Editor's note: As much as we love fall, it's always nice to look back on summer in the Adirondacks. Read on as our blogger recalls a late-summer birdwatching adventure he went on.
A Cool, Foggy Morning
I went birding with a friend the other day in Madawaska in search of boreal species and warblers. My friend was interested in finding a Spruce Grouse - like I had done when leading a trip there in June -- and while we didn't come up with one, our day was quite successful nonetheless. After all, our weather has been amazing as of late, and even without the birds the warm, sunny day and the tinted and changing fall leaves would have been worth the trip alone.
The late summer day dawned cool and foggy, but by the time we met the sun was already burning off most of the nighttime shroud of clouds. Only the stubborn low, wet places and a few meadows held their covering for a little while longer.
Great Birding Along the Road
As I pretty much always do in Madawaska, I worked the road as we went and we started along Keese Mills Road out of Paul Smiths -- on our way to Blue Mountain Road -- stopping along the way. Our first few stops were at some of the ponds and waterways that sit along the road, and we began what would become an impressive list of warblers, with several Yellow-rumped Warblers in each place we paused. They were joined by the likes of Red-eyed Vireos, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Blue-headed Vireos, and Black-capped Chickadees. A short distance further down the road we noted a male Black-throated Blue Warbler.
My songbird strategy at this time of year is often to listen for Black-capped Chickadees and other birds with which the warblers might be associating, and we hadn't continued much further since our last stop when I heard a bunch of chickadees chattering. We paused along the side of the road to check it out, and we were glad we did.
Our pause along the road soon developed into a full stop. We quickly found both a Swainson's Thrush and an Ovenbird as we dallied, and it became evident we needed to get out of the truck and explore a bit further. The birches, alders, willows, maples, and other trees and shrubs around us seemed to be dripping with birds and Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere. We were also soon adding multiple Pine Warblers, Tennessee Warblers, Northern Parulas, Blackburnian Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, and a Bay-breasted Warbler. There were also Blue-headed Vireos, Scarlet Tanagers, Purple Finches, a Philadelphia Vireo, and at least one Rose-breasted Grosbeak -- all mixed together with loads of Cedar Waxwings and Black-capped Chickadees -- and we stood along the road for almost an hour sifting through the constantly-shuffling deck of birds.
The birds eventually moved off through the trees, but it was difficult for us to find the willpower to move on as well. It seemed every time we thought about doing so we would find an additional species for our list. Amazing though that was, we reluctantly headed down the road, stopping in a few places and adding species like Common Yellowthroat, Nashville Warbler, Palm Warbler, Eastern Wood-Pewee, and Broad-winged Hawk at subsequent stops.
Hiking and Birding
When the birding is good along Keese Mills Road and Blue Mountain Road, as it was on this day, it takes an inordinate amount of time to reach Indian Rock parking area -- if I even feel like getting there at all. But we did eventually arrive at the parking area with plans to walk toward Madawaska Pond in search of boreal birds. By that time of the day, the sun was high and warm, so we packed a few snacks and water for our walk along the dirt two-track. The mid-day birding was slower than it had been along the road, but we soon padded our warbler list with three Cape May Warblers while continuing to spot Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers -- as well as many Northern Flickers -- as we went.
We also added the first Gray Jays of our trip -- a small family group -- before stopping for a snack. We didn't walk all the way to the pond itself, which proved to be a good choice as the mixed flocks we found on the way out included a Blackpoll Warbler as well as two Boreal Chickadees.
More Birds Along the Road
We were hungry when we returned to the parking area, so we sat in the bed of the truck while taking a late lunch and spotting an adult Bald Eagle soaring overhead as sort of a lunchtime bonus. After a short detour further along Blue Mountain Road toward Quebec Brook, we began the long, winding drive back out, stopping here and there again on the way.
One of my favorite boreal habitats along the route held a collection of feeding Eastern Phoebes and Cedar Waxwings, and I hooted for Barred Owl to see what else I might be able to agitate into view. This had the benefit of annoying a nearby female Black-backed Woodpecker, which landed while calling on a dead tree nearby, and we watched her search in vain for the hooting owl. Another family of Gray Jays -- as well as a raucous cluster of Blue Jays -- also took issue with the owl (that is, me), and after a couple minutes we continued on rather than harassing the birds more.
After a few more short stops, we arrived back at the place that was so active with birds that morning. To our surprise, it was still incredibly lively. There must have been something about the sun on the trees, the neighboring stream, and the trees and shrubs that made the insects particularly plentiful there. We stopped again to sort through the changing mix, which again was composed of lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers, but this time it also held many Pine Warblers to go along with species like Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-headed Vireo, and Blackburnian, Black-throated Green, and Blackpoll warblers, as well as our first Chestnut-sided Warbler of the day -- our 15th warbler species on the trip.
I think we could have stayed in that spot the rest of the day, straight into the night, and continued to find new species that we hadn't noted previously. But responsibilities tugged at our sleeves, and we finally moved down the road toward home. As we arrived in town we spotted a Common Nighthawk overhead, perhaps the last I'll see this year as most have migrated south from the region. It was a nice cap-off to an excellent day.