Birding the Madawaska Complex

Author Anonymous

One of my favorite places to explore

I love birding in the Madawaska area and I often find that the long road into the complex offers some of the best birding. Hence, when I led a recent trip to the area, we planned plenty of time to bird along the road. We began along Keese Mills Road out of Paul Smith's, listening for song as we drove back toward Indian Rock parking area.

As I always do on such a trip, we stopped here and there as we went, and we began with good looks at a variety of species - many of which were warblers. And so our list started with Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Redstart, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, and a great look at a Pine Warbler.

A short distance down the road I heard the song of an Indigo Bunting and we all filed out of the car to watch a male sing in our scopes for several minutes. Indigos are not always easy to find in the densely wooded landscapes in the middle of the Adirondacks and the property where we found it had enough edge habitat to attract it.We had a great look at a Pine Warbler at one of our first stops of the morning.

Mourning Warblers also like edge habitats and can also be found along the road as a result. We paused in a few places for them before eventually coming to the junction of Keese Mills Road and Blue Mountain Road to listen for Mournings, while watching Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. And while we didn't hear a Mourning on this day, the 16 species of warblers we did find along the road were great consolation for our miss.

Lots of good places to stop along the road

One of my favorite stops along Blue Mountain Road is the small metal bridge which crosses the narrow stream that is the St. Regis River. Here we watched Eastern Phoebes, Alder Flycatchers, and Common Yellowthroats feed as a Hooded Merganser and later a Wood Duck flew overhead. An adult Bald Eagle flew low along the river too. It can be hard to leave such stops when they are so productive, but we were happy that we did because a mother American Black Bear and her two cubs crossed the road in front of us not long after we left. Had we delayed a little longer or left the bridge too soon we would have missed them. But such is the luck of wildlife watching - the path of an animal must meet the path of the watcher.  And we were fortunate this time.

This photo of a captive American Black Bear is courtesy of

A short distance down the road we found a mother Ruffed Grouse with six chicks - the young all scrambling for cover in the ferns, logs, and low tree limbs. We slid quietly by in the car in an attempt not to disturb them further as the mother bird made soft calls to gather her young back together.

Another of my favorite spots along the road is a wet, boggy area which is great for Northern Waterthrush and Canada Warbler. We heard both almost immediately when we got out of the car and added Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and four Gray Jays as well. A Northern Harrier cruised overhead - a species which I don't usually see along the road but one that does nest in the open bog and marsh habitats of the Madawaska Complex. Once again we could have stayed along that boggy patch of road for a long time, but we knew we needed to keep moving if we weren't going to sweat to death during our hike. After all birding Blue Mountain Road is often so productive that it can take a long time to reach the parking area!Canada Warblers are among my favorite species to see.

A short but very productive hike

And so we started onto the trail from Indian Rock parking area towards Madawaska Pond late in the morning on a hot day, but we had plenty of water and snacks to help us through. And we had plenty of birds too - even though the warm weather was hushing things up a bit. There were lots of Nashville and Magnolia warblers, a few Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Swainson's Thrushes, Hermit Thrushes, and both Blue-headed and Red-eyed vireos. Palm Warblers and Lincoln's Sparrows called from more boggy habitats and the long stretch of white pine forest along the trail held species like Brown Creeper and Pine Warbler.

A Black-backed Woodpecker was one of the highlights during our hike. Photo courtesy of

In an effort not to push our lunch too far off, we turned around and on our way back out I heard the loud call note of a Canada Warbler. I spished and it landed in a dead snag - in great view of everyone. Suddenly a Black-backed Woodpecker called and landed just down the trail - once again cooperating for everyone to enjoy it. And so what could have been a long, hot walk out quickly became exciting. We were happy to reach the car all the same, downing cool water and more food as we drove back to Paul Smiths - after first checking out the bridge over Quebec Brook - a short distance further along Blue Mountain Road. The day had been a great success. After all, the variety of habitats which compose the Madawaska Complex make it an amazing place and in the end we found 68 species on this day.

Just a short drive from the heart of Malone, you can find this great birding environment. Plan your late summer and fall birding trip to the region today! Check out our outdoor recreation, dining, and lodging pages to complete your travel plans.




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