Spring Birds & Peepers

An Afternoon and Evening of Exploring Around Little Tupper Lake and Round Lake

A nice day to head out

While our recent weather has been wet and raw, it had been warmer not long ago and on a day when we could find a gap in the rain, Wren and I headed south of Tupper Lake to the area around Little Tupper Lake and the William C. Whitney Wilderness Area in northern Hamilton County.

With plans to paddle, we started with a walk for Wren as we headed in along Round Pond Road, a dirt path with easement access to a selection of habitats.

In doing so we found a number of early spring birds in the late afternoon, including Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Blue-headed Vireo, and a mixed flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Ruby and Golden-crowned Kinglets. I also heard my first singing Nashville Warbler of the season.

Nashville Warbler - Larry
I heard my first Nashville Warbler of the season while we were hiking. Photo courtesy of www.masterimages.org.

Next we checked out Little Tupper Lake, first from Sabattis Road and then from the DEC complex a short way along it. We found a similar assortment of birds – many of which fed quietly in the late day light – and Wren played and swam at the beach while I listened to a Merlin chatter from the nearby pines.

Little Tupper Lake

We headed back down Sabattis Road toward the put-in for Round Lake – my planned paddle for the end of the day. An American Bittern began to pump from the nearby marsh at the outlet for Little Tupper Lake and a choir of spring peepers was already beginning to warm up its vocals – foreshadowing what was to come.

I also found a Common Loon and an Osprey along the lake. Even more exciting, I spotted a Red-necked Grebe resting on the water – it looked beautiful in the bright, low sun.

The grebes have been spotted all over the region of late and late April and early May is often a good time of year to find them on their way north. I clicked a few distant shots of the grebe as a swarm of Tree Swallows came overhead feeding on insects around the tops of the trees. I unloaded the boat and gear, and drove the car back to the designated parking area before pushing off.

Red-necked Grebe
Although a bit distant in this photo, we had a great look at this Red-necked Grebe.

Round Lake Paddle

Although it was windy – making the open lake a daunting challenge – I wanted to test whether I could get closer to the grebe for better photos in the sunlight. But as we slid beneath the bridge which connects Little Tupper to the Round Lake channel and began to ply the rolling waters, the grebe dived, not allowing us to get too close. Rather than pester it – and to save myself the hassle of negotiating the windy waves – I turned and we headed out along the bog- and marsh-lined channel to Round Lake.

Wren.Round Lake Channel
Wren dozed while I tried to snap shots of the low sun while fighting the wind.

The wind continued to confront us on the more sheltered waters of the channel, and every time I tried to take photos of the low sun or the sunset, it spun us around and I had to wrestle the boat back into the correct direction. Although a bit frustrating, it was still a splendid evening, and I managed to tuck in along the vegetation to help stabilize the boat when I was playing with my camera. Wren alternated between dozing and watching the scenery as we floated along.

We spotted flyover Mallards, American Black Ducks, a Ring-necked Duck, and a Hooded Merganser as we went, but we had more fun with the Bald Eagle which had chosen a beaver lodge as its roost. Once again, I tried to take photos of it, but the wind kept spinning the boat around as soon as I stopped paddling to line up a shot – and I imagined the eagle wondering what was wrong with this guy who seemed to be paddling so erratically.

I also wondered what the beavers thought of the eagle's choice as a resting place, although they had little say in the matter. Perhaps seeing us as an easier target to frighten off, the beavers seemed to take exception to our presence, and began their usual tail-slapping ritual which we see every time we paddle in the late afternoon and evening. As usual Wren became alert with each splash.

We soon found a pair of Common Goldeneye – lingering a bit, but that's not unusual for some species of waterfowl and some goldeneye breed in the region even if most of them head north. The pair flew back toward the put-in and I figured we'd see them later – which we did.

Bald Eagle - beaver lodge
This Bald Eagle had made itself comfortable on this beaver lodge.

Spring peepers in full throat!

As we reached the lake, the wind became a much larger obstacle and rather than struggle against it in the fading light, I chose to use it to push us back to the boat launch. Swamp and Song Sparrows tried to broadcast their voices above the growing chorus of spring peepers and I stopped along the shoreline in search of birds as the evening light crept across the landscape.

But the din of the peepers was so shrill that I had to move on, deciding that I would look for nocturnal birds another time. A short distance further, we heard another American Bittern pumping but I remained in the middle of the channel rather than trying to get close to shore and have the peepers pierce my eardrums any more.

American Bittern
I heard two American Bitterns pumping as we went - but didn't want to linger close to shore with the din of peepers!

In fact, the cries of the peepers soon became so overwhelming that it was not only difficult to hear anything else, but difficult to focus even on paddling. The air reverberated with their earsplitting hollers, the bubbling over of springtime hormones in tiny bodies. It was as if the world was electrified by the sound so that you could power a small village on their screams. It was both overpowering and captivating at the same time.

Even the Bald Eagle had vacated its spot on the beaver lodge – perhaps to preserve its own sanity – and I could certainly not blame it. I eventually began to paddle harder to reach the launch, even as the deafening music sought to draw me in with its assertive life.

It was relieving to reach the take-out which thankfully did not hold an additional choir of peepers. More distant now, they sounded peaceful and created a nice ambience as I lashed the boat back on the top of the car while an American Woodcock buzzed and twittered his display from nearby.

Northern Saw-whet Owl - Larry
A Northern Saw-whet Owl topped off our trip. Photo courtesy of www.masterimages.org.

But there was one more tooting sound which I wanted to hear to wrap up our trip. And so after listening for a spell to the peepers, the woodcock, and the still-pumping American Bittern from the nearby marsh, Wren and I headed down the road where I sought relatively peeper-free spots (that is, quiet!) along the road to toot for Northern Saw-whet Owls.

It took a few tries but I finally got one to answer – this one a soft tooting perhaps of a female answering my calls. The subtle response was in direct contrast to the outspoken demeanor of the peepers, and it whispered a gentle end of the day before we headed home.

Spring and summer offer both great birding and great paddling. Plan your trip today by visiting our lodging and dining pages.


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