As it can be across the North Country, winter in the St. Lawrence Valley and around Malone can be summed up in one word: snow. It begins during the fall when thousands of Snow Geese descend upon the area, cramming into the pond at the Malone Rec. Park in seemingly sardine-like conditions. The Snows are joined there by Canada Geese as well as less common species like Greater White-fronted, Ross's, Cackling, and, this year, a Pink-footed Goose.
Waterfowl and White-winged Gulls
But as the temps drop and Thanksgiving comes and goes, the pond gets drained and the geese must find other places to congregate, like Lamica Lake along the Salmon River. Soon enough, the white geese are forced south by cold north winds, and they are replaced by the white of real snow across the fields of the valley.
If birders still want to find waterfowl, they must head a short distance north to the St. Lawrence River itself, where places like Robert Moses State Park can offer a wide assortment of species. The swirling open waters of Robert Moses are also great for wintering gulls, and the park may be the best place in the entire state to find white-winged gulls like Glaucous and Iceland as a result.
Field Birds and Raptors
The snow covered fields of winter become home to Snow Buntings which can form large flocks in the corn stubble, and may be joined by Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, or American Tree Sparrows in the hedgerows. Northern Shrikes may be hunting from the hedgerows as well - watching for unwary birds - while other predators like Red-tailed Hawks and Rough-legged Hawks patrol the skies above. Northern Harriers hunt low over the grasses, and local bird feeders may attract a Cooper's Hawk in search of a meal.
Winter Finches and Boreal Species
That means that the American Goldfinches, Purple Finches, and Pine Siskins that may be feeding there need to be watchful. Birders should be watchful themselves for less common species like Evening Grosbeaks, which may start coming regularly to certain feeders. In some years Common Redpolls also show up at local feeders, and they may bring Hoary Redpolls with them. Even less common, Pine Grosbeaks only move south of the Canadian border every so often in search of food and in such years they are usually spotted in town, dining on ornamental fruit trees. Bohemian Waxwings are much more regular in the region, coming most winters, and they too are fruit lovers, gulping down whatever is available to them. And they are often joined at the feast by species like American Robin and Cedar Waxwing.
Other species also move south in search of food, including both Red- and White-winged Crossbills, meaning it may be time for a day trip south into the Adirondacks, where the areas north of Saranac Lake and near Paul Smiths have been good for them this year. In fact, both species of crossbills nested in the region this summer thanks to our bumper cone crop on our conifers, and they are expected to stick around all winter as well. And, while birders are searching for crossbills, they will find themselves in some of the coniferous and boreal habitats of the region, where they can find resident Gray Jays, Boreal Chickadees, and Black-backed Woodpeckers. It means a winter trip into the Adirondacks is requisite to any snowy adventure to the region, and birders can check out the Saranac Lake website to learn more.
Finally, in some years, wintering owls move south from Canada - perhaps a Northern Hawk Owl or the Great Gray owls we enjoyed last year. This year is anticipated to be excellent for Snowy Owls, and they have been found across the North Country with winter only just beginning. The owls are arriving from the arctic after a successful summer raising young, and they can be found in fields across the St. Lawrence Valley, including those at the Malone-Dufort Airport.
And so as outdoor enthusiasts dive through deep powder and comfort seekers curl up to watch the snow by a warm fire, others will find snow gliding over the landscape on long, white wings. After all, winter is a great time to explore the North Country.