I wrote last week about the collection of ducks hanging out in Port Henry and around the Lake Champlain Bridge, and wanted to give an update for those interested in checking them out.
I drove down to the lake again this weekend and found everything was still there. The most productive location for both numbers and diversity was just on the Vermont side of the Champlain Bridge. I had thousands of ducks there including common merganser, mallard, black duck, gadwall, bufflehead, common goldeneye, Barrow's goldeneye, lesser scaup, greater scaup, ring-necked duck, redhead, canvasback, and someone told me they also found an American wigeon in the mix.
The presumed escaped common pochard was also present and, despite missing it last week, this week I had a great spot-on look at the male tufted duck mixed into the mass of scaup. Tufted ducks are European species which occasionally show up in North America and are a treat to see. This rare find is well worth the trip – the male has a beautiful black back, very pale sides, and a long tuft of feathers sticking off the back of its head, hence their name. But finding all this did take some time. I was at the bridge area and then a few miles into Vermont for several hours looking for additional vantage points as I was searching through all the ducks.
As temperatures have plummeted this week, the ice on the lake will continue to form around the bridge area, pushing the ducks elsewhere to find open water. That may mean they get pushed north to wider, deeper places on Lake Champlain, or they could pick up and leave the lake entirely. As it is the water south of the Port Henry boat launch has completely frozen in the past week and there were less ducks there this week than there had been on my previous trip.
That said, there is still plenty of open water for the birds on the lake, and as the ice continues to form it could also push them to new access points such as D.A.R. State Park in Vermont where they may be more easily seen. Hence it is worth checking out the lake consistently to see where they are best viewed and if they are close to shore.
In addition, there are other scattered flocks of ducks all along the Champlain Valley. For example, I had a nice group of mallards, common mergansers, and bufflehead at Westport on my way down to the bridge. Further north in the valley towards Plattsburgh there are not only ducks, but there are reports of both Iceland and glaucous gulls – two white-winged (so named because they lack black wing tips) species found in the Arctic. They come south each winter, but are not always easy to find. Add to that the good number of raptors around, such as the red-tailed and rough-legged hawks I found in the fields south of Westport, and there is a lot to see all along the Champlain Valley right now. As cold as it is, it is a great time to get out and do some exploring!