Natural History

Natural History

Birding By BoatOur birding trip had already been successful when the group I was leading turned its attention to the La Chute River for a canoe trip into Ti Marsh. In fact, we had done so well that we were running late and we had difficulty pulling ourselves away from the birds we were enjoying — although that is the usual state of affairs for such adventures. We even debated skipping the paddle altogether to keep birding from the road instead....
Whether you're dreaming of reeling in The Big One or want your child to get excited about their first fish, the Lake Champlain region is a great place for all those angler delights.From big lake to fast rivers to little ponds, we've got it all. Here's some tips to make sure that fishing trip will be full of memories.The big oneWe are thrilled to announce that our own Lake Champlain is not only a big lake, it is the home of big catches, too. Last...
Annually on a weekend in early August, this year on the 12th and 13th, the Crown Point State Historic Site hosts the French and Indian War Encampment. It’s an exciting weekend for the site, as hundreds of participants and close to a thousand spectators gather to commemorate the significant history of this location. Authentically clad French, British, and Native American regiments and groups camp amongst the ruins of two 18th ...
First Paddle of the Season!While we are firmly paddling through warm weather now, it wasn't so long ago that we loaded our canoe for the first ride of the year. Here's a little recap of another great day on the Adirondack Coast.Wren and I met up with a friend, and after enjoying some birding on dry land, we set out on Scomotion (Dead) Creek just south of Cumberland Head. The put-in is accessed from a small parking lot for a doctor’s office and...
(Featured Image Courtesy and Copyright Fort Ticonderoga)  Just a few more days and Fort Ticonderoga will be open for the season! There you find an ever-changing adventure. I recently spoke directly with Beth Hill, President and CEO of Fort Ticonderoga to get the inside scoop on what exciting experiences we might find at the Fort this year. I will share her insight on a few not-to-be-missed features for this coming season:If cannons...
A Beautiful DayWith the shifting weather patterns of spring comes a changing diversity of birds — seemingly different every day. In an effort to get lucky and find species of note moving into or through the region, I have been outside as often as I can – mostly walking Wren near our home. But when the forecast looked as splendid as it did for a late-April day, it was time for a trip further afield.Species of NoteWhile many locations came to mind...
Birding my way around the lakeWhile our recent late-season storms have made the North Country look like winter again – as it should look at this time of year, in this climate – spring continues to press upon the landscape and the birds know it. With that in mind, Wren and I took the chance to bird our way back from Vermont the other day. Birding has been great in the Lake Champlain Region all winter, but I was curious to see what else was...
Spring WeatherWith spring pushing winter out faster than many of us would like, it is a good time to explore Ausable Marsh Wildlife Management Area. Wren and I had a chance to do so the other day – she loves to play in the sand at the point during the winter.We started by checking out a few close ducks – Hooded Mergansers and Mallards – along the edge of the marsh along the campground road on our way to the point, watching a male Northern...
Technically we may still be in winter, but we're beginning to think spring!Late February’s mild temperatures receded snowbanks and brought in the robins and bluebirds. Seed and plant catalogs have been filling the mailbox for a few weeks now. As I write, I feel the strong heat of the sun pouring through the window. I look out to what’s left of my flower garden; now brown and bedraggled. I have a yearning to get growing. Regional gardeners...
Starting with Boreal Birds and then off to the ValleyMy family recently headed to the Adirondacks to join me for a long weekend of birding. After our success in finding Great Gray Owls in Massena, my brother, his son, and I decided we'd head to the Lake Champlain Region.Before we left the Saranac Lake region, we thought we'd start with a search for boreal birds. We began at Bloomingdale Bog north of Saranac Lake where the Gray Jays entertained...
Westport BirdsI was out with some folks on the weekend, and after some initial debate we stuck to our plan to bird the Lake Champlain Region - even with the excitement surrounding the Ross’s Gull in Tupper Lake. As usual, we began our day at Westport, watching a flyby Pileated Woodpecker, looking through the small groups of Bufflehead and Mallards, and spotting two Double-crested Cormorants – quite uncommon in the valley during the winter. But...
