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Excellent October Birding!
Oct
22
2015

Birds on the Move

At this time of year I pay special attention to the birds migrating through the various lakes of our region, and each day finds Wren and me out somewhere to see what’s on the move. My favorite place to check in the fall is the railroad tracks along Lake Colby in Saranac Lake where the waterfowl migration is just beginning to pick up. While the past several weeks have been good for a diversity of songbirds moving along the lakeshore, I had only seen a few Wood Ducks and Common Loons on the lake itself until recently.

An Incredible Morning at Lake Colby!

Yesterday was my best day at Colby so far this fall. I began by counting 34 Bufflehead on Little Colby Pond, but I was immediately distracted by the numbers of sparrows working the marshy margins and brushy habitat along the lakeshore. They were everywhere and my head was on a swivel trying to keep track of them all! I was soon tallying big numbers of Song and Swamp Sparrows and I began looking through them for other species. I didn’t have to wait long. Common sparrow species like Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows were also in the mix as were the first American Tree Sparrows and Savannah Sparrows I’ve seen at Colby this season. Even more exciting to me were the Field Sparrows – a species I had not seen along Lake Colby before. It took a while for me to sort through the initial flock of sparrows, but I eventually began walking out along the causeway created by the railroad tracks, continuing to add Song Sparrows and a lingering Marsh Wren to my species list for the day.Swamp Sparrow - Larry

Out on the lake I spotted four dark ducks swimming and I could see the white markings on their heads – telling me they were Surf Scoters. I would later borrow a scope from a friend to get a better look at them. Common Loons also sat scattered across the lake and Wren and I spooked a Wood Duck and a Great Blue Heron as we approached the far side of the causeway. We were immediately plunged into sparrow land again as we reached the bushes along the bog and the parade of Song and Swamp Sparrows included a White-crowned Sparrow and a late Lincoln’s Sparrow this time, giving us 9 species of sparrow on our walk. As I was counting the shifting sparrows I noticed the sleeping form of a Red-necked Grebe on the far arm of the lake, and Wren and I hiked off-trail through the woods and down to the water for a better view of the bird.Wood Duck - Larry

Eventually the duty of work called me to turn around and we once again picked through the seet notes of sparrows on our return trip, spooking 5 Wood Ducks from near the tracks on our way out.

I had to Make One More Stop!

Our trip to Lake Colby had been so productive that I decided to stop into the pond next to Saranac Lake High School on our way home. The muddy water held a few Mallards, but it was the sparrows in the bushes which held my time and attention. Once again they were everywhere! This time it was Song and Savannah Sparrows which dominated, but I also found Swamp, White-throated, White-crowned, Fox, and 5 Vesper Sparrows which were sitting in one small tree together! Shortly thereafter a lone Horned Lark called from overhead and landed in the field to begin feeding – migrating birds were everywhere! I reluctantly left with 11 species of sparrow on the morning count, only to add Chipping Sparrow as a 12th in my yard! With so much activity, I decided I’d have to check out both Colby and the high school pond again this morning.Horned Lark - Larry

I did just that, but the insane number of sparrows was perhaps a one-day phenomenon as they passed through, with more or less “normal” numbers along the tracks at Colby. I did tally 37 Bufflehead, however, as well as a flyover Northern Harrier which was hunting along the bog mat - where I also observed a late Palm Warbler bobbing its butt in a low tree. The species composition changes greatly from day to day this time of year and you never know what you will find! The only solution for that is to get out regularly searching for the birds and seeing what you can spot. The high school pond was still productive with many Song Sparrows seeking shelter in the bushes from the wind and I also found White-crowned, Juncos, Savannah, and lots of Chipping Sparrows to go with a handful of Eastern Bluebirds. With another cold front coming – and many more in its wake – Wren and I will be out daily to see what we can find in the coming weeks.

Northern Harrier

The shifting weather patterns of fall make for variable birding conditions and the potential for interesting species almost every day. It is also a great time to plan a hiking trip. Check out our outdoor recreation, dining, and lodging pages as you plan your visit to the Adirondacks' coolest place!

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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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