Birdwatching

Fantastic year-round birding

The Champlain Valley offers excellent year-round birding, beginning with the cold and ice of winter. The New Year celebration is often marked by an ice edge advancing from the south, scooping the ducks and other aquatic species up and plunking them down near the Champlain Bridge and Crown Point. Thousands of waterfowl can be present in the Crown Point and Port Henry area at once, and birders can sift through the more common species for specialties like Barrow’s Goldeneye and Tufted Duck. As the lake freezes, the birds become more and more condensed in the remaining open water, and birders should visit wide places in the lake like Ausable Point and Noblewood Park as well as the Essex and Cumberland Head ferry terminals to find open water. 

At the northern end of the valley, the beginning of winter is marked by the southbound exodus of thousands of Snow Geese in the area around Point Au Roche, the enormous white flocks glittering in the sun when they take to flight. The geese often leave as the Christmas Bird Count season begins, leaving the fields to raptors like Rough-legged and Red-tailed Hawks for the winter. 

These fields can also be excellent throughout the winter for Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, and Lapland Longspurs, and birders in search of raptors or wintering field species should check out places like Point Au Roche, the Magic Triangle, the fields south of Westport, and Crown Point. If you go you should also be on the lookout for a Northern Shrike perched on top of the hedgerows and small trees. And no winter in the valley would be complete without at least a few Snowy Owls making an appearance. 

While the lake itself and the fields attract most of the attention from birds and birders, we should all be on the lookout in towns for visiting Bohemian Waxwings or Pine Grosbeaks gulping down fruit from ornamentals. Other northern visitors may include Common Redpolls eating seed at bird feeders, or gleaning them from snow-laden forbs in the fields. Birders in search of winter specialties may also want to plan a day trip into the Adirondacks to look for White-winged and Red Crossbills, as well as the year-round boreal residents like Black-backed Woodpecker, Canada Jay, and Boreal Chickadee. 

Spring changes

And while these boreal habitats in the center of the Adirondacks hold onto winter for a long time, the valley warms to the longer days and warmer temperatures of spring much more quickly, welcoming back early migrants like Eastern Bluebirds, Common Grackles, Song Sparrows, and Red-winged Blackbirds. Early spring also marks an uptick in the numbers and diversity of waterfowl which cram into any opening in the lake ice, making for diverse birding stops of picking through the birds.

Goose numbers also swell, and flocks of Canada and Snow Geese may hide Greater White-fronted, Ross’s, Cackling, or perhaps a rarer species. Raptors are also on the move during spring as wintering Rough-legged Hawks are replaced by American Kestrels, Northern Harriers, Osprey, and eventually, Broad-winged Hawks. 

Their arrival coincides with the springtime advent of many other species like Caspian Terns on the lake, Eastern Meadowlarks in the fields, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in the woodlands. And while these woodlands of the valley are sometimes overlooked in winter thanks to the productivity of the fields and the lake, they come to life during spring. 

It starts when wintering Brown Creepers begin to sing, and they soon add Blue-headed Vireos and early warblers like Pine and Yellow-rumped. Nights in these woodlands may be headlined by the horse-like calls of Eastern Screech Owls or by the hoots and quacks of Barred Owls. Nighttime trips may also star the comical courtship ritual of American Woodcocks on local fields, as the sounds of the valley’s marshes, like Webb Royce Swamp and Ticonderoga Marsh, explode with winnowing Wilson’s Snipe, pumping American Bitterns, the guttural calls of Virginia Rails, and the whinny of Soras. 

May and early summer

By May the woods are growing full of birds as migrants of all sorts, shapes, and sizes move along the spine of the lake, many of them passing through Crown Point State Historic Site and the songbird banding station there. Many of these birds continue north on their migration while others may be found nesting for the next couple months. Some of these include regionally uncommon species like Golden-winged Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, and Orchard Oriole which prefer edge or young forest habitats, or Louisiana Waterthrush which can be found along a few of the valley’s streams, including the La Chute River in Ticonderoga. 

