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. 

Essex-Char Ferry, credit Alan Belford
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
  • Gadwall
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Mallard
  • Northern Pintail
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Redhead
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Greater Scaup
  • American Black Duck
  • Canvasback
  • Barrow’s Goldeneye
  • White-winged Scoter
  • Long-tailed Duck
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Bufflehead
  • 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. Glaucous Gull, credit Larry Master

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! 

Bohemian Waxwing, credit Alan Belford

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Lake Champlain Birding Trail Brochure

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.

Essex Ferry Terminal

The Essex Ferry area is a good place to look for wintering waterfowl during the cold months. Begg’s Point Park, just south of the ferry terminal offers another view of the area. The ferry terminal...

Dock St, Essex, 12936
Magic Triangle

The Magic Triangle, composed of Clark, Cross, and Lakeshore Roads (which form a triangle) south of Essex is a collection of woodlots and fields which attract birds throughout the year. Baltimore...

Cross, ,
Ticonderoga Boat Launch Area

This shoreline location is well-situated to observe sweeping shorelines on both sides of Lake Champlain. In spring and fall, the lake becomes a migratory highway which funnels traffic between the...

Route 74, Ticonderoga, 12883
Crown Point Boat Launch Area

Part of an area with many vantage points to view common merganser, bufflehead, common goldeneye, hooded merganser, mallard, black duck, and greater and lesser scaup. Also look for wintering...

Bridge Road, Crown Point, 12928
Wickham Marsh

Wickham Marsh comprises over 860 acres of forest and marshland. In winter, birders can park in the parking area and walk up the berm to the railroad tracks to scan the lake for ducks.


Route 373, Keeseville, 12944
Westport Boat Launch

Westport’s position on North West Bay is optimal for finding wintering and migrating waterfowl and other species along the lake. Look for many duck species including common and Barrow’s goldeneye...

Route 22, Westport, 12993
Whallons Bay

Whallon Bay, which is most easily viewed from Albee Road south of Essex is a good place to look for ducks in the winter when mixed species flocks will feed in the bay. The flocks often include...

Albee Road, Essex, 12936
Ausable Marsh Wildlife Management Area

In winter, AuSable Point Campground is closed to camping, but open to walking and birding. It can be a great place to find mixed flocks of wintering ducks. These include common species such as...

3346 Lake Shore Road, Plattsburgh, 12901
Wilcox Dock

The City of Plattsburgh offers a few good places to check out Lake Champlain. Wilcox Docks and boat launch area gives birders good views of Cumberland Bay and the surrounding lake where they can...

Wilcox Dock, Plattsburgh, 12901
Port Henry Boat Launch Area

The Port Henry Boat Launch offers the best views of Bulwagga Bay to the south, where large mixed species of flocks of ducks often spend the winter. Look for common goldeneye, common and hooded...

Powerhouse Park
Dock Lane, Port Henry, 12974
Lake Champlain Bridge

The Crown Point Bridge area between New York State and Vermont can be a great place to look for wintering and migrating waterfowl. Access comes from the nearby state campground and...

Bridge Road, Crown Point, 12928
Pauline Murdock Wildlife Management Area

This wildlife area is 68.5 acres of boreal northern forest, with areas of river and flood plains. It consists of seven different ecological habitats: red maple?hardwood swamp, hemlock-hardwood...

Elizabethtown-Wadhams Road, Elizabethtown, 12932
Westport Area Fields

The fields and woodlots south of Westport support a variety of breeding birds including warblers, field birds, and year round red-tailed hawks. It is easiest to cover the area by driving Dudley,...

and Stevenson Roads, ,
Port Kent Ferry Terminal

The Port Kent Ferry Terminal offers another good place to check out Lake Champlain and is most productive during the cold months. There a variety of ducks may over winter or migrate through, and...

Front Street, Au Sable Chasm, 12911
Westport Water Treatment Facility

The water treatment facility in Westport off Marks Road is a good place to check Lake Champlain in fall and winter. It is there that Hotsington Brook exits into the lake and a small sandy spit is...

Marks Road, Westport, 12993
Crown Point Ruins - Birding and Banding

Like Fort Ticonderoga, Crown Point State Historic Site offers birding along Lake Champlain against a...

