Birding in Lake Placid
As spring begins to undo the winter world that has enclosed us for months, the birds respond. It starts with warming winter days, when ducks begin to move through the region on their way to open water to our north. They exploit almost any hole in the ice on the lakes, as species like Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Bufflehead, and Ring-necked Duck move through the region regularly, while less common species like Gadwall and American Wigeon can also be found. Some of them will stay to breed during the summer. And while the receding ice creates an opportunity for birders to find such species on local lakes, the place to witness the waterfowl migration in the thousands is the Champlain Valley. Interested birders should check out that website here.
Goodbye winter, hello spring
Even as our local lakes remain frozen fast in thick ice, early songbirds arrive to declare to all that spring is coming despite winter’s best efforts to fight it off. These species include Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Song Sparrow, and American Robin – all common species, but species which bring with them the hope of warmth, sun, and long days outside. At the same time of year, many of our wintering birds linger and others move through on their way north to their breeding range. And so a day in early spring may find American Tree Sparrows at bird feeders or flyover Snow Buntings on their way to the tundra. Bohemian Waxwings often move back through the area – as they’ve done this year – stopping at any fruit tree which is still draped in goodies, and their numbers often include Cedar Waxwings as well.
Raptors are also on the move north with the south wind in their tail feathers, and while they can be found anywhere in the region, once again the Champlain Valley is the best place to visit to watch the north-bound migration. As spring advances, nesting raptors begin to show up in our area too. Merlin set up their nests in the tall pines which line the shores of our lakes, announcing their arrival with their strident trills as Osprey take up residence in their enormous nests. Later in the month Barred Owls start their raucous hooting as recently returned Northern Saw-whet Owls toot in the woods in search of mates.
The melody of May
Northern Saw-whet Owls aren’t the only birds with mating on the mind. Every species is in full song – starting with the songbirds which overwintered in the area. These include Brown Creepers, White-breasted Nuthatches, lingering American Tree Sparrows (before they leave for the summer), and a chorus of Dark-eyed Juncos. Soon other sparrows also arrive and White-throated, Vesper, Chipping, Savannah, and Fox take up the spring song as they pass through the region (while others stay for the summer), even as the numbers of Eastern Phoebes, Tree Swallows, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and Blue-headed Vireos build. And American Bitterns are soon heard pumping from nearby marshes. Early warblers like Yellow-rumped, Pine, and Palm can also be heard adding their voices to the music, a prelude to what is about to come during May.
May often begins with more sparrows like Lincoln’s and White-crowned, and the latter can be everywhere the first two weeks of the month. It also brings us the first Ruby-throated Hummingbirds of the year as more and more warblers begin to arrive. Soon enough it is a cacophony of different tunes which somehow seem to harmonize all the same, and birders can find better than 20 species of warblers passing through the Lake Placid region during migration. These include species like Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Blue, Blackburnian, and Canada, which breed in the area, as well as species like Tennessee, Bay-breasted, Wilson’s, and Cape May (they have nested in recent years in places around Lake Placid), which largely push north of the region.
But that’s not all. The melody of May is also composed by vireos, orioles (most common in the Champlain Valley), tanagers, cuckoos, flycatchers, and thrushes. For as May advances it leads birders into a truly magical time of year. It is a time of year to walk in deciduous forests and listen to Scarlet Tanager, Hermit Thrush, and American Redstart. It is a time to hike the High Peaks in search of Blackpoll Warbler and Bicknell’s Thrush. And it is a time to explore boreal habitats in the hope of finding Yellow-bellied and Olive-sided Flycatchers. And these same habitats still hold the resident boreal species like Black-backed Woodpecker, Gray Jay, and Boreal Chickadee, while breeding Nashville and Magnolia Warblers sing the song of long, sunny days.
And so summer begins singing – right where spring left off.