The traditional way we view the approach of spring is from south to north, a rising green tide flowing toward the North Pole.Of course, there are times when spring gets sidetracked on its northern journey, taking it slowly up the sides of the Adirondacks, but speeding along in the Lake Champlain Valley. The valley is the first place to look for this early surge of wildlife activity, and here are four good places to observe spring wildlife.
Bordered on the east by Lake Champlain and the Canadian Pacific Railroad tracks and on the south by the Port Kent Road, Wickham Marsh is an extensive wetland that one guidebook claims used to be a delta of the Ausable River. Today it is a fertile area favored by migrating waterfowl. I usually go in on the eastern side, just off the Lake Shore Road, a short drive north of the Port Kent Ferry. There is a yellow-on-brown Department of Environmental Conservation sign at the entry point.A trail runs through the Wildlife Management Area, providing vantage points to observe waterfowl and other wildlife. The trail finally rises to a low ridge, but our journey doesn't end there.
Moving northward three miles, we come to AuSable Point. The AuSable Point Marsh is a large wetland where the Ausable River enters Lake Champlain. I have walked into parts of the marsh using a railroad bridge for access (not recommended) and paddled through it, a 4.5-mile loop from the state campground, up the upper channel, down the lower channel, then a final stretch north on Lake Champlain.In the spring, the marsh attracts a myriad of birds. Last week, I got an e-mail from local birder Judy Heintz describing the events following the sighting of a tufted duck in the marsh the previous weekend."At least two groups came from the Albany area to see the duck," she wrote. "You would have enjoyed seeing all the folks out there with spotting scopes." Heintz said she didn't see the rare duck, but did observe an Eurasion wigeon, also pretty rare for this area, near a flock of American wigeons.Obviously, AuSable Point is not only a big draw for the birds, but for those who follow the birds, which in turn is good for the area's tourism, especially during the slack early spring season.
We now travel 14 miles north "as the crow flies" to Point au Roche and a different vantage point for wildlife; though there are waterfowl on nearby Lake Champlain, the interior is home to wild turkeys, grouse, and birds migrating from the south. Point au Roche has trails running down it on both sides of the peninsula, affording views of Lake Champlain and the birds that use the lake as a resting area. Long Point, at the tip of Point au Roche, is a good location for observation, and the interior trails crisscross old fields turning to forest and the occasional wetland. There is also an orienteering course set up at the Point that adds to the possible outdoor activities one could enjoy in a day's outing. Access is off the Point au Roche Road that bisects Route 9, about five miles north of Plattsburgh.
Our final stop is Lake Alice, 9½ miles northwest of Point au Roche. I have often referred to The Lake Alice Wildlife Management Area as a waterfowl equivalent to a truck stop for long distance haulers — a place where migrating ducks and geese can stop, rest, and grab a bite to eat before taking off at night for their long journey, maybe to the salt marshes of James Bay.The Lake Alice Wildlife Management Area is a 1,468-acre parcel off the Ridge Road, about 1.3 miles south of the four corners at Route 191 near the Miner Center. A well marked trail goes part of the way around the lake.On all the trips, when you go looking for wildlife, be sure to take along binoculars, maybe a spotting scope, a field guide or two and a camera. Some incredible wildlife photo opportunities manifest themselves in the springtime.
I have focused on the northern portion of Lake Champlain because this section, being flatter, is the most appealing to migrating waterfowl in the spring. There are some areas farther south, but as you get toward Splitrock and Port Henry, areas of rugged beauty, you are offered different outdoor opportunities that will be expanded upon in a future column. For now, take to the northern marshes and enjoy the changing season.