Spring Waterfowl and Raptors
As spring arrives in the North Country and in the Champlain Valley, it finds that it has a battle on its hands. After all, winter is a stubborn adversary and it does not relinquish its hold of the landscape easily. Late March and early April are often marked by snow, sleet, cold north winds, and raw, wet days. Such days often flip-flop with warm, sunny days, displaying how changeable the spring weather can be.
But even in the throes of this fight over the weather, the birds know that spring is here. After all, late winter and early spring are excellent in the Champlain Valley for a wide assortment of ducks and other waterfowl, the birds often packed into the openings in the ice like those which form at the Crown Point Bridge or off Crown Point State Historic Site. Other portions of the lake may open up even sooner, some of them never having frozen completely, and birders can search for any and all of the following on the lapping waves:
- Wood Duck
- Northern Shoveler
- American Wigeon
- Blue-winged Teal
- Green-winged Teal
- Northern Pintail
- Ring-necked Duck
- Lesser Scaup
- Greater Scaup
- American Black Duck
- Barrow’s Goldeneye
- White-winged Scoter
- Long-tailed Duck
- Common Goldeneye
- Black Scoter
- Common Merganser
- Hooded Merganser
- Red-breasted Merganser
In addition, rare species are also often spotted in spring – such as Eurasian Wigeon which has been found at Crown Point in recent years, Harlequin Duck, a pair of which hung out on the Vermont side of the lake all winter, or Tufted Duck, one of which was seen from the Crown Point Bridge at the end of winter. Not only that, but flocks of Canada Geese and Snow Geese might contain less common species such as Greater White-fronted Goose or Barnacle Goose - like was found near Plattsburgh last spring.
And waterfowl aren’t the only aquatic species of note. That list includes Horned, Red-necked, and Pied-billed Grebes, and Red-throated and Common Loons, the latter of which may be heading to the Adirondack lakes to nest.
And while water birds head north, so do raptors. Rough-legged Hawks which spent the winter in the valley race their way toward the arctic and a string of other species follows in their wake. Northern Harriers, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, and others all pass through, some of which might stay for the summer. Soon the Bald Eagles which spent the winter in the valley are back at their enormous stick nests, Osprey have returned, and American Kestrels are hunting along the farm fields which line the lake valley.
Migrant Songbirds and Marsh Species
At the same time, songbirds are also on the move. The hedgerows and frozen marshes of the valley note their first Song Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds of spring, even as lingering Snow Buntings and American Tree Sparrows collectively begin their journey back north. Soon the fields welcome back their first Eastern Meadowlarks and Eastern Bluebirds of the season, while Eastern Phoebes arrive with their angry-sounding calls. Savannah Sparrows likewise arrive in the fields, and they are joined by many other April sparrows on the move – Fox, White-throated, Vesper, Chipping, Swamp, and Dark-eyed Junco – while the spring winds carry the calls of migrating American Pipits.
Local marshes begin to thaw to the pumping sounds of American Bitterns and the winnowing of Wilson’s Snipe, and soon the raucous calls of Caspian Terns can be heard as they fish over the lake. As the season progresses, the marshes welcome back the likes of Virginia Rail, Sora, Green Heron, Great Egret, and a list of birds that seems to grow daily.
The same can be said of the woodlands where Broad-winged Hawks begin to set up their territories during the day and where Barred Owls call at night. Blue-headed Vireos, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Northern Flickers, and Hermit Thrushes all return to the valley as well as early warblers – such as Pine, Palm, and Yellow-rumped – on migration. Although migration is great during May, no one should skip over April in the valley.
May’s A-May-zing Diversity
And then May arrives with Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, migrating White-crowned Sparrows, and a growing list of other songbirds. It is soon a feathered quilt of Least Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbirds, Warbling Vireos, Great Crested Flycatchers, Willow Flycatchers, Wood Thrushes, Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Baltimore Orioles, Bobolinks, Indigo Buntings, Black-billed Cuckoos, and Eastern Wood-Pewees. And then there are the warblers – with over 25 species migrating through the valley including some regionally uncommon species like Golden-winged and Blue-winged, both of which can be found nesting in the valley.
With so many birds on the move through the region and arriving into the region to nest for the summer, May offers evidence once again that every day during migration can be different than its predecessor. And it is time to head to the bird banding station in Crown Point State Historic Site. There birders can check out the banding activities or just wander the trails as they please, finding Warbling Vireo, Eastern Kingbird, and perhaps locally rare species like Prairie Warbler or Orchard Oriole.
Finally, as May ends and many of the warbler species have set up their breeding territories in the Adirondacks, it might be time for a late spring or early summer day trip into the park to not only find nesting warblers but also to search for boreal species like Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Gray Jay, Black-backed Woodpecker, and Boreal Chickadee. After all May and June are quite simply amazing months to bird in the North Country, and there is no end to great places to explore. So whether birders poke around in Adirondack forests or along the marshes, woodlands, and fields of the Champlain Valley, they will be richly rewarded.
Plan your amazing Champlain spring birding trip today!
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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.