Enjoying Winter Birding
A Winter Hike into the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness Area
A Century of Ice Palaces

Looking for Exciting Winter Birds

Winter birding in this region is often a game of looking for very specific species, rather than it being about seeing lots of species in a single day. This year has been predicted to be a good year for Common Redpolls arriving from the north, but it has been difficult to find redpolls during the beginning of the winter. In the past week or so that has begun to change, and change rapidly, as I and many others have been hearing and spotting flocks of Common Redpolls. I’ve heard them each day overhead the past week-and-a-half and a few days ago they finally landed and began feeding at my bird feeders. This has been echoed by birders across the area as they have started finding redpolls at their feeders too.

Heading out to Bigelow Road

And they are not the only species of winter finch I’ve seen of late. While dusting snow off the car and front steps the other day, I saw three White-winged Crossbills flying overhead. Encouraged by this, I decided to head into the Bloomingdale Bog Complex to see if I could find any other finches. I was also interested in searching for our resident boreal species. And so Wren and I walked Bigelow Road starting at its junction with Oregon Plains Road. We walked down the road on a clear and cold day under a blue sky as Wren smelled out the tracks of Snowshoe Hares and those of a hunting Mink.Black-capped Chickadee

We found no finches, but rather came across a few small pockets of Black-capped Chickadees which I spished to attract and find out what else might be with them. The first flock appeared to all be Black-capped. The second flock was also mostly Black-capped, but also held at least one Boreal Chickadee – which didn’t call, but fed quietly before flying away. The next flock contained a Red-breasted Nuthatch, and I heard the short high-pitched trill of a Brown Creeper as well. Wren and I turned near the junction with the Bloomingdale Bog Trail and on our way back to the car we continued to find chickadees. We found two Boreal Chickadees in this manner – perhaps it was the same flock which held them earlier in our walk. Then as we neared the small stream crossing near the parking area we heard at least one Gray Jay call, although we never saw the bird. I wanted to stop in at Bloomingdale Bog on the way home, but we were out of time. That would have to wait.

Finding Gray Jays and Red Crossbills in Bloomingdale Bog

And so the following day we walked into the bog itself. Someone had recently filled the small feeder by the power lines so the air was buzzing with the flitting wings of Black-capped Chickadees as if we were approaching some sort of hive. We paused and I took a series of photos of the birds at their banquet. I did not see or hear a Boreal Chickadee, but there was at least one Red-breasted Nuthatch coming and going with the chickadees. Wren followed the trails of nocturnal visitors to the feeder and gleaned bits of food from the snow. Three Gray Jays were also coming and going and I watched them grab chunks of bread and other food and fly off to cache them in the woods. Finally Wren trotted down the trail and stared over her shoulder at me as if to remind me that we needed to keep moving. It was a walk for her, after all.Gray Jay

We walked south along a quiet trail in the growing warmth of a beautiful day, and soon came to the open area surrounding Two Bridge Brook where I spotted two more Gray Jays sitting on top of a couple distant spruces. They flew towards us almost instantly, stopping here and there before finally landing in the trees next to us. They looked at me quizzically tilting their head to the side in the hopes of a handout. I had none to offer and took a few photos. Without food, they quickly lost interest and flew up the trail towards the feeder and Wren and I soon turned in that direction too.Red Crossbill - Larry

While much of the food at the feeder had been eaten or cached in the meantime, there was still a fair amount of action there when we passed the area again. A couple other folks were standing there watching the birds. We continued on and were soon met by the sound of Red Crossbills in the air. I quickened my pace to spot two crossbills undulating over the gap of the trail. That’s an exciting find since if they stick around they could nest in the area. I’ll have to keep checking back to see. I was happy with the find and we headed back to town for an early lunch.

A day birding in Saranac Lake is sure to work up your appetite - especially if you've been cross-country skiing or snowshoeing! Find a great place to grab a post-birding bite, and relax as you plan out your next adventure.

Author:Alan Belford
A Winter Hike into the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness Area
A Century of Ice Palaces

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