Adirondack Birding & Boreal Birds

The heart of the boreal zone

No matter the season, Hamilton County is great for birding. Spring, summer, fall, and winter - you'll be sure to find a species to check off your life list. Don't forget to check out our annual birding festival and numerous birding outings held throughout the year. There are spring birding packages available at many lodging options across the region for this event. 

What does “boreal” mean? Well, by definition it means “of the north.” For birders that means a chance to see many species that typically only inhabit northern climates and are more likely to be found in places like Canada. Some boreal species of birds found here can include: Lincoln’s Sparrow, Boreal Chickadee, Black-backed Woodpecker, Canada Jay, Common Loon, and the elusive Spruce Grouse. These birds are at the southern extent for their breeding range in Hamilton County and are symbols of the Adirondack landscape. You’ll find these birds and many others in the bogs and boreal forests that make up this landscape.

Common Loon

Seasons of change

As our landscape shifts throughout the year, so do the bird species we see around the region. Birding is a flurry of excitement in spring and fall, when migrants pass through our area in great numbers and many birds return to their breeding grounds. Summer and winter also have their own unique cast.

While the diversity of birds is at its lowest point during the winter, it does not mean birding is not good. Birders will delight in hearing the chatter of Black-capped Chickadees and the robotic calls of Red-breasted Nuthatches. Resident boreal species are understated, though still present. This means birders in search of Boreal Chickadees and Black-backed Woodpeckers in some of our coniferous forests, such as those around Sabattis Bog, must pay attention to their nasal chatter and soft tapping. These sounds can be echoed by the quiet calls of inquisitive Canada Jays which may suddenly burst out loudly, boisterously breaking the silence. Such strident music can also be heard in the changing trills of singing White-winged Crossbills or the sharp notes of Red Crossbills, present in some years in response to food availability. The music of winter can be heard in our towns too, in the incessant activity and twitter of a flock of Common Redpolls, or the sweet tunes of Pine Grosbeaks and the trills of Bohemian Waxwings, here to dine on fruit.

A bird looks out from a tree branch.

The wintering birds soon pick up the cadence in their tunes as spring approaches. Ice on our lakes begins to recede and the tune is taken up by the whirring wings of migrating ducks, which seem to drop in almost immediately once open water appears as if they knew it was coming. Many of them will not linger for long, meaning we birders must be outside as often as we can be in order to find them. 

The melody of April then becomes the ringing songs of Dark-eyed Juncos and the whistles of White-throated Sparrows. They are joined by a harmony of others – including Fox, Vesper, Chipping, Savannah, and Lincoln’s Sparrows, even as lingering American Tree Sparrows offer their last twinkling notes of the winter before heading north. The cadence is then taken up by the staccato drumming of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, the fluty songs of Hermit Thrushes, and the low pulsing throb of American Bitterns calling from area marshes. 

Bald Eagle

Some of the first warblers to arrive in the spring are Yellow-rumped and Palm warblers. Their colorful plumage lights up bogs, like Ferd's Bog, and surrounding forests. Soon, flycatchers will add their songs to the mix, along with other warblers, sparrows, and even Scarlet Tanagers. As we advance into July, we notice an escalation of sound and activity begins with the chips of recently fledged young birds, and before we know it August has gathered small ensembles of mix-species flocks – diverse collections of birds which infuse life in the forest as they feed incessantly in preparation for their long journey south. Such flocks are an exciting miscellany of birds, and birders can sift through them as if trying to find a hidden prize. It makes August one of the best times of year to bird the Adirondacks and the Sacandaga Pathway in Speculator is a great place to stop. 

As autumn enters the region, many species that spend their summer up north begin to migrate back south again and pass through Hamilton County. Common Loons, the iconic symbols of our lakes and seen regularly in the William C. Whitney Wilderness, change into winter plumage and make their way to the coast. Pine Siskins and Red Crossbills and other “winter finches” show up more frequently as the snow begins to fall and we start the birding year over again.

Looking for more?

For those who want more of a challenge, check out the Hamilton County Birding Challenge, where you get "points" for seeing or hearing certain species! Or explore birding throughout the entire Adirondacks to increase the number of species you might encounter. 

Leave No Trace and Love Your ADK

The magic of the Adirondacks is the result of previous generations taking a long view and protecting the mountains, lakes, and rivers within the Blue Line. That tradition continues today as we support and encourage everyone to practice Leave No Trace ethics, which help protect the lands and waters of the Adirondacks.

