Looking for WHIPs in all the Wrong Places

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Team Sara:h Whipping

Team Sara/h listening for Whip-poor-wills on the Vernon route.

Monday, May 30th marked the close of stage 1 of VCE’s 2016 Eastern Whip-poor-will (WHIP) surveys for team Sara/h (Sara Zahendra and Sarah Carline). This session was a far cry from West Haven.

Two years ago, when Sarah Carline and I launched this project, we began by surveying suitable WHIP habitat in and around West Haven, which was reputed to be Vermont’s Whip-poor-will hotspot. After several delightful weeks of nocturnal meanderings through this biodiversity-rich area, we were able to confirm that, yes, West Haven was in fact packed to the gills with WHIPs, relatively speaking. We renamed it Whip-poor-ville.

Fast forward to 2016: this year’s task is to survey routes in southern Vermont, where Whip-poor-wills have not traditionally been found in large (if any) numbers. Why, you might ask, would we subject ourselves to sleep-deprived late night surveys, with slim chances of hearing our beloved goatsucker’s ringing chant? Because zeros matter. It’s important to know where Whip-poor-wills aren’t on the landscape, as well as where they are, particularly if you’re surveying habitat that appears suitable.

So far, our predictions of WHIP paucity are holding true. There are clearly fewer Whip-poor-wills in southeastern Vermont than in West Haven, or even the Northeast Kingdom. We were, however, pleasantly surprised to hear two separate individuals during our survey of a route near Vernon — one calling loud and clear from the Vermont Yankee facility! These were the first known WHIP records for the Vernon route.

Unfortunately, two people can’t cover much ground during the Whip-poor-will’s short breeding season, and we could really use some help. If you hear the species’ unmistakable mantra, please add your observation(s) to eBird. We rely on documentation by others to supplement our own survey data and to guide our future searches.

So, come June 12th, team Sara/h will suit up again and venture back to Bennington County, tuning our ears under the moon’s light with the moths, bats, coyotes, porcupines, and hopefully, the Whip-poor-wills.

Stay tuned….

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