Great winter birding in the Lake Champlain Region

An exciting stop on the way to the valley

On our way to check out birds in the Lake Champlain Region, my brother, nephew, and I decided to check out Ausable Club Road where, as the name suggests, the Ausable Club sits. There had been a report of possible Common Redpolls and Pine Grosbeaks there, neither of which have been around this winter, so it was worth a stop.

Our day had already started with a Northern Shrike along Old Military Road in Lake Placid, so we were hoping to continue our good fortune.

We had great looks at three Red Crossbills. Image courtesy of www.masterimages.org.

Once on Ausable Club Road, we almost immediately heard the chatter of Pine Siskins – a theme which continued throughout the day. We stopped to watch a flock of 30-40 siskins feed in the trees and drop down to the road not 10 meters from the car to pick up grit to aid their digestion.

A few Dark-eyed Juncos flew from the ground along the road and several American Goldfinches joined the siskins. I also heard a single Purple Finch and a large band of Blue Jays screamed from the nearby pines – bird life along the road was quite active.

Then we noticed a few larger birds with the siskins and heard the jit-jit flight calls of Red Crossbills. Soon the crossbills had joined the siskins in their gritting on the road — giving us great views — before flying back into the trees where we watched them for several minutes.

We were happily surprised to find 2 Pine Grosbeaks - although this bird I photographed a few years ago was far more cooperative than the ones we found.

Happy though we were with all this, we hadn’t found either of the reported species which had drawn us to the road and we discussed whether we should head on – we had a lot of ground to cover. But as we turned to walk back to the car we heard the calls of Pine Grosbeaks – first somewhat faint from the far side of an opening and then coming steadily closer.

The birds were staying in the tops of the trees and seemed to be loosely associating with a large group of Blue Jays, Juncos, Pine Siskins, and American Goldfinches. They talked constantly while we searched for them - although it proved difficult to get a good look at them – and eventually after a few minutes of excitement the flock moved off. After a short wait for the birds to return, we moved on as well – driving down to Westport to begin our time along the Adirondack Coast.

Ice and Raptors

Ice has covered much of the lake and our stop at the Westport Boat Launch was brief with no ducks to scope. But we did note a Bald Eagle, a coyote, and two American Crows picking over a carcass on the ice.

We drove north to the Magic Triangle area, starting with Angier Hill Road where a diversity of raptors has been seen recently. We soon spotted a Red-tailed Hawk as well as 2 Rough-legged Hawks before continuing to the point of the Triangle where Clark and Cross Roads meet. A few more Red-tailed Hawks and American Tree Sparrows later, and we were moving north again toward Essex.

We spotted a couple Rough-legged Hawks along Angier Hill Road - including a dark phase bird similar to this one. Image courtesy of www.masterimages.org.

I usually prefer to have more time to work through an area as I search for birds, but we had keeping moving steadily if we wanted to keep on schedule. There weren’t too many ducks around the Essex ferry terminal so we proceeded on to Noblewood Park in Willsboro where the situation was quite different.

Lots of Ducks and a Ferry Ride

At Noblewood, the muddy and icy path led us to the beach area where a line of ducks stretched out on the water for us to scope while Wren, my four-legged pal, rejoiced in her freedom to roam after being stuck in the car.

There were many Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Greater and Lesser Scaup, and Common Mergansers, and we picked through them for something less common. We added a couple Horned Grebes through that endeavor but nothing else, and our time was cut a bit short because we had planned on catching the ferry to Vermont to bird our way back along the east side of the lake.

There were lots of ducks at Noblewood.

We hiked back up the hill from the lake to the car and headed to Essex where we timed the ferry’s arrival well. Able to relax a bit once we were on the boat, we checked out the ducks – many of them Mallards and American Black Ducks – near the terminal and watched the various groups of Common Goldeneye, Common Mergansers, and other ducks as we crossed the lake while a Bald Eagle kept apprised of things from a tree on the Vermont side of the water.

Harlequin Ducks are difficult to find in the valley, so the two which have been at Charlotte Beach in Vermont have attracted a lot of attention.

A diverse flock of ducks has been congregated at Charlotte Town Beach which sits just north of the ferry terminal in Vermont, so once off the boat we headed there and found a similar suite of ducks as we had at Noblewood, including a pair of Harlequin Ducks which have been hanging out there for a few weeks. We also added a drake Barrow’s Goldeneye, a long line of Horned Grebes, and a lone Red-necked Grebe.

Ending the Day with Owls

With that we headed south and away from the lake itself – with plans to search for field birds and raptors as we drove towards the Champlain Bridge. We had success – the late afternoon and early evening proved excellent not far from the bridge in Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area where a flock of Snow Buntings, 3 Snowy Owls, and 3 Short-eared Owls brought our day to an exciting close.

There are few better ways to end a day than with owls - like this Short-eared Owl.

There are loads of birds in the Lake Champlain Region right now and plenty more late winter days ahead to enjoy them. Plan your outdoor adventure and birding trip today — then set your sights on our lodging and dining options for post-exploring fun!


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