Paddling, Exploring, and Reflecting on Tooley Pond

A Tucked Away Gem

Alan Belford

An opportunity to explore

My teaching and field work responsibilities often take me to the northwest and north central Adirondacks, and I was recently able to take advantage of that by exploring Tooley Pond Road, which runs north of Cranberry Lake on its way to Degrasse. The road is a winding and twisting route – complete at times with large logging trucks – leading through a variety of habitats which in turn makes for great birding.I found a Yellow-throated Vireo toward the northwest end of the road. Image courtesy of

And so I poked my way along the road, pausing for birds like Scarlet Tanagers, Ruffed Grouse, a Black-backed Woodpecker, and a Yellow-throated Vireo. The road is also good for Philadelphia Vireo, and although I didn’t find one on this trip, I did find seventeen species of warblers – not a bad tally!

Paddling Tooley Pond

A few miles up the road, I reached Tooley Pond itself, initially parking so I could continue my birding of the forests and along the water’s edge. But I soon unloaded my canoe and set off on the mirror of the pond, looking down at the shapes of the large rocks that decorated the bottom and watching them disappear into the darkness when I reached deeper water.Tooley Pond was beautiful as I set off.

As I pretty much always do, I hugged the shoreline, as it allows me to keep birding and looking for wildlife as I paddle, and I can hide in the shade of the trees on the beautiful but warming day. And so my bird list continued to lengthen with Pine Warbler, Purple Finch, Hermit Thrush, and a few Turkey Vultures and Broad-winged Hawks, which began to rise on the thermals forming over the trees.Aptly named, Pine Warblers sang from the white pines which lined the shoreline as I paddled.

The southern end of the pond is marked by a beautiful little bog mat which not only creates fun nooks to explore for paddling, but also provides an additional habitat for birds and I soon added Swamp Sparrows, Palm Warblers, a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and an Olive-sided Flycatcher calling loudly for "Quick, three beers!" as it perched on top of a snag. I waited for a chance to get photos of the Olive-sided, but it never came close enough so I settled for images of the bog mat and the rest of the placid setting.I listened to an Olive-sided Flycatcher sing "Quick, three beers!" for a while.

After going as far as the pond would allow me, I turned and wound my way back along the bog mat with a plan to follow the opposite (western) shoreline of the pond on my way back to the car. But I noticed another paddler on the water who was clearly training his young dog on proper canoe etiquette, so I turned away from them rather than to provide his dog with an unneeded distraction as it learned to sit still in the boat. As I did so an American Black Duck arrived with a splash in the backwater created by the bog mat and I paused again, this time for a while, to take in the idyllic scene.

Soaking in my surroundings

That’s one of the best things about paddling here in the Adirondacks, and in particular small bodies of water like Tooley Pond. There are times when I have to cover ground and move quickly to get to a campsite or a location for fieldwork, when time presses me to work hard as I hike a trail or cross a lake. But small waterbodies can be paddled so quickly that I often don’t feel any pressure to keep pushing on when I explore them. And so I allow myself to stop, sit, listen, and breathe in the air around me. Call it a chance to physically rest or de-stress — both of which are true — but I find it often goes beyond that. It offers a chance when I can pause to absorb my surroundings and to feel a part of the world around me. I may work in the field all the time, but even folks like me need to reflect in the natural world and to let it sink in. And so I often take such moments when I paddle, leaving my agenda behind in favor of something a whole lot more tranquil.It was a peaceful setting for some reflection.

I eventually broke from my relaxed and reflected state to finish paddling back to the take-out, where I loaded up my car and continued my birding – restful, low-key birding, mind you – along the road.

Summer is here and it is a great time of year to head out exploring, birding, paddling, and relaxing in the natural world around us. Plan your trip today with our lodging and dining pages.