately after stepping from the car I heard a Boreal Chickadee call. But just as immediately and before I could find the chickadee, it had flown back into a thick stand of fir and spruce. Taking two steps towards where the chickadee had called, I noted the soft tapping of a woodpecker nearby. Hoping it was a Black-backed, I peered through some snow-covered conifer boughs in order to see it. Sure enough, I found a male Black-backed Woodpecker knocking the soft bark and wood from a dead spruce. I took out my camera, but found that because I was angled up to attempt photos of the woodpecker I was capturing more snow with my lens than usable images. So I put the camera away and I watched the woodpecker for a few minutes before he flew back into the deep woods.
Wren and I then walked down the road a few hundred meters hoping to see a Boreal Chickadee, but found Black-backed Chickadees and a Red-breasted Nuthatch instead. As we started to turn around a Common Raven called in the distance. It was soon joined by a second raven and we stood in the silence listening to their raucous, wild calling for a few minutes as the snow fell quietly around us. We walked back to the car and headed home. It had been a successful morning venture and it was time for something warm to eat.
A day birding in Saranac Lake is sure to work up an appetite - especially if you've been cross-country skiing or snowshoeing! Find a great place to grab a post-birding bite, and relax as you plan out your next adventure.