The opening act of the birding year begins as the cold and snow of winter set the introductory mood, and when most of our species are enjoying much sunnier and warmer climes rather than braving the Adirondack cold. But that doesn't mean that the year begins without any promotional hype. On the contrary, winter can offer some excellent birding in the Adirondacks.
For instance, Bohemian Waxwings are regular barnstormers from the north, often found during late fall and early winter when they first appear on the scene. But the cast of winter players is headlined by northern finches - Common Redpolls, Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Grosbeaks, and Red and White-winged Crossbills - which vary in number from year to year depending upon the availability of food here and to our north.
The grosbeaks, waxwings, and redpolls are often seen in town at fruit trees or bird feeders, while the crossbills are more easily found entertaining birders in coniferous habitats, such as those south of Tupper around Sabattis Bog. These same habitats are also home to our resident boreal species (call them the local talent) like Canada Jay, Boreal Chickadee, and Black-backed Woodpecker - and no birder should forget that they can find them throughout the year.
The performance of spring
As long as winter lasts in the Adirondacks, it does not play the main stage forever. The longer days and warming sun of March begin to loosen the grip of the cold, and we begin a new act that starts with American Robins on bare patches of grass, Red-winged Blackbirds calling from cattails in snow-covered Tupper Lake Marsh, and migrating ducks finding open water along the Tupper Lake Causeway. Soon Merlins are chattering from the tops of our white pines, and our yards are filled with Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows. These are joined by a long list of other migrating sparrows like Fox and Vesper, a rhythm section of drumming Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and the pumping calls of American Bitterns from Tupper Lake Marsh, all composing the introduction for the act's main performance.
As such, April brings an amazing change across the landscape, but it is just setting the scene for the entrance of the birds that define May. The lead roles in this drama seemingly change daily as new arrivals steal the show from those already on stage. The curtain of May lifts as Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, early warblers, and migrating White-crowned Sparrows make their first appearance, but with each passing day new members of the cast arrive to take their place in the spotlight. Soon the entire company is assembled and the full chorus is a wonder to behold. Tanagers, grosbeaks, flycatchers, sparrows, buntings, swallows, vireos, and over twenty species of warblers can be found at the height of migration, most of which will remain to nest during the summer.
When the performance of May has ended, the birds set to work raising their young, making early summer one of the most diverse times of year to bird the Adirondacks. Birders should pack the front seats for the continuing show and explore natural theaters like Massawepie Mire, Spring Pond Bog, the wild places south of Tupper like Sabattis Bog and Little Tupper Lake, and any trail or paddle on which they'd like to adventure. And there isn't time to waste - the show isn't in town forever.
For the music begins to wind down as we progress into the second week of July, and some members of the company stop singing altogether. The birds are still there, they just begin to play more hide-and-seek rather than being part of the full production. Some may even begin to leave town for their next gig.
Although it's a little less vibrant, the act during the latter half of summer can feature new arrivals from the arctic like shorebirds, as well as large mixed-species flocks of songbirds. As a result, August is one of the most exciting months of the year to bird the Adirondacks as our ensemble of birds is inflated by those from our north. The cast may not be as musical as they had been in spring, but their costumes are still beautiful and each passing flock offers a chance to find something of interest.
All too soon, the entire show begins to leave - headed to play the stage at other towns and for other audiences. And so, as late summer gives way to early fall in September, we find our bird diversity lower, but those that remain are not simply unpaid local actors. In fact, the fall still offers us mixed flocks of Red-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Ruby and Golden-crowned Kinglets, lingering warblers, and large troupes of sparrows. The fall is also often the best time of year to find stray birds making cameos in the region - out of place or blown off-course during their migration.
Fall also brings with it a pageant of waterfowl and other aquatic species which migrate through the Adirondacks and stop over on Tupper Lake and Tupper Lake Marsh. The cast can include anything from Ring-necked Ducks to Lesser Scaup to Red-breasted Mergansers to Red-necked Grebes, and their appearance may last for days or be a brief one-stop show. For the cold autumn winds soon blow them south - the same winds which bring us migrating raptors overhead and our first Northern Shrikes, Snow Buntings, and American Tree Sparrows of the season.
Soon we are listening for Bohemian Waxwings and those northern finches again as our lakes freeze up and the theater scales back operations with select performances for such species only. It is the beginning of winter, and the start of the yearly drama of Adirondack birds begins again.
Leave No Trace
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.