Great blue herons are usually found near water and strike their prey at lightning-fast speeds despite their slow movements when standing on riverbanks. Larry Clarfeld/ North Branch Nature Center
With 300 miles and 88 sites along the highway, the Lake Champlain Birding Trail provides bird watchers with an opportunity to see various species of birds and wildlife every day of the year. Each spot along the trail is identified with a sign telling watchers their location and what bird species they should expect to see.
Spring brings flowers, green grass and, of course, the sweet singing of birds. The chirping and singing that drifts through the air verifies one of the many reasons why spring is the best time of year to visit the Lake Champlain Birding Trail, according to Larry Clarfeld, youth birding/amphibian monitoring coordinator at North Branch Nature Center. “Spring migration starts early in the Lake Champlain Valley,” says Clarfeld. “Typically, the third week of March is the best time to see tropical migrants and songbirds.”
Migrating birds fly back to the Champlain Valley in large numbers and provide visitors with spectacular views of various species, which is one reason why Audubon magazine ranked Lake Champlain in the top six destinations for bird watching. “The Lake Champlain Valley is a premier spot for birding because it is a migratory flyway for many species, especially waterfowl,” says Clarfeld enthusiastically. “When they fly north, they follow the valley instead of going over mountains.” This migratory flyway creates an opportunity for bird watchers to see tens of thousands of birds at once during the spring season.
Point Au Roche State Park is one of the many stops along the Lake Champlain Birding Trail for visitors to find different bird species. Jessica Blondell
The six main areas where people can spot the thousands of birds on this trail, according to the Lake Champlain Birding Trail brochure, include open waters, shorelines, wetlands, fields and grasslands, woodlands and cliffs.
In the open water areas of the trail, birders can expect to see the common loon, horned grebe, red-necked grebe, osprey and many more species. These areas are great places for birds to find food, escape predators and gather with other birds.
The shorelines provide perfect places for migrating birds to feed and rest. Some common species in these areas include great blue herons, bald eagles, greater yellowlegs and different kinds of sandpipers.
Wetlands are important to the environment of the Lake Champlain Basin because they provide shelter, cover and places for breeding. They also act as natural filters to water systems. Species found here are American bittern, green heron, wood ducks, common snipes and marsh wren.
In the fields and grasslands of the Lake Champlain Birding Trail, many small birds can be found feeding on seeds and plants, even though they have limited protection from predators. Some of these species include Northern harrier, rough-legged hawk, killdeer, tree swallow and Eastern bluebird.
Various nesting birds can be found in the woodlands because they use trees as their homes and the seeds and insects for food. Northern goshawk, ruffed grouse, barred owl, woodpeckers and brown creeper are among the many species found in woodland areas.
Cliffs are mainly areas for birds to rest from predators or watch for prey. Turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons, cliff swallows and common ravens are commonly found in the cliffs of the Lake Champlain region.
These six unique areas of the region provide bird enthusiasts with an opportunity to see many different species and expand their knowledge of birding. According to the National Wildlife Federation, more than 50 million Americans now enjoy bird watching, and almost 20 million of them travel away from home to do so. It is also the fastest-growing form of outdoor recreation in America.
Male wood ducks, such as the one pictured here, are a true treat to look at when spotted on a birding outing.Larry Clarfeld/ North Branch Nature Center
Birding is a free way to experience the various aspects of natural wildlife in the Lake Champlain region. With the sport gaining popularity, the Lake Champlain Birding Trail gives people living in the region an opportunity to join in on the sport and tourists a chance to experience all that Lake Champlain has to offer.
Birding is the number one pastime in the United States according to Clarfeld, an environmental educator. Clarfeld predicts that the sport will continue to grow in the Lake Champlain Valley because he has noticed how popular it has been and how much it is growing, especially around the time the snowy owls are out.
Bob Walshaw, professional speaker and writer about bluebirds in the Northeast, says the most rewarding part of birding is that “it ties you into many other areas of nature as you observe birds in different habitats.”
What is your favorite kind of bird to watch?