Birders will brave cold for citizen science

Redpolls gather at a feeder in Saranac Lake in January 2013. (Photo provided — Jim Bishop)

SARANAC LAKE — About four dozen dedicated birders will face some of the coldest weather of the year on Saturday as the annual Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count takes place in the Saranac Lake area.

Larry Master, who heads up the bird count locally, said this year’s December weather is likely to produce noticeable changes compared to the last couple of years, when snow and cold weather settled in much later in the winter.

“It’s a good finch year,” Master said. “I’m still hoping redpolls come down. There are lots of finches around: siskins, goldfinches, purple finches. So it should be a good year because of the cone crop and all the finches.”

Master said because most of the rivers, ponds and lakes are frozen over, he thinks some water-dependent birds might not show up as they have in years past.

“The water stayed open late last year or the year before, and we had three birds we’ve never had before because of that,” he said. “Well, that’s not going to happen this year. I have always kayaked the Saranac River every year except one out of the last 40, and this year may be the one where I don’t go because I would imagine between now and Saturday it’s going to freeze up.

A bald eagle looks down on the Saranac River from the top of a white pine tree on the Fourth of July this year. Usually birders expect to see bald eagles at the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, but not so much this year since cold weather may have frozen waterbodies where the eagles fish. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

“I think we’ll be down on ducks, and it may be hard to get an eagle because of the frozen water. I usually get at least three species on the Saranac River when I’m kayaking.”

This is the 118th year for the annual count, which takes place all over the country. Locally, the first count was in 1947, and it happened in fits and starts until becoming a regular tradition in 1975. The Audubon Society manages the estimated 72,000 volunteers who participate nationwide.

Essentially, the volunteers will patrol designated areas such as roads and trails looking for the total number and species of birds. Last year’s count was down, number-wise, with 38 different species noted. Volunteers saw a total of 2,202 birds during the count on Jan. 1. The prior year was a record one, with 51 species and 7,655 birds tallied.

Master is still looking for volunteers to take on territories for Saturday, Dec. 30. Even those who are not experienced can join a group with more knowledgeable birders.

“I don’t turn anyone away,” he said. “Even if people want to watch their feeders, that would be great. So feeder watchers are encouraged, if they can identify birds at the feeders. People who want to go out and brave the cold, they can call or email me, and I can pair them up with experienced birders or give them their own territory.”

A blue jay sits on a branch in March 2016. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

People interested in taking part in the bird count can send an email to Be sure to include a phone number with your message.