A Return TripAfter our success along the Adirondack Coast a couple weeks ago, Wren and I used the recent long weekend to poke around the lake yet again. It was a fantastically sunny – albeit windy - day. As we often do, we started in Westport, which has been quiet the past few weeks. It stayed true to form with a collection of Mallards and American Black Ducks and a flock of Bufflehead at the boat launch. After checking the overlook at...
New adventures on a beautiful dayWith the beginning of the new year, and a beautiful day in the forecast, Wren and I headed to the Adirondack Coast the other day to see what we could find – it had been too long since we had explored there. We started at Westport like we usually do, and Wren led herself around with her nose while I scanned for ducks on North West Bay. The water was pretty quiet, but I did note a few Common Mergansers, Bufflehead...
It’s that time of year againHard as it is to believe, we have once again cycled through the birding year to the time when Christmas Bird Counts fill our calendars. A few local CBCs were held on Sunday, 12/18/16, including Elizabethtown, Plattsburgh, and also the Vermont Islands count which overlaps across the lake to include the area surrounding Point Au Roche. I was planning to help with this latter count, but I was unable to do it on the count...
Blogger's note: As we once again find ourselves smack in the middle of the holiday chaos, we can't help but remember this adventure at Ausable Chasm. It took place at this time last year, and we think it may be time to head back!It’s a chasm. It’s right there in the name, "Ausable Chasm." I’ve seen chasms before in other parts of the country, and I’ve toured chasms. They’re usually pretty cool but more or less the same. I’ve driven by this...
Early winter birding along the northern Adirondack CoastSo I’ve heard that the ducks, geese, loons, and other aquatic species in the northern Lake Champlain Region complained because their hangouts weren’t profiled in my recent blog post. The responsible party – whom I’m now realizing is me – has been chastised and I’m writing this to make up for my oversight. The truth is, there are many good places in the early winter to look not only for...
Is your holiday shopping incomplete? Still in search of that perfect gift for that special someone? Let me give you some ideas for gifts that will stay with the recipient forever, do not require assembly or the additional purchase of batteries, and won't have you standing in a long checkout line. As an added bonus, they're easy to wrap! We are talking experiences, of course, and the Lake Champlain Region has a wide variety to offer —...
Where the odd birds areFinding a diversity of species of waterfowl – or other aquatic species – in the Southern Lake Champlain Regions requires a number of things.1) You must spend time. 2) You must be patient and work through the shifting flocks which have been arriving from the north.3) You must be lucky.Here's where we can help you! Read on to find out how to use your time, diligence, and luck more effectively by going to the right spots....
A great place to exploreI was heading to Plattsburgh the other day so I figured I would give myself a few hours to explore in and around AuSable Marsh and AuSable Point. It is a great place along the northern shores of the Adirondack Coast to poke around for birds, and the weather, although very windy, was pleasant. Wren and I started with a quick scan of the marsh from the short boardwalk. From here I spotted a Northern Harrier - before we...
A warm startIt was warm and approaching mid-day when Wren and I took to the La Chute River in Ticonderoga to paddle into Ti Marsh the other day. That’s out of the ordinary for me, as I don’t usually paddle during the heat of the day, but that’s how plans sometimes go. I let Wren take a quick dip so she was cool and wet before we pushed off.Birding along the La ChuteThe river offered shade on our way out which was a nice plus, and I hugged any...
Birding between the raindropsAfter our successful trip to the Four Brothers Islands the other day I looked at the sky, and at the time, and debated the possibilities. Rain was already starting and it was forecast to get worse throughout the day, but it was currently light and intermittent and I had already made the trip to the valley, so I decided to bird until the rain sent me home. Since I was in Willsboro I headed north and drove along...
An overcast day on the waterThe day was gray and overcast as five birding friends and I set off from Willsboro Marina to visit the Four Brothers Islands in Lake Champlain. I had never been to the islands before, but my friend had set up a trip with a local charter company (which usually takes fishermen) and it seemed like a good opportunity to check the islands out. After all, the Four Brothers are well known in the local birding world for the...
