Have you seen all of the birders at the Essex ferry dock? Or lined up along the lake north of the ferry dock? Birders from all parts are venturing to the Essex-Charlotte ferry channel to view and photograph rare waterfowl such as the Tufted Duck.
Despite speaking with many of the birders, I had not realized how much national attention our rare waterfowl concentration was receiving until I received a timely tip from longtime Essex summer resident John Lynch about some distant news pertaining to our fair village.
I saw this on a local websit here in Boston… http://www.wcvb.com/news/rare-birds-drawn-to-frozen-lakes-ferry-channels/24886914 ~ John Lynch
Thanks, John! Keep the good news coming.
Birders Flock to Essex for Rare Waterfowl
It turns out that this far-flung media attention was not unique. From Virginia to Washington State, the media is broadcasting news of an exceptionally high concentration of rare waterfowl congregating in Lake Champlain ferry channels. The fact that the entire lake is frozen except for these narrow, manmade canals (and a number of bubbler “ponds” used to protect docks and shorelines from ice damage) is permitting eager bird enthusiasts to spy rare birds they would have to travel far and wide to see.
A detailed article in The Associated Press by Wilson Ring (well photographed by Mike Groll) has been picked up by newspapers and television news rooms all across the united states, bringing an otherwise unaccustomed audience to our Essex waterfront. I will endeavor in this post to showcase a few of the images and media channels who have helped propagate this exciting story.
Rare Waterfowl Lure Birders to Essex
Bird watchers have been drawn to the Essex, New York, landing of the ferry from Charlotte in hopes of catching a glimpse of sometimes-rare birds that are usually scattered across the length of the 120-mile lake. During a winter of below-zero temperatures, the ducks, bald eagles and other birds have been forced to scour the open water of the channels for food.
“They are surviving the winter in a lake that’s over 100 miles long that right now is down to five puddles,” said Ian Worley, a retired University of Vermont environmental studies professor who goes birding along the lake two to three times a week. (therepublic.com)
Lake Champlain has not frozen over completely for seven years, undoubtedly fueling bird watchers current enthusiasm. In addition to concentrating waterfowl who need open water for food, rarely seen varieties are more easily spotted as indicated in our post last week about the Tufted Duck.
“The lake — as it ices over and pulls the birds into this little isolated place — also pulls the possibility of uncommon or rare or really rare species right to you as well.” ~ Ian Worley (therepublic.com)
Of course, when rare waterfowl and rare birders flock to Essex, it’s inevitable that predators will follow. Indeed we’ve been observing bald eagles for weeks, also drawn to open water for food. While they usually hunt for fish in unfrozen sections of Lake Champlain, this winter has offered the eagles a veritable duck smorgasbord.
The only open water within miles is attracting thousands of ducks and bald eagles looking to eat the ducks. It is had the side benefit of attracting birders from far away looking to spot rare duck species. (San Antonio Express-News)
Whether you’re intrigued by rare birds or rare birders (or the prospect of a stay-at-home-safari eagle vs. exotic duck encounter), I encourage you to swing by the Essex waterfront to enjoy the show before spring arrives and the ice melts and the birds and birders thin out.
Birders Flock to Essex: A Digital Scrapbook
I’ll wrap up with a quick compilation of some of my favorite photographs that have been used to illustrate news stories about birders flocking to Essex to witness rare waterfowl in recent weeks.
Birding enthusiasts Ron Payne of Middlebury, Vt., and Ian Worley of Cornwall, Vt., look out for ducks on the Essex-Charlotte Ferry as it travels from New York to Vermont on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, in Essex, N.Y. (Burlington Free Press)
Ducks take flight as the Essex-Charlotte ferry nears its dock on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, in Essex, N.Y…. The only open water within miles is attracting thousands of ducks and bald eagles looking to eat the ducks. It is had the side benefit of attracting birders from far away looking to spot rare duck species. (seattlepi.com)
Birders hope to spot species like the single tufted duck, which is ubiquitous in Europe and Asia but exceedingly rare in the eastern U.S. It’s spending the winter in the lake along with mallards, black ducks and common goldeneyes. (poetsareangels.com)
A Greater Scaup duck flies over an open ferry channel on Lake Champlain on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, in Essex, N.Y. (therepublic.com)
A Common Goldeneye duck flies over an open ferry channel on Lake Champlain on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, in Essex, N.Y. (therepublic.com)
A juvenille bald eagle flies over the shoreline of Lake Champlain on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, in Essex, N.Y. Lake Champlain is frozen solid, except for two stretches of open water where two ferries carry passengers between Vermont and New York. The only open water within miles is attracting thousands of ducks and bald eagles looking to eat the ducks. It is had the side benefit of attracting birders from far away looking to spot rare duck species. (Valley News)