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Wildlife of the Colchester Causeway on Lake Champlain

I love creating great food and capturing nature and wildlife photos to unwind from a high-stress job.

Colchester Causeway

Colchester Causeway

Exploring the Colchester Causeway

The Colchester Causeway—also known as the Island Line Trail—is a gravel path averaging about 20 feet wide and 10 to 14 miles long, depending on where you measure, and extending about three miles over Lake Champlain (Local Motion, 2021).

There is a break for boats about the three-mile mark, where a bike/pedestrian ferry transports people across the gap (Local motion, 2021a). From there, you can continue on the trail into South Hero, the southernmost of the Champlain Islands.

The bike path continues through the Islands and into the Vermont peninsula of Alburgh. From there, Rte 207 will take you to the US/Canada border crossing. You can bike from Burlington Vermont to Quebec. (As of November 2021, Border crossings are limited due to the CoVID-19 Pandemic).

The Causeway is full of opportunities for photographers and bird watchers. Commonly seen wildlife on the causeway include great blue herons, great white egrets, different varieties of ducks, Canada geese, a wide variety of songbirds, abundant leopard frogs and painted turtles, turkey vultures, and osprey hawks. Rarer sights you may encounter are bald eagles, Merlin falcons, American mink, and North American beavers. Sandpipers and kingfishers can be seen in the fall.

Two Great Blue Herons in flight

Two Great Blue Herons in flight

Waterfowl

Great blue herons and great white egrets are both common sights on the Causeway. They can be seen wading in shallow water, hunting for fish, frogs, crayfish, and dragonflies.

Herons have the ability to swallow large fish whole. I have watched with amazement as a heron will grab a fish the size of their own head and neck, and swallow it whole. They may look awkward with their out-of-proportion necks and legs, but they are agile and fast, and very beautiful and graceful in flight. If startled they will emit a gargling squawk, which sounds like duck with a sore throat.

Other Waterfowl

Sandpipers are cute little water birds which run through shallow water on their long stilt legs. They will take flight if you get too close. They can be seen on the Champlain Causeway in late August through October.

Sandpiper in shallow water

Sandpiper in shallow water

Sandpiper in flight

Sandpiper in flight

Songbirds

Songbirds are abundant on the Causeway. Cedar waxwings, cardinals, eastern kingbirds, yellow warblers, and downy woodpeckers are common sights. Rarer birds you may see are orioles and barn swallows.

Turtles, Frogs & Salamanders

Turtles are abundant on the Causeway. You will see them sunning themselves on logs and rocks in the shallow water. Salamanders can be found on the wooded trail leading to the Causeway. Leopard frogs seem to be everywhere. You will flush them out as you walk on the trail leading to the Causeway. They have remarkably effective camouflage, and you may not see them until they leap out of your way.

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Yellow spotted salamander

Yellow spotted salamander

Leopard Frog

Leopard Frog

Painted Turtles

Painted Turtles

Small Mammals

The Champlain Causeway is home to a number of small mammals, including North American beavers, American mink, chipmunks, and gray squirrels. Red squirrels are less common.

North American Beaver

North American Beaver

American Mink

American Mink

Dragonflies & Damselflies

Several varieties of dragonflies and damselflies are seen on the Causeway. They are big and may look threatening, but they are harmless to people and pets. They do not bite or sting. Dragonflies are actually very good for us, as they will eat up to 100 mosquitos per day (Zielinski, 2011).

Dragonfly in flight

Dragonfly in flight

Damselfly resting on Marble

Damselfly resting on Marble

Bluet Damselfly

Bluet Damselfly

Visiting the Causeway

Weekends at the Causeway are typically packed with bicyclists, runners, and hikers. There is plenty of room on the gravel path for everyone, but parking to reach the trail can be difficult. The further you travel on the trail, the fewer people you will see.

There is a parking lot which may be full of cars on weekends. Weekdays are much easier to find a place to park. In the early spring and fall, you may need a sweatshirt as the wind coming off the lake can gust over 25 mph some days.

Some items to bring in the summer:

Colchester Reef Lighthouse remnant

Colchester Reef Lighthouse remnant

Sunset over the Causeway

Sunset over the Causeway

Getting the Shot

All of the images in this article were taken with this Canon EOS Rebel T7 DSLR. This is a very good digital camera with interchangeable lenses. I used the 75-300mm to take photos on the causeway to bring wildlife in close without disturbing them. 300 mm is about the maximum without needing a tripod to prevent camera shake.

The camera has a variety of settings for maximum creative control. You can set it to auto, or auto with no flash, and the camera will do most of the work for you, selecting the optimal exposure and shutter speed. The setting I use for birds in flight is the High Speed option, which allows tracking fast-moving objects without losing focus.

The Canon EOS Rebel operates with a rechargeable Li battery which is good for about 300 images, or three hours if you leave the camera turned on. I prefer to carry an extra battery and keep a third battery charged and ready to go. One battery is included, and extras can be ordered on Amazon. Your images are stored on an SD card for downloading.

My only complaint about this camera is a design flaw in the battery and SD card door. It can be difficult to open, and it typically takes me a few tries. This could have definitely been designed better, so the door does not default to closing after partially opening without the proper touch. It takes some practice. This is a minor imperfection in an otherwise reliable and well-functioning camera, which has served me well.

References

© 2021 David A Porter

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