My summer weekend adventures continued this past weekend with a long-awaited trip to the Adirondacks. Jim Pawlicki, Shawn Billerman, and I made a trip up to the Old Forge, Saranac Lake, and Lake Placid areas for some target boreal bird specialties, and one unique boreal herp.
We started at Ferd's Bog near Inlet around 7pm Friday evening. We had a Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus) nest staked out by some contacts Shawn made before the trip. This is a boreal-specialty woodpecker that is only found in the 'Daks in NY. According to Shawn's research, a Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides dorsalis) was associating with these birds, which is the rarer of the two boreal woodpeckers in the Adirondacks, and is much harder to find.
The evening started slow, and we picked up a few neat local breeders, including Lincoln's Sparrow singing and carrying food for its young, and a chorus of White-throated Sparrows. Shawn and I found some Pink Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium acaule) including an alba variety:
While Shawn and I worked the woods near the bog for woodpeckers, Jim began a series of incessant Barred Owl hoots from the bog boardwalk. No woodpeckers responded, but a Common Raven (Corvus corax) and two Gray Jays (Perisoreus canadensis) came in to investigate.
We gave up at dusk, and camped at Limekiln Lake, where we had the good fortune of having a lakefront site and a serenade of Bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana). Disappointingly, we heard no Loons, nor did we have any at all during the trip.
We returned to Ferd's bright and early Saturday, at 5:30am. Just as we entered the spruce woods surrounding the bog, we heard a Black-backed Woodpecker calling and drumming. We located a male on a snag, drumming and preening.
We got excellent scope views of this lifer for all involved. What happened next was one of those classic 'ones that got away' stories. We heard a second Black-backed drumming close by, and Shawn went to investigate while Jim and I watched and photographed the first. Shawn walked out to the start of the boardwalk, where it exits the spruces and enters the bog, and found a female Black-back on the edges of the spruces. There was a 'commotion of woodpeckers' in the spruces, with at least two, possibly three woodpeckers calling, and one clearly chasing another. I walked out onto the boardwalk to see what Shawn was looking at, when Jim behind us yelled. We ran back to him, but the woodpeckers had all flown. In the sudden flurry of woodpecker activity, Jim had spied a second male woodpecker, smaller than the male Black-backed, with more white in the wings and more yellow and white on the head. Lighting and views were too poor and short to see the back, and just when his mind clicked 'Three-toed!!!' the bird was gone, being chased away by the Black-backed pair. The birds flew across the bog and channel to the woods disappearing to the west. Fairly quickly, a Black-back started drumming from that direction. Jim wasn't confident enough to call it a Three-toed for sure, but based on what he first saw, and after reviewing the Sibley description of eastern birds with less white on the backs, we feel pretty confident that we just missed a male Three-toed Woodpecker.
For the next 45 minutes or so, we could hear two Black-backs drumming: the pair from the west, and another individual from the forest in the northeast corner of the bog. We found a nest hole in a tall branchless snag to the west, occupied by Tree Swallows. After a long wait, we were joined by a couple of NYC birders, just in time to observe the pair of Black-backs fly east toward us and land on this snag. They began interacting aggressively, chasing the swallows off their perchs at the top of the snag, and the swallows dive-bombing the woodpeckers.
After several minutes, the pair flew over our heads on the boardwalk and disappeared into the woods to the east. Other birds seen included Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Northern Parula, Nashville Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Purple Finch, Winter Wren, and Lincoln’s Sparrow. We left very happy.
From Ferd's, we drove up to the high peaks region, to Whiteface Mountain overlooking Lake Placid. This peak had Bicknell's Thrush, the northeastern endemic thrush recently split from Gray-cheeked Thrush. Also there have been recent reports of both Red and White-winged Crossbills. We were surprised to find the Whiteface memorial road to the summit had a $19 toll. We forked the cash, and continued up the mountain, taking in the incredible views. We had multiple Nashville and Blackpoll Warblers, Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, and a flocks of Pine Siskins on the way up. We went up to the summit, and walked around there, hoping to hear a Bicknell’s down below. It wasn’t until we started the drive down when we picked up Bicknell's. Four or five Bicknell’s began counter-calling to each other, and one finally popped up for a look. It teased us by staying just out of view, but finally offered a look long enough to see the field marks. A little further down the road, we heard another Bicknell's sing.
That afternoon, after pitching the tents, we spent a little time herping, and soon found the Adirondack’s only specialty herp, the Mink Frog (Rana septentrionalis), in a scummy little pond. I sniffed a few, and they do indeed have an unpleasant odor, like a musk with a hint of rotting onion. You have to get pretty close to smell it:
The Mink Frog is similar to the Green Frog (Rana clamitans) and co-inhabits the same areas. The Mink has a splotchy dark pattern all over, with little or no dorsolateral ridges. The legs are blotched, in Green Frog they are banded. All the Minks I saw were smaller than Greens, I don't know if they can get bigger.
That evening we birded the Chubb River, upstream of Lake Placid. It was nice to spend the evening along the riverside and listen to the local breeders, although we saw nothing new of note. We did find some Raccoon tracks along the muddy banks:
Sunday morning we woke bright and early to head to Bloomingdale Bog, north of Saranac Lake. On Bigelow Road, a dirt lane through dense spruce forest, we heard our first Boreal Chickadees (Poecile hudsonica) of the trip. We spished a few into view and got good looks, tallying 5 total. Driving (and walking when the road deteriorated too much to drive) down the road, we saw several Snoeshow Hares (Lepus americanus), a new mammal species for Jim and I.
Kinglets, Warblers (including Parula and N. Waterthrush), and Hermit Thrushs were singing in good numbers down the trail. We reached an area of dead trees, and found a female Black-backed Woodpecker drumming.
We headed back south a little bit, and found a trail out into some more open habitat of Bloomingdale Bog. Right at the entrance, we had a possible Philadelphia Vireo, and a definite Blue-headed Vireo in close, singing. Shawn spied Gray Jays back in the forest, and a pair came out to investigate us. They mostly stayed quiet, calling once, and we followed them quietly down the trail. We found ourselves working silently down the trail (me snapping pictures as best I could), with one bird on each side of the trail. I don't really know who was following who, but we walked together for a good quarter mile, offering stunning looks at these great birds.
After recovering from that awesome experience, we continued down the trail, and encountered many good breeders: Winter Wren, Nashville Warbler, Lincoln's Sparrow, both Kinglets, and Palm Warblers, to name a few. The Palm Warblers were all yellow underneath, and were very close in appearance to the Eastern race of Palms, although a little duller. We heard another Black-backed Woodpecker, but didn't get to see it. In the marshes, we heard some Mink Frogs calling along with the Greens. We made our way back out, running into a small group including fellow Lab of Ornithology birders Chris Wood, Jeff Gerbracht, and Steve Kelling. We can't go anywhere anymore without running into people. In the parking lot we found one of the better bumper stickers I've ever seen:
From there, we headed home. We had a fantastic trip, and owe special thanks to the people who responded to Shawn's request for locations. With their help we were very successful in locating birds. Thanks!