Monday, April 27, 2009

April 25 & 26: They're back!

Since my last visit to Herrick's Cove (see April 20 post) failed to find any of the early warblers, it was only a matter of time, shorter than longer, before they would make their debut. Well, what a difference a few days of summer-like weather (high temperatures in the 70s and even 80s) in April no less can make to encourage migrants to keep pushing north. Saturday morning the trees near the boat launch parking lot were alive with Yellow-rumped Warblers along with a few Palms and one Pine Warbler. Birds tallied that morning included: Canada Goose, 13; Wood Duck, 2; Mallard, 4; Green-winged Teal, 26; Common Merganser, 15; Great Blue Heron, 1; Osprey, 1; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1; Greater Yellowlegs, 3; Lesser Yellowlegs, 1; Dunlin, 1; Mourning Dove, 2; Belted Kingfisher, 3; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 2; Northern Flicker, 3; Eastern Phoebe, 2; Blue-headed Vireo, 1; Blue Jay, 5; American Crow, 6; Northern Rough-winged Swallow, 1; Black-capped Chickadee, 6; Tufted Titmouse, 1; American Robin, 4; Yellow-rumped Warbler, 12+; Pine Warbler, 1; Palm Warbler, 6; Eastern Towhee, 1; Song Sparrow, 19; Swamp Sparrow, 2; White-throated Sparrow, 3; Dark-eyed Junco, 4; Northern Cardinal, 2; Red-winged Blackbird, many; Common Grackle, 3; Brown-headed Cowbird, 1; American Goldfinch, 3. Species observed by other birders I encountered that morning, but not by me, included a Green Heron and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. The Eurasian Green-winged Teal was not seen, even though fair numbers of the American subspecies remained. In all 37 species (161+ individuals) were observed and/or heard over the span of 3 hours.

A return visit Sunday morning pointed out how quickly the scene can change over night. Two hours of birding produced only 3 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 1 Palm Warbler and 1 Pine Warbler, and the shorebirds were nowhere to be seen. Also, most of the teal appeared to have moved out and were replaced by approximately a dozen Wood Ducks, and 2 Double-crested Cormorants were spotted out on the Connecticut River. For me the highlight of Herrick's Cove on Sunday was a Brown Thrasher which was digiscoped (photo above). The total species count was down by 10 from the previous day, and the total individual bird count was also substantially down.

After leaving Herrick's Cove Eva and I headed north on Route 5 to check out the nesting Bald Eagles off Upper Meadows Road thinking that the eggs if any had been layed may be about ready to hatch. We saw no eagle activity at all, so a follow-up visit may be necessary. However, while there the first Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Black-and-white Warbler of the year for me were heard. And to complete the morning, a Louisiana Waterthrush was heard singing from the North Branch of the Black River in Reading a mile or two from our home. I could have continued all day checking out my favorite birding haunts, but a long list of unfinished spring home chores is another reality of the season.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Golden-crowned Sparrow, LB #475

Yesterday after seeing on the Vermont Center for Ecostudies website the presence of a Golden-crowned Sparrow in Orwell, Vermont I emailed the bird's "hosts" Marlene and Norton Latourelle to inquire if it was still hanging out at their residence and, if so, would it be o.k. to drop in. Marlene got back to me and said that it was and provided directions to their home and art gallery. This afternoon I made the 1.5 hour drive and was not at all disappointed. The Latourelle's have graciously welcomed birders into their backyard to observe this first for the state record since the bird arrived about 10 days ago. Upon arriving I was in the company of Norton, Marlene, Ernest Franzgrote, and two other birders who had come over from Keene, NH. Shortly after we were joined by another birder from Burlington. We had excellent views and photo opportunities of this West Coast specialty, and after everyone had left I was further rewarded by hearing its song two or three times. My visit culminated with Marlene showing me the gallery and Norton's wood sculptures of birds, fish, dogs and other critters. His latest subject of course is a nicely sculpted and painted Golden-crowned Sparrow.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Herrick's Cove IBA: April 18 & 19

This past Saturday morning (7:55 to 9:30 a.m. on the 18th) was my first visit to Herrick's Cover (photo right) of the year. A leisurely walk around the picnic area afforded an opportunity to check for early arriving songbirds and late migrant waterfowl. The morning started off sunny but gradually gave way to clouds.

