Spring Break on the Adirondack Coast
When most folks think of taking a spring break trip, they often picture warm, sunny places with their toes snuggled deep into the sand. I’ve taken my share of spring trips to such places – landing me in the likes of Florida, Mississippi, and Arizona. But I don’t travel to sit on the beach, go shopping, or lay around the pool. I journey to such places to explore and go birding. So when I go to the beach, I’m usually scanning the waves and sands instead of lying on them. It just so happens that some of these sunny locales for vacation also make for great birding.
But I don’t exclusively look to warm climates for birding. Last year during a break in March I stayed put enjoying amazing cross-country skiing and birding along the Champlain Valley. In fact, I often choose this option over traveling as it is a great time of year to be around here. This year I plan to do the same thing – even though our warm winter hasn’t given us much snow. Thankfully the folks in the Whiteface Region have been blowing snow at the ski jumps and mountain, and they have made public skiing available there the past few weeks. It’s been a real boon for skiers. And we aren’t done with snow yet – we’ll get some more.
Lots of good birding in the Lake Champlain Region
Even if we don’t get much snow in the coming weeks, the birding in the valley should be excellent as our wintering species will be joined by early migrants from the south. After all, there have already been reports of Song Sparrows and Common Grackles – early this year with the warmth to our south. Of more interest to most birders are the large flocks of finches which have been everywhere this winter – dominated by big numbers of American Goldfinches, Purple Finches, and Pine Siskins. Bohemian Waxwings have likewise been in big numbers across the North Country – both in the Tri-Lakes Region and in the Lake Champlain Region. They’ve been chowing down on every fruiting tree on the map and make for good photo subjects since they are often approachable.
Wintering field birds like Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs, and Horned Larks can also be found in the farms which line the valley, meaning spring break is a great time for birders to search for a diversity of species. Some students of mine are planning a trip to do just that with me in the coming weeks.
But even with all the wintering songbirds to find, anyone who visits the valley will be hunting for waterfowl. After all there have been nice collections of ducks at both Ausable Marsh and Westport and fistfuls of birds (between 9 and 10 thousand!) on the Vermont side of the lake just south of Westport. Those birds may move across to the New York State side of the lake depending on wind, food, and ice, meaning birders can find a wide array of ducks during the coming weeks. These include uncommon species - and there have been large numbers of Canvasback and Redhead, a few Barrow’s Goldeneye, and a lone drake Tufted Duck - all found in recent weeks. Since the deck gets shuffled every day, it is a challenge to find them in the shifting throng on each visit. And as spring spreads its fingers north with the warming sun, it will bring with it more ducks from the south, making it a great time to see what turns up!
Migrating and Wintering Raptors
The same is true of raptors along the valley. In the past few weeks I’ve found wintering Red-tailed, Rough-legged, Cooper’s, and Sharp-shinned Hawks, and the Adirondack Coast is positively full of Bald Eagles working the ice edge of fish or unwary ducks which are looking in the wrong direction. These wintering species will soon be joined by others on their way north – with Northern Harriers hunting for rodents in the fields, and Merlin chattering from pines as we get into April. And while our winter hasn’t seen the large numbers of Snowy Owls which we’ve had the past two winters, March often marks the passage of owls north as they head back toward the tundra. I even heard a Northern Saw-whet Owl tooting the other evening, noting that other migratory species are on their way!
It is quite simply one of the best (perhaps the best!) times of year to bird in the Lake Champlain Region. After all, you don’t need sun and sand to make a good spring break. Thawing ice, snow, raptors, and thousands of waterfowl are more my speed.
Break out of the norm this spring: