Bird watching

Birding in the Champlain Valley

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:

  • American black duck
  • American wigeon
  • Blue-winged teal
  • Gadwall
  • Green-winged teal
  • Mallard
  • Northern pintail
  • Wood duck
  • Northern shoveler
  • Ring-necked duck
  • Redhead
  • Lesser scaup
  • Greater scaup
  • Canvasback
  • Barrow’s goldeneye
  • Black scoter
  • Bufflehead
  • Common goldeneye
  • Long-tailed duck
  • White-winged scoter
  • Red-breasted merganser
  • Hooded merganser
  • Common merganser

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:

  • American kestrel
  • Bald eagle
  • Broad-winged hawk
  • Cooper’s hawk
  • Golden eagle
  • Merlin
  • Northern harrier
  • Osprey
  • Peregrine falcon
  • Red-shouldered hawk
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Rough-legged hawk
  • Sharp-shinned hawk

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.

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.