Goose, goose, duck, duck, duck

The beginning of winter is often marked by the movement of thousands of Canada and Snow Geese along the spine of Lake Champlain, just in time for the local Christmas Bird Counts. The geese arrive and begin to migrate south during the fall, but their numbers often build until consistent winter weather begins to force them south. It is then that the Snow Goose spectacle in the northern Champlain Valley glitters with white wings in the sky, and their numbers can approach 100,000 birds. The large flocks of Canadas and Snows also often hold uncommon species like Ross’s, Cackling, Greater White-fronted, and Barnacle Goose, and this year a Pink-footed Goose showed up in Plattsburgh in November.

C.Goldeneye and Tufted Duck; credit Larry Master

Duck numbers and diversity also build during the fall, and late fall and early winter days can be great up and down the lakeshore. Once winter begins to freeze the lake, places like Ausable Marsh and the Champlain Bridge can become great for ducks as the ice pushes the birds on the lake into higher concentrations. And birders can stand there in the cold picking through the rafts of both species of scaup, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Mallard, and American Black Duck.

Essex-Char Ferry, credit Alan Belford

In this way birders can find any species of duck that moves through the North Country, including species like Redhead, Canvasback, Tufted Duck, and Barrow’s Goldeneye. Eurasian Wigeon may also be found in flocks of American Wigeon – most often in late winter as the lake softens. Many of these ducks will remain in the valley all winter long as long as there is open water available to them. If the lake freezes, they become packed into the lanes of water kept open by the ferry traffic at Essex and Cumberland Head.

Glaucous Gull, credit Larry Master

Grebes, loons, and gulls

Ducks aren’t the only aquatic species of note. Horned and Red-necked Grebes move along the lake in the fall, some staying into winter. The same is true of Red-throated and Common Loons. And no birder should skip over the gulls, which begin to congregate in places like the sand spit at the Westport Wastewater Treatment Facility, Noblewood Park, and the mouth of the Saranac River in Plattsburgh. Glaucous, Iceland, and Lesser Black-backed Gulls are all found somewhat regularly, and less common species may also make a cameo. It means that birders must constantly sift through flocks of common gulls, geese, and ducks to find the odd species which are certainly there. And it makes for a fantastic time to bird the valley.

Lapland Longspur, credit Larry Master

Winter finches and raptors

But there is another entire set of species to search for away from the water. After all, the fields and hedgerows of the Champlain Valley attract flocks of Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, American Tree Sparrows, and Lapland Longspurs, not to mention the flocks of finches – like Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, and Pine Siskin – at local bird feeders. Of more interest, Evening Grosbeaks sometimes descend upon feeders in the region to pound seed, and in some years Common Redpolls arrive from the north in numbers, hiding Hoary Redpolls in the flocks. Fruit trees in towns are also worth watching as Bohemian Waxwings annually arrive to pick them clean, and we are occasionally graced by Pine Grosbeaks.

Bohemian Waxwing, credit Alan Belford

The activity of so many birds may draw in hunting Northern Shrikes, Cooper’s Hawks, or a lingering Merlin, meaning that birders are not the only ones who need to be vigilant. And while Bald Eagles may prefer the ice edge on the lake, the farm fields also attract raptors – with Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawks, and Rough-legged Hawks in search of rodents in the fields along the lake – including places like the Magic Triangle near Essex, Crown Point, and Point Au Roche.

Snowy Owl, credit Larry Master

Early winter is also marked by hunting Short-eared Owls working the fields at dusk, and this winter is already shaping up to be incredible for Snowy Owls after a successful summer of nesting in the arctic. Snowy Owls are being seen at the start of winter all along Lake Champlain – a trend which promises to continue. Not only that, but early December has already been marked by a visit by a white phase Gyrfalcon in the Northern Champlain Valley!

Crossbills and Adirondack boreal birds

While that should be enough to keep people from being bored by convincing them to poke around the valley in search of birds all winter, birders may want to take a winter trip into the Adirondacks as well. While birders can find both Red and White-winged Crossbills on the move along the lake, both species are more easily found in the center of the park where they dine on the seeds of conifers. This year’s cone crop was excellent and both species nested in the Adirondacks this year – and this winter is forecast to be good for both species. Interested birders should check out the websites for Hamilton County and Saranac Lake to learn more.

Red Crossbill, credit Larry Master

And, if they are searching for crossbills, birders will likely end up in the boreal habitats of the Adirondacks. There they can find resident boreal species — Gray Jay, Black-backed Woodpecker, and Boreal Chickadee — more evidence that no matter how snowy and cold it remains outside, the birding can be hot. But just for comfort’s sake, maybe you should pack along some extra hot cocoa to celebrate a great day of birding. 

Find your nest

Winter birding in the Lake Champlain Region is amazing! 

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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.

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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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...

and Lakeshore Roads, ,
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
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
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
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
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, ,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Webb Royce Swamp

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

Lake Shore Road, Westport, 12993
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
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
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
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