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Spring in the bird world begins during the winter when everything is still ice and snow covered. Little by little the icy armor which has hidden the waters of Lake Champlain for much of the winter begins to show weakness as small openings form, which the southern wind and sun widen into gaping holes ripe for migrating waterfowl. After all, Champlain’s north-south orientation makes for a perfect migratory flyway as waterfowl head north during the spring. And while many ducks have lingered in the lake all winter, their numbers boom in the late winter and early spring when almost any species which passes through the region can be found. These include:
Other waterfowl includes flocks of Canada and snow geese. Birders can also look for other aquatic species like pied-billed, horned, and red-necked grebes, and common loon. It is a good time of year to find uncommon or regionally rare species in the mix as a result.
Bald eagles may also be attracted to these openings in the ice – on the lookout for unwary waterfowl or the chance to catch a fish. Many of the eagles will likely have spent the entire winter, but by early spring the openings in the water will also attract fishing osprey. They are just one of several species of raptors which migrate into and through the region during the spring. The valley isn’t just good for waterfowl on the move – raptors use the fields and woodlands to hunt on their way north through the region.
By late winter many of the wintering raptors have shifted north – most notably rough-legged hawks. But they bring other species along in their wake allowing birders to look for any and all of the following:
And while owl species have lingered all winter long, spring finds them to be more vocal as they set up and maintain breeding territories, making barred, great horned, and eastern screech owls easier to find.
At the same time that raptors and waterfowl are racing their way north along the valley, songbirds begin to quietly trickle in – which, like the owls, often note their presence by vocalizing on territory. Song sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, common grackles, and eastern bluebirds are some of the earliest species to arrive, but they are soon joined by increasing numbers of white-throated and chipping sparrows and dark-eyed juncos.
Soon other less common species of sparrows can be found on their way north and birders should check for the likes of fox, field, vesper, and Lincoln’s. At the same time eastern phoebes, ruby-crowned kinglets, and soon enough blue-headed vireos begin to arrive.
The brown fields of winter too begin to gain birds as they start with new spring growth as savannah sparrows and eastern meadowlarks return. Later in the season bobolinks will join them. And all those hedgerows which line the fields are soon attracting migrant warblers, vireos, tanagers, flycatchers, and thrushes on their way through the region.
Many of these species stay for the summer with species like black-billed cuckoo, Baltimore oriole, eastern wood-pewee, eastern kingbird, warbling vireo, indigo bunting, and great-crested flycatcher setting up shop to breed. These same areas harbor common warblers like yellow warbler and common yellowthroat, but also potentially can contain less common species like prairie, golden-winged, and blue-winged warblers.
Any birder on the spring hunt for warblers in the valley should visit Crown Point State Historic Site where a bird banding station has been run for the past 40 years. The
station, which runs the first couple weeks of May, is open to the public and offers a great chance for visitors to see birds up close (and in hand!) and to learn about the process of banding songbirds. By late May these migrating birds are through the area and visiting birders will do well to visit the center of the Adirondack Park – taking day trips to places like Hamilton County, Saranac Lake, and Lake Placid where they can find some 20 species of breeding warblers. They should check out the websites for those respective regions to learn more. And while they are there they shouldn’t forget to look for the boreal species like gray jay, black-backed woodpecker, and boreal chickadee, which will make any spring or summer birding trip exciting.
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 activities can be done while you're 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.