Bird watching

Autumn 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. And 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.  

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. 

Songbirds

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. 

Time for 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.  

Sparrows arrive

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. 

Waterfowl and Aquatics

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

Geese and snow

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

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! 

 

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.


Listing Results:

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Ausable Marsh Wildlife Management Area

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 ...
Location: Plattsburgh, New York
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Chimney Point State Historic Site

Chimney Point State Historic Site
Chimney Point State Historic Site in Vermont sits on the Vermont side of the Champlain Bridge. It offers much the same birding ...
Location: Crown Point, Vermont
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Cook Mountain Preserve

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 ...
Location: Ticonderoga, New York
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Coon Mountain Preserve

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 ...
Location: Westport, New York
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Crown Point Boat Launch Area

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, ...
Location: Crown Point, New York
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Crown Point Ruins - Birding and Banding

Crown Point Ruins - Birding and Banding
Like Fort Ticonderoga, Crown Point State Historic Site offers birding along Lake Champlain against a historic backdrop that is worth the ...
Location: Crown Point, New York
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Cumberland Head

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 ...
Location: Plattsburgh, New York
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Essex Ferry Terminal

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 ...
Location: Essex, New York
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Fort Ticonderoga birding

Fort Ticonderoga birding
While a visit to Fort Ticonderoga is usually aimed at understanding American history, the fort’s grounds can be excellent for ...
Location: Ticonderoga, New York
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Hurricane Mountain Primitive Area

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 ...
Location: Elizabethtown, New York
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Lake Champlain Bridge

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. ...
Location: Crown Point, New York
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Magic Triangle

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 ...
Location: Essex, New York
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Mouth of the Saranac River

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 ...
Location: Plattsburgh, New York
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Noblewood Park birding

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 ...
Location: Willsboro, New York
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Pauline Murdock Wildlife Management Area

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 ...
Location: Elizabethtown, New York
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The Great Blue Heron

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.