Our wildly variable weather has produced birds throughout the Lake Champlain Region all winter from Snowy Owls to an array of ducks. Unfortunately I've been so busy I haven't been out as much as I'd like, so when a few free hours presented themselves on a recent trip to the Plattsburgh area, I took advantage to see what I could find.
I was running a bit late when I left, and so I had to skip the ferry terminal at Port Kent where a couple drake Barrow’s Goldeneye had been seen a little over a week earlier. Instead, my four-legged companion Wren and I started at Ausable Marsh WMA, where there had also been an assortment of ducks reported of late, including a small group of Redheads. Ausable is also a great place to go with Wren since we can explore there together and she isn’t confined to the car.
The ice on the lake was well in place in the marshy cove along the road, meaning that the ducks were largely pushed offshore – many of them congregated in small patches of water where the ice hadn’t sealed over completely. There were lots of Common Goldeneye and Common Mergansers, but I didn’t pull out a Barrow’s Goldeneye, nor did those Redheads make an appearance. They may have moved further south along the lake. But I did find a lone drake Gadwall with a collection of Mallards, Hooded Mergansers, and American Black Ducks, and there was also the usual Bald Eagle flying overhead in search of unwary ducks.
As we walked, we also found the customary flocks of songbirds in the woods – Black-capped Chickadees, Red and White-breasted Nuthatches, American Tree Sparrows, and both Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. I would have liked to stay longer in order to further explore Ausable, but I had to get to Plattsburgh so we continued north.
A Snowy Owl and an Afternoon Hike
Later that afternoon, we had a chance to head out again starting with a quick look at the Plattsburgh marina and a short stop at the mouth of the Saranac River where there was a large assemblage of Mallards and American Black Ducks. It will be worth checking out in the coming weeks for any other ducks mixed in with the flock or for raptors looking for a meal.
My primary goal was to search through some of the fields in the area where raptors – most notably Snowy Owls – have been hanging out all winter. I had success almost immediately in that endeavor with a Snowy Owl sitting in the top of a tree and surveying the fields near the junction of Moffit and Pardy Road north of Cumberland Head. With the gray and snowy light not offering much of a photo opportunity of the fairly distant owl, I moved on, finding a few Red-tailed Hawks in the process as I worked my way toward Point Au Roche, and I drove along the fields there, working my way a short distance north on Lake Shore Road.
I briefly debated going further – there has been a Snowy Owl haunting the fields near Chazy for much of the winter, and another was seen on the ice on Monty Bay the other day. But there have also been 2-3 Snowy Owls in the Moffit Road area, so I turned back south with a plan to look for them as late afternoon turned toward evening.
But in the end I opted for a third option. After her walk at Ausable Marsh, Wren had been cooped up for a while and I knew she needed another walk. So given how the gray afternoon light wasn’t going to help my photography goals, we skipped more driving and took a hike at Point Au Roche State Park instead. The park is not only an excellent spot for birding, but the network of trails make for nice hikes, and we made our way along the icy paths, I poked my head into the cedars and other conifers in search of any roosting owls or hawks. I found none, but the quiet woods were peaceful. And despite the lack of birds, the trails certainly had no shortage of smells as Wren’s nose led us into the evening, her tail wagging all the while.
Winter birding is great along the Adirondack Coast with lots of Snowy Owls this year. Plan your outdoor adventure today — we have cozy lodging and tasty dining options available after your day of exploring!