A powerful power point show on winter “irruptive” birds brought out a crowd from far and wide to the Tannery Pond Community Center on Feb. 22 for a “Cabin Fever” lecture sponsored by the Adirondack Museum. There was almost a full house though the show did not seem to be advertised very much locally, because Joan Collins is a renowned Adirondack bird enthusiast and expert, her credentials earned by such feats as climbing to the tops of mountains before dawn to survey for our extremely rare Bicknell’s thrush.
Joan’s show included not only full screen pictures of great grey, hawk and snowy owls, finches, crossbills, snow buntings, Bohemian waxwings and redpolls, but maps of their full ranges, summer and winter, recordings of their songs and calls, and some videos.
One of the latter treats was one she took out her window in Long Lake of redpolls burrowing in the fluffy snow of a shed roof, a well-known but rather mystifying activity. They do not spend nights in the snow, unlike our ruffed grouse, though they probably spend some time in the burrows on very cold, windy days. Digging the burrows with bills and feet is a social activity with birds quarreling over the individual burrows. Snow bathing is something redpolls do in soft snow too. Birds seem to need open tunnels, which can be up to at least a foot long, with them dying within an hour if the burrow is not open to the air, according to a scientific paper describing the experiment.
Joan told us where to see red crossbills along Rte. 28N, so a friend and I checked them out. We saw no birds but we did see spruce cones on the snow with many tiny seeds from them spread around. Crossbills are very fast, efficient eaters, using their weird bills to separate the scales on cones so they can extract the seeds with their tongues, but they are apparently a little sloppy and it is not worth their while to clean up the spills on the snow.
Joan has a popular bird guiding business, taking birders from all over the country to see the rare Adirondack birds they “need” for their life lists. Unfortunately southerners don’t like to try out snowshoes which makes this sport more difficult than necessary in the winter. This winter Joan has taken a number of people to Vermont to see “dependable” snowy owls, which defend their winter territories in open areas like airports. The Adirondacks are the only place in the country where birders can see 30 warblers species, so individual warbler species are often the goal of her clients.
One of the advantages of this growing sport is that you don’t end up with a dead body to deal with, only some pictures and another check mark on your list!