Starting with Boreal Birds and then off to the Valley
My family recently headed to the Adirondacks to join me for a long weekend of birding. After our success in finding Great Gray Owls in Massena, my brother, his son, and I decided we'd head to the Lake Champlain Region.
Before we left the Saranac Lake region, we thought we'd start with a search for boreal birds. We began at Bloomingdale Bog north of Saranac Lake where the Gray Jays entertained us before we moved on to find a Boreal Chickadee along Oregon Plains Road. But then it was off to the Champlain Valley where we began by admiring a Barred Owl hunting along the road near Elizabethtown before heading to Westport Boat Launch.
The boat launch held the usual suspects, like Bufflehead and Mallards, as well as a couple lingering Double-crested Cormorants – usually gone from the lake in winter. Our next stop was the overlook of Hoisington Brook at the wastewater treatment facility, where we picked through the gulls hoping to find something odd mixed with the Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed Gulls. We came up empty this time, but the location is one of the best for uncommon species of gulls in the valley.
Next we drove along Dudley and Barber Roads south of Westport where we found a small group of Horned Larks as well as a few ducks on Cole Bay. But we kept pushing south since we knew that the large flocks of ducks were still ahead of us – spread out near the Champlain Bridge and the mouth of Bulwagga Bay.
Ducks in Port Henry
Our first stop was at the Port Henry Pier where a flock of Common Goldeneye was strung out across the water – mixed with Greater and Lesser Scaup and Common Mergansers. A friend of mine had called that morning to tell me that she had found a Barrow’s Goldeneye in the flock, but the wind was so strong we couldn’t keep ourselves or our scopes steady enough to see much of anything besides the ducks closest to us.
After scanning for a spell, I moved the car into a position where it could serve as a windbreak and we sat beside it, scoping from ground level to take advantage of the car’s protective services. This proved to be a good decision, but we still had to contend with the rolling water and ducks that bobbed and disappeared for minutes at a time behind the waves. We found a Red-breasted Merganser and a Common Loon in this manner, and I eventually spotted the male Barrow’s Goldeneye on the back end of the flock. He was quickly gone from view and we sat there for a long time trying to relocate him with no success.
We eventually gave up on re-finding the Barrow’s, but stopped at the town beach anyway to see if it gave us a better vantage point of the flock. While the light was better from the beach, the ducks were much more distant thanks to the ice on the lake and we skipped scanning the ducks in favor of checking out Crown Point.
Crown Point and Chimney Point Birds
The triangle of roads formed by Rt. 185, Lake, and Trimble Roads has been excellent for raptors and field birds this year, and although it wasn’t as active as it has been, we still found a Rough-legged Hawk, a beautiful male Northern Harrier, and four Red-tailed Hawks, as well as a flock of about 35 Horned Larks. We may have found more had we stayed longer, but we wanted to see what ducks were congregated at the Champlain Bridge.
Although the ice edge had pushed the ducks off of Crown Point, we could see a large raft of ducks as we crossed the bridge into Vermont, so we stopped at Chimney Point State Historic Site. We parked at the bottom of the hill and started scanning through them, racing against a sun which was trying to creep behind the Adirondacks in the west. Almost immediately I spotted the male Tufted Duck which has been in the lake valley all winter. My brother found it too, but we were unable to show his son – the duck vanished into the ever-shifting throng.
So we set to picking through the large flock - which was composed mostly of Greater and Lesser Scaup – to re-find it. And much like the Barrow’s Goldeneye, this proved to be a real challenge. As we searched for the Tufted Duck, we found a female Canvasback, a male Redhead, several Ring-necked Ducks, and lots of Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Mallards, American Black Ducks, and Common Mergansers.
Finally, just when our search was nearing a critical loss of light as the sun dipped below the mountains, we found the Tufted Duck and all three of us enjoyed nice views of it as it tossed its tuft from either side in the wind. Whew! We were all happy and relieved when we finally re-found it.
After taking a minute of two to admire the setting sun over the Adirondacks we decided to take a short spin through the fields of Vermont to look for raptors. While we didn’t have much time, we did manage to end up at Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area along Gage Road where my brother spotted a Short-eared Owl to top off our day.