Dominican Conservationists Gain a New Perspective

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Close encounter with a Bicknell’s Thrush.

Few can lay claim to a close-and-personal encounter with a Bicknell’s Thrush on either its mountainous northern breeding grounds or its Caribbean winter haunts. Fewer still have met up with this rare and reclusive migratory songbird in both regions. A group of 11 Dominican conservationists did just that last week, joining VCE staff on the Mt. Mansfield ridgeline for an experience that left an indelible impression on all.

The contingent, led by VCE colleague Charles (Chuck) Kerchner, spent a weeklong exchange that took them from Boston to Burlington, across Lake Champlain to Lake Placid, and back to Stowe. On Thursday evening, they joined ~50 people at Topnotch Resort to learn about and celebrate the “Two Countries – One Bird” initiative, in which VCE has been a partner from the start. A presentation on the ecology (and fascinating sex life) of Bicknell’s Thrush captured everyone’s attention, as did Chuck’s overview of pioneering collaborations on Reserva Privada Zorzal, the DR’s first-ever private reserve, which many of the partners helped to create. First-class, sustainably-grown chocolate from the Reserva was available to taste and buy, and many enthusiastic conversations took place.

Perfect weather greeted our friends the following morning on VCE’s Mt. Mansfield ridgeline study site, where our field crew opened 20 mist nets at dawn. The star attraction obliged, and we captured several Bicknell’s Thrushes over the next few hours.  Seeing at close range the bird that so directly links our two countries and underlies our hemispheric conservation efforts was inspiring for every one of us.  Altagracia Camilo, Executive Director of VCE’s partner Fundacion Loma Quita Espuela, had the experience of a lifetime when a banded Bicknell’s Thrush lingered on her open hand for a moment before flying free.

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Dominican contingent observing VCE’s bird banding on Mt. Mansfield (photo courtesy of Chuck Gangas)

Fueled by these encounters (and perhaps the coffee), our Dominican partners cheerfully struck out in mid-morning for a 1.5-mile hike along the Long Trail to Mansfield’s 4,393-foot summit.  They were back in no time, effusive as always, none the worse for wear, full of energy for the next adventure.  We bid them adios as they piled into their 13-passenger van for the toll road descent.  Everyone gained from this historic visit, we every bit as much as our Dominican friends  Without a doubt, the exchange helped to broaden their perspective as conservationists, and cement the bond of hemispheric collaboration that is essential to conserve Bicknell’s Thrush across its migratory range.

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