Birding the Northern Champlain Valley

            With our current arctic freeze bearing down on us this weekend, my friend and I jumped on the last warm(ish) day in the forecast and headed to the Champlain Valley for some birding.  We didn’t find much of interest at Cumberland Head north of Plattsburgh so we headed north to Point AuRoche to check out the enormous numbers of Snow Geese which have been assembled there. 

            On the way, we drove up Moffit Road to look for field birds and raptors.  We didn’t see any, but we did find the cooperative Sandhill Crane which has been hanging out there the past few weeks.  A few folks were watching and photographing it.  The bird was still right off the road – I wonder how it is handling the extremely cold temps of late.  As we reached Point AuRoche a large group of American Crows was swarming in a disorganized manner and then we noticed a large (likely female) Peregrine Falcon diving through them – perhaps toward a feeder on the back side of a house.  The crows were not likely the falcon’s target, but they looked confused and unsure what to do as the raptor came diving through their midst.  Just as quickly as the falcon came it raced away and disappeared empty handed. sandhill crane - plattsburgh

            Point AuRoche State Park was quiet beside a few Canada Geese and we bumped into a birder from Albany who was looking for Ross’s Geese.  He hadn’t found the Snow Geese flocks yet with which the Ross’s would be mixed and so he followed us north to the next likely place to find the Snow Geese.  A few miles north on Lakeshore Road we found them.  In fact we couldn’t miss them.  Twenty-five to Thirty thousand Snow Geese spread out across the lake, spanning two bays.  Smaller flocks of a few thousand birds sat further offshore in tight masses. 

            We set to work looking through the Snows for a Ross’s and found a young Ross’s fairly quickly.  Then we found an adult.  We were about to move down the road to another vantage point on the flock when a portion of them lifted off the water in a commotion of honking and flapping.  It looked as though the clouds were attacking and I was sorry I had placed my camera in the car. Brant - Larry

            We went a short way down the road and found another Ross’s Goose there, giving us three.  There were certainly more, but we decided to move on and headed north where we had a quick look at a Merlin flying near the Great Chazy River Boat Launch.  The Merlin did not stick around.  Still further north we found a nice flock of Lesser Scaup, as well as a handful of Red-breasted Mergansers, a duck not common on Lake Champlain.  There were also a number of Common Mergansers, a species which we saw throughout the day as well as a couple Bufflehead, Hooded Mergansers, and Common Goldeneye. 

            We turned south and headed home as evening fell via AuSable Marsh.  We were hoping to find an owl, but didn’t turn up any.  We did find a lone Brant (another uncommon species along Champlain) with the Canada Geese assembled there, a nice find to top off the day.  There were also several Great Blue Herons lingering in the shallows while the water remains open.  We drove home as snow showers – some quite heavy – fell. 

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