Bird watching

Cool-weather birding in the Champlain Valley

Fall may be the time of year when the Champlain Valley is at its best for birding. Like everywhere else in the North Country, fall migration in the valley begins during the second half of summer when shorebirds of a variety of species move along the spine of the lake and feed in places like Ticonderoga Marsh, Noblewood Park, Westport, and the Chazy Riverlands.

Birders can find regionally uncommon or rare species mixed in with the common species on the move. As summer transitions into fall, many of the species will have moved on, but birders will still find Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, Sanderling, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, with the potential for species like White-rumped Sandpiper, among others.

Where to start?

The marshes of the valley are likewise exciting with American Bittern, Green Heron, Virginia Rail, Sora, and others possible. The marsh edges and lakefront can also attract species like Caspian Terns and Bonaparte’s Gulls and the Champlain Valley is a great place to look for migrating Little Gulls – often mingled in the flocks of Bonaparte’s. Early fall cold fronts are also excellent opportunities to scan the lake for uncommon or rare species in the region – like Parasitic Jaeger. 

Forest and field 

But despite the possibilities which exist along the water for rare species on these cold fronts, birders should not ignore the surrounding forests either. Late summer and early fall offer amazing displays of songbird diversity, and birders can find Scarlet Tanager, Swainson’s and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, Indigo Bunting, Black-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Kingbird, Olive-sided and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, and Philadelphia, Warbling, Red-eyed, and Blue-headed Vireos. It is amazing to see what the shifting flocks of birds can contain! And then there are the warblers.

Warblers move through the region in droves during the fall with the breeding species mixing with migrants from our north to form large waves of birds which push through the trees and shrubs as they refuel for their long flight. Birders can find better than 20 species of warblers in the valley during the migration – including local breeders like American Redstart, Black-throated Green, and Yellow-rumped as well as species like Cape May, Bay-breasted, Tennessee, and Wilson’s which breed to our north. Many birders may want to take a trip into the interior Adirondacks for migrating warblers – checking out boreal habitats for the likes of Black-backed Woodpecker, Gray Jay, and Boreal Chickadee while they are at it. They should check out the Saranac Lake website to learn more. 

And as fall cold fronts push our warblers south, migrating sparrows arrive in the valley – once again adding their numbers to our breeding birds. These include White-throated, White-crowned, Vesper, Fox, and Savannah Sparrows – and anything which breeds in the northeast can be found in the hedgerows which line so many of the valley’s fields. Later in the fall these same fields attract Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, and Lapland Longspurs, and arriving American Tree Sparrows. 

Birds of prey 

But the birds of the hedgerows and fields need to keep their eyes open – their numbers attract a suite of raptors on their way south as well. In fact, the Champlain Valley offers a great place to look for migrating birds of prey and birders can search for any of the following:

  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Merlin
  • American Kestrel
  • Northern Goshawk
  • Golden Eagle
  • Cooper ’s Hawk
  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Bald Eagle
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Osprey
  • Northern Harrier
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Rough-legged Hawk

 

Some species like Rough-legged Hawk will stick around all winter while others move through quickly or may linger only as long as they can find enough to eat. Two other predatory species also add themselves to this assemblage – as Northern Shrikes arrive – often spending part or most of the winter, and Short-eared Owls arrive and stay long enough to get tallied on Christmas Bird Counts in the region. 

To the lake

But even with all this action in the fields and forests of the valley, it is the lake itself which may be the biggest draw for birders. For as fall progresses an array of waterfowl and aquatic species migrate through the valley. Their movement starts slowly in mid-fall but despite such gradual beginnings, it is a time of year when many less common species like Red-throated Loon, Brant, and Red-necked Grebe can be found. It then picks up with more and more arriving waterfowl and birders can sort through the flocks to find any of the following ducks:

  • Wood Duck
  • White-winged Scoter
  • Surf Scoter
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Redhead
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Northern Pintail
  • Mallard
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Greater Scaup
  • Gadwall
  • Common Merganser
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Canvasback
  • Bufflehead
  • Black Scoter
  • Barrow’s Goldeneye
  • American Wigeon
  • American Black Duck

 

Later fall expectations

Goose numbers too peak during the latter half of fall – with the Northern Champlain Valley being the center of the Snow Goose universe. It is then that Ross’s Geese are commonly mixed in with Snows, and when large flocks of Canada Geese contain Greater White-fronted or Cackling Geese. But the geese do not remain forever and begin to push south on cold northern winds by mid-December, leaving us with a diversity of ducks to begin the winter. Fall is, after all, a long time of transition and even as it ends at the darkest and coldest time of the year, it leaves us as another exciting birding season begins. 

Find your nest

Summer birding in the Lake Champlain Region is amazing! 

Browse our lodging selection to find the stay that's right for you. Birding is just one of the many things to do in the region, and many activities can be done while you're birding! 

 

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.

Whallon 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...

Location: 
Albee Road, Essex, 12936
Wilcox Docks

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...

Location: 
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...

Location: 
Powerhouse Park
Dock Lane, Port Henry, 12974
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...

Location: 
Route 74, Ticonderoga, 12883
Crown Point Ruins - Birding and Banding

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

Location: 
Bridge Road, Crown Point, 12928
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...

Location: 
Clark, Essex, 12936
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...

Location: 
Baldwin Road, 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...

Location: 
152 Cumberland Head Road, Plattsburgh, 12901
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...

Location: 
Dock St, Essex, 12936
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...

Location: 
Elizabethtown-Wadhams Road, Elizabethtown, 12932
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...

Location: 
3346 Lake Shore Road, Plattsburgh, 12901
Wickham Marsh

Winter Overview and Trail Conditions:

Wickham Marsh Wildlife Management Area encompasses 862 acres offering a wide variety of loop opportunities. Since the...

Location: 
Route 373, Keeseville, 12944
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...

Location: 
Front Street, Au Sable Chasm, 12911
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...

Location: 
Wolcott Road, Crown Point, 12928
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...

Location: 
Route 22, 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...

Location: 
Port Douglas Road, Keeseville, 12944
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...

Location: 
Farrell Road, Willsboro, 12996
Chimney Point State Historic Site

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

Location: 
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...

Location: 
100 Fort Ti Rd, 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...

Location: 
Bridge Road, Crown Point, 12928
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...

Location: 
763 Putts Pond Road, Ticonderoga, 12883
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...

Location: 
Hurricane Road, Elizabethtown, 12932
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...

Location: 
Halds Road, Westport, 12993
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,...

Location: 
and Stevenson Roads, ,
Poke-O-Moonshine Campground Area

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

Location: 
NYS Route 9N, Keeseville, 12944
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...

Location: 
Champlain Park, Plattsburgh, 12901
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...

Location: 
Marks Road, Westport, 12993
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...

Location: 
Route 22, Willsboro, 12996
Webb Royce Swamp

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

Location: 
Lake Shore Road, Westport, 12993
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...

Location: 
Bridge Road, Crown Point, 12928