Where the Birds Are

Bicknell's thrush, by Larry Master,

My father and brother are birders. Every April, we raise our binoculars as hawks trace Lake Erie’s edge, flying over Lakeside Cemetery, south of Buffalo. On Easter this year my brother and I watched an osprey skirt the lake, riding southwesterlies toward summer breeding and fishing grounds. Within an hour we also saw a Cooper’s hawk, several redtails, a red-shouldered hawk, and dozens of turkey vultures heading north.

Spring birding is all about right time/right place. April is a big month for raptors on the wing, but not in the Adirondack Park interior. In fact, the most common Adirondack hawk, the broad-winged, doesn’t return to northern forests until late April or May.

So, at this time of year some Adirondack birders drive to Derby Hill Bird Observatory, on the southeast shore of Lake Ontario, where more than 40,000 eagles, hawks and vultures stream by every spring. (To avoid open water, raptors concentrate along flight corridors around the Great Lakes, riding thermals along the edge.)

In May, birders flock to Cape May, New Jersey, a hot spot for warblers and other coastal migrants.

But in June, the Adirondacks is the place to be. Warblers, thrushes, and other woodland songbirds sing to claim nesting territory, making themselves briefly conspicuous. The Adirondacks is also a southern outpost of boreal forest, so listers can check off peat-bog specialists such as black-backed woodpeckers, spruce grouse, and rusty blackbird.

The grail is Bicknell’s thrush. People travel from around the world to see this rare high-mountain nester, which breeds only in the Northeast—primarily in the Adirondack High Peaks and New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Two events in June revel in all this life: The Great Adirondack Birding Celebration, based at the Paul Smiths VIC, June 1–3, and the Adirondack Birding Festival, June 8–10, which features trips and lectures throughout Hamilton County.

Following are details so birders can start planning their spring calendar now.

The 2012 Great Adirondack Birding Celebration at Paul Smiths will feature author and photographer Richard Crossley, lectures, workshops, and the Teddy Roosevelt Birding Challenge. There are field trips to a variety of habitat, including driving trips up Whiteface Mountain on June 2 and 3 to look for Bicknell’s thrush and other montane species.

Registration for trips and programs opens May 1. There are fees for some programs. Call (518) 327-6241 or e-mail organizer Brian McAllister ( for more information.

The following weekend the Adirondack Birding Festival in Hamilton County features Bruce Beehler, author and vice-president of Conservation International. Beehler has local roots and in the 1970s wrote Birdlife in the Adirondack Park, published by the Adirondack Mountain Club. He will keynote and lead trips. The most vigorous outing will be an early morning hike in search of Bicknell’s thrush.

The Hamilton County programs are free, but advance registration is required and numbers are limited. For more information visit or call Hamilton County Tourism at (518) 548-3076.

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