Time for a shameful confession: despite living near Albany for 23 years now, I’ve rarely gone to the Adirondacks. Don’t really know why not, but it’s left me with some serious lacunae in my state birds.
Last weekend’s trip was to the southern ‘Dacks, near Gore Mountain. As we gradually ascended Barton Mines Road to the trailhead, driving conditions quickly became worse. Torrential rains a week before had closed the road for several days and despite a quick patch job, the shoulders still were undercut in places. A thick layer of sand from the garnet mines at the top of the hill covered the blacktop until it was like walking on a steep beach.
From the trailhead we first walked uphill to the gates of the mine, hearing the expected woodland singers: Black-throated Blue and Green Warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, vociferous Winter Wrens, and a cooperative Hermit Thrush perched in the open on a power line. Several carloads of unauthorized overnight partiers snuck out before the mine officially opened for the day.
Back downhill a ways, and we entered the woods to be stopped almost immediately. Balm of Gilead Brook had briefly turned into Category VI whitewater and torn out the crossing and underlying culvert.
After bushwhacking downstream a ways, we crossed mostly dryfooted on wobbly rocks, but that didn’t last long. The trip description warned of wet conditions and ankle deep mud, and we weren’t disappointed. It was hard to hear birds at times over the squoosh and plop, and boots were double-knotted to keep them from being sucked off. And the blackflies! I begin to remember why I avoid this part of the state in the summer… Fortunately my old reliable kept me mostly bite-free.
But all the bugs means all the birds, of course. Mostly we heard them sing, but patience did yield good looks at several warbler species. Canada and Magnolia Warblers look similar at a fast foliage-blocked glance, both with bright yellow breast and black necklace. Black-and-white Warblers squeaked out their little call while foraging head-first down a tree like a Nuthatch. In the distance three different thrushes sang, Hermit, Wood, and Swainson’s.
Woodpecker of the day honors went to Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. If you’d ever like to be surrounded by Sapsuckers, just do a passable Barred Owl call. They hate Barred Owls, will come from a mile away to jeer and wicka-wicka at their enemy.
After a mile and a half of squishing and scrambling over/under trees blown down in the storm, we arrived at the Vly. (That’s another of New York’s borrowed Dutchy words, meaning a marsh or wetland.) Usually a good spot for flycatchers, it was quiet there and the sky was clouding over.
The log bridge on the creek running out of the Vly had been torn from its bank and rested on the far side, pointing downstream. Again we forded and forged on. The sky darkened — a few drops fell — decision time. The forecast had been for afternoon rain. Hike on another 1 1/4 mile in the high humidity to Botheration Pond? Or turn around and slowly bird our way back?
We wimped out. Back across the creek and past the Vly, through the ferns and sphagnum, and (of course) the sun came back out and a breeze lightened the air. We were rewarded by a pair of Nashville Warblers, subtle-colored and lively-voiced, and a real Barred Owl in the distance. A Northern Parula, audible but invisible, lurked in the highest canopy. Across the first ford, not so dry-footed this time, and out on the road to see two male Blackburnian Warblers flashing their fire throats in a territorial squabble.
Back down at the Hudson six Broad-winged Hawks, some in appallingly bad plumage, circled in a mini-kettle, a sign that for them summer was already growing short. A lone Common Raven hopped along the riverbank.
So, I survived my first real hike in the Adirondack Mountains. Believe me, I’m not laughing at the bug-netting-suit people any more. If the trail hadn’t been over-my-shoes wet, if it hadn’t been so humid, I would have enjoyed it purely as a walk. Given those drawbacks, the birds still made it worthwhile. I guess I’ll have to gird up my courage and head further north if I want to add the real boreal specialties to my life list– Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Black-backed Woodpecker… The things we do for our passion!
29 species, 2 new for the year.