In total 33 species and 123 individuals were tallied: Canada Goose, 7; Wood Duck, 3; Mallard, 7; Green-winged Teal, 2; Common Merganser, 2; Great Blue Heron, 1; Killdeer, 1; Greater Yellowlegs, 1; Solitary Sandpiper, 1; Belted Kingfisher, 1; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 2; Downy Woodpecker, 4; Northern Flicker, 3; Eastern Phoebe, 1; Blue Jay, 11; American Crow, 7; Tree Swallow, 6; Northern Rough-winged Swallow, 1; Barn Swallow, 1; Black-capped Chickadee, 6; Tufted Titmouse, 1; White-breasted Nuthatch, 1; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 1; American Robin, 5; Savannah Sparrow, 2; Song Sparrow, 12; Swamp Sparrow, 2; Dark-eyed Junco, 1; Northern Cardinal, 1; Red-winged Blackbird, 19+; Common Grackle, 7; Purple Finch, 1; and American Goldfinch, 2. Apparently early migrant warblers (Palm and Yellow-rumped) have yet to arrive.

Sunday brought beautiful spring weather (sunny, blue sky with few clouds, and temperatures in the 50s), so I returned in the morning with the focus to digiscope birds passed up the day before. An adult Bald eagle was sighted perched in a tree on the small island at the interface of the Cove and Connecticut River and almost immediately took flight and soared downriver. An Osprey was later seen fishing the Cove and succeeded at capturing a large yellow perch. And, painted turtles were hauling themselves onto logs to soak in the sun after the long winter.

Unlike Saturday, 55-60 Green-winged Teal had moved in within the past 24 hours and were feeding in the shallow water east of the island. While taking a head count, one individual stood out from the rest: a male Eurasian Green-winged Teal Anas crecca crecca (photo below), readily distinguished from the typical carolinensis subspecies by its prominent white scapular stripe and lacking the latter subspecies' vertical white bar on the sides of the breast. A third identification field mark, the buffy head stripes extending from the base of the bill and along the upper margin of the green ear patch was not obvious on this individual; however, the same feature setting off the lower border of the ear patch was. This bird was a subspecies "lifer" for me. The sighting with documentation was submitted to the Vermont Bird Records Committee. Two years ago to the month another male Eurasian Green-winged Teal was observed by local birders Hector Galbraith, Don Clark and Taj Schottland at the Cove establishing perhaps the first occurrence record of the subspecies in the state.

Lastly, a little about Herrick's Cover IBA. This is perhaps one of the premier birding spots in the Middle Connecticut River Valley. Consisting of two parcels totalling 395 acres, the Cove consists of a day-use only recreation area with picnic grounds and a boat launch at the confluence of the Williams and Connecticut rivers. Several miles to the north is the Upper Meadows parcel. Both properties are privately owned by TransCanada Hydro Northeast. The Cove parcel offers a variety of habitats including riverine floodplain forest, cattail and phragmites marsh, alder swamp, mudflats, and the river itself. The juxtapostion of these habitats no doubt draws in migrants for resting and refueling. Over 200 species of birds have been reported from Herrick's Cove IBA including the occassional regional rarity. One never knows what will show up next...a case in point Sunday's Eurasian Green-winged Teal.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Duck Stamps: Good for Bird Conservation & Birders

As birders we all know the importance of wetlands to the vast diversity of birds and other wildlife we enjoy observing. The U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service reports 59,000 acres of wetlands are lost annually throughout the U. S. as a result of draining and land conversion. Over the past 200 years in excess of 50% of the wetlands that once existed here are now gone. Unfortunately, the trend continues. Perhaps one bright spot is the National Refuge System that has grown from the very first refuge (5.5 acres on Pelican Island, FL) established in 1903 to a current total of 550 refuges encompassing nearly 150 million acres.

Much of this protected habitat consists of tidal and freshwater marshes and forested wetlands reported to support in excess of 1,350 vertebrate species: over 700 birds, 200 mammals, 250 reptiles and amphibians, and 200 fishes. More than 200 refuges were setup specifically to provide migrating birds with breeding, resting, and winter habitats. Fifty-nine refuges have been established with the primary purpose of conserving endangered and threatened species. In 1995, it was estimated that 27.1 million people visited national refuges to birdwatch, hunt, fish, photgraph wildlife, and/or participate in a variety of educational activities. The majority of these visitors are non-consumptive users (i.e. do not participate in hunting or fishing). No doubt public use of these areas has increased since then and will continue to do so into the future.

