Epic Birding Weekend Part 2: Birding Bigelow Road
Part 1 is here.
Day two of the Epic Birding Weekend that was my weekend last weekend (Was that enough weekends?) began at 3:55 AM in Saugerties, New York. My alarm went off, I quietly ran down the stairs at my parents’ house to get the coffee started, ran back upstairs, got dressed, got my gear together, ran back downstairs, grabbed the coffee, and was out the door. An hour later I was picking up Will Raup at his house in Albany and then we were on the road. Our destination? The Adirondack Mountains of northern New York State.
The ride north in the dark saw us catching up on birding world gossip, discussing our plans for the day, and seeing how fast my Ford Focus could go on the nearly empty Northway. Before too long we were cruising through the tiny town of Bloomingdale on our way to Bigelow Road, a known location for the boreal birds we sought.
First we tried the west end of the road where we had been lucky enough to find Boreal Chickadees several years ago. No luck, but we were both pleased to find that there was only a few inches of snow cover and the temperatures were comfortably above freezing and that we needed neither jackets nor gloves on our Adirondack adventure, a stark contrast from some of my previous expeditions. The snow on the spruce trees was nice to look at too.
Bigelow Road – a winter wonderland
After burning a good forty minutes with only Red-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Blue Jays, a lone White-breasted Nuthatch and a single Hairy Woodpecker to show for our time we decided to head around to the eastern end of Bigelow Road, where it terminates on Oregon Plains Road. This is where the boreal birds like Black-backed Woodpecker and Gray Jay are often found and we decided to do the full 3.5 miles to Bloomingdale Bog and back on foot after realizing that though my Ford Focus might move quickly it would likely not do well on an unplowed dirt road with snow on it.
Northern Raven Corvus corax
We walked and listened and walked and listened. A flock of Black-capped Chickadees with a lone Red-breasted Nuthatch as an escort got our hopes up and we even both heard a single “chick-a-day-day” that indicated the presence of a Boreal Chickadee but the bird never showed and we weren’t going to let a single call get on to our checklist. On we went until we noticed several Common Ravens and a couple of American Crows taking off from the side of the road well ahead of us. We figured there had to be something that they were feeding on and had high hopes of finding Boreal Chickadees and Gray Jays feeding on whatever it was as well. Sure enough, we found a deer carcass and the two Gray Jays in attendance were mighty pleased at our having scared away the larger corvids. Though we wanted to stop and spend time with the jays we figured they would still be there when we got back and we still had other birds to find so we pressed on down the road.
Gray Jay Perisoreus canadensis
We walked and listened and walked and listened. Then a Ruffed Grouse erupted from the woods at the side of the trail, my second year bird of the morning (after the Gray Jays). We walked and listened, walked and listened, being driven mad by the steady sound of melting snow dripping off the trees that often sounded way too much like the tap-tap-tap of a Black-backed Woodpecker. All we could find were more nuthatches and chickadees. And not the kind of chickadees we were hoping for either.
Eventually we made the left turn to head out to the bog and we reached the bog and it was dead. We turned around and headed back the way we came, disheartened and despondent, until Will suddenly said “Crossbills!”
He was right, it was a small flock of Red Crossbills going overhead. We had not seen a single tree with cones on it so it seems unlikely that they were finding much to eat but we did end up seeing several more small flocks of Red Crossbills while we hiked back down Bigelow Road.
not the Red Crossbills that we saw on Sunday
After our second Ruffed Grouse of the outing I started to hear a tapping sound that was more regular and louder than the constant melting snow dripping off the trees. This was a woodpecker! But where? The sound was coming from one side of the road, back in the trees, but it sounded low to the ground. Wait, there! A Black-backed Woodpecker! Yes!
female Black-backed Woodpecker Picoides arcticus
She was amazingly cooperative, which kind of made up for my experiences with Black-backed Woodpeckers back in 2007, and, eventually, a couple of hundred pictures later, we walked on, wondering if anything else has shown up at the deer carcass while we were away. Sadly, no Boreal Chickadees had joined the Gray Jays but we did take several hundred more pictures of the jays feasting on venison.
Gray Jays on a deer carcass
The rest of our walk back to the car was relatively uneventful, though one more Ruffed Grouse tried to give us heart attacks. Where would we head off to next? Come back soon to read the third and final blog post about the Epic Birding Weekend!