With spring pushing winter out faster than many of us would like, it is a good time to explore Ausable Marsh Wildlife Management Area. Wren and I had a chance to do so the other day – she loves to play in the sand at the point during the winter.
We started by checking out a few close ducks – Hooded Mergansers and Mallards – along the edge of the marsh along the campground road on our way to the point, watching a male Northern Harrier hunt along the edge of the wetland. As he meandered past us on his aerial route, we continued on - walking to the beach while a Red-breasted Nuthatch called from the pines.
I scoped the water while Wren played in the sand and nosed her way along the edge of the shore, pausing now and then for a drink. I immediately found a few lines of Common Goldeneye sitting in strings across the water, but as I scanned further out across the lapping waters of the lake, I found a couple large gatherings of scaup. I stood and picked through them as best I could – peering through the atmospheric distortion at the distant flocks. I almost skipped the farthest flock altogether – the birds were difficult to differentiate in their tight ball on the water and I was more interested in the ducks which were close at hand.
A Walk Around Ausable Point
In the closer flocks I found many Greater and Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, and Common Mergansers, and with them I noted Mallards, Ring-necked Ducks, and quite a few Bufflehead. I decided to walk around the point to scan the water elsewhere – and Wren was happy for the walk.
And so, Wren trotted with her nose to the ground along the edge of the campground, while I scanned the water, now and then setting up the scope to check the lake. I didn’t find a ton of birds in this way, but there were scattered groups of ducks along our route. There were also larger flocks of Common Goldeneye and Common Mergansers near the mouth of the Ausable River where a small cluster of Ring-billed Gulls had also stationed themselves.
We turned and retraced our steps, and I poked into some of the white cedars and conifers along the shoreline to see if there were any songbirds – or perhaps a roosting owl – to pull from them.
When we returned to our starting point, I noticed that a portion of the large scaup flock had moved closer to shore while we were gone and I stopped again to peruse them, counting 37 Ring-necked Ducks in the process.
Once back at the car, I worked slowly along the road – checking out additional viewpoints of the flock but not finding anything new of particular note with them. But I did spy an adult Bald Eagle (there have been many in the Lake Champlain Region all winter) and a flock of 5 Green-winged Teal – the latter flying over the mostly frozen marsh and visible from the short boardwalk. There was also a small group of American Tree Sparrows making soft, high-pitch seet notes in the bushes at the platform.
Ducks from Route 9
Having covered the road, we drove north on Route 9, which offers a good vantage point to view birds on the north side of the marsh and we quickly found another mixed flock of ducks similar to some of the others we had seen previously, but this flock contained two Gadwall. A friend of mine had seen a Northern Pintail from that location recently, but I didn’t notice it.
Ducks were strewn along the next few miles of Route 9 as we drove north toward Cumberland Head. I pulled over to take a quick look through them where I could get off the road safely, but I found the same species I had already seen. Given the numbers of birds and the warm weather which is pushing some of them north, the entire route will be worth checking for oddities in the coming weeks. After all, migration is just beginning and winter is not yet over.