Bird watching has become one of the most popular sports worldwide. In fact, over 60 million people in the US alone take part in the activity. That's more than the 23 million who play basketball, the 24 million who play baseball and the nine million who play American football combined. So what's the draw? Join Anne as she ventures out to one of the Adirondack Mountains's most scenic birding spots with famed Naturalist Ed Kanze as she discovers the truly great past-time of bird watching and uncovers why this is your next favorite hobby.
If there is one thing about the Adirondack Mountains that I am constantly awed by, it is the way that the outer edges of the forest near the road hide an Edenic wildwood that fosters a sense of magnificent solitude and peace completely unknown and unobserved by passers-by. For many years I've driven by the entrance to Bloomingdale Bog, never thinking for a moment that the simple gate offered transit to another world. I've heard about the bog for years, but I'm an Irish girl and I've been in bogs before. I am also a city girl, born and raised, and traversing the Adirondack version of Ireland's peaty quagmire has never held much appeal to me before. This year, however, I've been drawn to the wilderness and new experiences in general.
County Route 55 is one of my favorite roads to appreciate nature from the driver's seat. I've often pulled over to take a photograph of some mystical thicket taken out of a Ridley Scott film or a maple tree decked out in magnificent red during the fall foliage season and I was a little excited to no longer be an observer of that world but a participant in it. When I arrived at the entrance to Bloomingdale Bog to meet seventh-generation Adirondack resident guide-nonpareil (according to Forbes Life magazine), Ed Kanze, it was 7:30 AM and still early enough that there was an otherworldly quiet lingering in the morning air. You may have a picture forming of an Adirondack Naturalist; a wide-brimmed hat, a well-worn and much-loved woolen sweater, sensible boots, and binoculars - am I right? Well, so are you. I am of the firm belief that an escape in the Adirondacks is as much a pastoral respite as it is an adventure and I relish in the sense of atmosphere intrinsically linked to Adirondack culture. Ed Kanze fits the part of an intrepid adventurer to a tee.
We embarked on our journey straight away and I was immediately struck that this was not what I was expecting when Bloomingdale Bog was selected as the site of our escapade. The trail does not run directly through the marsh, but rather on an elevated bit of earth, once the home of the Delaware and Hudson railroad (or D&H). A few short feet in and you find that this truly is the ideal area for our purpose; bird watching. The quiet afforded by the protection of the trees allows you to immerse yourself in birdsong; the rush of high, thin, whistled notes of the Golden-crowned Kinglet, the amusing "free-beer" of the Alder Flycatcher, the trill of a Dark-eyed Junco, the "first gear, second gear" of the Nashville Warbler, the jingle-bell-like trill of Cedar Waxwings. While I'm told that many serious birders go to places like Texas, where the Houston Audubon Society has erected bleacher-like seating on their properties from which you can observe the migrating birds, the opportunity to take a step into the bird's world and become a part of it for a morning was profound; I can't imagine being affected in the same way or taking away with me what I did were I sitting in bleachers among a throng of other spectators.
When I was little - say four or five - there was only one thing I wanted to be when I grew up. While some children want to be doctors or astronauts or dancers, I used to wish on dandelions that "someday my prince will come" and I would be a princess (not a queen, never a queen); thanks, in no small part, to Cinderella and Snow White and the flock of woodland animals who loved them so very, very much and birds who would eat right out of their hands. Well, that part of my dream I can check off my list. Armed with a tempting piece of organic breakfast sausage, the bold Gray Jay parents would fly down and land, gracefully, on my fingers, taking my tasty offering back for themselves and their fledgling. Even more a privilege - we visited with them just after their new baby was entering young adulthood; still dependent on mom and dad for food, but attempting to land on a moving target, not quite ready but making inspiring attempts. To have the chance to interact with something wild like this was a singularly touching moment that could never have occurred in another locale.
When we began our walk I asked Ed, "what is it about bird watching that people find so fulfilling?" I was both surprised and intrigued by his answer at first, but when we left the bog I understood completely. He said, "Bird watching is mostly about the hunt; in fact, it is another form of hunting. Bird watchers and hunters talk about their pursuits in the same way. It's about being out in nature, in the wild places; about stalking, or waiting in quiet anticipation for something to come into view. Sometimes you lose, but always you win because every day is different, and Adirondack birds live in beautiful places. You never know what you're going to find. Birding is about knowing habitats and the birds that live in them, but it's also a game of chance. Today will be the day! That's our hope."
Photography © Ed Kanze. Used with Permission.