Yesterday I participated in Vermont’s annual Bald Eagle survey, as I have for several years now. My route is the Winooski River, from Waterbury to Lake Champlain. I drive along the river, stopping at several spots to watch carefully, and watch less carefully as I drive from point to point. I did see one eagle, in Williston, and otherwise had a day of it watching a beautiful river that gets forgotten or taken for granted or often just not thought about.
The day was warm, relatively, just above freezing. In some past years I have done the survey with temperatures below zero. There was no ice at all yesterday, although there was fresh snow in the hills. The water was high and powered over the dams and ledges, less tame than last year. Here is my most recent portrait of the river.
Lake Champlain is pretty much frozen over at this point. It has been cold, after all, with little snow. That is what happens to bodies of water when the temperature drops–they freeze. Lake Champlain does not always freeze all the way across. It always has some ice but only every few years does it freeze from Vermont to New York. This is one of those years.
Typically there are ducks on the lake in the winter. Last year there were lots of them as the lake did not freeze entirely. There was enough open water that the ducks stuck around. Until recently there were all kinds of ducks on the lake. But now, they have less and less water in which to swim and dive and find good things to eat. Many of them have been hanging around the ferry channel. The ferry runs all year if they can keep a channel open from shore to shore, and so far they have. This means the ducks have a place to swim. But there are a few other spots for them to swim as well.
Some ducks dabble and some ducks dive. Mallards, the most common duck around here, are dabblers. You can see them raising their hindquarters in the air as they dip their heads underwater to find vittles. Divers plunge right down to scoop up what they can find. Today I saw some divers.
I wasn’t on the lake. I was on the Winooski River, which leads into the lake. In the city of Winooski the river drops over some falls. This means the water is open, not frozen over. I took a half hour to see what I could see. I saw common goldeneye and a lone bufflehead. These are just cool-looking birds, and fun to watch as they disappear and then reappear on the surface. I was unsure what I would see this afternoon and so was happy to see them.
I hope this weekend to see something interesting at the ferry landing. Since I often work in Winooski I will plan to check out the falls at the river again as well. I need to try to see these birds that spend the winter here before they fly off once spring comes. Before I know it, warblers and vireos will be singing in the newly green trees and these ducks will be off to their breeding grounds. Right now the forecast calls for rain and snow and sleet, so I have a little time, but every day I wait means a day I might miss something. I need to make sure I don’t make excuses. The ducks won’t wait for me.