If you love birding and trails, consider donating to the Hamilton County Trail Improvement Fund! This partnership with the DEC is an opportunity to improve access, especially to some of our favorite local birding spots. 

Experience More

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Cedar River Road
Indian Lake, NY 12842
A fine wilderness adventure. Getting there The Northville-Placid Wakely Dam Trailhead is located at the end of the Cedar River Road. GPS coordinates are 43.7277°N, 74.4741°W.
Route 28 43.8087341
Inlet, NY 13360
This path might be primarily used as a canoe carry, but it makes for an enjoyable walk for those looking to stretch their legs. 
Cedar River Road
Inlet, NY 13360
This large, gorgeous lake makes for a great backcountry paddle. Quiet, with plenty of opportunity for spotting birds and other wildlife, this lake is perfect for an intermediate paddler.
Great paddling above the Wakely Dam on Cedar River Flow.
Otter Brook Road
Inlet, NY 13360
Deep Lake is fed by a cold spring. You can imagine men like the old guide Roc Conklin rowing sportsmen along the shore. This is a great area for exploration in the deep wilderness and there is also some great birding along this trail.
Green Bridge Rd 43.694550
Old Forge, NY 13420
Abundant bogs and water along the Moose River creating great habitat for birds and fish, so if you're a birder or fisherman or woman, this is the place for you!
The Black River Wild Forest includes the Moose River.
Moose River Plains Wild Forest
Inlet, NY 13360
The easily accessible Lost Ponds are some of the most scenic bodies of water in the region. Great for hiking, mountain biking, and paddling, any activity you choose is going to memorable.
Narrows and cliffs add to the paddling interest of Lost Ponds.
Moose River Plains Wild Forest
Inlet, NY 13360
Located in the Moose River Plains Wild Forest off of Rock Dam Road, this access offers good, low-country hunting around the backside of Mount Tom. It's a narrow, little-used path, but it's worth the effort.
Sagamore Road
Raquette Lake, NY 13436
This is a two-mile, flat-water paddle to an old dam that generated the power for the Great Camp Sagamore complex years ago. The water way is a good boreal habitat.
Indian Lake, NY 12842
A rich variety of northern birds can be found in this fifty-thousand-acre forest. Habitat changes from open plains, boreal forest and mature hardwoods to virgin pines. The property was purchased by NY State in 1963 from the Gould Paper Company.
Arietta, NY ‎12139
This dirt road is lightly-traveled and can be walked and birded along its entire length for a wide variety of birds including Olive-sided Flycatcher. The northern 8-mile section from Route 10 to Powley Place offers the best birding.
Tarbell Hill Road
Long Lake, NY 12847
Catlin Bay is a simple 1.4 mile hike along the Northville-Placid Trail at a scenic location along the northeast shore of Long Lake. Catlin Bay is also easily reached by canoe or kayak for an outstanding multi-day canoe camping adventure.
The sunsets on Long Lake make great photos.
Piseco, NY 12139
Set back in a quiet corner of the Ferris Lake Wild Forest sits G Lake.
Lake Pleasant, NY 12108
Pillsbury Mountain is one of those peaks that has a spectacular, remote, backcountry feel. A maze of scenic backroads will get you there, but you need to take it slow as they can be very rough at times.
Route 30
Blue Mountain Lake, NY 12812
For the better part of the last century, Blue Mountain has been one of the most frequently climbed Adirondack mountains. And for good reason! The striking view, with Blue Mountain Lake below, is very popular among locals and visitors alike.
Blue Mountain is near the center of many lakes.
901C Sabattis Rd
Long Lake, NY 12847
The William C. Whitney Wilderness Area is a paddlers paradise. But that said, there are hiking opportunities here for hikers, birders, campers, fishermen and women, and even some hiking for paddlers. 
This wilderness area is a great place to view fall foliage.
Route 421
Long Lake, NY 12847
From Long Lake, drive 12 miles north on Route 30, to County Route 421 ( 1/5 miles past the Hamilton / Franklin County Line ).
A beautiful spot for paddling with no motors allowed.
Browns Tract Road
Inlet, NY 13360
Located off of Uncas Road, this is a short but perfect hike to a safe, floating walkway, and observation post. There is only parking for three vehicles — if the lot is full, be sure not to block traffic.
Be sure to look overhead on Ferd's Bog Trail.
Route 28
Inlet, NY 13360
Remote with lots of opportunity to explore, fish, bird, and hike? That's the trail to Eagle Nest and Bug lakes!
These delightful lakes are accessible along the same trail.