Shorebirds in the Park
While the Champlain Valley rightfully gets the most attention in our region as the place to search for sandpipers and other shorebirds, some shorebirds do invariably make their way south through the central part of the Park. It’s just a matter of finding them since they don’t stay around for long. For instance, over the weekend while I was out looking for warblers along Lake Colby in Saranac Lake, I found a Greater Yellowlegs flying over the bog mat, calling and seemingly looking for a place to land and feed. Even though yellowlegs often feed in shallow water, the shallow margin of many Adirondack lakes is narrow, and mudflats can be difficult to find. The yellowlegs eventually moved elsewhere.
Little Clear Pond
And while that still doesn’t mean we don’t receive brief visitors – such as Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers - I was very surprised when I received a phone call early this week about a Red Phalarope being found at Little Clear Pond in Lake Clear. The husband of a local birder was out paddling and took photos of a bird about which he was unsure. The photos were sent to others and word spread quickly as the bird was identified. Red Phalaropes are difficult to come by even along the coast where they are often found well off shore, and this bird was big news.
I was already on the way out with Wren for a morning walk, so I walked her and headed toward Little Clear Pond, finding the bird fairly quickly. It was hanging out near shore between the boat launch and the canoe carry trail. Unlike many species of shorebirds, Red Phalaropes generally swim for their food and the bird spun and turned in the water in the characteristic manner of phalaropes. A friend arrived and we viewed it through his scope.
Birding by canoe
My friend soon had to leave, but I had brought my canoe, so I set off along the shore towards the bird where I sat watching it and taking photos for better than an hour. It fed rapidly as it bobbed this way and that while catching small water striders and insects from the surface of the lake. I sat quietly watching it, allowing it to approach me rather than to chase the bird in an effort to snap a photo. I did struggle at times with the growing breeze on my boat as I tried to remain still and take photos, but the bird didn’t seem to mind the play of the wind on my bow from time to time. In fact, it paid me almost no mind and came up to my boat more than once!
The Red Phalarope was not the only bird out there that day
Almost as an afterthought to the rare bird, I also noted several Common Loons sitting and occasionally calling from the open lake and a Belted Kingfisher chattering as it flew from perch to perch over the water. A Bald Eagle also soared on the warming thermals in the distance. It was an idyllic Adirondack setting – apart from the out-of-place gray and white bird bobbing near my boat in the water!
Meeting other birders
After taking many photos to help ensure I had something that I would like (the success of which is still open for debate!), I headed back to the put-in. Other birders were arriving and I chatted with them about the bird and pointed out where I had seen it. The visits of such odd species are often short-lived so everyone was excited. But with south winds in place for the next couple days, it is conceivable that the bird will linger at least until the wind shifts directions. Then it will likely continue its journey south. That gives us a chance to see and enjoy the bird – but the phalarope won’t last for long. Migration is a fleeting opportunity, after all.