Another spring trip to the Adirondack Coast - or - How I blew off work to go birdingWork to do, but birds to seeA friend of mine called me a few days ago to ask about the ducks that have been congregating near Crown Point for weeks. He was interested in heading there to see them and to take some photos, and as we chatted he began to tempt me for another run to the Adirondack Coast to find them. I really needed to get writing work done –...
A follow-up tripAfter my successful trip last weekend to the Champlain Valley, I wanted to follow-up to see what I could find as the migration continued to push birds along the lake. While the ducks at Crown Point were once again my main target, I wanted to see what else was around. I started my day at the Westport boat launch like usual. I scanned the water and found a string of Common Loons on their way to northern lakes, as well as a few...
An afternoon in the ValleyI took an afternoon this weekend and headed to the Lake Champlain Region with Wren to see what we could find. There have been a variety of birds arriving in the region and a friend of mine found a Tufted Duck (likely the same bird that was at the Champlain Bridge this winter) in Port Henry a few days earlier. I started in Westport like I often do and found the lake scattered with a few ducks, migrating Common Loons...
Spring Break on the Adirondack CoastWhen most folks think of taking a spring break trip, they often picture warm, sunny places with their toes snuggled deep into the sand. I’ve taken my share of spring trips to such places – landing me in the likes of Florida, Mississippi, and Arizona. But I don’t travel to sit on the beach, go shopping, or lay around the pool. I journey to such places to explore and go birding. So when I go to the beach, I’m...
Ducks at the BridgeOver the past few weeks there has been a large congregation of ducks at the Champlain Bridge in Crown Point – best viewed from Chimney Point State Historic Site in Vermont. Then, just before Super Bowl Sunday, a drake Tufted Duck was found in the mix, but my schedule of work and other responsibilities kept me from searching for it until this past weekend. Ugh – I hate having to wait to find a good bird. The waiting became more...
A Chance to ExploreWith long weekends comes more time for Wren and me to get out exploring. So we took advantage of the recent 3-day weekend to not only stretch our cross-country skiing muscles near home but to go birding in the Lake Champlain Region where a growing throng of ducks has settled near the Champlain Bridge. Well, I went birding. Wren was mostly in it for the ride and the chance to nose around through the snow.The day had started...
An unseasonably warm start to winterWinter has had a difficult time making it to the Adirondacks and the entire northeast this year. A strong El Nino, a jet stream which remains far to the north, and perhaps a dose of climate change have mixed together delivering a concoction of warm air for much longer than many of us would like. Our ski centers were screaming for snow through Christmas and my skis and muscles were getting dusty with neglect....
2015 TOP 3 BLOGS IN REVIEW We scoured our blogs for the most popular, most informative, and just downright oddest pieces from the past year. In case you missed them on the first go-round, here are our top 3 picks from Lake Champlain's Adirondack Coast.#3. Hidden Historical TreasureIn the 1920s a little one-room log cabin was discovered sitting on the ridge on Willsboro Point. It is called the Adsit Cabin and some suspect it may be...
A holiday traditionDuring this time of year of lights, shopping, travels and celebrations, birders add an additional item to their busy calendars: Christmas bird counts. The counts began this past Saturday with counts in Plattsburgh and Ferrisburgh, Vermont (this count includes the Westport area). While my busy schedule precluded me from helping with those, the following day was marked by the Vermont Islands Count, a count which includes the...
Heading North to SouthI had a few stops to make in the Plattsburgh area this weekend, and after I was finished I took advantage of the trip by birding my way south along Lake Champlain. I started at AuSable Marsh Wildlife Management Area and the marsh was quiet, so I walked out to the beach where I could scan the lapping waves. Common loons were scattered here and there across the lake, joined by about the same number of horned grebes....
Planning Around The WeatherI was looking at the weather for a planned guiding trip and saw our recent cold front poised to dump rain and wind upon us. We moved the trip off to coincide with the windy end of the front when it might push some birds of interest our way. It was good that we did. It rained and rained on our original date but when we met at Westport Boat Launch a couple days later it was sunny and blustery with a strong wind out of...
