Some people open Christmas gifts with relish. But it is with an equal amount of anticipation that we bird nerds open the annual PDF emailed by Gordon Howard highlighting the previous year’s count at the Crown Point Banding Station — a document that arrived in the mailbox this week. Volunteers at the station, located at the Crown Point Historic Site, net, count and band dozens of species each spring at one of the nation’s more significant avian highways. Prior to Covid, it had become a popular attraction for tourists, birders and school classes, but it’s been closed to the public for the past two years due to the pandemic. This year it will be open again, from May 6 to May 21 for the station’s 47th consecutive year of banding birds.
Being in Port Henry on unrelated business, it seemed a good time to wander a few of the Crown Point Historic Site trails prior to the arrival of the birds and people — sort of like walking in an empty stadium on the morning of the big game.
There’s a neat and tidy little mile to be had by parking in the main lot and, as you are facing the museum and fort ruins, making a right and following a paved drive up a slight hill and past three wooden buildings, where the roadbed changes to gravel and heads right past an osprey nest and down the slope toward Lake Champlain.
At the entrance to a private camp, the trail doglegs left and enters a thorny thicket that only a songbird could love. The trails are just a few feet above lake level, and as a consequence they are quite wet, making waterproof boots all but essential. The trail passes a spike of land that was once part of a rail line across Bulwagga Bay before turning left through stands of ash, shagbark hickory and hawthorn and arriving at a flock of picnic tables that in another six weeks will be ground zero for the birding station.
Last year was a great year for bird migrations, which, counterintuitively, made it a comparatively bad year for banding birds, according to Ted Hicks, author of the 2021 annual report. Migrating birds can detect bad weather up ahead, so when, loosely speaking, there’s a storm up north in Plattsburgh, they will hunker down in Crown Point and wait for skies to clear. Oh that the Weather Channel should be so skilled.
But if the weather is good the birds keep on flying high without descending into the banding station nets. The station in 2021 banded just shy of 500 birds, about 100 fewer than 2020. Blue jays, gray catbirds, common yellowthroats, white-throated sparrow, and yellow-rumped warblers were the most common, while there were some rarities such as one Brewster’s Warbler, a hybrid not common in this area.
Bird counts are important for a variety of reasons, particularly in a changing climate, and their cycles can be pieced together with other areas to tell stories and suggest policy, for example, as to where wind turbines or bright lights might be detrimental to the ecology.
Ice is beginning to recede on parts of the lake, and waterfowl are taking full advantage. Geese, gulls and ducks are chattering away with much excitement, like they’re waiting on a cruise or some other great adventure — which, as spring arrives, they kind of are.
Photo at top by Mike Lynch/Adirondack Explorer. Photo of Lake Champlain by Tim Rowland.