The Summer Life
Summer is a time for boating on the lake, swimming in the water, and relaxing as the sun drifts slowly across the sky. For the birds, however, it is a hectic, fast-paced time of year when they set up territories and raise their young, bookended by migration on either end. But that means there is lots for birders to see and enjoy in a short period of time.
While the lake itself is generally quiet during the first half of summer – although places like the Four Brothers Islands are loaded with breeding birds – the habitats which line the valley are full of life. These include the marshes which dot the lake’s edge – including Ticonderoga Marsh, the Chazy Riverlands, Webb Royce Swamp, and Wickham Marsh. Some of these places are best explored by paddling – meaning birders get the chance to boat and bird at the same time. The marshes contain some of the greatest diversity in the region, and trips there can find:
- Wood Ducks
- Blue-winged Teal
- Gadwall, American Bitterns
- Least Bitterns
- Green Herons
- Great Egrets
- Caspian Terns
- Bald Eagles
- Virginia Rails
- Common Gallinules
- Pied-billed Grebes
- Swamp Sparrows
- Marsh Wrens
Away from the water, birders can also explore the many fields which compose the valley – and they can find these species:
- Eastern Meadowlark
- Eastern Bluebird
- Savannah Sparrow
- Wild Turkey
- American Kestrel
- Tree and Barn Swallows
The fields often break-up patches of woodlands, where birders can search for another suite of species. This list consists of birds like Great Crested Flycatcher, Brown Creeper, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Wood Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Black-billed Cuckoo, and Pileated Woodpecker.
The meeting of fields and forests often produce young woods and edge habitats which are some of the most diverse in the valley. These habitats may produce species like Eastern Kingbird, Baltimore Oriole, Willow Flycatcher, Indigo Bunting, Warbling Vireo, and Eastern Towhee. They are also home to warblers such as Common Yellowthroat, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Yellow Warbler, and in some places regionally uncommon species like Golden-winged Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, and Prairie Warbler can be found. Another uncommon warbler – Louisiana Waterthrush – can be found along some of the streams and rivers in the valley, and their riparian home is also welcoming to species like Yellow-throated Vireo and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, both regionally uncommon as well.
Folks interested in a long list of warbler species should take a day trip to the interior Adirondacks where 20 species of warblers nest in the Olympic Region alone. And some of the best coniferous habitats in the center of the park are also some of the best places to find popular boreal breeders – like Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Gray Jay, Black-backed Woodpecker, and Boreal Chickadee.
Witnessing the Amazing Late Summer Migration!
Not only that, but the edge habitats which compose so much of the Champlain Valley are also great for other species of warblers during late summer and early fall. That’s when mixed flocks of birds – many of them warblers - move through the region feeding furiously as they prepare to migrate south. These flocks might also include warblers like Tennessee, Bay-breasted, Wilson’s, and Cape May– all breeders to our north.
Late summer is also the time of year when shorebirds migrate south along Lake Champlain, stopping over to refuel in places like Chazy, Crown Point, or Noblewood Park. These often include common species like Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Killdeer, Semipalmated Plover, and Semipalmated Sandpiper, but may include many regionally uncommon species on the move. This list includes the likes of Baird’s, Pectoral, White-rumped, and Stilt Sandpipers, Red-necked Phalarope, American Golden Plover, and any species of shorebird which passes through the region. Not only that, but late summer flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls often contain Little Gulls – and Lake Champlain is an excellent place to search for this often hard to find species. And as late summer days become late summer evenings, birders can watch Common Nighthawks cruise past overhead feeding on insects while choruses of Barred Owls call from the nearby woods.
And so while early summer is great for finding breeding birds, the late summer is excellent for migrants and a diversity of birds passing through the North Country and along the spine of Lake Champlain. It means that summer is an amazing time to discover the birds of the valley. But birders must plan their trip before it is too late. Because the long summer days don’t last forever, nor does the diversity of summer. It is a time of year to bite into and enjoy, before September advances us into fall and all the birding excitement of that time of year.
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This aptly named Lake Champlain Birding Trail brochure will provide you with details of what species can be found in the region and includes a handy map guide. Click on the image to view and print the brochure.