Over the holidays I took a trip to the Champlain Valley for some birding. I started at the Westport boat launch where there were a few species of ducks assembled including Bufflehead, Common Mergansers, and Common Goldeneye. The area around the wastewater treatment plant held it usual flock of gulls as well as a few ducks, but it was fairly quiet. I did find a small group of flyover Cedar Waxwings – still lingering from the fall.
I drove to Port Henry where a flock of ducks was hanging out at the boat launch and beach. Most of the ducks were Mallards and American Black Ducks, but there were a few Gadwall, Common Goldeneye, and Common Mergansers. There was a much larger collection of ducks along the edge of the ice at Crown Point – best viewed from the Vermont side of the bridge. The flock was mostly composed of Scaup, Goldeneye, and Mergansers, with other species mixed in, but I didn’t have any time to scan through it. Holiday events were looming and I wanted time to hunt for birds in the fields on both sides of the bridge.
My field birding began along Crown Point where I spotted a dark morph Rough-legged Hawk clinging to the tiniest branches on top of a tree. A bit further down the road I found a Red-tailed Hawk and then another Rough-legged – this one a light morph individual. This Rough-legged was quite close to the road but as I pulled over and reached for my camera passing cars spooked it and it cruised across the field.
I crossed over the bridge to Vermont and immediately found a few more Rough-leggeds and Red-taileds. I didn’t have a lot of time to wander all of the farm roads but I found 7 of each species. As nice as the hawks were I was more interested in seeing the Snowy Owls which had been reported hunting in the fields on the Vermont side of the bridge. They are part of the massive Snowy Owl invasion that is happening all across the Northeast this winter. Even with my lack of time, I had no trouble in finding them. I found one Snowy Owl at the Snow Goose viewing area in Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area, and I found a second bird sitting on farm equipment along Jersey Street.
The second owl was barred fairly heavily and actively sat looking side to side in search of food. As I stood there watching it, a flock of perhaps 25 Snow Buntings chattered and moved low across the field, landing in some hay and grasses to feed. Scanning through them I found a Lapland Longspur, and the flock moved along the road to pick up grit.
After watching the owl for a spell I moved down the road where I found a few more flocks of Snow Buntings. There were also small flocks of Horned Larks and American Tree Sparrows as well as a couple more Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks. I returned down Jersey Street to look again at the owl and it had flown in the meantime to the top of the silo where it sat viewing the fields below. I returned home to prepare for the holidays, happy with my Christmas owls.