Early winter birding along the northern Adirondack Coast
So I’ve heard that the ducks, geese, loons, and other aquatic species in the northern Lake Champlain Region complained because their hangouts weren’t profiled in my recent blog post. The responsible party – whom I’m now realizing is me – has been chastised and I’m writing this to make up for my oversight. The truth is, there are many good places in the early winter to look not only for water-loving birds in the northern valley, but for many other species as well.
Given that many of us have pretty much been living to eat over the past few weeks, if you're like me you've probably consumed enough energy to stay warm as you cover these sites in addition to the ones I mentioned in my southern Lake Champlain Region blog. Keeping with my theme, here are a few more birding sites which are good for waterfowl and other aquatic species!
AuSable Marsh and AuSable Point
These are really two birding spots – it's hard to whittle the locations down to just a few options, so I’m cheating by combining them. These sites are both accessed in the same area and can be covered together with ease. The marsh itself will freeze soon if it hasn't already, but you can scan through it for lingering Great Blue Herons, hunting Northern Harriers, or ducks like Hooded Merganser or Mallard. There are also likely good numbers of ducks hidden along the marshy margin of the main body of the lake – seen from the road into AuSable Point State Campground.
If you follow the road into the campground you can reach AuSable Point and the beach there can be worth looking over for the likes of Snow Buntings and American Pipits during the cool weather. The chief advantage of the beach are the views it offers of the water and of migrating birds – such as Red-necked Grebe, Horned Grebe, Common Goldeneye, both species of scaup, Common Loon…I could keep going and going. Any species which moves through the valley can be found either out on the open water or closer to the marshy shoreline. But like so many places in the valley during this season, be sure you are well prepared for the wind or you may not last long while scoping.
As you leave AuSable and drive north along Route 22, be sure to check out the marsh for ducks as it borders the road. There are also some mudflats near the road where Canada Geese often congregate and species like Cackling Goose can be found in their midst.
Once again, this is another catch-all title that is really a bunch of locations under one heading. Cumberland Bay in Plattsburgh is a good place to look for everything from Common Goldeneye and scaup to uncommon species like Long-tailed Duck. It can be viewed from Wilcox Dock as well as from Plattsburgh Municipal Beach (if you want to brave the water, you can pack your swimsuit), or Cumberland Bay State Park. A large flock of Canada Geese is regularly found there and it should be scanned through for less common species like Cackling or Greater White-fronted Goose.
A short distance south, stop off at the mouth of the Saranac River where ducks like Mallard, American Black Duck, Common Goldeneye and Greater and Lesser Scaup – are often congregated. The flocks may hide less common species like Barrow’s Goldeneye. And before you rush off for yet another holiday party, make sure you don’t skip over the gulls either. The flocks may contain Glaucous, Iceland, or Lesser Black-backed – all of which are far better than leftover fruit cake!
Birders will also want to check out Cumberland Head and the ferry area for similar species (Cumberland Head can be good for Barrow’s Goldeneye and Glaucous Gull for instance), but the ferry terminal gets much better as winter advances and ice begins to close off the water – packing the birds into the ferry lanes.
Point Au Roche
While the Canada Geese at Cumberland Bay may think they own the lake, it’s only because they don’t tangle with the Snow Geese which dominate the area around Point Au Roche. Like the snow that recently dropped on us in the High Peaks Region, the geese can cover the ground in white, and a honking multitude on the wing can look like glitter in the sky. They can number around 100,000 this time of year. No, that’s not a typo. They often do hit six figures and the dizzying display is worth a trip so you can stand there oohing in bewilderment. If that wasn’t enough, the enormous clouds of Snow Geese bring with them Ross’s Geese and a day spent poking around the Point Au Roche area can often find a few of these diminutive cousins.
Any field in the area around Point AuRoche and north is fair game for searching for the Snows, but you should start at the beach area at Point Au Roche State Park, and then head north along Lake Shore Road, checking out Monty Bay, Dunn Bay, and in particular Trombley Bay as the road hugs the lake. The geese can be packed into the water as if they were having a contest for how tightly they can squeeze, and there are a few places to pull over to sort through the throng. If you can avoid becoming completely overwhelmed by the geese, you can also find a variety of nice ducks along the way as well.