A Chance to Explore
With long weekends comes more time for Wren and me to get out exploring. So we took advantage of the recent 3-day weekend to not only stretch our cross-country skiing muscles near home but to go birding in the Lake Champlain Region where a growing throng of ducks has settled near the Champlain Bridge. Well, I went birding. Wren was mostly in it for the ride and the chance to nose around through the snow.
The day had started with some much needed snow, but the clouds soon lost their hold on the sky and the sun began to assert itself. As I often do when I go to the valley, I started at Westport where there was a collection of Bufflehead, Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, Mallards and American Black Ducks in the open waters of North West Bay. The area overlooking the mouth of Hoisington Brook was quiet so I drove north to the Magic Triangle. There we found American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos in the hedgerows, but I was mostly interested in finding raptors. On this front I spotted two Rough-legged Hawks – one of which was hovering as it faced into the wind. I headed south to check out the fields near Westport along Stevenson and Napper Roads and found a third Rough-legged Hawk there as well as a few Red-tailed Hawks, but I noted no other raptors.
Photo courtesy of www.masterimages.org
A Big Raft of Ducks
Then it was on to the lake around Bulwagga Bay – which was largely frozen and dotted with the camps of ice fishermen. There were only a few ducks at the boat launch in Port Henry, but I could see a mob of ducks in the distance across the water, bobbing in the water like glitter in the day’s growing sun.
I drove through the fields of Crown Point – again looking for raptors – before going to the State Historic Site where I camped out in the blasting wind and scoped through the ducks. While the light was splendid for viewing the ducks, the wind made conditions difficult, and my scope – and my body for that matter – shuttered in the force of an arctic gale which seemed determined to send me sprawling over the bluff.
Despite this bitter wind I panned back and forth through the cluster of ducks which sat closest to the bridge. Most of the birds were Common Goldeneye, Greater and Lesser Scaup, Buffleheads, Mallards, and American Black Ducks, but I soon found about 10 Canvasbacks – a good find in the valley. There had also been Redheads and Barrow’s Goldeneye reported, but I couldn’t find either – as it turned out the vast majority of the ducks were riding the rolling waters well north of the bridge and viewing them would prove difficult with no easy place to scope them. That’s just how birding goes sometimes.
But I knew of a few places to view the water from the Vermont side of the bridge, stopping first at Chimney Point State Historic Site which gave me a different angle on the flock. With my new viewpoints in Vermont I found additional Canvasbacks as well as a drake Barrow’s Goldeneye which dived fairly quickly after I found him, disappearing into the shifting mosaic of ducks – I never found it again. After getting additional looks at some of the other species I had already seen I moved further into Vermont where good field birding can be found just across the bridge. I’ll have to return to the lake at some point in order to find those Redheads.
Photo courtesy of www.masterimages.org
Evening in the Fields of Vermont
Birding in the fields of Vermont is similar to birding in places like the Magic Triangle and Crown Point and I cruised a few roads in search of Red-tailed, Rough-legged and whatever other hawks I might find. I was simply using my time until dusk when I wanted to look for Short-eared Owls along Gage Road at Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area. When I arrived at Dead Creek the late afternoon and evening fields played host to Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, and at least one Lapland Longspur as I watched the flocks of a few hundred strong flit over the fields.
The headline act was announced by a chatter of Snow Buntings which seemed to take exception to the fact that a Short-eared Owl was gliding silently above them, its long wings silhouetted against the gold and pink sunset. The Owl flew towards me, landing on a post from which it pounced on a rodent below. Its attempt didn’t appear to be successful and it flew in a wide circle around me arcing and flapping on the wind with what appeared to be little effort – a grace which I did not embody as I clumsily tried to capture it with my camera.
The shadows – and cold – eventually enveloped us and Wren and I headed home for a warm dinner. The owl was still silently hunting in the cold when we left.