Birding for Migrants in the Champlain Valley

Starting in Westport

I was guiding and birding with a friend last week in the Champlain Valley where we worked a section of lakeshore from Westport to Willsboro. We started at the Westport Boat Launch - where I often begin trips that will focus on that region of the lake. The woods were largely quiet, but as I stood there overlooking the water the scolding chatter of Blue Jays and other birds brought a Cooper’s Hawk sitting in a tree to my attention. It soon raced off and a Pileated Woodpecker called in alarm as the hawk flew.

We checked out the overlook of the wastewater treatment plant where Hoisington Brook empties into the lake. A few Caspian Terns sat with the Ring-billed Gulls on the sand spit and we could see a few Killdeer mixed in with them. More gulls sat along the tires which line the marina, one of which was a Bonaparte’s Gull. We were hoping to find more Bonies at Noblewood in the afternoon where we could potentially find a Little Gull mingling with them. We drove north to check out the Magic Triangle area.

Bonaparte's gull - Noblewood
Bonaparte's gull - Noblewood

Mixed Flocks of Birds

We first poked around along Angier Hill Road where a mixed flock of birds caught our eye and we found a number of species including Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Common Yellowthroat, and Black-and-White Warbler hobnobbing with the Black-capped Chickadees. As we reached the fields further along the road we watched Eastern Bluebirds and an Eastern Kingbird feed from the wires overhead. Then we worked into the Triangle starting on Clark Road. We began to sift through a small mixed flock there, but the rain which had been threatening all morning finally came and we had to retreat for a spell into the car. Once the rain slowed we walked into Webb Royce Swamp in time for the showers to pick back up again – but wet days can often be good for birds. Wood Ducks flew overhead as we walked back out, but it was the soft chip of a warbler which held us there in the misty conditions. After some effort we managed nice looks at a Tennessee Warbler, a species migrating through the region.

Since migrants were our goal for the day, we were happy with the Tennessee Warbler, and we set out toward Noblewood, working through the fields on Cross and Middle Roads where we had more Eastern Kingbirds as well as a few American Kestrels. We ate lunch at the picnic table outside the gate at Noblewood and walked in to the sand spit. On our way through the woods I hooted for Barred Owl and we got a very strong response of scolding as unhappy birds gave the owl a tongue lashing. These included a fistful of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, multiple Red-bellied, Hairy, and Downy Woodpeckers, Red-eyed Vireos, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, a Baltimore Oriole, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and a Blackburnian Warbler. Still other birds stayed high in the trees and out of view.

red-bellied Woodpecker - larry
red-bellied Woodpecker - larry

Scanning the Sand and Waves

The sand spit on the south side of the mouth of the Boquet River was relatively quiet, but we stood there for a while to see what might move through the area. As we scanned the north side of the river we spotted a few shorebirds that were probing the mud flats to refuel for their migration south. In this way we noted Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, and Semipalmated Plovers. Shortly after we arrived a Green Heron spooked from the bushes along the shoreline and began hunting in the shallows of the flats before it flew back into the vegetation and out of view.

Semipalmated Plover
Semipalmated Plover

There were only a few Bonaparte’s Gulls on the spit on the far shore of the river, dashing our hopes to find a Little Gull, but we scanned the water for anything of note. It was largely quiet – most aquatic species will be moving south later in the season – but we did note two early Horned Grebes molting into their winter plumage. Grebe numbers on the lake will swell in the coming months. We continued to scan for a while more, enjoying the light breeze and the gentle lapping of the water on the sand as a few Tree Swallows and a Cliff Swallow cruised overhead.

We eventually walked back up to the parking area where a small mixed flock of songbirds met us on our way out. In it we found Blackburnian and Black-throated Green Warblers as well as an American Redstart. It was a nice end to our day before heading back home.

Bird migration is just beginning and now is a good time to visit the Champlain Valley for birding or other outdoor adventures. Plan your fall getaway by looking at our dining and lodging pages.

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