Posted on November 6th, 2010 Add a comment >>
November means waterfowl-watching along the still-open waters of Lake Champlain, and right on cue the waterfowl are making their entrance.
On a recent birdwatching trip along the western shoreline of the lake we made several stops to our favorite haunts including AuSable Point Campground, Willsboro Bay, Noblewood Park, and quaint village of Westport.
Most of what we see on the Lake, over the winter months, would fall under the group called diving ducks (those that feed on fish, crustaceans, and mollusks). And currently these ducks are just beginning to arrive on the lake. Flying down from Canada’s many lakes and ponds, these ducks will often remain in the area until the increasing ice forces them farther south.
On our recent trip along the lake we found buffleheads in growing numbers as well as common goldeneyes, common merganser, and lesser scaup. As we approach early winter all these species can be found in large groups or “rafts”, of one species but may often be found in mixed rafts.
Driving along Route 22 south of Plattsburgh we find a few spots to pull over on the shoulder, look out onto the lake and scan for ducks. Near Valcour Island we begin to find common loons, and horned grebes in their winter plumages.
In the town of Westport we can find geese, ducks and gulls all coexisting on a few sand bars near the Westport Boat Launch, and in front of the Waste Water Treatment Plant.
The “broad lake” has quickly become a birdwatchers delight as the north winds howl and the ducks replace the sailboats on the choppy winter waters.
Posted on February 21st, 2010 5 comments Add a comment >>
This past Friday a gentleman from downstate was visiting the Adirondacks in search of some interesting winter birds. His main target was a Northern Hawk Owl(an owl that spends most of it’s time in the boreal (northern coniferous forest) regions of Canada. One showed up in Champlain, NY sometime in Nov. and has been busy finding mice and voles to keep itself alive these many cold months, as well as keeping birdwatchers happy.
Well, said gentleman was on his search but failed to find the owl. So he turned his viewings to nearby Lake Champlain, specifically Rouse’s Point(Clinton County), and there he found a rare species of gull, called the Ivory Gull, that inhabits the Arctic ice-bound regions around Greenland, Labrador, northern Canada, and Scandinavia.
He had this sighting posted to a birdwatching internet site in Vermont and with that action he started, among the birding world, a low hum that soon reached(and is still reaching) a well-controlled chaos of birder-email traffic from Vermont to New York to New Hampshire and down to NY City and Long Island. I will go out on a limb here and say that most of the birding world of northeastern US will have heard about this gull in a matter of 2-3 days. Rare bird sightings among birders spreads like fire on grease!
“Hey boss, can I have the day off Monday?” will be heard around offices all over. Get your bino’s and get up to Rouse’s Point!
Well, I took that advice and gathered a friend of mine and we went to visit the gull from the Arctic. At Rouse’s Point we found the gull, as did about 50 other binocular-toting, camera- swinging, fieldguide-opening birders. Braving cold NW winds the birders walk out on a stone breakwall that juts into L. Champlain. Here they set up their spotting scopes and cameras and capture images of the gull as it might look in its normal home range…sitting on the edge of an ice sheet looking for bits of seal entrails, fish parts, or some other tasty bit of food on ice.
OK, we don’t have the seals but we do have friendly ice fisherman who will sacrifice one of their perch to feed this wayward gull. And as we discussed this act of fisherman hospitality we all agreed it’s like feeding that stray cat or dog and it will surely stay around for another hand-out.
Well we wish this lost, labrador-loving gull all the best and hope it makes it back to the north. But in there lies the problem. This gull may have ended up here as a result of habitat problems back home. The ivory gull is dependent upon many predatory animals for food, along these ice-bound areas, particularly polar bears that kill a seal and eat it on the ice. After the bear has had its fill, the gulls filter in and eat up whats left.
But as you may have heard, much of the ice is thinning(or dissappearing) up in those Arctic areas and polar bears aren’t surviving this drastic change in habitat. So, no polar bears…no ivory gulls! To the gulls advantage, it has wings and can fly away to find food elsewhere. Not so for the polar bear. Maybe that’s how our visitor came to be on the ice of Rouse’s Point, NY.
Photo: by Brian McAllister(This is a photo of another (pure white adult) ivory Gull that was found over in Plymouth, MA in 2009. I tried to photograph the Rouse’s Point ivory gull but the batteries in my camera died before a photo could be taken. Lesson learned! )