Bridge Road, Crown Point, 12928
Coon Mountain Preserve

Coon Mountain has a craggy interior with rocky outcrops, steep cliffs, and talus slopes. In shade there are abundant hemlocks, while the sunnier spots support oak and pine forests. Look for the...

Halds Road, Westport, 12993
Cook Mountain Preserve

The Cook Mountain Preserve covers 200 acres with a wide variety of terrain. The summit of the mountain offers views of Lake George, the Champlain Valley, and Vermont's Green Mountains. The...

Baldwin Road, Ticonderoga, 12883
Putnam Pond Campground

This campground is in an especially lush environment for water birds. Putnam Pond flows into North Pond, is surrounded by Rock and Clear ponds to the west, and Haymeadow Pond and Cranberry Marsh...

763 Putts Pond Road, Ticonderoga, 12883
Mouth of the Saranac River

The mouth of the Saranac River in Plattsburgh can be a good place to look for ducks in winter. A small city park provides access to the area, where there is always some open water, even in winter...

Champlain Park, Plattsburgh, 12901
Chimney Point State Historic Site

Chimney Point State Historic Site in Vermont sits on the Vermont side of the Champlain Bridge. It...

7305 VT Route 125, Crown Point, 05491
Fort Ticonderoga birding

While a visit to Fort Ticonderoga is usually aimed at understanding American history, the fort’s grounds can be excellent for birding. Scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and Baltimore...

100 Fort Ti Rd, Ticonderoga, 12883
Cumberland Head

Cumberland Head sits just north of Plattsburgh and the area is a good place to check for wintering and migrating water birds. Any water access is worth checking, but two prominent places are the...

152 Cumberland Head Road, Plattsburgh, 12901
Willsboro Bay Boat Launch Area

While the surrounding woodlots support a variety of breeding birds, like many sites along Lake Champlain, Willsboro Bay is very productive in the fall and spring. In fall, the bay can support...

Farrell Road, Willsboro, 12996
Putts Creek Wildlife Management Area

This 113 acres wildlife area features a stream and a marsh, and is more readily accessible via boat than on foot. Look for two yellow-painted iron pipes (seen on PDF map) to find the 30 foot right...

Wolcott Road, Crown Point, 12928
Poke-O-Moonshine Campground Area

The rugged cliffs of Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain are favorite nesting places of the local peregine...

NYS Route 9N, Keeseville, 12944
Noblewood Park birding

A town park of the Town of Willsboro, Noblewood Park is one of the best birding sites in the Champlain Valley. The wooded trails host a variety of breeding songbirds during the summer and the area...

Route 22, Willsboro, 12996
Webb Royce Swamp

Located within the Magic Triangle, Webb Royce Swamp has historically been a great birding location with...

Lake Shore Road, Westport, 12993
Port Douglas Boat Launch Area

A beautifully situated spot with views of both the sheltered Corlaer Bay and the open water of Lake Champlain. Nearby Schuyler Island (aka Schuylers Island and Whitney Island) has a rocky shore...

Port Douglas Road, Keeseville, 12944
Hurricane Mountain Primitive Area

Hurricane Mountain outside the Village of Keene is a popular hike along the three trails that take hikers to the summit. It can also be good for birding, and a variety of breeding birds call the...

Hurricane Road, Elizabethtown, 12932
Coot Hill (Big Hollow) Trail

Coot Hill has gained fame with birders in recent years as a good place to watch hawks during migration – including Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, Osprey, Broad-winged Hawks, and anything else...

6482 Main Street
POB 193, Westport, 12993
Bulwagga Bay Park

Another location to view Bulwagga Bay from Port Henry, what many locals call Sandy Beach is reached along Bulwagga Drive and adjoins the Bulwagga Bay Campground and RV Park. In spring and...

Bulwagga Bay Rd, Port Henry, 12974
Ticonderoga Marsh

Ticonderoga Marsh (often called Ti Marsh) sits tucked in along Lake Champlain where the La Chute River dumps into the lake. The marsh is best accessed by launching a canoe below the falls on the...

LaChute River Delta, Ticonderoga, 12883
Mt Defiance

A hike or drive (note this is a toll road owned by Fort Ticonderoga. Access is included with daily admission) up Mt. Defiance in Ticonderoga is worth the trip for the commanding view of Lake...

Mt Defiance Road, Ticonderoga, 12883