April 26, 2019
Exploring places close to town
One of the best things about living in the Adirondacks is that we have so many great places to explore without traveling far. We all benefit from locations right at our doorstep which let us steal away at the end of the day or first thing in the morning, which is particularly useful if our time is limited. Whether you live here or you are vacationing in the area, here are a few places to investigate around Saranac Lake which don’t require much traveling.
Bloomingdale Bog – south end
Bloomingdale Bog receives a lot of deserved attention as a great place to find boreal birds like Boreal Chickadees and Canada Jays. The northern access to the bog – and the easily walkable railroad bed that cuts through it – is off of Route 55, which runs between Bloomingdale and Route 86. There, birders can walk a short distance south to find a set of bird feeders and its contingent of Canada Jays, while listening to Nashville, Magnolia, and Palm Warblers during the summer months.
However, I think the southern access to the bog does not get the birding love it merits. It begins a short distance (about 1.4 miles) north of Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake at a small marsh and beaver pond. The marsh hides Wood Ducks, Swamp Sparrows, American Bitterns, and sometimes less common species like Green Herons, while birds like Solitary Sandpipers can be found on the mudflats during migration in spring and late summer.
The brushy habitat along the adjacent powerline cut harbors Veeries, Chestnut-sided Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and Mourning Warblers, before the trail enters a mixed coniferous-deciduous forest. These woods contain a long list of birds, from Pileated Woodpeckers to Winter Wrens, and the shaded walk is pleasant if it is a warm and sunny day. The mixed forest also harbors an assortment of warblers – such as American Redstart, Ovenbird, Black-throated Blue, and Northern Parula, and if you haven’t done so already, you will certainly find Nashville and Magnolia Warblers when you reach the more coniferous and boreal stretches of habitat about a mile north of the parking lot.
From there, the path continues out into the open bog, complete with Palm and Lincoln’s Sparrows, as well as the potential for boreal species like Canada Jay and Black-backed Woodpecker. If you are feeling particularly energetic, you can walk the entire trail (nearly 4 miles each way) to the northern access on Route 55 before turning to retrace your steps.
Sitting directly across Route 86 from Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, Lake Colby draws a lot of people during the summer for boating, fishing, and swimming. It warrants such attention, but it is equally good for birding. The best spot to explore for birds is along the backside of the lake where a railroad bed (the ties and rails are still present, so watch your footing in spots) runs through a mixed forest, separating the lake from Little Colby Pond, creating a causeway with water on both sides.
Birders can access the railroad bed off John Munn Road (turning at the Saranac Lake Civic Center), parking either at the base of the gravel road on the left which leads to a little league baseball field (from the field, walk down a small trail through the woods to the lake), or by parking on the right side of John Munn Road directly along the tracks before the road dead ends.
Either way, Colby offers a long list of species during the spring and summer, including Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Purple Finch, and Ovenbird. The small patches of marsh along the lake hide American Bitterns as well as singing Swamp Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds. The lake itself is the home for breeding Common Loons, while Bald Eagles make their nest in a row of white pines to the north of the railroad tracks – best seen when you first reach the lake. The lapping waters of the lake are also an excellent spot during fall migration for ducks and other aquatic species.
The bog mat on the far side of the causeway is the nesting home of White-throated Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrows, and Palm Warblers, while American Redstarts, Northern Parulas, and a series of other warblers can be heard singing from the nearby trees. Evening walks may be rewarded by hooting Barred Owls, and birders can follow the railroad tracks for as long as they want before turning around, but be sure to watch your step.
The Jackrabbit Trail
An excellent cross-country skiing trail during the winter months, the Jackrabbit Trail is equally good for birding – cutting through a slice of the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness area. There are many access points to the trail, but the quickest from Saranac Lake is from the small earthen parking lot along McKenzie Pond Road as you head east from town.
From there the trail winds through a mixed forest and up and down a series of rolling hills, eventually reaching the outlet from McKenzie Pond nearly a mile into the hike. The pond itself is a little more than a mile farther along the route, marking an easy turn around point, or adventurous birders can follow the trail all the way to Lake Placid (with a long climb beyond McKenzie Pond) if they have a car parked on the far end.
However you choose to arrange your logistics, the Jackrabbit offers Broad-winged and Sharp-shinned Hawks, Pileated and Hairy Woodpeckers, Barred Owls, Scarlet Tanagers, Eastern Wood-Pewees, and another long list of warblers (are you sensing a theme here?), among others. This trail affords you a chance to explore the wilderness along a relatively easy hiking trail, in beautiful scenery, and still be close to town.
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