A Great Place in both Summer and Winter
Winter in the central Adirondacks is stubborn. It has a habit of digging in its heels and hanging on for as long as possible. For us skiers, that is not a bad thing. But as we get ready for spring birding, the delay can feel long. But spring is coming – even if the weather has turned to gray and raw or to sleet and snow. The trick is to listen.
It begins on those sunny late winter days when the drip, drip, drip of melting snow and ice are a prelude to what lies ahead. The tune on such days is picked up by the songs of Brown Creepers and Dark-eyed Juncos which trade their winter silence for spring fervor. The song grows with cold flowing water in swollen streams and as the days warm enough to melt holes in the ice on the lakes, the pattern is picked up by the whirring wings of ducks which drop in to rest on the lakes during their long migration north. Some of the most common species are Bufflehead, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, and Common Merganser, but many other species pass through, including regionally uncommon species like Surf Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, or perhaps a Red-necked Grebe. It is a good time of year to check out Little Tupper Lake, Tupper Lake Marsh, and Lake Abanakee near Indian Lake.
The Sounds of April
And while the ducks and other aquatic species continue to move throughout much of the spring, the same can be said of raptors. April marks the high point in the spring raptor migration in the Adirondacks as Broad-winged Hawks, Merlin, Osprey, and Bald Eagle return to their territories, adding their cries to the rhythm of spring.
Songbirds are likewise returning, often starting with Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and Song Sparrows. Soon Eastern Phoebes contribute their loud and emphatic notes to the chorus as Purple Finches and American Goldfinches start each morning with song. As April progresses, the tune of spring begins to swell – first with growing numbers of sparrows of several species including White-throated, Chipping, Fox, Savannah, Vesper, Swamp, and Dark-eyed Junco, even as lingering American Tree Sparrows sing before heading north to the arctic. These are soon followed by Blue-headed Vireos, Hermit Thrushes, and the staccato beat of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, while Ruffed Grouse pick up the tempo of spring with their drumming displays.
Evening outings in spring can also be fantastic. Pairs of Barred Owls whoop in duet, and returning Northern Saw-whet Owls toot the notes of spring incessantly as they search for mates. Local marshes are likewise a great stop, particularly in the evening when the cadence of spring is pumped out by American Bitterns or in the haunting sound of a winnowing Wilson’s Snipe. Wood Ducks and Ring-necked Ducks return, as the marsh begins to acquire all the parts of its symphony.
The Music of May
It all crescendos in May. Our earliest warblers like Pine, Palm, and Yellow-rumped add their songs to the composition during April, followed quickly by the bouncing pace of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, the hum of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and harmonies of flocks of White-crowned Sparrows on their way north.
If the music pauses for a beat at that point it is hard to tell, for the movement soon climaxes in May with colors, shapes, and songs of all sorts. And so we walk through deciduous woods to the tune of Red-eyed Vireos, Least Flycatchers, American Redstarts, Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and Eastern Wood-Pewees. We check out mixed forests for Black-throated Blue Warblers and Blue-headed Vireos and hike mountains to listen to the high notes of Blackpoll Warblers, the trills of Yellow-rumped Warblers, and fluty strains of Swainson’s Thrushes. We listen to the concert of a bog performed by Lincoln’s Sparrows and Palm Warblers. And we walk through coniferous woodlands were Nashville Warblers and Magnolia Warblers sing. And such boreal habitats are also great for finding sought-after species like Boreal Chickadee, Black-backed Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and Gray Jay. This means that spring calls for trips to places like Sabattis Bog, Shallow Lake, and the Moose River Plains.
As if that weren’t enough, the rhythm of spring takes us into June - one of the best months of the year to explore the Adirondacks. The month is also marked by the Adirondack Boreal Birding Festival in Hamilton County - a great way to start off the music of summer.
And to think that it all started with the sound of dripping water.