I was out with some folks on the weekend, and after some initial debate we stuck to our plan to bird the Lake Champlain Region - even with the excitement surrounding the Ross’s Gull in Tupper Lake. As usual, we began our day at Westport, watching a flyby Pileated Woodpecker, looking through the small groups of Bufflehead and Mallards, and spotting two Double-crested Cormorants – quite uncommon in the valley during the winter. But with so much open water thanks to our mild winter, it stands to reason that some birds might linger this year. The same was true of the Belted Kingfisher we heard calling.
We checked the wastewater treatment facility for any odd gulls mixed with the flock of Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed Gulls, and just before we drove off we noticed a Cooper’s Hawk sitting like a sentinel in a nearby tree. From Westport, we drove south along the lake, checking out Dudley Road where there were a couple Common Loons on Cole Bay. But we didn’t linger long – our goal was to get to Bulwagga Bay and Crown Point as quickly as we could. There has been a load of ducks there.
A Huge Raft of Ducks
We started our investigation of the area at the Port Henry Pier where we scanned through a large, strung-out raft of Common Goldeneye which included a number of Greater Scaup. I found an almost all white goldeneye in their midst and this presumed leucistic bird appeared to be a female. Even more exciting was the pair of Barrow’s Goldeneye we spotted and we had great looks at both the male and female which seemed to keep to themselves in the flock.
We moved our viewing location south to the Town Beach, where there were even more ducks – including many scaup of both species. We quickly found another male Barrow’s Goldeneye, but this bird was different than the previous male. He was alone and in a very different area in the enormous flock which stretched from the Port Henry Pier south through Bulwagga Bay and wrapped around Crown Point. Then we noted another Barrow’s, but having lost sight of the first bird we weren’t sure if they were the same individual or not. Eventually after seeing a male Barrow’s a few more times we spotted two males in the same scope view – giving us at least 2 Barrow’s from each view point. We also found 3 White-winged Scoters from the beach area.
The Raptor Show
We switched our focus off the ducks for the raptors which have been putting on a show in the Trimble Road, Lake Road, and Bridge Road triangle on Crown Point, and we spotted a hovering Rough-legged Hawk almost immediately after turning onto Trimble Road. Then a male Northern Harrier came cruising on pale gray wings low over the open field in search of rodents. We stopped to watch him and quickly spotted two more Rough-leggeds riding the winds as they hunted in the same area. We noticed still another Rough-legged Hawk and then another and we tried to count them as they maneuvered through the landscape. It seemed we had six of them – or was it seven?
We eventually moved further up the road, pausing for the constantly shifting Rough-leggeds, a Red-tailed Hawk, and two female Northern Harriers – both of which were initially on the ground, perhaps resting after a meal. We concluded the small triangle with a couple more Red-tailed Hawks – the hunting in the fields must be good for the birds to tolerate such high densities!
A Tufted Duck!
Our raptor diversion over, it was back to the ducks – this time working the portion of the flock near Crown Point State Historic Site. There had been a drake Tufted Duck there and we quickly found him – his long, dark tuft blowing in the wind. But even with the steady and strong breeze, viewing conditions were great and we found 4 Redheads (3 drakes) on the dark waves which were laced with Common Goldeneye, Common Mergansers, and both Greater and Lesser Scaup. There were many more ducks around the point which we couldn’t see from our vantage point, but we wanted to get back to searching for raptors so we skipped them in favor of checking out some of the fields in Vermont.
These fields offered us similar success to what we had witnessed in Crown Point, but without the concentration of birds. Our goal was to find Short-eared Owls which had been getting seen of late, particularly along Gage Road – a dead end road which offers access to the southern end of Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area. Unfortunately we were not successful in this final quest of our day, but for consolation we added a female Merlin to our list – our final raptor of the day.