Adirondack Birding & Boreal Birds

Adirondack Birding

Hamilton County: in the heart of the boreal zone

A Great Place in both Summer and Winter

The Central Adirondacks and Hamilton County get a lot of attention during the spring and summer as a mecca for birders in search of warblers and other warm-weather species. But these areas are also quite good during the winter, even in the cold and snow.

It begins during the fall, when area lakes attract migrating ducks and other aquatic species like Red-necked Grebes, Bufflehead, Common Mergansers, and Hooded Mergansers. But even when the lakes freeze up as the cold presses hard on the landscape and sends the ducks elsewhere, Hamilton County and the Central Adirondacks remain great places to visit for those in search of birds.

Hooded Merganser (Audubon Field Guide - National Audubon Society Photo: Rob Curtis/Vireo)

Boreal Birds and Winter Finches

Much of this stems from the fact that Hamilton County possesses or sits close to many excellent boreal habitats, where birders can search for resident species like Black-backed Woodpecker, Gray Jay, and Boreal Chickadee. Some of these sites, like Sabattis Bog, Roosevelt Truck Trail, and the boreal areas along the Route 28N corridor near Minerva, are easily accessed during the winter, when snow closes many other boreal locations. In addition, this winter is shaping up to be good for both Red and White-winged Crossbills, and both species nested in the region in response to the excellent cone crop on our conifers.

As long as they are exploring the area, birders should search out bird feeders where other species of winter finches may also be found. These often include American Goldfinch, Purple Finch, and Pine Siskin, but sometimes Evening Grosbeaks make an appearance at places like the Newcomb AIC. In some years — roughly every other year — Common Redpolls also arrive from the north to invade our bird feeders, and the flocks often bring Hoary Redpolls with them. Even less frequently, Pine Grosbeaks also show up, leaving their northern homes when there isn't enough food to eat.

Pine Grosbeak (Audubon Field Guide - National Audubon Society Guide to North American Birds)

Pine Grosbeaks are usually found in towns where they can find ornamental fruit trees, and they may be joined by lingering American Robins or Cedar Waxwings. Of more interest, Bohemian Waxwings regularly come south during the winter to find fruit, and they can show up at any time during the season to chow down.

Field Birds, Snowy Owls, and Other Raptors

Birders may also want to check out local fields and hedgerows where they can find Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, American Tree Sparrows, and possibly a Lapland Longspurs, and those interested in birding the fields of the North Country will do well to take a day trip to either the Champlain or St. Lawrence valleys. Check out those respective websites (Champlain Region and Malone) to learn more. Fields in the Adirondacks or the surrounding valleys may also offer raptors and Northern Shrikes, and all feeder-watching birders should be prepared for a surprise visit by a hungry Cooper's Hawk or another species which has stuck around into the winter.

Snowy Owl (National Audubon Society - Photo: Brian Kushner)

If raptors are of interest, birders should keep an eye open for Snowy Owls, which have been moving south from the arctic in numbers this year. The owls apparently had a successful summer of raising their young, and that means we have a good chance of seeing them in the North Country this winter. And while they are more likely in the surrounding valleys, any farm field, airport, beach, or other open area is worth a look for them.

It all means that winter birding in the Central Adirondacks and the North Country is more about finding specialty species than it is about checking off a long list of species on a list. So bundle up, grab your binoculars and a mug of hot cocoa, and get exploring!

Plan Your Birding Expedition in Hamilton County!

For a true Adirondack experience, join us in the heart of the mountains for exciting, year-round birding! When you visit, there are comfortable lodging and restaurant options found in this vast wilderness.

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