Time for Another Trip to the Valley
With spring pressing in on all sides, I had been itching to get to the Champlain Valley again to catch migrant and arriving birds while I could. When I found out that a Pink-footed Goose – a European rarity – had been found not far from the Champlain Bridge in Vermont, I contacted a friend to see if he wanted to go look for it. I had seen a Pink-footed in New Jersey in January and this could have been the same bird. The goose was quickly gone on its way north, but it took us a couple days to get our schedules to match anyway. As it was we were more interested in going to see what migrants were passing through rather than to look for one bird. The mix of species changes with each day during migration and there had also been recent reports of Ruddy Ducks, Golden Eagles, and many others.
Westport Area Birds
We took a warm, sunny afternoon and headed to Westport where I was unsure how much open water we would find. To my surprise it was already significantly opening along the shoreline – and the open water held a nice collection of ducks. There were Bufflehead, Ring-necked Ducks, Common Goldeneye, Mallards, American Black Ducks, and others. An adult Bald Eagle picked at a fish on the ice while an American Crow sat a short distance away waiting its turn.
The area near the boat launch also had its share of recently arrived songbirds. Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles sat in small flocks at the tops of the trees, while an Eastern Phoebe – the first I’ve seen this spring – flitted in the small woodlot, flicking its tail from a low perch. We checked out the view of the bay from the water treatment facility where we looked through the Canada Geese and gulls assembled along the ice edge. There was also a Turkey Vulture sitting on the ice, eating a fish, it seemed the thing to do on this day. We would see many vultures flying overhead all day long as they and a variety of hawks migrated north.
Birding Around Crown Point
We checked out some of the fields south of Westport finding a recently arrived American Kestrel and a Red-tailed Hawk. Then after a brief stop at the Port Kent boat launch where we found another Eastern Phoebe, we headed to Crown Point. The marsh at the south end of the point was already opening up and contained a variety of ducks which included a pair of Hooded Mergansers and a pair of Wood Ducks – again my first of the season. I was surprised we didn’t see a Northern Harrier hunting in the fields, but the Osprey nests on the point were already occupied, and we stopped to look at our first Ospreys of the spring, one eating yet another fish. The Ospreys will be fixtures in the area all summer long.
We headed to the bridge itself where the water has fast been opening up. We first scoped the water from the Crown Point State Historic Site and saw that the water was littered with a variety of ducks, but most of them were closer to the Vermont side of the lake. And so we moved across the bridge to Vermont for a closer view.
For birders visiting Crown Point, Chimney Point State Historic Site in Vermont offers a good vantage point of the lake. We stood along the span of the bridge and scanned through the birds we had seen in the distance from Crown Point. Many of the species were the same as we had seen earlier, but we added our first Common Loon of the day and there were good numbers of both Greater and Lesser Scaup. We then scoped south from beneath the bridge where ducks – many of them Ring-necked Ducks - sat scattered across the water. In this way I spotted six Redheads, the bright red on the males gleaming even at a long distance. The sun was warm even with the cool wind coming off the icy lake, and it was a nice place to stand and take in the activity that marks early spring. Tree Swallows fed over the water and a Bonaparte’s Gull flew north along the lake and landed on the water almost beneath the bridge. Many more will follow it, and come late summer there will be many Bonaparte’s Gulls in the valley.
After finishing scanning at the bridge we decided to not push dinner too late and to head home before it got dark. We had seen about 50 species on a short outing – signs of a spring that is coming quickly to our region.