As an avid birder and board member for Northern New York Audubon, it’s safe to say that I’m always on the lookout for birds. I used to have my home office set up with my desk facing Lake Flower so I could watch for ducks, loons, eagles, and gulls. It wasn’t at all distracting. Even when I’m not actively (or passively) observing birds, I get text messages asking if I can identify something someone saw somewhere. In addition to casual lakeside birding and electronic ID’ing, my favorite region to go birding is in the Saranac Lake. Why? I could list a million reasons, but here are the top five reasons why I think you should make Saranac Lake your next birding destination!
1. Every season is different
Between the warmth of summer and snow of winter, the seasonal changes bring a shift in species. In spring and summer, warblers galore can be seen and heard. Northern Parulas trill in the forests and Yellow-rumped Warblers join the chorus. In cooler months, warblers are replaced with Common Redpolls, American Tree Sparrows, and White-winged Crossbills. In fall, large rafts of migrating ducks can be seen from the Lake Colby Causeway. Of course, there are resident species found year-round, but the seasonal diversity is so great it’s worth at least four trips a year!
2. There is a variety of unique habitats
Part of the reason there is such a diversity of birds in the Saranac Lake area is the diversity of habitats. There are open lakes, marshes, bogs, boreal forests, streams, mixed hardwood stands, and even alpine areas in the neighboring High Peaks. You can go from seeing Pileated Woodpeckers in The Pines to seeing a migrating Brant on Lower Saranac Lake in one day! Black-capped Chickadees are abundant throughout the Adirondacks, and can be found almost anywhere, but what about Canada Jays? These friendly and curious birds can be found in the boreal forests and bogs that line the roads in Bloomingdale and Vermontville. The Canada Jay range is much more limited than that of the Black-capped Chickadees, but their presence in the Saranac Lake area means you can check a boreal species off your life list while exploring a habitat that is traditionally found further north.
One place to visit an array of habitats is the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC). Pine Siskins, Hermit Thrushes, Red-eyed Vireos, Palm Warblers, American Woodcock, Northern Harriers, and Saw-whet Owls can all be found at the VIC. The VIC is a great place to go birding for everybody; there are accessible trails and outlooks creating opportunities to scan vast marshes for wildlife or explore woodlands.
3. You can give back to the birds
Right in downtown Saranac Lake is the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation. Their mission? To promote the conservation of Common Loons and inspire a passion for these amazing birds. The Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation has a new “nest” at 75 Main Street, so be sure to stop by for some loon-themed gifts or to learn more about what is being done for loons in the Adirondacks. Northern New York Audubon, a local non-profit, is also based in Saranac Lake. This Audubon chapter works tirelessly to promote conservation of birds, habitat, and wildlife in all of Northern New York.
We, as humans, have the opportunity to give back to the birds, but the birds of Saranac Lake also provide inspiration for artists. You can visit many art galleries around town and find photographs, paintings, and woodcarvings featuring birds! There's also Third Thursday Art Walks in town and the Adirondack Plein Air Festival. While these events are not limited to bird-related art, our avian friends certainly make an appearance!
4. It’s easy to combine birding with other outdoor activities
Saranac Lake is an outdoor recreationists paradise. There are miles and miles of hiking trails, endless waterways to canoe, and winding roads prime for cycling. Truth be told, none of these activities need to be singular. It feels wrong to use the phrase “two birds, one stone,” but birding can easily be combined with other activities. Want to kayak and look for birds? Check out Barnum Pond in the spring to see Ring-necked Ducks. Just looking for a quiet stroll? Hey, there are birds downtown, too (especially Cedar Waxwings in the ornamental fruit trees in Berkeley Green). Ride your road bike on Norman Ridge Road and find Savannah Sparrows or Bobolinks in the fields and grasses. Birding is the act of enjoying wild birds, so it can be done anywhere, anytime, coupled with any activity!
5. Iconic species are found here!
The last, but certainly not least, reason you should go birding in Saranac Lake is that this area is home to two iconic species that truly embody Adirondack wildness. I’m talking about Common Loons and Bald Eagles. Once rarer in these parts, both species have now come back to leave a truly Adirondack mark on the landscape. If you’re new to birding or even if you are a seasoned expert, seeing these two species is always the highlight of a trip. Common Loons are warm weather residents: they arrive when the ice goes out each spring and leave the Adirondacks as the chill of fall sets in. As avian pescatarians, Bald Eagles can remain around Saranac Lake throughout the winter, but will likely leave for open water where they can catch fish.
A great spot to view Common Loons is at James A. Latour Picnic & Recreation Area, which overlooks Lake Colby. Bald Eagles have been seen here as well. For a more wilderness setting, head into the St. Regis Canoe Area, where motors are not allowed, affording you unparalleled opportunities to see and hear birds, especially loons and eagles.
Birds of a feather
If you need other reasons to go birding in Saranac Lake, here are two more: Tupper Lake and Lake Placid. Together, the Tri-Lakes form a wonderful trifecta of birding opportunities. With Saranac Lake as your basecamp, you can dine, stay, and shop in town, and then head outdoors for a great Adirondack birding adventure.