Paddling calm waters yields encounters with 37 species
By Mike Lynch
Fishing Brook has the feel of a brook deep in the backcountry. The air is often thick with bugs and the sounds of birds. Beaver dams clog the waterway, creating meadows. Yellow wildflowers—swamp candles—light up the shorelines. Brook trout swim in the shadows.
The only intrusions on the wild experience are vehicle noises from nearby State Route 28N, which connects the tiny communities of Newcomb and Long Lake, and some logging on the surrounding conservation easement.
Fishing Brook and the connected County Line Flow opened to the public as part of the state’s deal with the Nature Conservancy to preserve the former Finch, Pruyn & Co. timberlands. The land around the water is mostly off-limits. Boaters aren’t allowed to go ashore on County Line Flow other than at a take-out. Fishing Brook, in addition to having the put-in, allows more access as the shorelines allow public fishing rights for 33 feet from the water.
I visited the area with birding guide Joan Collins last summer in the second week of July. We arrived just after sunrise, hoping to find some boreal birds and perhaps even a moose, which drivers have spotted from the highway over the years.
A few years prior, on a late-September day, Collins spotted a large bull moose standing by the guardrail when she was driving by. She speculated the animals probably spend some time in these waters and wetlands, a common activity for them in early summer when the bugs are abundant and there is plenty of aquatic vegetation to eat.
We visited mainly for the birds and scenery. As we stood in the small dirt parking lot, Collins recalled how there had previously been a redwing black bird nest with babies there.
We took our canoes from our vehicles and walked them down to the put-in upstream from the bridge we had just driven over. After getting in our boats, we paddled upstream on the slow-moving waterway.
If not for that day’s cloud cover, Collins said, Kempshall Mountain would have been visible. The peak on the east side of Long Lake once had a fire tower, now removed. Without it the summit offers little view and the trail is abandoned. I tried to follow the trail more than a decade ago and was able to get near the summit, but it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable hike. The main thing I remember from the trip was finding pile after pile of moose scat.
Our focus on this day was on navigating the small stream. We lifted our boats over and around beaver dams. Alders lined the shorelines, and we found a little overflow area obscured by the tall vegetation. Eventually, we weren’t able to go upstream anymore due to the beaver dams, so we turned around and drifted downstream. “The water is calm, so you can kind of paddle along at a very slow speed and listen,” Collins later said.
Listening is one of the things she does best. This spring, when the Adirondacks were shut down due to the pandemic, she would go out on the highways at night, stopping her vehicle in the darkness to listen for owls. This July day, as she navigated the waterway, was no different. She constantly paused, looking into the trees and listening to the sounds of the birds. She rattled off bird names by the dozen. She later provided me with a list of the birds we had encountered, a total of 37 species including 10 warblers. It included chimney swifts, heron gulls, a turkey vulture, loons, a black-throated green warbler and a yellow-rumped warbler.
On a previous visit she had even heard a rusty blackbird—a boreal bird whose population has plummeted in recent years.
This day’s highlight came after we drifted downstream of the bridge, when we pulled over and pointed our boats into the stream-side vegetation. High in one of the dead trees was an olive-sided flycatcher. The bird would sit still for a few minutes on one of the top branches, then flitter away as it scoured the area for dragonflies.
“I could watch bird behavior forever,” Collins said.
Olive-sided flycatchers prefer snags, so they can be easy to find. They love beaver-created wetlands, in particular, she said. They are great for birders because they are loud, according to Collins, and their mnemonic for songs is easy to remember. Their calls sound like someone saying, “a quick three beers.”
“You can hear them a mile away,” Collins said.
We continued downstream, up and over a large beaver dam that spanned this stretch of wide brook. We then glided downstream, passing tree swallows and listening to the distant sound of the bird we had just been watching.
Fishing Brook opened into County Line Flow, where we saw some loons drifting in the distance. Here, the wind picked up a bit as we paddled around for a short while.
Before long, we decided to head back to the brook, heading upstream into the calm water. There was little wind here and it was easy to navigate to the take-out.
“It’s more peaceful to be on a brook or a river in the Adirondacks,” Collins said.