Exploring the Sacandaga River

Birding as I Paddled

I really enjoy paddling the Sacandaga River out of Speculator, so when Wren and I were there recently I made sure we took advantage of the opportunity to do so. We pushed off from the boat launch at the Sacandaga Community Park, watching the Barn Swallows wheel in and out from beneath the Route 30 bridge, while an Eastern Kingbird sat on the wires flying out and back catching insects.

The Sacandaga is fairly shallow in spots – particularly near the put-in — and as I was distractedly looking in the bushes along the banks for birds, I managed to steer us into a sandy shoal forcing me to get out and walk the canoe into deeper water. Wren sat watching me curiously. But I did find a Yellow Warbler and a Chestnut-sided Warbler in this way. Once back in deeper water, I was able to skirt along the marshy edge and pickerel weed in search of American Bitterns, poking my bow into the weeds here and there. The sun was already climbing in the warm sky which worked against this endeavor, and although I didn't find any bitterns, I did find plenty of Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, Swamp Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Common Yellowthroats, as well as a couple Marsh Wrens.

Yellow Warbler - Larry
Yellow Warblers can be tough to find at times in the middle of the park, and I was happy to find one along the river. Photo courtesy of www.masterimages.org.

I also found a variety of birds in the woods along the river – including Indigo Bunting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Red-eyed Vireo. Further along the river a series of snags sits back off the water and I sat for a few minutes watching Cedar Waxwings, Alder Flycatchers, and an Eastern Phoebe use the snags as perches as they hawked insects. I also spotted a Merlin doing the same thing a little farther down the river – only in this case it was hunting for birds!

A Popular Place – for Good Reason!

The day was so beautiful that we didn't have the river to ourselves. In fact, it started to become quite busy as our slow progress in search of birds and other wildlife species allowed paddlers to pass us. They were coming from the community park and from the small put-in along Route 30 – the put-in with the quickest access to the Kunjamuk River. A few of the folks commented on Wren poking her nose over the edge of the boat to watch the world going by our canoe. She was tired and the warm sun was only adding to her sleepy mood.

Wren - Sacandaga
Wren snoozes in the sun while I paddle.

We eventually meandered our way to the open area of water where the Kunjamuk joins the Sacandaga, and we turned up the Kunjamuk to see the enormous beaver dam which guards the way up the river. While there is a way around the dam, it is best for small boats and I didn't have the time to lug my canoe through the mucky passage. So we turned back to the Sacandaga, content to be impressed by the work of the beavers rather than to challenge it.

beaver dam - Kunjamuk
The beaver dam which blocks the route up the Kunjamuk River is impressive.

Soaring Raptors and My First Shorebird of the Season

We paddled back towards the put-in adding Great Blue Heron and then a Pied-billed Grebe to our bird list, and spotting our first Muskrat of the day. It was starting to get warm and I could see that Wren was going to need a swim when we got back in order to cool off, so I sped up my efforts to get us off the river a little sooner. But although it began to make us hot, the warming air offered us first a soaring Sharp-shinned Hawk and later a soaring Broad-winged Hawk – circling along the edge of the river on the rising thermals. We also found a Solitary Sandpiper along the rocks near the take-out – on its way south after breeding up north. It was the first fall shorebird I found this summer. I paused briefly to watch all of them before keeping us on track to take-out before it got too hot.

Solitary Sandpiper
This Solitary Sandpiper was my first southbound shorebird of the season.

Wren was happy for this – it had been a great paddle, but she was glad to trade her seat in the boat for a swim once we arrived back at the take-out. We had only paddled for a couple hours, but she was overjoyed to cool off. That's one of the great things about the Sacandaga. It offers hours of exploration if you want, but it can also be paddled in a relatively short amount of time. I loaded up while Wren enjoyed the water and we headed on our way.

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