Starting in WestportI was guiding and birding with a friend last week in the Champlain Valley where we worked a section of lakeshore from Westport to Willsboro. We started at the Westport Boat Launch - where I often begin trips that will focus on that region of the lake. The woods were largely quiet, but as I stood there overlooking the water the scolding chatter of Blue Jays and other birds brought a Cooper’s Hawk sitting in a tree to my...
A Chance to ExploreWren and I were exploring the Adirondack Coast and Ticonderoga Area this past week and as part of our adventure we paddled Ticonderoga Marsh. Our trip started off well as a Merlin raced above us as we put-in at the Town of Ticonderoga Recreation Park. We nosed our bow quietly down the La Chute River waving to a few fishermen, who, if we can believe their fish stories, told us they were having good success.Birding as I...
Time for a Trip to ChazyWith August in full swing, it was time for me to take a trip to the Chazy Riverlands to check what shorebirds may be migrating through the area along Lake Champlain. I had a bit of a late start, but I like the afternoon and evening at Chazy anyway. I brought my boat since access to Chazy comes by paddling down along the marshes from the Great Chazy River boat launch, but I ended up deciding to walk into the marshes where...
Another ATBI!This year the Adirondack All-Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) took place in the Essex and Willsboro area of the Champlain Valley and I again helped with it. ATBIs, or Bioblitzes as they are often called, are conducted by naturalists and citizen scientists to help survey and document the diversity of the natural world around us. They are also events where naturalists from different disciplines can meet and learn from one another....
It’s drama time for our rivers, creeks and streams. Melted snow and spring rains have filled their banks to capacity. They are putting on quite a show as they race down the mountains and into the valley, all in a hurry to reach Lake Champlain. It’s my favorite time of year to go out on a waterfall watch and see the fantastic displays. I find moving water mesmerizing, love the sounds and the sparkle as it splashes onward. Here are some of my...
Time for Another Trip to the ValleyWith spring pressing in on all sides, I had been itching to get to the Champlain Valley again to catch migrant and arriving birds while I could. When I found out that a Pink-footed Goose – a European rarity – had been found not far from the Champlain Bridge in Vermont, I contacted a friend to see if he wanted to go look for it. I had seen a Pink-footed in New Jersey in January and this could have been the same...
Of Melting Snow and Frozen IceThe first changes which come with spring are always exciting. I had to meet someone in Plattsburgh this week and took advantage of the trip and the beautiful spring weather to look for birds in the Champlain Valley. The ground was almost devoid of snow across the valley as the warmer temps (when compared to the center of the park) have melted off most of what was on the ground. They still have a long way to go in de...
Abundance of Recreation and NatureSituated directly on the Adirondack Coast, on Lake Shore Road about half way between the hamlets of Westport and Essex, is an unusual site - a remarkable playground for any outdoor enthusiast. There is a plethora of outdoor experiences and recreational opportunities to be had all in one place, rather a one-stop “shopping mall” for nature lovers. This site has everything: history, water, views, cliffs, forest,...
Searching for Open WaterThis past weekend I took advantage of some warmer weather to head to the Champlain Valley for some birding. I’m leading a birdwatching trip in a week and a half and I wanted to scope things out ahead of time. Chief among my concerns was the lack of water, or more correctly, the dominance of ice on the water’s surface. The Essex-Charlotte Ferry recently shut down temporarily due to the ice conditions and that means there...
A Rare and Exciting FindIt was exciting news, although frustratingly so since I couldn’t do anything about it at the time: my friend had texted me that he had found a white-phase Gyrfalcon on the frozen waters of Lake Champlain in Plattsburgh. However, I was out of town and had become quite sick, I needed to wait to heal up before I could go looking for the bird. Other birders did search over the ensuing days, yet none of them came up with...
