Windsor County, Vermont birders made history in 2014, putting up record numbers that may never again be matched. As part of the now-annual Vermont County Birding Quest — a friendly rivalry for top bird-finding honors among the state’s 14 counties — a hardy dozen or so Windsor County enthusiasts challenged themselves to each identify 200 species during the calendar year. It was a daunting goal, but one that we’d nearly met in recent years, with Norwich residents George Clark and Spencer Hardy and Stockbridge birder Ed Hack all besting the 190 mark. We knew it could be done with persistence, communication, solidarity, and a generous dose of good luck.
It was “game on” with the annual Hanover-Norwich Christmas Bird Count on January 1. We all jumpstarted our species lists, most of us hitting the mid-30 mark by day’s end. From that point on, there was no looking back, and we spent whatever time we could afford scouring Windsor County’s forests and fens, mountains and meadows, wetlands and waterways. Norwich provided some of the prime birding hot spots, with the Ledyard Bridge, Ompompanoosic river mouth, Campbell Flats, and Kendal Station all producing memorable finds.
With Vermont eBird as our online portal to record and track sightings, birds from the common and expected to the rare and exhilarating steadily piled up on everyone’s lists. It became apparent early on that George Clark and Ed Hack would be joined by Royalton birder Kyle Jones on the leaderboard. But, no cutthroat competition this, as we all shared sightings freely and birded together in the field whenever possible. Our goal of 200 species each was very much a shared one — “hoarding” birds was never part of the equation.
Winter highlights featured an obliging Snowy Owl in Springfield, and the spring migration floodgates then opened. Waterfowl and diving birds appeared first, followed by songbirds and Arctic-bound shorebirds. May 23 in particular will long be remembered by many of us — it began with a roosting flock of ~50 Short-billed Dowitchers at Pompy Flats, then an astonishing male Red-headed Woodpecker at Kendall Station, and finally a vagrant Northern Wheatear on the VA Hospital lawn in White River Junction! As usual, our rapid-response communication network ensured that tens of local birders were able to enjoy the thrill of encountering all three rare species on that one day!
By year’s end, when finding new species became exceedingly tough, Ed and Kyle were neck-and neck for the lead, with George close behind. Ed first hit the vaunted 200 mark, with a late November Great Black-backed Gull at Lake Pinneo. Kyle followed suit with a Common Redpoll in mid-December. Ed’s final bird, also a redpoll, gave him the crown with 201 species. Countywide, our final tally was remarkable: 211 species, two birders >200 species, two others >190, and four more >150! Most impressively, the top ten birders contributed nearly 2,500 individual eBird checklists, compiling an invaluable, permanent archive of Windsor County’s birdlife. Science, conservation, fun and camaraderie ruled the year, making everyone a winner in the end.