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Posts Tagged ‘Adirondacks’

When I committed to this trip nearly a year ago, I checked to see if any life birds would be possible.  I found three possibilities – Spruce Grouse, Northern Goshawk, and Little Gull.  They were all far from guaranteed; the Spruce Grouse would be nearly impossible.  But, I wanted to try, so I made plans to hire Joan Collins, owner of Adirondack Avian Expeditions.  The original plan was for Joan, David, and I to spend Friday looking for my birds, but Derek had joined our group since that plan was made.  The weather also affected our plans with rain forecast for Friday, so Derek and I were guided by Joan on Thursday.  We added a few birds to our wish list – Black-backed Woodpecker, which would be a life bird for Derek, Black-billed Cuckoo because it’s a cool bird and we had not seen it often enough, and Boreal Chickadee because Derek had not seen it in the US.

We saw several Black-and-White Warblers in the mixed flocks that we encountered. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

We saw several Black-and-White Warblers in the mixed flocks that we encountered. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Joan picked Derek and me up at 5:30 AM on August 15.  After a quick stop for breakfast (to eat on the way), we headed to Spring Pond Bog, a conglomeration of properties owned by hunt clubs, a small bit of private land, and The Nature Conservancy (Spring Pond Bog Preserve).  There is only one entrance into this area with a manned security gate.  We began seeing birds on the entrance road before we even got to the gate.  We had our first mixed flock of the day with several warblers.  We also saw a pair of Red Crossbills and a Blackburnian Warbler dustbathing in the gravel road.

Red Crossbill (male). Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Red Crossbill (male). Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Joan soon heard both a Black-backed Woodpecker and a Black-billed Cuckoo calling.  The woodpecker did not cooperate, but the cuckoo could not have been much more accommodating.  He gave us good views on both sides of the road and loudly sang for 20 minutes, “coo-coo-coo coo-coo-coo.”

Black-billed Cuckoo. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Black-billed Cuckoo. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Early in the day we saw this very young sparrow.  Initially I thought it was a White-throated Sparrow, but now I’m not certain.  It will join the list of things to research after the trip.  Babies frequently look so different from adults that identification of even common species can be a challenge, especially with species that do not breed where we live.

Juvenile sparrow [Update: it has been identified by experts as a Song Sparrow.]

Juvenile sparrow [Update: it has been identified by experts as a Song Sparrow.]

We finally made it to the gate and were waved through as Joan has permission from The Nature Conservancy to use their property.  The entire area is beautiful and much more birdy than any place Derek and I had visited earlier in our trip.

Derek and Joan looking for waterfowl on Rock Lake

Derek and Joan looking for waterfowl on Rock Lake

The entire day was wonderful and filled with surprises. Joan and Derek may have seen a Northern Goshawk quickly fly over a wetland and into the trees, but I was on the wrong side of the car for even a quick glimpse.  However, the rarest bird of the day was amazingly a Black Vulture.  There are only two or three reports of this species in the Adirondacks. In birding, rarity is mostly about location and Black Vulture is a more southern species, but its range is slowly expanding northward.

We frequently heard Hermit Thrushes singing throughout the day.  We had a few views of the birds, too.  This one held onto his beakful of bugs the entire time we watched.  It seemed as if he were saying “Would you hurry up and leave already so that I can feed my babies.”

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

We could have spent days exploring Spring Pond Bog, but we had to leave a little before 4:00 PM so that we could drive to Albany to pick up David and Derek’s car at the airport (where we had left it four days earlier).  The three of us had dinner together a little north of the airport and then we drove back to Tupper Lake.  The drive would normally take an hour on the Interstate and then another hour and a half on two-lane county roads, but the rain and fog made it even longer.  David and I got back shortly before midnight and Derek pulled in 20 minutes later at 12:15 AM.  It was a long day!  But there would be no rest for us as we had made plans to go out with Joan again on Friday.  The weather forecast had changed to give us a dry window between 8:00 AM and 2:00 PM to look for Black-backed Woodpecker at another location that Joan said was more reliable.

We met Joan as planned and started with roadside birding after picking up food for breakfast and lunch.

Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Within a few minutes Joan heard a Black-backed Woodpecker across the road.  She gestured towards the thick forest and said something like “You guys are OK with going in there, aren’t you”?  We all said yes and then Joan ran up the side of the road and plunged into the woods.

Bushwhacking through boreal forest was worth it, though, for Joan found a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers and we saw both the male and female well.  We would never have found birds at this location on our own.  Joan’s hearing is supernatural and her knowledge of these woodpeckers and their behavior were directly responsible for our encounter with them.

