Boots pooled with water, eyes blinked and strained through the fog, but VCE’s staff team, the Green Mountain Goatsuckers, managed to tie our Birdathon record from last year!
Ears trained and binoculars ever at the ready, team members explored nooks and crannies at well-known Vermont birding hotspots like Vernon Dam, Ompompanoosuc River Flats and Berlin Pond, as well as backcountry roads and trails. We were able to get our eyes and ears on a total of 119 different bird species this year, no small feat for our small teams.
This Birdathon, unlike those of the last several years, was completed by individual teams. Past Goatsucker efforts have combined all VCE staff to brave the state’s hotspots as one unit. The 2020 and 2021 COVID-influenced iterations of Birdathon left each staff member flying solo, exploring their own section of Vermont at a safe distance. This strategy wasn’t all bad—it led to our all-time high score of 119 bird species in 2021. This year, we’re finally starting to get back to the way things used to be. Our staff trekked solo and in small teams, each staking a claim to a different region of Vermont. Keep reading to see how they fared on that rainy Thursday morning.
Reaching New Heights at Black Mountain
Despite a steady drizzle and unrelenting fog, the VCE southern team of Mike Hallworth, Jason Hill, Kent McFarland, Julia Pupko, and Kevin Tolan reported 70 bird species on 10 checklists to Vermont eBird. The five intrepid biologists met below Vernon Dam on the Connecticut River. Their first stop was the fish ladder, where they watched Shad effortlessly swimming through the strong current before recording 43 bird species nearby. As the rain slowed, they worked their way up to the mouth of the West River. Bird activity came to a standstill in the late morning, as they summited Black Mountain, located up the West River in Dummerston. They had high hopes of finding interesting insects in this unique Pitch Pine-Red Pine-Oak forest, growing on granite smoothed by glaciers. However, the rain and fog thwarted their efforts. But visiting these old pines as mist swirled through the forest was worth the climb alone.
Making a Splash at Berlin Pond
Our Central Vermont team of Spencer Hardy, Abbie Castriotta, Emily Anderson, and several tag-along AmeriCorps members started their morning at the North Branch Nature Center and North Branch River Park in Montpelier. Notable among the 58 species they spotted was Spencer’s first-ever sighting of a Prairie Warbler in Washington County. In Vermont, Prairie Warblers are most commonly found in the Champlain and Connecticut River valleys, making this individual a fascinating find. From North Branch, the group journeyed south to Berlin Pond, where waterbirds eluded them, but a Blackburnian Warbler made a striking list addition. Throughout the morning, the novice birders’ insightful questions and boundless enthusiasm lifted the team’s spirits and made even the most common and mundane bird sightings a treat.
Meandering along the Connecticut River
Our Windsor County team of Chris Rimmer, Steve Faccio, and Ryan Rebozo (with a cameo appearance by Laura Prothero) stuck to the Connecticut River Valley in Windsor County. Chris started with the dawn chorus, birding around his Norwich neighborhood, while Ryan and Steve met up with him around 7:30 am. The team visited several hotspots in the Norwich area: a series of beaver ponds with a Hooded Merganser, Norford Lake where an unexpected Common Loon was fishing, and a nearby open marsh that was home to an American Bittern and a black bear (observed from a safe distance).
The group then traveled to Ompompanoosuc Flats, where they met up with Laura just as a Bald Eagle flew past. Other “Pompy Flats” highlights included a close-up view of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird doing its pendulum courtship dance and a singing Brown Thrasher. Then it was off to Campbell Flat, where they found our only shorebirds of the day—a Killdeer and Solitary Sandpiper. The sandpiper may have been the only true migrant spotted all day. Chris wrapped up Birdathon with an evening solo venture down to Windsor, adding several new species to our list. Lake Runnemede yielded a Cooper’s Hawk and Orchard Oriole, while a Wilson’s Snipe and Eastern Towhee vocalized at the Windsor Grasslands. Finally, as dusk fell, an American Woodcock ‘peented’ from its traditional display site by the Norwich Community Gardens.
Nathaniel Sharp spent a drizzly but bird-filled morning at the Chickering Bog Natural Area. While he didn’t note any totally unexpected sightings, the warbler serenade was unmatched, and 11 different species were seen or heard. One highlight was two handsome male Bay-breasted Warblers getting into a scrap that started in the canopy and nearly ended up on the ground. Bodies twirled, and wings flapped all the way down as their feet grappled over some unknown dispute. The Blackburnian Warblers were less confrontational, with several fire-orange males lighting up the misty hike to the bog. As the tamarack stands thickened along the end of the trail near the bog boardwalk, Nashville Warblers sang their two-part song, and a pair of Black-throated Blue Warblers searched for a nest site in the shrubby tangles of forest undergrowth. Nathaniel arrived at the bog boardwalk just as a steady rain began. Although he didn’t find any new birds at this spot, unique bog plants such as Bogbean and Wild Rosemary added the finishing touches to a wonderful morning outing.
Jason Loomis also walked solo in the Downer State Forest in Sharon, Vermont, and completed two eBird checklists. He had a blast testing the song ID feature of Merlin.
*note: You may have seen a different species total in an earlier version of this article, but we have since corrected it to reflect our true final count. VCE values transparency, and thanks you for your time and interest in our organization