Birding Along Lake Champlain

Ducks at the Bridge

Over the past few weeks there has been a large congregation of ducks at the Champlain Bridge in Crown Point – best viewed from Chimney Point State Historic Site in Vermont. Then, just before Super Bowl Sunday, a drake Tufted Duck was found in the mix, but my schedule of work and other responsibilities kept me from searching for it until this past weekend. Ugh – I hate having to wait to find a good bird. The waiting became more concerning when our thermometers dipped to -30 degrees and I figured that the ice edge - which had sat for so long at the bridge - would be well north of the peninsula.

But I went down to the valley on Monday anyway, hoping to find something. As I had feared the ice edge was now not far south of Westport, meaning that the ducks had either flown south or they were some place in the middle of the open waters of the lake – and out of easy view from shore. And so, while my poor timing missed them, the Tufted Duck, Redheads, Canvasbacks, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and other goodies may well still be out there. My consolation prize for missing the ducks was a flock of Bohemian Waxwings.

Common Mergansers (image courtesy masterimages.org)

Westport Waterfowl

I checked the New York State side of the lake starting at Westport where there was a large group of ducks swimming amongst the ice floes. Most of them were Common Mergansers dominated by a seemingly inordinate number of males, but there were also plenty of Mallards, American Black Ducks, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, and a single Lesser Scaup. I scanned through the gulls congregated at the outlet for Hoisington Brook to see if there were any white-winged species mixed in after our recent bout of cold weather, but I found none.

Ring-necked Ducks

I drove north where Whallon Bay had a similar configuration of species – although in much smaller numbers – and then I was on to the Essex Ferry Terminal where there was another nice flock of ducks which included Hooded Mergansers, Greater Scaup, and Ring-necked Ducks. No regionally uncommon or rare species, but it was good to note where birds were hanging out in case the ducks that had been near the bridge were still in the valley. Despite the lack of uncommon species which had been gathered near the bridge, many of the ducks were fairly close to shore and I took a few minutes to photograph those that I could. And I was not the only one patrolling for ducks - a couple of Bald Eagles were also hanging out near the ferry and they frightened the ducks skyward on one occasion.

Ending the Day with Raptors

Continuing my route north, Noblewood was quiet and the increasing wind spanked both the lake and my face so that I didn’t linger there long – although it was nice to be out of the car and walking for a while. The intense wave action on the lake seemed to have pushed ducks into more sheltered bays anyway. Driving further north Willsboro Bay was frozen, but there for four Bald Eagles working the water’s edge on the main body of the lake – which remained ice free.

Cooper's Hawk - Larry

Not satisfied with eagles as my only raptor species, I departed from the lake and checked out the Magic Triangle in the hopes of finding hawks along the edges of the fields. I quickly spotted a couple Red-tailed Hawks, but the highlight was a Cooper’s Hawk which kept harassing the birds at the feeders along Cross Road. I tried in vain to snap photos of it as it zipped along the hedgerows, eventually flying off to leave the songbirds in peace. But it would be back soon. With the Coop’s out of sight, I turned towards home, ending my day with one final raptor thanks to the dashing form of a Sharp-shinned Hawk as it shot through the trees.

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