Even without such hard-to-find species, the valley’s edge communities harbor nesting Indigo Buntings, Baltimore Orioles, Chestnut-sided Warblers, and Eastern Towhees, while the fields – once windswept with snow – are the nesting habitat for Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Savannah Sparrows. 

Late summer diversity

But these summer days of nesting birds are short-lived – even in the valley. Soon the birds become quieter, their hormone-driven songs finished with the end of breeding. Instead they begin to feed voraciously in preparation for migration, flocking up in diverse (about twenty-five species of warblers alone can be found!) mixed-species groups through which birders can frenetically sift in the hopes of finding something rare. 

Such flocks make for excellent birding during the latter half of summer, but they are matched by the movement of other species along the lakeshore. After all, some of the first southbound migrants we find are shorebirds, and a wide array of shorebird species can be found along the mudflats and sandbars of the lake in places like Ti Marsh, the Chazy Riverlands, and the Westport Wastewater Treatment Plant – anywhere the water level is good for them to forage. Bonaparte’s Gulls also return south along the lake in numbers, and they annually hide Little Gulls, and sometimes less common species like Black-headed Gulls, within their ranks. 

Late summer also features impressive assemblages of six species of swallows, swooping and diving above as they gobble up insects. As they settle down for the night, they give way on late summer evenings to Common Nighthawks winging their way south, scooping up insects as they go. It all makes August one of the best times of year to bird the valley. 

The phenomenon of fall migration

But these birds eventually depart, and we work through fall flocks of warblers, nuthatches, and chickadees, continuing to find goodies. As fall advances, birders can sort through a miscellany of sparrows in the valley’s hedgerows, listen for American Pipits overhead, and keep an eye open for rarities. After all, fall is the best time of year to find rarities in the region. These include species like Parasitic Jaeger moving south over the lake on September cold fronts, or uncommon species of waterfowl like Eurasian Wigeon during October. 

Once again such aquatic species begin to dominate the birding headlines as fall continues, and the numbers of ducks and other species of waterfowl grow as our day length decreases. It is in the latter half of fall that our first Barrow’s Goldeneye appear, and there is always a chance for a Tufted Duck in large rafts of scaup and Ring-necked Ducks. 

Goose numbers also build to impressive heights, with a marvelous spectacle of Snow Geese in the northern Champlain Valley near Point Au Roche, the multitude covering the fields and lake. The latter half of fall is therefore a great time of year to find oddities like Ross’s Goose, Cackling Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Barnacle Goose, and Pink-footed Goose, the latter of which has been found the past two autumns. 

And, like spring, fall is also marked by migrating raptors of all sorts, starting with migrating Broad-winged Hawks in September and ending with our first Rough-legged Hawks, which will remain with us all winter long. It is then that we also find our first American Tree Sparrows, Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs, and Northern Shrikes as the snow falls and autumn transitions to the holidays, winter, and the start of a new birding year. 

Find your nest

Birding in the Lake Champlain Region is amazing! 

Read all the latest birding blogs from our experts.

Browse our lodging selection to find the stay that's right for you. Birding is just one of the many things to do in the region, and many activities can be done while you're birding! 

Lake Champlain Birding Trail Brochure

This aptly named Lake Champlain Birding Trail brochure will provide you with details of what species can be found in the region and includes a handy map guide. Click on the image to view and print the brochure.

Westport Area Fields

The fields and woodlots south of Westport support a variety of breeding birds including warblers, field birds, and year round red-tailed hawks. It is easiest to cover the area by driving Dudley,...

Location: 
and Stevenson Roads, ,
Magic Triangle

The Magic Triangle, composed of Clark, Cross, and Lakeshore Roads (which form a triangle) south of Essex is a collection of woodlots and fields which attract birds throughout the year. Baltimore...

Location: 
Clark, Essex, 12936
Cook Mountain Preserve

The Cook Mountain Preserve covers 200 acres with a wide variety of terrain. The summit of the mountain offers views of Lake George, the Champlain Valley, and Vermont's Green Mountains. The...

