• Birdathon 2014: By foot and float yields over 100 species


    Chris Rimmer and Steve Faccio scan the shorelines for new birds.

    The VCE team opted for our customary low-carbon Birdathon this spring, but swapped hiking boots and mountain bikes for water shoes and kayaks/canoes.  This all but quashed the possibility of headlining our master list with Bicknell’s Thrush, but promised some aquatic birds that would prove elusive on a strictly terrestrial route.  We were encouraged to awake to clear and cool conditions, and moderately low water on the Connecticut River, raising hopes for migrant shorebirds on exposed flats.  Nine of us convened at Judith’s house in downtown Fairlee at 5:30 am, with several species already under our belt.  The first was a Barred Owl calling outside Chris’ bedroom window in Norwich at 4:00, the second an American Woodcock ‘peenting’ at the Route 5 Coop fields.  Spencer and Chris met at the Ompompanoosuc River flats at 5 am, where shorebirds visible through the rising mist included Semipalmated Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs and Least Sandpiper.  Checking Stevens Road on our way north, we heard the sweet song of an Eastern Meadowlark and found an American Kestrel perched on a utility wire.  We were off to a solid start.

    From Fairlee, we beelined up to Bradford’s well-known birding spot called ‘Hooker Siding’ at the end of Depot Street.  Walking the RR tracks netted us two dozen or more new species, including Virginia Rail, Solitary Sandpiper, Least and Willow Flycatcher, a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Northern Waterthrush, Magnolia and Wilson’s warbler, the day’s only White-crowned Sparrow (singing), and show-stopping looks at an Orchard Oriole pair.  Mist was lying heavy along the floodplain, and temperatures cool.  We headed from the Depot to the North Woods Diner for a restorative breakfast.  Rimmer must have downed too much coffee, because his vehicle managed to separate from the others en route to a post-breakfast hike in the uplands forests of Wright’s Mountain.  Without cell service, we went our separate ways.  Most of the crew tallied birds like Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkey, Winter Wren, Northern Parula and Purple Finch.  Chris, Spencer and Sara took advantage of their navigational blunder to check Lake Morey, finding two Common Loons and a pocket of boreal migrants that included singing Nashville and Canada warblers.  We reconvened ~9:30 am at the Fairlee Diner, where we almost gave up on the resident cliff-nesting Peregrine Falcons, but finally glimpsed an adult in a scorching dive on a passing Red-tailed Hawk.  We also picked up Common Raven here.  Our list stood at 98 species.

    Crossing the Connecticut River to Orford, we launched our armada of 7 kayaks and a canoe, hitting the water at 10:30 am.  Immediately we heard a Merlin screeching from a large white pine across the river and found its nest.  Species #100 was a Pine Warbler singing nearby.  The day had a September feel, with low humidity, bright sun and northerly winds, which combined with a steady current to push us downriver.  We jumped out at several spots, paddled into oxbows and backwaters, listened carefully as we passed through a variety of habitats.  New species piled up slowly, but included Common Merganser, singing Brown Thrashers and a Rufous-sided Towhee.  Rumblings of hunger stopped us at the Beddel Bridge boat launch in North Thetford at ~1:30 pm, where the day’s only Pileated Woodpecker and Cooper’s Hawk appeared.  Our list stood at a respectable 108 species.  We decided to gun for 115, with an outside chance at 120.  Lunch rejuvenated us, and the goal seemed within reach

    New birds proved much more challenging to come by during our post-lunch paddling.  A improvised detour by Chris up Grant Brook yielded 5 shorebirds in view at once on a small mud flat, two of which (Killdeer and Lesser yellowlegs) were new for the day.  He managed to swamp his kayak trying to navigate up a small (and very shallow) rapids – too bad no one was there for photodocumentation, and that the weather was benign!  Back on the main river, Osprey and Bald Eagle made appearances.  We strained to hear a Yellow-throated Vireo or Eastern Wood-Pewee, but both eluded us.  A Louisiana Waterthrush sang from the mouth of a small brook across from Kendall Station.  We pulled into our take-out spot at the Ompompanoosuc River access ~6:00 pm, hoping to find new shorebirds on the flats, but we had to settle for Cliff Swallows nesting under the I-91 bridge.  Chris ran up to Campbell Flats to find the nesting Eastern Bluebirds.  Back to Orford in Spencer’s van to retrieve our vehicles, then to Ramunto’s for well-deserved pizza.  Chris drove the back roads of Norwich after dark, searching in vain for a winnowing Wilson’s Snipe or calling Whip-poor-will.  Back at his house in Strafford, Steve had a snipe, upping our final tally to 117 species.

