Any birder visiting the Adirondacks in summer has a list of birds they’d like to find. And somewhere on everyone’s list is Bicknell’s Thrush. That means that birders must make a pilgrimage to the spruce-fir forests which cling to the tops of the mountains in the Adirondacks, and Whiteface Mountain may offer the best opportunity to do so. That’s because Whiteface Memorial Highway winds its way to the top of the mountain through Bicknell’s habitat, and birders can spot the birds on the rocks which line the road or they can hear them singing from pull-offs along the way. Hiking birders can also trek their way up Whiteface – or any of the High Peaks for that matter – in search of Bicknell’s.
And while the approaches may differ, the results can be much the same. As birders climb in elevation they pass through a series of habitats to reach the mountaintop home of Bicknell’s, and they should bird the entire way up.
Low Elevation Habitats and Diversity
Low-lying areas of the Adirondacks are often characterized by deciduous forests – home to thrushes like Wood Thrush, Hermit Thrush, and Veery, but also to birds like American Redstart, Blackburnian Warbler, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Black-billed Cuckoo, Red-eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, and Great Crested Flycatcher.
Other low elevation habitats are coniferous - favored by species like Nashville Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Magnolia Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Golden-crowned Kinglet. Many of the most well-known of these locations contain some of the best boreal birding in the Adirondacks, drawing in birders in search of Black-backed Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Boreal Chickadee, Palm Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and Gray Jay – offering competition to Bicknell’s for the most sought-after species moniker.
These same boreal lowlands often border lakes and wetlands where birders can search for American Bitterns, Ring-necked Ducks, Great Blue Herons, American Black Ducks, Virginia Rails, Swamp Sparrows, and a long list of other species. It all means that birders should expect to spend time both at low elevations as well as high, and that they may find themselves distracted before they ever set foot on a mountain such as Whiteface.
And once they begin their climb up Whiteface, birders will rise through a series of habitats, beginning in deciduous forest, transitioning to coniferous forest, and culminating at the views from the top of the mountain surrounded by spruce-fir forests and the home of Bicknell’s Thrush. And Bicknell’s does not hold exclusive rights to the landscape, either. They share their home with species like Dark-eyed Junco, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Winter Wren, Boreal Chickadee, Common Raven, and Swainson’s Thrush, while Peregrine Falcons sometimes nest in Wilmington Notch. In some years the mountain conifers also attract Red and White-winged Crossbills as well.
And, once late summer days begin to shorten and late summer wildflowers line the roads, many species will be found in actively feeding mixed-species flocks – all preparing for their journey south. It is how summer ends and fall begins, and it presents one of the best times of the year to go birding in the Adirondacks. Every forest, trail, streamside, and mountaintop shakes with life as the flocks of warblers, thrushes, tanagers, grosbeaks, vireos, and everything else chows down on fruit and insects to fatten up for their long migration. Birders can excitedly pick through the masses – a thrilling grab bag of surprise each time they quiver the leaves in motion. And Whiteface Memorial Highway can be an excellent place to witness such flocks of feeding birds.
Book your stay in the Whiteface Region today!