I work at home when I’m not in the field, and a day at my desk in a drafty corner can make me hunch and shiver and cramp. I need a break and even the shortest of ski outings can increase productivity and improve my frame of mind. The lack of snow this week was a challenge, but I was successful in finding two great snowy destinations that fit my schedule and my level of inspiration.Hidden Quarry TrailOn Thursday I had a full day of paperwork with...
One ThingWhen asked to make a recommendation of one thing that was not to be missed when visiting our Lake Champlain Region I had a very difficult time. After all we are rich with unique features: historic forts, quaint villages, world class art and music, 100+ year old attractions, and an abundance of recreational opportunities. And, all of these features are set against a back drop of awe-inspiring scenic beauty - some of the best in the world...
It’s that time of year when we look forward to what the new year will bring. If this year was any indication, we are in for a wonderful time along the Adirondack Coast in 2015. This year seemed to go by incredibly fast, probably because it was filled with activities and things to do. I reflect back on a few of the highlights.The Grange!The Whallonsburgh Grange! Was there anything that wasn’t happening there this past year? The Champlain Valley...
Winter Birding in the ValleyWhile winter offers us fewer species of birds than does the summer, winter birding is no less interesting as a variety of species from the north come into our area to enjoy our relatively balmy temperatures (when compared to the arctic). I guided a few recent birding trips into the Champlain Valley and while each was a success, the composition of the species we found varied from day to day. For instance, there was a...
A Holiday TraditionChristmas Bird Counts (CBCs) have now started across the country and on Sunday I was out with a friend helping count birds in the area surrounding Point Au Roche north of Plattsburgh. This one is actually part of a count of the islands of northern Lake Champlain in Vermont, but the count circle overlaps the state boundary. After a week filled with snowy, windy, and overcast weather, we had lucked out with a good day. Cloudy...
A Great Day to go Birding in the ValleyWhile the late fall in our region has been marked by a string of snowy days and wintry weather – which may portend a good ski season – I was happy to have a sunny (if cold) day on the weekend to head out for some birding in the Champlain Valley. I had been in and out of town and I hadn’t been able to make it to some of my favorite spots in the Valley for a while so I was excited to see what birds were...
It’s so easy to fall in love with the Lake Champlain Region. I see it on visitors’ faces all the time. “It’s SO beautiful here,” say many first time visitors that walk through the door at the Lake Champlain Visitors Center. The site distance and scenic beauty are captivating; awesome really. The level plane of the lake, juxtaposed against a back drop of the Adirondack Mountains offers an incredibly visually appealing contrast. When you combine...
Putting in on the LaChute RiverWren and I completed a camping trip this past October with a paddle into Ticonderoga Marsh, a beautiful stretch of cattails and mucky edges formed where the LaChute River flows into Lake Champlain. There are two chief ways to access the marsh. The first is to put in at the boat launch near the Ticonderoga Ferry and head south. The second is to use the small boat launch at the Town of Ticonderoga Recreational Park...
Far from home The phone call caught me by surprise. I was out walking with Wren on a recent Saturday, when my friend called to tell me that a Brown Booby had been discovered at the Crown Point Bridge. The Caribbean species was a long, long way from home and I packed up some birding gear and headed down to Crown Point.There was a small gaggle of birders flocked at Crown Point State Historic Site looking through their scopes when I arrived....
CONNECTING NEW YORK AND VERMONTTourism officials in New York and Vermont recently collaborated to bring the two states bordering Lake Champlain together with a program called Bridging Lake Champlain. On both sides of the lake dozens of August events were planned under this umbrella.  One such event I attended  in mid-August was the Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) Maritime Tour. The tour originated in Westport, NY,...
Coot Hill and Big HollowSome time ago Chris Maron, CATS' Executive Director, told me that this spot has a great view--one that's different from the vantage points I'm used to. He was absolutely right. Located in Crown Point, Coot Hill is a new trail on the Champlain Area Trails map. With a name like Coot Hill I had to check out this destination.Getting to Coot HillFrom Port Henry I traveled south on Rte 22 to Edgemont...
