Exploring Dexter Marsh and Santa Clara Flow

An early morning walk

My dog, Wren, and I travel to lots of cool places in the North Country, and the other day we had the chance to explore Dexter Bog. Dexter is a small area of boreal habitat, but despite its size birders can find a wide diversity in a short period of time. Our early morning walk began with Yellow-rumped Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, a Black-throated Blue Warbler, and a Canada Warbler, which sang from a thick alder stand. The bog mat rang with the tunes of White-throated Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows, and Palm Warblers as Common Grackles, Cedar Waxwings, and a couple Eastern Bluebirds flew overhead, landing in the low trees.We had a few Canada Warblers as we walked. Image courtesy of

As we walked we came upon Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Nashville Warblers, and Magnolia Warblers in the conifers, and we listened to the ethereal songs of Hermit Thrushes emanating from the neighboring forest. An Olive-sided Flycatcher called its Pip, Pip, Pip from the large stand of dead trees about halfway through the bog — the bird was so loud it sounded like it was sitting near the road when it was actually toward the back of the stand.An Olive-sided Flycatcher called loudly from the stand of dead trees about halfway through the bog.

Soon we added Golden-crowned Kinglets, a Black-and-white Warbler, multiple Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, and, although we missed Black-backed Woodpecker, four species of woodpeckers. As we reached the far side of the bog where the road returns to deciduous woods, we spooked two Ruffed Grouse, and stood and listened while a female Merlin chattered almost endlessly – dashing this way and that across the road and landing on the tips of trees that surrounded us. She seemed a tad miffed at our presence so I took it as our cue to leave rather than to annoy her. We turned, finding many of the same species as we returned to the car, including the incessantly calling Olive-sided Flycatcher.We found two Ruffed Grouse along the road.

Switching gears to paddle

Happy for a short break from the deer flies and mosquitoes which had joined us on our walk without an invitation, we drank some fresh water and drove a stone’s throw to the boat launch on Santa Clara Flow – a portion of the St. Regis River. As usual, Wren swam while I unloaded the boat and prepared for us to push off.Santa Clara Flow offers hours of exploration.

We had just seen a Broad-winged Hawk overhead as we left Dexter Bog, and we began this trip with an overhead Turkey Vulture and a Great Blue Heron. We would see more of both species. The day was still early but it was rapidly warming under the sun, and with that solar heat came an ever-increasing wind. The breeze felt nice, but it made paddling a bit of challenge in spots on the wide open water and I stuck close to shore where I could hide in nooks and behind wind breaks to make our going easier.Sweet-scented water lilies covered the edges of the Flow in places with their white blooms!

Paddling near the shore is also the best way to look for birds, and we found many of the same species we had seen in Dexter – such as Yellow-rumped Nashville, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, and Black-and-white Warblers, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Hermit Thrush, Blue-headed Vireo, and Winter Wren. The edges of the waterway also housed Common Grackles, Common Yellowthroats, and both Song and Swamp Sparrows, and I took my time admiring the blooming array of sweet-scented water lilies in the shallows. 

Birds in the air and a growing wind

The aerial show in the open sky above was equally impressive, as a group of Tree Swallows moved up and down the river following the insects, joined there by a fleet of dragonflies. There were clearly a lot of bugs flying despite the wind. At one point a Pileated Woodpecker flew across the river, as did a Sharp-shinned Hawk, which soared slightly on the rising air currents before dropping below the trees on the far side. A Bald Eagle also cruised along, landing in the trees on the opposite side of the river as it gave twittering calls. These were echoed in the chatter of a Belted Kingfisher, which moved from perch to perch along the Flow, and by the throaty croaks of a pair of Common Ravens.We watched a Bald Eagle on the opposite side of the river.

With the wind continuing to build, I tucked into a few dead ends along the route to hide and rest, each also providing us a chance to explore – we even watched a doe quietly drinking from one. But I knew we had a couple miles back to the car and I didn’t want to fight the wind any longer than necessary – particularly if it kept gaining strength. So we turned around and worked our way back out. I was glad we did – the day was warm by that point and I was clearly working harder than I had on the way out. Wren, on the other hand, rested and watched the scenery, and we were both happy to be out of the boat once we were back at the take-out. Wren celebrated her liberation from the canoe with a swim and we both took a long drink before heading for home.

Summer and early fall offer great paddling and birding opportunities. Don’t miss out! Check out our lodging and dining pages to help you plan your trip.

Categories:Birding, Paddling
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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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