Bird watching

A Time of Change

If a season could be summed up in a single word, then the word for autumn might be transformation. After all, as fall begins, the landscape is often sunny and warm, and by the time it ends, it leads us into the cold, white world of winter. Between those points, our late summer and early fall wildflowers bloom, our nighttime temperatures dip to frosty lows, and the leaves of maples, aspens, beeches, birches, and everything else turn orange, gold, yellow, red, and brown.

Our birds too are changing. Fall in the bird world begins during the second half of the summer, when many of our birds molt and when shorebirds begin to head south from their nesting homes in the arctic. They can show up anywhere in the region – from the muddy edges of lakes to the sand bars in streams – and the Champlain Valley is the best place in the region to find them on the move. They include everything from Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs to Killdeer, Semipalmated Plover, and American Golden Plover, to Least, Solitary, Baird’s, and White-rumped Sandpipers.

Late Summer and Early Fall Songbirds

Late summer is also noted for the flocks of songbirds which are dispersing, congregating, and migrating into and through the region. These include any species of songbird found in the northeast, and the flocks are often composed of species like Indigo Bunting, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-eyed, Blue-headed, and Philadelphia Vireos, Least Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Veery, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, and Black-billed Cuckoo.

Of course, warblers are quite often the stars of such mixed flocks and about 25 species can be found on migration through the region during late summer and early fall. And so birders can find flocks with the likes of Northern Parula, Palm, Nashville, Magnolia, Tennessee, Cape May, Bay-breasted, Wilson’s, and many others.

Late August and September may also be marked by migrating birds over Lake Champlain, and species like Black Tern, Little Gull or (rarer) Parasitic Jaeger may be found. As September advances, the warbler waves move south and out of the region. Lingering warblers like Pine and Yellow-rumped may then be mixed with flocks of Black-capped Chickadees, Red and White-breasted Nuthatches, Blue-headed Vireos, Brown Creepers, and both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets. Sparrow numbers build and the diversity includes the likes of Song, Swamp, Vesper, White-throated, White-crowned, Savannah, Fox, and Dark-eyed Junco.

Raptors, Wintering Birds, and Aquatic Species

These songbirds will do well to keep an eye open for migrating raptors like Merlin and Sharp-shinned Hawk, and the Champlain Valley is a good place to watch for raptors heading south. The list of raptors includes:

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

Some of these species – like Rough-legged Hawk – will remain all winter, while most of the others continue on past us. And these migrants may include Short-eared Owls which hunt in our fields for a while until winter forces them south. Other predatory birds like Northern Shrike also show up in the fall and some remain all winter. Songbirds like American Tree Sparrow, Snow Bunting, Bohemian Waxwing, Horned Lark, Lapland Longspur, and Pine Siskin may do likewise.

The same is true of waterfowl which migrate south during the fall. The long list includes many species which will remain in the valley all winter so long as there is open water. Others will only pass through and individual birds may linger for perhaps a day or only hours as they rest and feed during their travels. The wide diversity is composed of species like:

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

And ducks aren’t the only aquatic species on the move. Red-throated Loons, Common Loons, Red-necked Grebes, Horned Grebes, Pied-billed Grebes, and others pass through as well. And soon enough late fall is characterized by enormous flocks of Snow Geese which descend upon the Northern Champlain Valley in great, white, honking clouds. Their numbers hide several Ross’s Geese every year, and the numbers of Canada Geese in the valley may also contain Greater White-fronted Goose, Cackling Goose, and rarer species like Barnacle Goose. Depending upon the weather, the Snow Geese will remain until the Christmas Bird Counts of the holidays, covering the ground like the new fallen snow of the season.

And so the fall brings us straight into winter and all the birding possibilities it offers.

Find your nest

Late summer and fall birding in the Lake Champlain Region is amazing! 

Read all the latest birding blogs from our experts.

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.

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
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