- a unique blend of striking scenic beauty, endless outdoor recreational opportunities and celebrated heritage.
Fall along Lake Champlain has a lot to offer for outdoor activities. It is a great place to go birding along the lake before they get prepared to migrate. While summer’s warmth may tarry longer in the Champlain Valley than it does anywhere else in the region, some of the signs of fall in the bird world are first noticed here. The Champlain Valley offers a migration route for a variety of shorebird species which move south from the arctic in the latter half of the summer, and many of them stop through on their way. Birders should scan through the mudflats, beaches, and flooded fields for a list of species which includes Sanderling, Dunlin, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Semipalmated, Black-bellied, and American Golden Plovers, and Wilson’s Snipe. Uncommon species on the move in the region include Stilt, Baird’s, and White-rumped Sandpipers, and Red-necked Phalaropes, among others. Since many of these birds remain only briefly to refuel before moving on, getting out regularly is important for birders who wish to see them.
While the shorebirds are moving south along the mudflats of the valley, songbirds are passing through the valley’s forests - gleaning fruit, insects, and other invertebrates as they make pit stops on their way. The list of species is long and includes thrushes like Veery, Swainson’s, and Gray-cheeked, flycatchers such as Olive-sided, Yellow-bellied, and Eastern Kingbird, Red-eyed, Blue-headed, and Philadelphia Vireos, Scarlet Tanagers, and Black-billed Cuckoos.
For many people, warblers on the move are the highlight of migration and they can search for the likes of Cape May Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Tennessee Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, and any other species which breeds in the northeast, meaning catching a migrating flock of warblers can truly be a colorful show.
As fall progresses, the forests become the property of Golden-crowned Kinglets, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Sparrow numbers begin to grow too as White-crowned, Fox, and Vesper Sparrows begin to arrive, joining the Song, Swamp, Chipping, and Savannah Sparrows which have been here for the summer. The latter half of fall also often brings with it migrating finches like Pine Siskins, and the rolling, trilled calls of Bohemian Waxwings prepared to dine on valley fruit all winter.
Raptors too move along the valley and birders can look for them in the fields, and perched in the hedgerows as they hunt for unwary songbirds and rodents. A hike up Coon Mountain or Mt. Defiance can offer a great vantage point to see them flying south, and birders can find any species from the northeast. These include:
Some species, like Rough-legged Hawks, arrive late in the fall and some will remain in the area all winter, while others, like the Osprey, clear out relatively early to warmer climates further south. And hawks are not the only predatory migrants. Short-eared Owls likewise use the lake as a migration route, generally showing up in early November. The late fall also often finds a few Snowy Owls too – visitors from the arctic in search of more favorable winter conditions. And don’t forget to keep an eye on the hedgerows for the shape of a Northern Shrike – a predatory passerine that is always a treat to see.
The same migratory process happens with waterfowl which move in huge numbers along the north-south highway of the lake. Many species will use the lake as a route south, while for others it is their wintering destination. This makes fall a great time to look for ducks as cold northern winds push them south. Birders can find any of the following:
And the movement of aquatic birds doesn’t stop there. Common and Red-throated Loons, Horned and Red-necked Grebes, and huge numbers of geese move through the valley each year. The goose numbers can be mind-boggling as string after string of Snow Geese can be seen flying south along the lake. The geese are often concentrated in the Northern Champlain Valley north of Plattsburgh near Point AuRoche, and they number in the tens and tens of thousands. Patient birders can sift through the mass and find the rarer Ross’s Goose, and patient searching through large flocks of Canada Geese may find either Cackling or Greater White-fronted Goose as a reward. After all, cold days and long nights do not mean the end of great valley birding. It only marks a new beginning.
Lake Champlain has an array for even the pickest of birds, 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 can be done while your birding!
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.
with a head-to-tail length of 36-55 inches and wingspan of 66- 79 inches, it's no wonder this bird is the largest North American species.