A song of summer in Malone
Flooded fields can be a nuisance to farmers and a frustration to road crews, but they are a boon to birds on their way north and to the birders in search for them. It all begins in winter as the snow piles up deeper and deeper and we don cross-country skis and hit the trail in search of adventure. Winter in the North Country is difficult and stubborn to push out, but eventually the spring sun and the lengthening days are able to wedge it free from the landscape, melting the snow into puddles, pools, and ponds, all of which attract birds.
A pecking order
Many of the first birds to arrive on the scene are songbirds like Song Sparrows, Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds, but the pools of water are soon drawing in ducks and other waterfowl on their way through the region to breed to our north. Common species like Mallard and American Black Duck are joined by less common birds like Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, and Gadwall, all of which utilize the farm fields and the St. Lawrence River on their journey. Large ponds of water can also attract diving ducks like Bufflehead and Ring-necked Duck, and waterfowl-loving birders should also consider heading to the Champlain Valley in search of thousands of ducks on the move - they can check out that website here.
As the waterfowl push north, more songbirds are arriving to replace them. Savannah Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, Tree Swallows, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Eastern Bluebirds take up residence in the fields and hedgerows of the St. Lawrence Valley. Other species, like Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, are more common in the woodlands, and Dark-eyed Juncos can be heard filling the April air with their buzzing and ringing trills as local feeders attract Fox Sparrows. They all sit under the watchful eyes of migrating raptors, and soon Osprey return to their monstrous nests and American Kestrels patrol from the wires along backroads.
Migrate into May
But in truth, these are only just the beginning as the main thrust of the migration is still to come. For as the May sun breaks upon the landscape, it does so with Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in its wake, and an army of White-crowned Sparrows in full song. Soon the month is full of Red-eyed Vireos, Scarlet Tanagers, Warbling Vireos, Black-billed Cuckoos, American Bitterns, Virginia Rails, Bobolinks, Eastern Kingbirds, Eastern Wood-Pewees, and an assortment of warblers. Twenty species of warblers breed in the Olympic Region in the Adirondacks alone, and birders in Northern Franklin County may be able to add species like Golden-winged Warbler to that list. Other species like Tennessee, Wilson's, and Bay-breasted move through the region on their way north.
And while all of this is happening in the surrounding woodlands, the farm fields, the marshes - and those puddles - are still in play. Depending on how much rain we receive, the remaining pools can attract a variety of shorebirds on their way north in May. They may stick for only a day - or maybe even a few hours - they are compelled to head north to breed during the short arctic summer.
As June approaches, it is a good idea for birders to migrate themselves - to the North Country and the Great Adirondack Birding Celebration at the Paul Smith's College VIC. Then they can explore boreal habitats in the Adirondacks, where they can not only find an array of conifer-loving warblers, but also Olive-sided and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Lincoln's Sparrows, Gray Jays, Black-backed Woodpeckers, and Boreal Chickadees. The event marks the transition of spring into summer, which flows smoothly each year like meltwater pooled in farm fields, on its way to the St. Lawrence.