A Day in the Adirondacks*

(This column was first published in the June 12, 2000 Buffalo News.)

    Our day was well underway at 4:30 a.m. We were huddled near the summit of Whiteface Mountain facing out over the restraining wall of boulders into a bitter near-freezing wind.

    From below us down the mountainside came the sounds we had come to hear, the veery-like call notes of several Bicknell's thrushes.

    The Bicknell's thrush is a new species but it's not the product of some recent evolutionary mutation. It is merely the result of a species split by avian taxonomists. They raised what was formerly a northeastern race of the gray-cheeked thrush to the status of a full species. When that was done several years ago, it was an event of considerable significance to the thousands of bird watchers who keep lists of species. So here on this bitter cold morning Bill Watson, Mike Galas and I were the Buffalo contingent of a party of thirty from across New York State. Our total group was so large that it had been split. A day earlier -- in even worse weather conditions -- thirty others had made this trip.

    We were delighted to record this species whose spotty breeding range is restricted to the high peaks of the Adirondacks and the mountains of New England. But for me the day got even better.

    Rich MacDonald of The Nature Conservancy, a native of Lewiston who is now based in Keene Valley, led our caravan of cars down the mountain and north along mostly back roads through the little hamlet of Hawkeye to Silver Lake Bog.** (The James Fenimore Cooper influence is strongly felt in the Adirondacks. Down near Eagle Bay, Ferd's Bog is on Uncas Road.)

    This preserve is well worth a visit and most of it is even accessible by wheelchair for a long and well maintained boardwalk extends out into it for almost a half mile.

    While the attention of my companions was on the many warblers -- Nashville, blackburnian, black-throated blue, yellow-rumped, black-throated green, magnolia and Canada as well as northern parula, ovenbird and northern waterthrush -- as well as the olive-sided and alder flycatchers and the singing winter wrens, mine turned to the rich flora surrounding us.

    The bog trees -- black spruce, balsam fir, arborvitae, tamarack and a few maples -- are mostly stunted so we were in the open, out of the heavily canopied forest that surrounded and isolated this unusual area. There are two times of year when the tamaracks are especially beautiful. In late fall they become golden but now their new leaves are a distinctive soft green that I find especially appealing.

    Where we first entered the bog, the sphagnum mat along the boardwalk was dotted with cotton grass, not a true grass but a sedge that is familiar to those who have visited the tundra areas of the far north.

    Most conspicuous among the shrubs were Labrador tea, now topped with clusters of tiny white flowers, and sheep laurel, an acid-loving relative of azaleas. The laurels sported attractive pink flowers that are miniature replicas of those of their upland cousins.

    A few pitcher plants raised their pods above their water-filled kettles that serve as insect traps. Although I was told that that other insectivorous plant, the sundew, was to be found there, I did not see any.

    There were several fern species growing in the bog, most conspicuous of which were the cinnamon and royal ferns. The clusters of cinnamon ferns, close relatives of the interrupted fern that we find here in western New York, surrounded those distinctive central stalks from which their name derives.

    Silver Lake Bog was a wonderful and very different bonus to a day that started so well.-- Gerry Rising

* This was the second day of a two day birding expedition sponsored by the Federation of New York State Bird Clubs. (Watch that site for the announcements of other Federation field trips.) The major portion of the first day was devoted to a search for the elusive spruce grouse. Although our group found only fresh scat and dusting bowls, we were unsuccessful in finding any of these birds. But there is always a next time. A better report of the far more successful second group is to be found on Kevin McDonald's site. It contains many photographs -- including Kevin's shots of both spruce grouse and black-backed woodpecker! The leaders of these trips -- Bill Lee, Rich MacDonald and John Ozard, the DEC's spruce grouse expert -- are to be commended for their work -- and especially for their patience.

** I urge all readers to support The Nature Conservancy which has acquired and now maintains this wonderful Silver Lake Bog and many other reserves across this state and nation. More specific information is also available about the Conservancy's Adirondack chapter and the Central and Western New York chapter.