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Birding Lake Champlain: A Year-Round Pursuit

Birding Lake Champlain: A Year-Round Pursuit

No doubt about it: Staying at Basin Harbor Club, you’ve got front-row seats to some of Vermont’s finest birding.

After all, the Champlain Valley—threaded in both Vermont and New York by the Lake Champlain Birding Trail—is an “avifauna” hotspot: Besides the wonderful spectrum of aquatic and terrestrial habitats—open lake, shoreline wetlands, clayplain forests, shrublands and grasslands—it’s also part of the Atlantic Flyway, that major bird-migration corridor linking the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean with the Arctic via the Eastern Seaboard.

Even now, in the heart of winter, there’s plenty going on in our neck of the woods: Buffleheads, black ducks, mergansers, Canada geese, and loads of other waterfowl are rafting around the lake past flocks of hardy gulls, while Far North visitors—snow buntings, horned larks, the odd snowy owl—are holidaying among our whitened fields. This is also prime time to view rough-legged hawks and short-eared owls on the hunt. And many of our resident birds—ravens, chickadees, cardinals, juncos, woodpeckers, ruffed grouse, great horned owls, etc.—don’t hightail it for balmier climes and simply hunker down here for the cold months. A few of us at Basin Harbor have spotted our neighboring American Bald Eagle pair with their yearlings flying around. They nest across the lake in a private cove. On our daily cruises, guests almost always can sneak a peak of these majestic birds.
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The wintertime scene should whet your appetite for a birding idyll at Basin Harbor Club during our active season. Birdwatching along Lake Champlain during the spring and fall migrations, you can see great varieties of waterfowl using the lake as a stopover—from northern pintails and ring-necked ducks to snow geese. Then there are the many assorted raptors and songbirds that sweep through the region along the Flyway.

Some of the most coveted species sought out by birders during migration season and summertime are warblers. Varieties such as Tennessee, palm, and Nashville warblers winter in the Neotropics and breed in our forests (and farther north). Glimpsing one of these brightly colored songbirds in a Champlain Valley thicket is a real treat: a reminder that Vermont’s woods are vitally linked to faraway tropical forests of Central and South America by these epic little travelers.

During our spring-to-fall season, it’s a joy to tool around Basin Harbor Club’s greater neighborhood looking for feathered fauna. In Champlain Valley pastureland, scout for sweet-voiced eastern meadowlarks and bobolinks—songbirds dependent on grassland habitat—and the loopy hunting flight of northern harriers. In broadleaf woods, keep an eye peeled for wild turkeys, catbirds, blue jays, and Cooper’s hawks. Edging a lakeshore marsh, you might glimpse a stalking great blue heron, a ramrod-poised bittern, even—if you’re lucky—a rare black tern on the wing. And gazing out over the big lake’s coves, enjoy ducks, geese, mergansers, Caspian terns, and the occasional bald eagle or osprey.
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You don’t need to be a hardcore birder to enjoy the Champlain Valley’s avian treasures. A sunrise flock of Canada geese alighting from the lake, a fierce-eyed redtail riding a thermal, a loudmouthed pileated woodpecker winging through the woods—these are

sights to stir any soul. Come join us and enjoy Vermont’s varied birdlife—one of the Green Mountain State’s genuine treasures!

Gorgeous photo captures a bald eagle taking off. By local photographer, Alex Ratliff.