Location: 
Baldwin Road, Ticonderoga, 12883
Crown Point Boat Launch Area

Part of an area with many vantage points to view common merganser, bufflehead, common goldeneye, hooded merganser, mallard, black duck, and greater and lesser scaup. Also look for wintering...

Location: 
Bridge Road, Crown Point, 12928
Noblewood Park

With its sweeping views of Lake Champlain, Vermont's Green Mountains, the Boquet River, and the Adirondack foothills, Noblewood Park is one of the hidden jewels of the Adirondack-Champlain region...

Location: 
Route 22, Willsboro, 12996
Coot Hill (Big Hollow) Trail

Hiking

This new trail features a historic cemetery and a large summit expanse, with views from angles not easily reached by any other trail.

How to get there

From Port...

Location: 
6482 Main Street
POB 193, Westport, 12993
Hurricane Mountain Primitive Area

Hurricane Mountain outside the Village of Keene is a popular hike along the three trails that take hikers to the summit. It can also be good for birding, and a variety of breeding birds call the...

Location: 
Hurricane Road, Elizabethtown, 12932
Willsboro Bay Boat Launch Area

While the surrounding woodlots support a variety of breeding birds, like many sites along Lake Champlain, Willsboro Bay is very productive in the fall and spring. In fall, the bay can support...

Location: 
Farrell Road, Willsboro, 12996
Mouth of the Saranac River

The mouth of the Saranac River in Plattsburgh can be a good place to look for ducks in winter. A small city park provides access to the area, where there is always some open water, even in winter...

Location: 
Champlain Park, Plattsburgh, 12901
Pauline Murdock Wildlife Management Area

This wildlife area is 68.5 acres of boreal northern forest, with areas of river and flood plains. It consists of seven different ecological habitats: red maple?hardwood swamp, hemlock-hardwood...

Location: 
Elizabethtown-Wadhams Road, Elizabethtown, 12932
Putnam Pond State Campground

Camping

Large, well-forested campsites with lots of privacy. This is a key start off point for hiking the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness area.

Choose from interior site camping, which...

Location: 
763 Putts Pond Road, Ticonderoga, 12883
Essex Ferry Terminal

The Essex Ferry area is a good place to look for wintering waterfowl during the cold months. Begg’s Point Park, just south of the ferry terminal offers another view of the area. The ferry terminal...

Location: 
Dock St, Essex, 12936
Lake Champlain Bridge

The Crown Point Bridge area between New York State and Vermont can be a great place to look for wintering and migrating waterfowl. Access comes from the nearby state campground and...

Location: 
Bridge Road, Crown Point, 12928
Ticonderoga Boat Launch Area

This shoreline location is well-situated to observe sweeping shorelines on both sides of Lake Champlain. In spring and fall, the lake becomes a migratory highway which funnels traffic between the...

Location: 
Route 74, Ticonderoga, 12883
Coon Mountain Preserve

Coon Mountain has a craggy interior with rocky outcrops, steep cliffs, and talus slopes. In shade there are abundant hemlocks, while the sunnier spots support oak and pine forests. Look for the...

Location: 
Halds Road, Westport, 12993
Poke-O-Moonshine Campground Area

The rugged cliffs of Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain are favorite nesting places of the local peregine...

Location: 
NYS Route 9N, Keeseville, 12944
Crown Point Ruins - Birding and Banding
Location: 
Bridge Road, Crown Point, 12928
Westport Water Treatment Facility

The water treatment facility in Westport off Marks Road is a good place to check Lake Champlain in fall and winter. It is there that Hotsington Brook exits into the lake and a small sandy spit is...

Location: 
Marks Road, Westport, 12993
Port Kent Ferry Terminal

The Port Kent Ferry Terminal offers another good place to check out Lake Champlain and is most productive during the cold months. There a variety of ducks may over winter or migrate through, and...

Location: 
Front Street, Au Sable Chasm, 12911
Ausable Marsh Wildlife Management Area

In winter, AuSable Point Campground is closed to camping, but open to walking and birding. It can be a great place to find mixed flocks of wintering ducks. These include common species such as...

