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Barnum Pond icebreaker

The surface of Barnum Pond is partially covered by a sheet of ice Tuesday. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

PAUL SMITHS — It was sunny and warm, even relatively early in the morning, as I pushed my kayak into Barnum Pond. I paddled along the shore, heading roughly north for a few minutes, and as the little ripples from my paddle and boat hit the ice, it started to pop and crackle.

The pond was still about one-fifth covered in half-inch thick ice, meaning that getting through the middle of this ice sheet was going to be tough with about 300 feet of ice between me and more open water.

I kept hugging the right shoreline, slowly getting pinched closer and closer between the shore and the ice. Luckily, at the very north tip of the pond, the ice was only about 10 feet across. I used my paddle to break a channel and pushed through to the open water on the other side.

Following the northeastern shore along the edge of a wetland, the songbirds were out in force. Although I could see them bouncing from dead tree to dead tree, none got close enough for a photo. Neither did the loon I spotted about a quarter of the way across the pond, but the repeated diving, resurfacing routine gave away its identity.

After paddling to the southern end of the pond, I came around the corner of the wetland and scared a pair of mallards that had been hiding out. We all jumped, but they flew away while I kept on heading toward the entrance of Barnum Brook and the lands of the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center.

Scaring off another pair of mallards, I entered the stream — which flows into the VIC’s Heron Marsh — and saw black-capped chickadees and a gray jay, along with who knows how many other little songbirds. Paddling downstream, I turned around at the dock where the VIC’s Boreal Life Trail meets the stream.

I went upstream against almost no current and was soon back on the pond. I followed the southern shore back toward the road and luckily ran in to no more ice. I did, however, see a pair of bufflehead ducks on the water in front of me. Again, I couldn’t get close enough for a good photo before they flew away, but the male’s distinctive black head with a big white patch was easy enough to identify.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, bufflehead are monogamous unlike many other ducks, and can travel great distances to their wintering grounds. Buffleheads migrate through the Adirondacks from the eastern seaboard to their breeding grounds in Canada.

“The Bufflehead nests almost exclusively in holes excavated by Northern Flickers and, on occasion, by Pileated Woodpeckers,” Cornell’s website says. “Bufflehead normally live only in North America, but in winter they occasionally show up elsewhere, including Kamchatka, Japan, Greenland, Iceland, the British Isles, Belgium, France, Finland, and Czechoslovakia. In some of these cases, the birds may have escaped from captivity.

“Bufflehead fossils from the late Pleistocene (about 500,000 years ago) have been found in Alaska, California, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Texas, and Washington. One California fossil that resembles a modern Bufflehead dates to the late Pliocene, two million years ago.”

After getting back to my car, I decided to step into the woods on the eastern side of state Route 30, to look for the remnants of an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

According to a history of the Paul Smith’s area written by Dr. Michael Kudish and found on the Historic Saranac Lake Wiki page, the CCC camp was near Barnum Pond for nearly a decade during the Great Depression.

The camp crews were in the area from 1933 through 1940, and built some things that are still in use today, including the trails up Loon Lake and St. Regis mountains and fire roads such as the Hays Brook, Fish Pond and the Slush Pond trails. The crews also built the dam that impounds Meacham Lake and the famed Duck Hole Dam in the High Peaks, which was wiped out in Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

I had visited the remains of the camp back in college, when we went during a Forest History class led by Doc Kudish. I remembered a large stone chimney and some foundations, but my memory wasn’t good enough to find the exact location. Guess I’ll just have to save that adventure for another day.