Early Spring Birding!

Spring Temperature Fluctuations

Spring seemed to come in a hurry to the Tri-Lakes Region this year. It had already been a tough year for cross-country skiing, and I had to put my skis away for good in March. The last two years I skied into the middle of April. But open water on the lakes and warm temps meant I could find ducks moving through and stopping over on places like Lake Colby in Saranac Lake. Add to the open water a sudden drop in temperature and the scenario was right for a variety of ducks to be huddled in the coves along the backside of the lake – waiting for the weather to once again turn towards spring so they could continue their migration north.

I was happy with the cold spell and Wren and I could be found at Colby most days counting Ring-necked Ducks (my high count was 36 one day), Bufflehead, Mallards, and both Common and Hooded Mergansers. Pied-billed Grebes also began showing up and I watched the Bald Eagles on their nest or soaring overhead each day. The neighboring forests were loaded with Pine Siskins as they have been all winter, but in recent weeks I’ve found flocks of 400-500 birds. That was a lot of chatter as the birds flitted and called from all over the place along the beginning of the hike!

Pied-billed Grebe - Larry

Arriving Songbirds

Once the spring did finally beat back winter for a spell, duck numbers began to slow with just a trickle of birds remaining. They have now been replaced by arriving forest species, keeping the birding interesting. Brown Creepers have been singing for a couple months, but the last few weeks have seen an increase in song from multiple males along the railroad tracks. Woodpeckers are likewise drumming their dominance over their territories and I’ve been seeing quite a few Northern Flickers – recently arrived – in the past week. I’ve also seen flickers each time I’ve explored along River Road and the area around Intervale Lowlands in Lake Placid, where a week ago I also found migrating Northern Harriers, my first American Bittern of the new season, and a newly arrived Broad-winged Hawk.

American Bittern

Uncharacteristic of many springs, I haven’t found the volume of sparrows along River Road that I sometimes do, but I have been getting plenty of sparrows in my yard. I also keep a few White-throated Sparrows through the winter and I’ve gained a few recently, but it is my Dark-eyed Junco numbers that are most indicative that spring is sweeping across the region. The ringing songs of juncos have been filling the April air each day and at times it appears the ground in my yard is moving as they hop and scratch for food. Of even more interest to me are the Fox Sparrows which join them each year, and for a few days this week they were accompanied by an Eastern Towhee – a bird which can be tricky to find in the center of the park.

Spring Birds on a Chilly Morning Walk

My walk along Lake Colby this morning with Wren was chillier than it has been of late with our continued April temperature fluctuations, but we still found a number of spring birds. These included Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers, a Swamp Sparrow, and a pair of Common Loons – a species which always nests on the backside of the lake. We also found a Red-tailed Hawk which was hanging out along the bog mat along the railroad tracks. Red-tailed Hawks are not particularly common in the center of the Adirondacks – being found more likely in the fields of the valleys. Our walk was topped off with a few flyover Red Crossbills – perhaps breeding in the neighborhood.

Red Crossbill - Larry

The shifting assortment of birds makes April an interesting month to bird in the region – and a time when we sometimes come across regionally uncommon species. It is also just a taste of what is coming in May – when the sky opens and it begins to rain warblers. So despite a chilly day today, we all know that it is going to be fun.

Plan your spring birding trip today! Check out our lodging, dining, and outdoor recreation pages to learn more! 

An "event-full" spring
Tips for early season recreation

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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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