Boreal Birding In and Around Town

A Crew of Students from Syracuse

The birding club from SUNY-ESF in Syracuse came up this past weekend to look for Adirondack birds with me. I teach Field Ornithology courses for ESF at Cranberry Lake Bio Station during the summer and I’m always excited to see folks again. We met in Bloomingdale Bog where the group was having difficulty attracting the attention of any Gray Jays near the feeders. So we walked south in the lightly falling snow to see if that would aid our efforts to draw in the inquisitive jays. We didn’t see any, but we did find Black-capped Chickadees, Common Ravens, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Wren raced up and down the trail chasing snowballs and sticks thrown by the students and otherwise exploring everywhere with her nose on the ground.

Feeding Gray Jays

We eventually turned around and as we approached the feeders, the Gray Jays spotted us and came in. Initially there were just two jays, but after we stood there feeding them for a while, their numbers grew to five or six birds. The club members took photos of the jays sitting in the trees and attempted selfies as they fed both the Gray Jays and Black-capped Chickadees while Blue Jays called from nearby – likely trying to find where the Gray Jays cached their goodies. We finally left the area and headed to Bigelow Road.Ben - food on head

Bigelow was largely quiet, save a few Ravens, Black-capped Chickadees, and a Brown Creeper. We walked, stopping every now and then to listen, and I gave a few Barred Owl hoots to see if I could agitate a response from a Black-backed Woodpecker, but overall things were still – that is except Wren’s racing in every which direction. She loves the ESF students and I think the day out with them was the highlight of her entire winter. She and I returned a few days later to explore Bigelow – finding Gray Jays and a couple Ruffed Grouse.

Tracking Down a Boreal Chickadee

We abandoned Bigelow after a short walk and drove slowly along Oregon Plains Road in hopes of boreal birds we had missed while walking. A short distance along the road I heard the nasal call of a Boreal Chickadee and our caravan quickly pulled over, stopped, and got out – but only found the breeze in the trees. The bird had evidently moved away from the road. We started back up and perhaps two hundred meters further along the road I heard it again – and this time the other passengers in my car heard it too. At least if we didn’t see the bird again this time I wouldn’t look like I was crazy or delusional with the calls of Boreal Chickadees bouncing around in my head. But there was no need for such concerns. This time the bird stuck around just long enough for everyone to get a look at it as it hung from the branches near the tops of the trees along the road. It soon zipped back from the road and we never saw it again. Everyone was happy all the same – it was a life bird for many folks in the group.Boreal Chickadee - Larry

After a brief stop along the Gabriels Powerline Trail, where we were hoping again for a Black-backed Woodpecker, we headed into town for some food, keeping our eyes open for the Bohemian Waxwings which have been frequenting various fruiting trees all over town of late. I had seen them as I drove to meet the group that morning. But like most of the birds on this sleety day, they were difficult to initially find and I finally dropped the group off to grab lunch at the Lakeview Deli while I cruised around town to track down the waxwings with a few folks who had already eaten.

A Flock of Bohemian Waxwings

We found the waxwings along Kiwassa Road, and I dropped those with me off while I went to get the others. Once again the birds were new to many of the club members and they stood taking photos as the waxwings dropped from tall, deciduous trees and fed on the remaining low fruit. While they were enjoying the Bohemians, folks also found a flock of Common Redpolls which included a few Pine Siskins, making the stop even more productive.Bohemian Waxwing - Larry

We finally loaded back up to eat unfinished lunches and to head north towards Plattsburgh and Lake Champlain. We would complete our day looking for migrating ducks in the gradually opening waters of the lake, while Wren endured the spa treatment of getting her back scratched and ears rubbed by folks the entire way.

For those looking for birds in the Saranac Lake area, late winter and early spring can be a productive time of year. Check out the dining, lodging, and birding pages for more details on how to plan your trip.

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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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