Location: 
3346 Lake Shore Road, Plattsburgh, 12901
Fort Ticonderoga birding

While a visit to Fort Ticonderoga is usually aimed at understanding American history, the fort’s grounds can be excellent for birding. Scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and Baltimore...

Location: 
100 Fort Ti Rd, Ticonderoga, 12883
Port Douglas Boat Launch Area

A beautifully situated spot with views of both the sheltered Corlaer Bay and the open water of Lake Champlain. Nearby Schuyler Island (aka Schuylers Island and Whitney Island) has a rocky shore...

Location: 
Port Douglas Road, Keeseville, 12944
Chimney Point State Historic Site

Chimney Point State Historic Site in Vermont sits on the Vermont side of the Champlain Bridge. It...

Location: 
7305 VT Route 125, Crown Point, 05491
Mill and Murray Ponds

Paddling

How to Get There: From the intersection of County Route 6 and 7 in Mineville, follow County Route 7 toward Elizabethtown. Continue for about 3 miles to a faint dirt access road...

Location: 
County Route 7, Mineville, 12956
Cumberland Head

Cumberland Head sits just north of Plattsburgh and the area is a good place to check for wintering and migrating water birds. Any water access is worth checking, but two prominent places are the...

Location: 
152 Cumberland Head Road, Plattsburgh, 12901
Webb Royce Swamp

Located within the Magic Triangle, Webb Royce Swamp has historically been a great birding location with...

Location: 
Lake Shore Road, Westport, 12993
Westport Boat Launch

Westport’s position on North West Bay is optimal for finding wintering and migrating waterfowl and other species along the lake. Look for many duck species including common and Barrow’s goldeneye...

Location: 
Route 22, Westport, 12993
Putts Creek Wildlife Management Area

This 113 acres wildlife area features a stream and a marsh, and is more readily accessible via boat than on foot. Look for two yellow-painted iron pipes (seen on PDF map) to find the 30 foot right...

Location: 
Wolcott Road, Crown Point, 12928
Whallons Bay

Whallon Bay, which is most easily viewed from Albee Road south of Essex is a good place to look for ducks in the winter when mixed species flocks will feed in the bay. The flocks often include...

Location: 
Albee Road, Essex, 12936
North Pond

Paddling

This quiet, relaxing, spot is known for wildlife spotting from the peacefulness of your canoe. Look for porcupine.

Size: 30.1 Acres.

Birding

A fine choice...

Location: 
Mountain Springs Rd, Westport, 12993
Bulwagga Bay Park

Paddling

Maintained by the Town of Moriah, this public beach is located within the Bulwagga Bay RV Park and Campground. Open daily through the summer from 9am until 5pm, no fee. Paddle...

Location: 
Bulwagga Bay Road, Port Henry, 12974
Wilcox Dock

The City of Plattsburgh offers a few good places to check out Lake Champlain. Wilcox Docks and boat launch area gives birders good views of Cumberland Bay and the surrounding lake where they can...

Location: 
Wilcox Dock, Plattsburgh, 12901
Wickham Marsh Wildlife Area

Hiking

Carry a map and compass on this trail system, as it can be easy to get turned around.

Trailhead

There are three location that you can access the trail system;

...
Location: 
Route 373, Keeseville, 12944
Port Henry Boat Launch Area

The Port Henry Boat Launch offers the best views of Bulwagga Bay to the south, where large mixed species of flocks of ducks often spend the winter. Look for common goldeneye, common and hooded...

Location: 
Powerhouse Park
Dock Lane, Port Henry, 12974
Mt Defiance

A hike or drive (note this is a toll road owned by Fort Ticonderoga. Access is included with daily admission) up Mt. Defiance in Ticonderoga is worth the trip for the commanding view of Lake...

Location: 
Mt Defiance Road, Ticonderoga, 12883
Ticonderoga Marsh

Ticonderoga Marsh (often called Ti Marsh) sits tucked in along Lake Champlain where the La Chute River dumps into the lake. The marsh is best accessed by launching a canoe below the falls on the...

Location: 
LaChute River Delta, Ticonderoga, 12883