I love to fish. Can’t say I’m any good at it, but I do enjoy trying. Fishing Lake Champlain is rather like treasure hunting. With over 90 different species of fish, you never know what you may pull out of the water. At least that is the case with me.Fishing without a boat on Lake ChamplainNot having a boat in my life right now, I fish from shore. One of my favorite places to fish is the Port Henry Pier which is adjacent to the Village of...
Looking for a great hike to fit into a busy vacation?  Last weekend I hiked one of the nicest peaks in the area. Joined by Sophie Gagnon and her companion from Dunham, Quebec I set out to show my visitors as much as I could of the Ticonderoga area. The easiest way to do that is to get up high and see the lay of the land from above.B & B Breakfast I started the morning by picking Sophie and Denis up at Sugar Hill Manor Bed and...
Never the Same TwiceEvery time I enter the grounds of Fort Ticonderoga, I feel like I have stepped onto a sacred place. I am somewhat aware of all the hardships, struggles, and sacrifices made on these 2000 acres when our country was just beginning; although I learn and appreciate more with every visit. Thanks to the Fort Ticonderoga Association, the stories here are preserved, explained in intricate detail and become vividly alive. No matter...
Favorite hike on a favorite day - National Trails DayEach year the first Saturday in June is designated as National Trails Day. There were lots of local celebrations underway last weekend but I decided to do a quick hike on my own to a favorite destination I have frequently done with children--Mount Gilligan. The name itself sounds fun.The Trail for Gilligan BeginsThe trail begins 2.6 miles south of New Russia from a parking area on Scriver Road...
Spring Brings Wildflowers on The Grand HikeYesterday I hiked fourteen miles, beginning just up the hill from home. Thanks to the Champlain Area Trails I was able to hike from the Westport Hotel and Tavern to the Essex Inn on a series of connected sections of easy roadways and very, very pretty trails. For the Champlain Valley this is a new feat and the successful completion of a goal set several years ago by local trailbuilders.I was joined on...
Tracking Wildlife on Snowshoes Sure, a lot of people love snowshoeing on a marked trail to the top of a mountain or along a loop through a beautiful Adirondack forest. That’s admirable.In contrast, my recent snowshoe excursion involved bushwhacking through deep snow over downed trees and frozen swamps; all to solve a mystery. It all started when I saw that Champlain Area Trails (CATS) was hosting a winter wildlife tracking snowshoe...
Lake Champlain is a big attraction in the Adirondacks through every season. The lake dictates weather, moods, activities and gear. This winter has been a wild one. Each week Lake Champlain has had a completely different character. I walk my dog to the boat launch in Westport most days so I have a chance to get up close and watch as the season progresses.  Natures mood swingsIn January, temperatures were too warm to cool the water but...
Serendipity!Centrally located within the Lake Champlain Region, resting on the banks of the Boquet River, is the little hamlet of Whallonsburg. This hamlet is within the Town of Essex, about 4 miles from their NHR collection of houses and the Essex to Charlotte ferry dock. A central focus within this hamlet is The Whallonsburg Grange and what is happening there will surprise you.The Grange building itself is about 100 years old. It flourished in...
            Wren and I visited AuSable Marsh and AuSable Point the other day to look for birds and take a walk.  Even though our goal was to look for waterfowl, our first bird was a Merlin flying fast and low along the road as we were arriving.  The small falcon turned toward the road and came directly over our car!  Merlins tend to make beelines between their destinations and...
  Searching for Raptors (and other predatory birds) in the Magic Triangle          Earlier this week some friends and I drove over to what some birders call the Magic Triangle located between Westport and Essex. We were looking for raptors and other field birds, and there had been reports of a Snowy Owl in the area and we were hoping to see and possibly photograph it.   ...
            Our invasion of Snowy Owls in the Northeast continues.  Snowies are being found up and down the Atlantic seaboard with large numbers in places like coastal Massachusetts and New Jersey, where I saw four while visiting family over the holidays.  In the past week in our region alone a Snowy Owl was found along Moffit Road in Plattsburgh, at least one and perhaps two...