    As always, some glaring misses occurred – among them Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, pewee – but none of us felt the least bit cheated.  We spent a full day outdoors, absorbed and delivered good-natured ribbing in abundance, laughed a lot, saw some great birds, and paddled 15 miles on one of New England’s signature rivers.

    VCE Birdathon Species List

    20 May 2014, 5:00 am–7:30 pm (plus owling)
    ~2 miles by foot, ~15 miles by kayak and canoe
    Team: Sarah Carline, Steve Faccio, Spencer Hardy, Susan Hindinger, Kent McFarland, Melissa MacKenzie, Chris Rimmer, Judith Scarl, Sara Zahendra

    Total: 117 species 

    Canada Goose
    Wood Duck
    Hooded Merganser
    Common Merganser
    Ruffed Grouse
    Wild Turkey
    Common Loon
    Double-crested Cormorant
    Great Blue Heron
    Green Heron
    Turkey Vulture
    Cooper’s Hawk
    Bald Eagle
    Broad-winged Hawk
    Red-tailed Hawk
    Virginia Rail
    Wilson’s Snipe
    American Woodcock
    Semipalmated Plover
    Spotted Sandpiper
    Solitary Sandpiper
    Greater Yellowlegs
    Lesser Yellowlegs
    Least Sandpiper
    Rock Pigeon
    Mourning Dove
    Barred Owl
    Chimney Swift
    Ruby-throated Hummingbird
    Belted Kingfisher
    Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
    Downy Woodpecker
    Hairy Woodpecker
    Northern Flicker
    Pileated Woodpecker
    American Kestrel
    Peregrine Falcon
    Alder Flycatcher
    Willow Flycatcher
    Least Flycatcher
    Eastern Phoebe
    Great Crested Flycatcher
    Eastern Kingbird
    Blue-headed Vireo
    Warbling Vireo
    Red-eyed Vireo
    Blue Jay
    American Crow
    Common Raven
    No. Rough-winged Swallow
    Tree Swallow
    Bank Swallow
    Barn Swallow
    Cliff Swallow
    Black-capped Chickadee
    Tufted Titmouse
    White-breasted Nuthatch
    House Wren
    Winter Wren
    Carolina Wren
    Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
    Eastern Bluebird
    Hermit Thrush
    Wood Thrush
    American Robin
    Gray Catbird
    Brown Thrasher
    European Starling
    Cedar Waxwing
    Louisiana Waterthrush
    Northern Waterthrush
    Black-and-white Warbler
    Tennessee Warbler
    Nashville Warbler
    Common Yellowthroat
    American Redstart
    Northern Parula
    Magnolia Warbler
    Blackburnian Warbler
    Yellow Warbler
    Chestnut-sided Warbler
    Blackpoll Warbler
    Black-throated Blue Warbler
    Pine Warbler
    Yellow-rumped Warbler
    Black-throated Green Warbler
    Canada Warbler
    Wilson’s Warbler
    Eastern Towhee
    Chipping Sparrow
    Savannah Sparrow
    Song Sparrow
    Swamp Sparrow
    White-throated Sparrow
    White-crowned Sparrow
    Dark-eyed Junco
    Scarlet Tanager
    Northern Cardinal
    Rose-breasted Grosbeak
    Indigo Bunting
    Red-winged Blackbird
    Eastern Meadowlark
    Common Grackle
    Brown-headed Cowbird
    Orchard Oriole
    Baltimore Oriole
    House Finch
    Purple Finch
    American Goldfinch
    House Sparrow

    More Posts from VCE

    Newer posts:
    Older posts:

    Leave a comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.