Early Spring in the Lowlands
The mountains in the Adirondacks have a habit of holding out on spring longer than the lands beneath them. As the days warm and lengthen, wintering songbirds give up their chilled silence for song and late winter mornings often offer White-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, Dark-eyed Juncos, and others infusing the cold landscape to life. And yet the mountains stand white and foreboding.
Soon Red-winged Blackbirds return to area wetlands, Song Sparrows arrive in local yards, and Common Grackles appear on the scene to down seed at bird feeders. Eastern Phoebes bring their loud defiance of winter, and sparrow numbers and diversity grow with Fox, White-throated, Savannah, Vesper, Chipping, Swamp, and others.
Raptors, Thrushes, and other Songbirds
Spring also bring with it raptors overhead as they migrate north to nest, and returning Broad-winged Hawks and Merlin take up residence in our local woodlands while Osprey return to our lakes. Peregrine Falcons also return to the region and in some years they nest in Wilmington Notch where they may share the cliffs with Common Ravens. At night resident Barred Owls find their voice in spring – declaring territory and performing duets with their mates. Migrant Northern Saw-whet Owls search for mates as well, hooting in the darkness while the other birds wait for morning.
When morning breaks each day, it seems to bring with it a new song, a new bird, and a new species. Soon Blue-headed Vireos are back as are Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. And Hermit Thrushes add their ethereal song to the forests beneath the mountains. These are the first of our thrushes to return to the region – a process which culminates through May with the homecoming of Bicknell’s Thrush. But in the lag between these species comes an assortment of birds which first fill the lowlands and then spread spring up the stubborn sides of the mountains, melting the snow with their songs.
The Splendor of May and Mountaintop Birds
And so May is ushered in with White-crowned Sparrows and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Pine Warblers, and it soon balloons with Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, Least Flycatchers, Alder Flycatchers, Great Crested Flycatchers, Black-billed Cuckoos, Red-eyed Vireos, Philadelphia Vireos, and a long, long list of warblers which takes them to every habitat of the region.
In the mountains – and on the mountain – this means that the community of birds changes as elevation changes, making a hike or drive up Whiteface a must for any spring birding visit. But even with the warblers, it is often the thrushes that make folks most excited about such a venture. For as spring advances, Veeries and Wood Thrushes join Hermit Thrushes in the low elevations. With spring thawing the winter woods upslope, birders will once again find Hermit leading the charge, and they are soon joined by Swainson’s Thrushes as May progresses.
At the same time the thick spruce and fir forests at the top of the mountains welcome back their most famous resident – Bicknell’s Thrush – one of the most sought-after species in the Adirondacks. And the thrush doesn’t have exclusive rights to its mountain home either. Birders will also find species like Winter Wren, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Boreal Chickadee, Blackpoll Warbler, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. It is an exclusive group of birds which brave the mountain’s temperamental swings in weather – a moody disposition that even the height of spring and summer cannot put completely at ease.
But that contrast of life in an often challenging landscape is part of what makes spring so amazing on the mountain slopes, and what draws us back again and again for more.
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