Black-backed Woodpecker (female). Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Black-backed Woodpecker (female). Photo by Derek Hudgins.

We ran into an old snowmobile road and used it off and on while following the woodpeckers and then we finally walked on it back to the highway.  We found other treasures besides the woodpeckers in those deep woods.

Red eft, the juvenile stage of Eastern (red-spotted) newt. These widespread, native salamanders of eastern North America can live for 12-15 years!

Red eft, the juvenile stage of Eastern (red-spotted) newt. These widespread, native salamanders of eastern North America can live for 12-15 years!

Wood Frog. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Wood Frog. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Later Joan told us about the breeding behavior of Black-backed Woodpeckers.  The male excavates the nest.  He does all of the nighttime incubation and most of the daytime incubation.  He also does most of the feeding.  Joan said she has rarely seen a female feed young.  She described the females as lazy and told one fascinating story.  A female flew in and landed near her nest tree with food in her beak.  A juvenile in the nest was screaming to be fed.  The female sat there a few moments, ate the insects she had been holding, and then flew away.

After we had our fill of woodpeckers, we drove to another roadside birding location to look for Boreal Chickadees.  Amazingly, we found over a dozen of these adorable little birds.  Joan said that specific location is the only place that she has ever seen so many in one area.

Boreal Chickadee. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Boreal Chickadee. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

We also saw quite a few warblers along the roadside with the chickadees and other birds during the day.  The rain held off a little longer than expected and we were able to keep birding until after 4:00 PM.  Our two days with Joan were the highlight of our trip.  Joan Collins is phenomenal and we highly recommend her as a birding guide in the Adirondacks.

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Black-backed Woodpecker is one of the most highly desired birds in the Adirondacks.  These woodpeckers are boreal specialists with most of their range in Canada.  They feed mainly on the larvae of wood-boring beetles which they can actually hear in the depths of the tree.  Their long bills allow them to reach deep under the bark to reach their prey.  Bloomingdale Bog has many reports of the woodpecker and it is also a good place to see other boreal species like Boreal Chickadee and Canada Jay.

A Canada Jay surveys the area

A Canada Jay surveys the area.

Derek and I spent all morning in this area on Wednesday.  It is nice easy birding with dirt roads and well-maintained wide trails.  We were not successful with our search for Black-backed Woodpecker, but we thoroughly enjoyed birding this area.  We saw Canada Jays and other northern breeding birds – Sharp-shinned Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Hermit Thrush, and Black-capped Chickadees.

Canadian Bunchberry, a member of the dogwood family, was abundant along the roadsides in the bog

Canadian Bunchberry, a member of the dogwood family, was abundant along the roadsides in the bog.

We also saw pretty Bottle Gentian along the roadsides

We also saw pretty Bottle Gentian along the roadsides.

Canada Jays may be one of my favorite birds; they certainly rank high on the list of birds that are fun.  These jays are naturally inquisitive, but 20 years of hand feeding at Bloomingdale Bog has resulted in especially tame birds.  At this location, Canada Jays will eat out of your hand.  Here is Derek with an offering of raisins, a favorite food of the jays.

Offering accepted

Offering accepted

After we finished playing with the Canada Jays, we headed north on the trail towards a small wetland. We ran into our first warbler wave of the day, which was a mixed flock of birds ranging from Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches to a Nashville Warbler, Blue-headed Vireos, and Magnolia Warblers.

We then had a quick lunch and checked out nearby Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC).  The hiking trails were gorgeous.

Along the Boreal Trail at Paul Smith's Visitor Interpretive Center

Along the Boreal Trail at Paul Smith’s Visitor Interpretive Center

An interesting woodland wildflower we saw there was Indian Pipe, also called Ghost Pipe or Ghost Plant, which grows in mature moist shaded forests throughout most of North America.  This plant is unusual in that it is entirely white and able to survive without the green pigment chlorophyll.  Instead of generating energy from sunlight, it is parasitic.  Its hosts are certain fungi that are mycorrhizal with tree roots.

Indian Pipe

Indian Pipe

The Boreal Trail at Paul Smith’s VIC leads to a lovely bog where we saw Pitcher Plants.

Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia purpurea, at the VIC

Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia purpurea, at the VIC

The friendly folks at the VIC identified several wildflowers that Derek photographed.  We enjoyed chatting with them before and after our walks about the local birds, plants, and the Adirondacks and found them very helpful.

Derek and I really liked this area of the Adirondacks and we were happy that we would have two and a half more days here.

Red squirrel at Paul Smith's Visitor Interpretive Center

Red squirrel at Paul Smith’s Visitor Interpretive Center

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