Bird watching

Warm-weather birding in the Champlain Valley

With the relatively mild winter temperatures this year, Lake Champlain never completely froze over like it does other years, but spring still takes a while to arrive in the North Country. March snows, cold north winds, and cold April rains dominate much of the start of spring until the sun can warm the air enough to usher in the new season. But for birders who are willing to deal with the changing conditions and the uncertainty they bring, early spring is a wonder along the valley. 

It is then that waterfowl — many of which have been crammed in the lake all of winter — begin to move north along the watery freeway toward their breeding ranges to our north. These include pretty much any duck that moves through the valley, including: 

  • Wood Duck
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Northern Pintail
  • Mallard
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Gadwall
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • American Wigeon
  • American Black Duck
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Redhead
  • Greater Scaup
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Canvasback
  • Barrow’s Goldeneye
  • Black Scoter
  • Bufflehead
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Long-tailed Duck
  • White-winged Scoter
  • Common Merganser
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Red-breasted Merganser 

And ducks aren’t the only aquatic species birders can find. These include early spring flocks of Canada Geese, which may include rare species like Greater White-fronted Goose or Barnacle Goose. And the aquatic species list is also comprised of Horned, Red-necked, and Pied-billed Grebes as well as Common Loons — some of which may find their way to Adirondack Lakes for the summer. 

Some of the ducks also frequent flooded farm fields as they move north, and birders can search the ponds and puddles for the likes of American Black Duck, Northern Pintail, and Green-winged Teal. And while they are at it they should keep an eye open for raptors using the lake valley as a corridor on their way north. As Rough-legged Hawks leave the valley for the summer, they are replaced by species like American Kestrel and Broad-winged Hawk, even as the resident Red-tailed Hawks set up their nests. Bald Eagles — common all winter in the valley — also begin to nest, their attraction to water being shared by the recently arrived Osprey.

Birds in the valley

As raptors hunt across the fields, songbirds also make preparations to nest. Some of the first to arrive in the valley are Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Common Grackles, but they are soon joined by Savannah Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Eastern Bluebirds, while Eastern Phoebes call loudly from the hedgerows. These same hedgerows and woodlots also attract sparrows early in spring as White-throated, Vesper, Chipping, Fox, and Field Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos move into and through the valley. 

Soon enough the woodlots echo with the drumming of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, the calls of Blue-headed Vireos, and the beating wings of Ruffed Grouse in search of a mate. Ruby-crowned Kinglets pass through in numbers, and the marshes along the lake are filled not only with the raucous calls of Red-winged Blackbirds, but the grunting of Virginia Rails and the pumping of American Bitterns. Meanwhile, Caspian Terns wheel in the sky overhead. An evening trip may also yield winnowing Wilson’s Snipe while American Woodcock display for mates on nearby fields and Barred Owls call from the forests. 

Before anyone is ready for it May is in full swing, starting with Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and White-crowned Sparrows, which seem to be everywhere. Then it is time for Least Flycatchers, Great Crested Flycatchers, Black-billed Cuckoos, Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, Indigo Buntings, Warbling Vireos, Bobolinks, and a plethora of other migrants, some of which will stay to nest through the summer. 

See birds up close

While any place in the valley is a good place to watch the feathered festivities, May is a time to head to Crown Point to check out the bird banding station. There, birders can not only find the birds singing from perches and along trails, but they can also witness the banding process and see the birds in hand. These include any songbird species which nests in the North Country or pushes beyond our borders, including many species of warblers. In fact, better than 20 species of warblers can be found at the station and along the valley during migration, including regionally uncommon species like Golden-winged and Blue-winged Warbler. These latter two may also be found nesting in spots along the Champlain Valley in early summer, as can other hard-to-find species like Prairie Warbler and Orchard Oriole. 

Beyond the valley

Spring is short, and the time to find many birds is limited as most species, particularly warblers, nest more consistently north of the region or in the Adirondacks during the summer. Interested birders should check out the Lake Placid and Saranac Lake websites to learn more about those warbler-watching opportunities, bearing in mind that if they do explore the Adirondacks, they can also search out the boreal haunts of species like Gray Jay, Black-backed Woodpecker, and Boreal Chickadee. It is a great way to extend the diversity of the spring season straight into summer.  

The most diverse time of year is upon us, and it is calling for us to explore! 

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:

Page 1 – Displaying 1 – 15 of 30

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 of wintering ducks. These include common species such as...
Location: Plattsburgh, New York
View Additonal Info & Map

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 opportunities as the New York side of the bridge, but from a different...
Location: Crown Point, Vermont
View Additonal Info & Map

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 Champlain Valley, and Vermont's Green Mountains. The waterfront...
Location: Ticonderoga, New York
View Additonal Info & Map

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 sunnier spots support oak and pine forests. Look for the water...
Location: Westport, New York
View Additonal Info & Map

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, and greater and lesser scaup. Also look for wintering raptors...
Location: Crown Point, New York
View Additonal Info & Map

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 visit itself. The site allows for access to Lake Champlain...
Location: Crown Point, New York
View Additonal Info & Map

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 access is worth checking, but two prominent places are the...
Location: Plattsburgh, New York
View Additonal Info & Map

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 ferry terminal offers another view of the area. The ferry terminal...
Location: Essex, New York
View Additonal Info & Map

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 birding. Scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and Baltimore...
Location: Ticonderoga, New York
View Additonal Info & Map

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 good for birding, and a variety of breeding birds call the area...
Location: Elizabethtown, New York
View Additonal Info & Map

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. Access comes from the nearby state campground and Crown Point State...
Location: Crown Point, New York
View Additonal Info & Map

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 fields which attract birds throughout the year. Baltimore...
Location: Essex, New York
View Additonal Info & Map

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 area, where there is always some open water, even in winter....
Location: Plattsburgh, New York
View Additonal Info & Map

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 variety of breeding songbirds during the summer and the area...
Location: Willsboro, New York
View Additonal Info & Map

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 ecological habitats: red maple?hardwood swamp, hemlock-hardwood swamp...
Location: Elizabethtown, New York
View Additonal Info & Map

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.