The 61st Annual Saranac Lake Christmas Bird Count

Wednesday, January 17, 2018
By: Guest author - Audrey Hyson - long-time supporter of the Adirondack Council

The year 2017 marked the 118th Annual National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. The data collected by participants in the Christmas Bird Count over the past century has been used to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. This information is vital in informing strategies to protect birds and their habitats.

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/images/cardinals_larrymasters.jpg
Male and female CardinalsPhoto by Larry Master

On cold, snowy December 30, my friend Penny and I participated, in the 61st Annual Saranac Lake Christmas bird count. Larry Master has graciously organized and compiled the data for this count since 1975. Participation in the Saranac Lake Christmas bird count is a long-time holiday tradition for Penny and me and for lots of folks in the area. Our small part of the count circle is the Brewster Peninsula and the Whiteface Inn Lane neighborhood of Lake Placid. Back yard bird feeders are important in our count because we find a greater density of birds at those locations. Time spent out on skis or snowshoes gives us opportunities to see woodland species like Golden-Crowned Kinglets and Ravens that don’t visit bird feeders. We also drive to locations where we know that there are bird feeders or where I know that certain species tend to “hang out.”

Each year there are some birds that show upunexpectedly (and some that, unexpectedly, don’t show up) on the bird count day. This year, I was very excited to be able to report a pair of cardinals at my bird feeder - a first for my location. A birding first for the Saranac Lake Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/images/Golden_Crowned{_kinglets_larrymaster.jpg
Golden-Crowned KingletPhoto by Larry Master
count this year was a Wilson’s Snipe spotted in a wetland between Ray Brook and Saranac Lake. Dinner together after the count is a tradition at which the finds, frustrations and challenges of the day can be shared with other participants.

I remember the first time I participated in a Christmas bird count. I was a freshman at Duke University and didn’t have a car so my assigned job was to count the birds on campus. This would suggest that there would likely be very common, suburban species in my count area. Therefore, I wouldn’t need to be a very experienced birder to identify the birds that I found. Well, I inevitably found a bird that I couldn’t figure out. It was pretty much all over the place on campus – very visible & vocal - hopping around the grounds eating potato chip crumbs and chirping incessantly. I realized that it was a sparrow of some sort, which is a start, but I had no idea which one. I dutifully noted field marks and number seen and asked the more expert birders at the count dinner what kind of sparrow it was.Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/images/Wilsons_Snipe.jpg
Wilson's Snipe

Well, turns that my mystery bird was a House Sparrow, kind of the pigeon of the sparrow world. House Sparrows were introduced in New York City in the 1900s by a man named Eugene Schieffelin who wanted to introduce all of the birds mentioned in the Shakespeare plays to the U.S. He is also responsible for the introduction of Starlings. Needless to say, both House Sparrows and Starlings are now abundant in cities, parks, farms, and gardens throughout the U.S. I was pretty embarrassed not to know such a common bird but no one laughed at me (to my knowledge) and everybody encouraged me keep up the good work. So, even though I am not the “hottest” birder on the planet, I love to participate in the Christmas bird count and to keep an eye on the birds every day for my own pleasure. And, I can now identify a House Sparrow with no problems.

If you feel inspired to kick your birdwatching game up a notch, here is another opportunity to participate in a citizen science birding event: The 21st annual Great Backyard Bird Count will be held Friday, February 16 – Monday, February 19, 2018. Please visit the official website at for more information.

What is one of your favorite birds to spot in the Adirondacks? Comment below and let us know! 

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/images/AudreyHyson.jpgAudrey Hyson, a long-time supporter of the Adirondack Council, blogs about the Adirondack big backyard from her base in Lake Placid. Audrey enjoys rambles around the woods and waters by ski, snowshoe, canoe, guideboat, foot or other human-powered means. She likes to go at a pace that allows birdwatching, wildflower identifying and lolly gagging as central to the activity. 

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