Blowing off work for something more fun
Editor's note: As the seasons change, so do our winged friends. Have you ever tried to identify the sounds of the seasons — the voices calling from overhead, from the top of tree, or deep in the marsh? If so, you're not alone. The Tupper Lake Region is prime boreal territory, and our blogger gives us a bit of insight into what you might discover on an average Adirondack day in the life of a birder.
Always looking for an excuse to go birding
Whenever I need to drive some place for work or an appointment I try to use the trip to do a little birding. Such was the case the other week when I needed to be in Tupper Lake for most of the day. As I often do during the colder seasons, I started along the Tupper Lake Causeway to see what I could find in the expanse of Tupper Lake Marsh. Ducks were in fairly short supply, dominated by a cluster of Mallards, but I found a couple of American Black Ducks, and a lone female Red-breasted Merganser – not an easy bird to find in the middle of the park. I also noted a hunting Northern Harrier and two Red-tailed Hawks – not the last raptors I would see on the day.
I drove to the public boat launch hoping I could see something different from that vantage point. And while there were no more ducks, I did spot a Common Loon. Of more interest to me, the bushes were packed with sparrows – most of them Dark-eyed Juncos, but I also found White-throated, Chipping, Song, Swamp, and two Fox Sparrows – one of my favorite fall birds. A late Ruby-crowned Kinglet also flitted low in the bushes and the tops of the trees were graced by Purple Finches, American Goldfinches and groups of Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles which gave rough calls as they flew to and fro in the branches. As I was getting ready to leave, the notes of American Pipits squeaked overhead and I watched a small group head south along the lake.
Checking out Little Tupper Lake
Encouraged by the success at my first stops, I decided to push off work and drive south into the central Adirondacks to explore around Little Tupper Lake. I had seen some ducks in that area recently, and quickly spotted a knot of Ring-necked Ducks along the channel which connects Round Lake to Little Tupper. From there I drove to the William C Whitney Wilderness Area Headquarters and walked around for views of the lake. I found no ducks – just a few more Common Loons. But like I did at the Tupper Lake Boat Launch, I found a miscellany of songbirds – once again led in numbers by Dark-eyed Juncos. But there were also Yellow-rumped Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, a Brown Creeper, both Red and White-breasted Nuthatches, and a few Pine Siskins. More exciting still was the small group of Red Crossbills I found calling in the tall pines.
I finally decided I needed to head back to Tupper Lake so I could work in the public library – as I had planned. But as I was driving back along Sabattis Road I spotted a flock of Bohemian Waxwings flying up and down from feeding in the low shrubs along the wetland at the end of the lake. These were the first Bohemians I had found this year and I pulled my car over to enjoy them. It was then that I noticed a birding friend of mine pulling into the canoe launch parking area and I waved her down, beckoning for her to come over and see them. The birds were moving around quite a bit but we eventually counted 23 of them – there may have been more.
Too many good birds to leave!
With the trills of the Bohemians as our backdrop, we began to chat about birds, baseball, and everything else in between and gradually began to amass a nice list. First, I spotted a Red-shouldered Hawk flying along the spine of the lake – riding the winds on its way south. Then we had a couple Common Mergansers on the water, and a river of American Crows flying overhead. We continued watching the Bohemians and American Robins feeding in the bushes and later added species like American Tree Sparrow and Hermit Thrush. And each time one of us said we should get going, something else would show up! It was almost as if our attempts to part were a cue for the birds to delay us – my friend kept saying that birding is more fun than work anyway!
Soon a group of three Gray Jays found us and sat looking inquisitively for handouts. My friend was well-prepared for this request and got out food - the jays making short work of her generosity. Another flock of American Pipits flew overhead, and just when we had both said goodbye and were finally walking back to our cars… I spotted a Golden Eagle cruising overhead! My friend excitedly got out her scope and we had great views as it slowly glided past. It led us into another fun conversation about birds, but eventually we both realized we needed to go. It was well past lunch at this point!
And so, while our meeting seemed ordained by the gods of good birding luck, we headed off in the name of responsibility. But before I finally gave into the duties which had been calling me all day, I stopped along Route 30 where it runs along the south end of Tupper Lake just north of Route 421. There I found a White-winged Scoter and another Red-breasted Merganser to top off my day.