Where the odd birds are
Finding a diversity of species of waterfowl – or other aquatic species – in the Southern Lake Champlain Regions requires a number of things.
1) You must spend time.
2) You must be patient and work through the shifting flocks which have been arriving from the north.
3) You must be lucky.
Here's where we can help you! Read on to find out how to use your time, diligence, and luck more effectively by going to the right spots. After all, it would be a waste of time to search for ducks in all the wrong places — such as in forests, at the mall, or between the seat cushions on your couch! Hopefully you didn't use up your luck from the Thanksgiving turkey wishbone on some new trinket on Black Friday, because we are declaring today Waterfowl Wednesday!
If you want to maximize the impact of your good fortune, and channel all that energy previously spent consuming turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce, here is a sampling of places to check out. Since there are many spots to check out along the lake, you may note that some good locations are missing from my list. That’s true – but places like Essex Ferry, although always worth a look, tends to get better as ice on the lake forces the birds into the open ferry lanes. So here are three of my favorite water bird locations to check during the late-fall/early-winter on the Adirondack Coast.
The Champlain Bridge
This may be the best place to look for waterfowl in the entire Champlain Valley. Rafts of ducks – including both species of scaup, Common Goldeneye, and Common Merganser – may be hiding species like Canvasback, Barrow’s Goldeneye, or Tufted Duck. In fact, a Tufted Duck was spotted from the Vermont side of the bridge just a few days ago. You will also likely find lots of Common Loons and you should check out the view from both Crown Point State Historic Site in New York as well as Chimney Point State Historic Site in Vermont. Sorting through the masses of ducks can take time, so bundle up for the cold fronts racing down the lake this time of year. And the bridge area will get better as fall transforms into winter – as the ice edge pushes up from the narrow reaches of the southern Champlain Valley, it concentrates the birds into piles here.
Crown Point and Bulwagga Bay
While the Champlain Bridge sits on one end of Crown Point, the inside of the peninsula creates Bulwagga Bay. A short walk through the state historic site takes you to Fossil Rock – which may offer the best view of the bay. The marshy shoreline of Crown Point can harbor a diversity of ducks during the fall – such as American Wigeon, Redhead, White-winged Scoter, both Greater and Lesser Scaup, and all three species of merganser. Anything which moves through the valley can be found here – and it may be the best place in the valley to find Eurasian Wigeon.
Bulwagga Bay can also be viewed from a few other vantage points – and yes, I’m cheating by adding in additional places to look – is that some sort of crime? Some of the key spots on the western side of the bay include the pull-off along Route 22 south of Port Henry which gives views down on the large flotillas of Common Goldeneye and other species. Further north, the public beach gives views of a similar area – but at water level. And further north yet, the Port Henry boat launch gives the best views of the mouth of Bulwagga Bay and the lake to the north. It is also a good place to look for birds tucked in along shoreline of the park and beach, and flocks of Canada Geese sometimes hold a Cackling Goose – as they did recently.
Westport and North West Bay
I can already see that I’m going to cheat a little again on this location. North West Bay is a wide expanse of water that can be viewed from a few spots. The first is from the public boat launch which offers the added benefit of restrooms which are open all year (you may scoff at that now, but just wait until the cold wind hits you long enough!). The water to the north of the launch often has a variety of species like Common Loon, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, and others.
Less common species are more often found on the sandbars formed where Hoisington Brook empties into the lake near the wastewater treatment plant. It is best viewed from the parking area for the treatment facility or from Marks Street which sits above the water. While an assortment of ducks, loons, and grebes may bounce in the waves, flocks of Canada Geese should be checked for Cackling, Greater White-fronted, and Barnacle Goose – all of which have been found there. And don’t skim over the gulls gathered either. This is one of the best places on the New York-side of the lake for species like Glaucous, Iceland, and Lesser Black-backed.
Those of you keeping score at home will notice that this is my fourth location after I promised you three. There are just too many good places to go so you’re going to have to eat a fourth piece of pie to have the energy to visit this site too. A walk for woodland birds at Noblewood takes you down to the beach and sand spit, both of which are worth checking out for birds. The sand spit is generally at its best in late summer for shorebirds and gulls like Little Gull, but it can also offer species like Snow Buntings during the fall, and the gulls it attracts at this time of year should be scoped through for uncommon winter visitors.
The water at Noblewood can be loaded with birds, with species like Barrow’s Goldeneye playing hide-and-seek from you amidst enormous flocks of Lesser and Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye and Horned Grebe. You can scope through them from the sand spit, from the beach, or from the bluff which overlooks the lake – but be sure not to spook the wary ducks further out into the water. That’s grounds for punishment and you may find yourself on Santa's naughty list.
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