Wetlands within the refuge system were largely acquired through dollars collected by the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps (a.k.a. fedral duck stamps). Since 1934, when duck stamps first went on sale, over $700 million has been collected and has purchesed or leased 5.2 million acres of wetland habitat. While all waterfowl hunters are required to purchase an annual duck stamp at a bargain price of $15, others using refuges, including birders do not need to do so. Sure, many national refuges charge access fees ranging from $3 to $5 per vehicle-visit, but purchasing a duck stamp is an all around better deal. So if you bird refuges as much as I do the initial cost of the stamp is quickly paid off and recouped many times over the course of the year. And more importantly 98 cents of every stamp dollar is used to conserve more wetlands thereby benefiting birds, wildlife, and birders. I encourage all birders to purchase a stamp annually if you are not now doing so. It is an inexpensive investment in protecting these critical areas and the many bird species dependent on them. Stamps may be purchased from your local post office and give you "free" access to national wildlife refuges from July 1 through June 30 annually. That's a deal no frugal "Yankee" in his/her right mind can pass up.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Prospects Looking Good for Vermont Bald Eagles

This year may very well be record setting for nesting Bald Eagles in Vermont. As of today six active nests and a possible seventh have been reported in the state. Four of these are in the Connecticut River Valley with pairs seen at Moore Reservoir, Barnet, North Springfield and Rockingham. Until recently Vermont has been the only state among the "lower 48" not to have at least one nesting Bald Eagle pair within its borders. This changed in 2006 with the successful nesting that produced one young in Rockingham which unfortunately died before being fledged.

Of particular interest are the eagles at North Springfield Reservoir observed and photographed today. Eagles first constructed a nest there in 2002 in a tall white pine. The following year a pair of Great Horned Owls highjacked the nest before the eagles returned. Not until 2005 did the eagles construct another nest near the first but failed to lay eggs. And then again in 2006 and 2007 owls beat the birds to the site. Last year eagles were seen from time to time at the lake but did not nest. Well, that all seems to have changed this year. Eggs have been layed and incubation is in progress. We can only hope they succeed in hatching and raising one or possibly two young to fledgling age.

The above photo of one of the North Springfield birds is a bit fuzzy due to being digiscoped from a distance of a quarter mile with the camera hand held. Shot at 120x (20x scope; 6x optical zoom).

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Spring migration in the Middle Connecticut River Valley of Vermont and New Hampshire is well underway with migrant waterfowl and raptor activity on the increase. Flocks of Canada Geese began moving through around mid March stopping to feed in large floodplain fields that grew last year's corn crop. Where sheet water pools have formed from snow melt, ducks (mainly American Black Duck, Mallard, Wood Duck) are in evidence, although Northern Pintail, American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal are also present but in lesser numbers. Particularly good spots to scope out are the corn fields, pastures and river setbacks (Great Meadows) along Route 12 south of Charlestown, NH. On the VT side check Albee's, Herrick's and Roundee's Coves north of Bellows Falls and Retreat Meadows in Brattleboro.

Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons are now nesting. Eagles at the nest site on River Road in Plainfield, NH are incubating, and a pair in Rockingham, VT appears to be doing the same. Peregrine Falcons have returned to the cliffs at the southern end of Skitchewaug Mountain in Springfield, VT and may be incubating eggs.

Other local spring arrivals to date include Turkey Vulture, American Kestrel, Killdeer, American Woodcock, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, and Brown-headed Cowbird. Other signs of spring's arrival: sap buckets and sugar house steam, male American Goldfinches in the midst of shedding their drab garb for their namesake breeding plummage, quacking wood frogs, and willow blooms.

My last sighting of Common Redpolls was on March 15. Flocks of Bohemian Waxwings were noteworthy in late March with particular note of ~100 birds in Perkinsville, VT on the 21st; 54 in South Reading, VT on the 23rd; and 200+ in Windsor, VT on the 26th. While most Pine Siskins have moved on a few remain visiting the feeders here at our home.

Above: Male Common Redpoll in vibrant
breeding plumage. March 15, South Reading,
VT. Below: Bohemian Waxwing. March 21,
Perkinsville (Weathersfield), VT.