A Rainy Day Birding Trip in Madawaska

Rain, Rain, Rain…And More Rain

Not every day of the Great Adirondack Birding Celebration was as perfect as the Osgood River paddle on Saturday. But, looking back on that fun weekend, we'd do it all over again.

Sunday’s weather was the complete opposite of the beautiful day before. In fact, I had noted the thin wispy cirrus clouds moving overhead during our paddle - marking a change in the weather. Rain began during breakfast and it lasted most of the day. But everyone who was signed up came for the trip into Madawaska and Blue Mountain Road and we were going to make the best of it. I love Madawaska and any excuse – rain or shine – to explore it is a good one. We took a small caravan down Keese Mills Road, led by me driving a college van. The rain hampered our ability to hear much as we went, but we had the advantage of being based in cars so we were able to sit and wait out periods of heavy rain and laugh at the ludicrous weather until it had cleared enough for us to venture outside. In this way we began to tally a list of species and we had great looks at an American Redstart and a Blackburnian Warbler in the same tree along the road.American Redstart - Larry

Snapping Turtles

Perhaps even more exciting was our stop for a female common snapping turtle which was laying eggs along the side of the road, I listening to a Black-throated Green Warbler and a Blue-headed Vireo as participants snapped photos of her in her zombie-like trance. It wasn’t the only snapping turtle we would find. In fact, it became a theme of the trip – birds may be quieter and harder to hear in the rain, but the snapping turtles were out in numbers and we spotted many of them – including three in one location on our ride back out of Madawaska.Snapping Turtle Madawaska

I got out of the van in the rain in a few spots to listen for Mourning Warbler, which can be found along Keese Mills Road, but I had no luck until we approached Blue Mountain Road and the rain lightened a little. There, a singing Mourning Warbler offered us quick views before the rain opened up again and we retreated to the relatively dry conditions in the vehicles — which were rapidly becoming wetter as each person came back inside from the rain.

Finding Birds Between the Raindrops

We drove to the metal bridge which crosses the Middle Branch of the St. Regis River – one of my favorite spots to stop along the road. We waited a few minutes for the rain to die down and I got out spotting a pair of Belted Kingfishers, a flyover Wood Duck, Cedar Waxwings, and a few other species while Chestnut-sided Warblers, Song Sparrows, and American Redstarts sang from the bordering woods and shrubs. I motioned for folks to risk coming from the cars and we briefly watched an Eastern Phoebe feed in the alder thicket along the stream. And then almost immediately the sky opened in a driving rain and we hunkered down again the cars. The clouds seemed to know when we were outside thinking we could do some birding. But it was amazing how active the woods became as soon as the rain abated a little. We drove on from the bridge hoping for better luck elsewhere.Wood Duck - Larry

Further along the road I tried one of my favorite haunts for Canada Warbler and Northern Waterthrush, but the rain was not particularly pleased with my arrogance and pelted me into submission until I jumped back into the van. By this point no one was getting out on their own until I suggested they do. We made our way through the pockmarked road (which was washed out in a couple places) to Indian Rock Parking area where we got out again to search for birds only to once again be blasted with rain and sent back to the cars – which by this time were down to two. The others had given up and headed home early. Given the gray forecast I had not planned on hiking from the parking area and the weather was making certain I didn’t foolishly reconsider this outline for the day. The birding is just as good along the road anyway and we would have drowned while hiking if we had attempted it.

Less Rain and More Birds!

That said, we suddenly found the sky lightening as we drove toward Quebec Brook and everyone ventured out of the cars as we stood on the bridge over the brook for the longest rain-free stretch we had the entire trip. There we watched Chestnut-sided, Yellow-rumped, and Black-throated Blue Warblers, among a number of other species, and we listened to a pair of Barred Owls which I had induced into calling back to me. I often get Barred Owls to answer me during the day, but overcast days are generally easier for this – there are advantages to going out in such conditions.

Northern Waterthrush - Larry

Our change in fortune didn’t end at Quebec Brook either. For the most part our return trip to Paul Smiths was drippy or misty but largely rain-free and we stopped again at my favorite spot for Northern Waterthrush, this time with a different result. While we didn’t see the waterthrush we did hear a couple of them singing from their wet perches and we managed nice looks at both Magnolia and Canada Warblers – two beautiful birds. The bridge over the Middle Branch of the St. Regis was so productive that folks didn’t want to leave it and we all stood mesmerized watching a female snapping turtle drop her eggs into the hole she had dug since we had first past through the area. I suppose good things do come if you keep plugging along patiently. Either that or we were a bunch of drenched knuckleheads for having stayed out there that long!GABC group - Snapping Turtle

In the end we made our way back to the VIC with a 50+ species outing – very successful for such a wet day. Knuckleheads or not, we had enjoyed ourselves and seen some great stuff.

Now is a great time to plan your birding and outdoor recreation adventure for summer. Check out our dining and lodging pages to learn more!

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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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