• Mansfield Update: VCE Interns Reflect on a Summer on the Mountain

    A clear view overlooking the Green Mountains near the top of Mount Mansfield © Emily Marple

    Our final trip to Mount Mansfield might have been the most memorable of them all. Our names are Emily and Julia, and we are two of VCE’s summer interns. Throughout the summer, we’ve had the chance to work with biologists on various projects, from tick research to loon conservation. Luckily, we also had the opportunity to go up to Mount Mansfield twice earlier in the season to learn about bird banding. This time, we started our adventure at around 2 p.m. at Underhill State Park. Recruited by VCE Conservation Biologist Desiree Narango, we helped her technician, Melory, and her intern, Natalie, with foliage surveys as well as arthropod and moth traps. Despite being distracted by a  friendly salamander crawling up Emily’s pant leg, we quickly finished the 24 traps with no problems. Melory and Natalie were grateful for the help, and we were grateful for the experience with another awesome project. By 6 p.m., we had made our way up to the banding “headquarters” located in the toll road’s parking lot, where we greeted Kevin, Nathaniel, and Chris. Although it was still early, the air was colder than usual, descending toward 50 degrees. Since mist nets had already been set, we greeted everyone before bundling up and heading out on our first run. 

    Starting on the Amherst trail, we scrambled over rocks and inched by nets, trying to avoid getting zippers and buttons caught in the fine strands. Melory quickly extracted a juvenile Golden-crowned Kinglet from one of the first nets before we continued to an opening and a stunning view of the surrounding mountains. This was the clearest view we’d ever seen, much clearer than on our first visit, when the air was so smoky that we couldn’t even see the lakes that the “Lakeview” trail is named after. The open sky reached over 100 miles to the east, where Mount Washington stood visible on the horizon.

    Even though we could have stayed there for hours, we had to keep moving. On cold days, keeping the birds warm and safe is the top priority. Strategies include: bird bosom (placing the bird in a bag in your shirt, or in your…anyways), lots of hand warmers, and checking the nets frequently. We captured 16 birds that night, 11 of them juveniles; it was a slow night in the end, likely because of the cold. 

    A stunning sunset on Mansfield © Emily Marple

    We ran up for the last round on Amherst before we closed the nets for the night, just in time for one of the most beautiful sunsets we’ve ever seen. Nothing beats a 360-degree view of a neon sunset with a bird in your shirt. After we processed the birds we picked up on the way, we headed back out to close nets. As we rounded the corner to close Curve (everyone’s least favorite net, so often the intern net), we were met with a red full moon, glowing low on the horizon. Despite our best efforts capture the image, the moon refused to be photographed. We did, however, see some fireworks over the Burlington side of the mountain. What they were celebrating, we didn’t know, but it sure was a pretty sight.

    We ended the night huddled in the parking lot, eating snacks, and chatting as the last few birds were processed. Although we always say no more work talk at the end of the night, you place a bunch of scientists together and conversations are going to range from moths to birds to parasites. 

    We eventually headed to bed, knowing wakeup time was around 5 a.m. While the night was cold (hitting a low of 40 degrees–who knew we should’ve packed more winter clothes for our summer internship?), our sleeping bags were warm and the exhaustion of the previous day allowed sleep to come easy.

    Wednesday began as a late start to the morning. Our typical early morning alarm clocks, the White-throated Sparrows, seemed lethargic in the morning cold and refused to sing until the promise of the sun’s warmth started cresting the horizon at about 5:30 a.m. Usually, they like to start their chorus at 3 a.m., but the chill gave us a bit more time to enjoy the kind of silence that only exists on a mountain. 

    By the time we began to defrost in our tents, the mist nets had already been opened (thank you Kevin and Nathaniel); and by 6 a.m. we started our first net run. It felt good to start the day on an Amherst run, briskly making our way through the 12 nets along the trail. We warmed up just enough to watch (and enjoy) the full sunrise. 

    Pablo huddles in a cozy blanket and hat © Emily Marple

    Back in the parking lot, Chris put on a pot of coffee and a small ring of people huddled around his stove, trying to ward off the cold. Pablo, who is from Puerto Rico, wore his fluffy trapper’s hat and at least five layers under a knit blanket. By our second net run, when the sun started peeking over the trees, we had all warmed up a little–most of us with the help of coffee. The birds also seemed to warm (we aren’t sure what they do about their morning coffee); still, we continued to use our own body heat and hand warmers to keep small and juvenile birds safe. 

    Every time we go to Mansfield, we have the chance to practice our banding skills. The first time, we mostly practiced the proper technique for holding and releasing birds, recording data for banders, and observing the actual banding process. On our second trip, we each graduated to cautiously banding a “starter” junco under careful supervision. Before we knew it, we were being handed more “advanced” birds, such as White-throated Sparrows and Downy Woodpeckers. While careful monitoring and instruction continued on this third trip, the junco that had been so intimidating to us was suddenly less scary to handle. Thanks to the patience and kindness our mentors offered, we now feel more comfortable and confident with our skills. Although we have a long way to go, we’ll be forever grateful for this amazing intro to the banding world. 

    Feeling content, fulfilled, and sleepy, we headed home at around 2 p.m. Till next time, Mansfield. 


    Julia and Emily


    Hairy Woodpecker 1 (1 new juvenile)

    Ovenbird  3 (2 new juveniles, 1 retrap juvenile)

    Bicknell’s Thrush  2 (1 new juvenile, 1 retrap juvenile)

    Swainson’s Thrush  6 (2 juveniles, 3 new adults, 1 retrap adult)

    Hermit Thrush  1 (1 juvenile)

    Winter Wren  2 (1 new adult female, 1 new juvenile)

    Golden-crowned Kinglet  3  (3 juveniles)

    Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco  9 (1 retrap juvenile, 1 retrap adult male, 1 new adult male, 6 new juveniles)

    White-throated Sparrow  8 (2 retrap adults, 3 new adults, 3 new juveniles)

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    Comments (1)

    1. Veer Frost says:

      Thank you for a lively essay filled with the descriptions and the local color (‘bosom birds’!) that allow a reader to tag along, and for such devoted work on behalf of the mountain birds! And of course to VCE for another year of this great research effort!

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