Blue Skies and a Day of Birding
With a beautiful blue winter sky above us, my brother, nephew, and I set out the other day to enjoy some boreal birding in the Bloomingdale Bog Complex north of Saranac Lake. The afternoon was forecast to turn rainy (ugh) anyway, so we wanted to enjoy the snow and winter before that happened. And for those of us who aren't yet ready for spring, this is the Adirondacks, I’m sure that even as I write, our weather will get cold and again and more snow will be coming.
Stubborn Gray Jays
We began our day in Bloomingdale Bog, where we walked south through the bog from Route 55. Pine Siskins called and chattered in the trees and from above as we went, and the usual contingent of Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches at the bird feeders near the power lines were joined by a small group of Dark-eyed Juncos. I also heard a lone Red Crossbill call from overhead – we had great looks at a few Red Crossbills the previous day in the Keene Valley.
A group of three Gray Jays showed up at the feeder as we arrived – they were clearly waiting for a handout – and my nephew set to work trying to lure them to his hand for some raisins. But the jays – although quite cooperative for photos – would only take the food which my nephew had dropped in the snow or placed in the feeder tray. We eventually moved on along the path, and I swear the jays snickered in triumph at my nephew from the trees.
He had the same experience with two more Gray Jays further down the trail, after we had walked about a mile south in search of boreal birds and had started back for the parking area. And the same three jays at the feeders were equally as stubborn on our return trip – they had evidently been feeding well and perhaps our unseasonably warm weather wasn’t pushing them to take such potential risks as coming to someone’s hand.
Boreal Chickadees and White-winged Crossbills
Once back at the car we turned for Oregon Plains Road, hoping to hear some crossbills or the resident boreal birds while the ubiquitous Pine Siskins seemed to be calling overhead everywhere all day. As we approached the crest of the low hill that reaches Muzzy Road, we stopped for some Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches, hoping something else might be in the neighborhood.
We were in luck. Two Boreal Chickadees flew in to a bare tree, showing off their warm, brown flanks and brown cap in the bright sunlight before they flew into the nearby conifers to the tune of their nasal Che-che-day-day calls. And they didn’t simply disappear either - they hung out near us for several more minutes, offering us a great chance to observe them. We finally turned south to park at the junction of Oregon Plains Road and Bigelow Road.
Bigelow Road was initially quite quiet as we walked – even the chickadees seemed to be avoiding it – and we busied ourselves with the multitude of snowshoe hare tracks along the way. But things became much more exciting when we heard a singing White-winged Crossbill, and we watched both the male and female crossbills first fly overhead and then perch high in the spruces and firs to dine on cones which they pulled off the branches to make it easier to access the seeds. They eventually flew out of sight as a Common Raven croaked overhead. We continued on toward the Bloomingdale Bog Trail, turning around after a little over a mile.
The walk back was marked by a flyover Red Crossbill (we never got a great look of one that day, but couldn’t complain given our excellent looks on the previous day) and two Gray Jays which seemed keenly interested in us.
Without the distraction of the food at the bird feeders on the bog trail, my nephew tried to feed them again, and on this occasion the jays obliged him my landing on this outstretched hand for some raisins. His goals for the day accomplished, we walked the rest of the way out.
A Black-backed Woodpecker...Finally!
But we still hadn’t found a Black-backed Woodpecker on this day, so with the clouds rapidly filling the sky above which occasionally spit on us, we drove to the power line trail reached at the end of Bert La Fountain Road in Gabriels. The first several hundred meters of the route cuts through nice boreal habitat, and with fortune seemingly on our side all day, we heard the distinctive squeaky call of a Black-backed Woodpecker after a short walk. We soon could see the female bird and her jet black back and crown on the top of a dead snag through a window in the nearby spruces and firs, and she soon flew in closer to a nearby snag where we watched her for a while before she flew off. We returned to the car with an entire suite of boreal birds for the day, and headed off as the rain began to pick up.
As the weather in the Saranac Lake Region continues to ping-pong between winter and spring the birding remains great – with crossbills and other winter finches, and our resident boreal birds. Plan your winter or spring trip today and check out our lodging and dining pages to help you round out your trip!