What You Can Do
National Audubon

far afield

Hear the word snowbird and what comes to mind? Perhaps juncos at your feeder or irruptive northern finches from Canada? Of course then there is the other snowbird, those of us that flee the cold of Vermont to warmer climes.

This month of January I am in Titusville, Florida. The locale is adjacent to Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge and the Kennedy Space Center. The refuge offers a variety of habitats that attract numerous species of wintering waterfowl as well as egrets and herons skulking in the shallows.

In addition, huge rafts of coots are tightly clustered, no doubt in a protective ploy to avoid the Bald Eagles. Impossibly pink Roseate Spoonbills sieve the water with their incredible bill that is so perfectly adapted to finding its prey. I even had a Florida Scrub Jay land on my head and proceed to try to crack open the button on the top of my RCAS hat. Ouch!

The day we decided to visit Playalinda Beach was cool and very windy. The brisk north wind had numerous species sitting tight on the sand. Royal Terns, Willets, Ring-billed and Laughing gulls were among the beach goers. Surveying the group I noticed one Ring-billed Gull had tags on both legs. One was the typical aluminum band that you report to Laurel, Maryland. The other was different, a plastic tag with an alphanumeric code. I quickly took several photos with my digital superzoom camera of the bands.

Returning to our campground I googled "Ring-billed Gulls with bands." The site for this was found and I was directed to report all pertinent information on the online form. I dutifully noted the location, date, the color of the band, and the alphanumeric  code.

The following day I received an email from Professor Jean-Francois Giroux in Quebec. “My” gull was banded in Ile Deslauries, Varennes, Quebec on May 17, 2012. It has flown to Playalinda Beach for the winters of 2013 and 2015. Evidently the winter of 2014 the bird managed to escape notice. It then returns in summer to Quebec making it a true snow bird!

Professor Giroux is working with University of Quebec, MIT, and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation as part of a study on movements and population dynamics of these gulls in eastern North America.

This chance encounter has significant data to aid the study and submitting it was a way to participate as a citizen scientist.

So keep your eagle eyes open when viewing birds and perhaps you will also find a banded bird. It is very easy to locate the appropriate site to report any findings. Simply google the species seen and include in your search the word "banded" and you will have an opportunity to add your data to a study.


CHANGE IN DATE - watching birds and eating bugs in mexico

The following program, scheduled for January 27, has been re-scheduled for Tuesday, February 10 - Early retirement and Mexico! Not a time for relaxing on beaches, but a time for learning about how people in rural Mexico interact with their natural environment and helping them adjust to a changing world. Returning retired Green Mountain College Professor and RCAS Vice President Mike Blust talks about his recent experience as a Peace Corps volunteer. Rutland Free Library Fox Room, 7 PM.


west rutland marsh - january monitoring report

Today’s monitoring walk around West Rutland Marsh, our 162nd consecutive monthly walk, started out on the chilly side. The temperature soon rose to the mid-20s and, with sunshine and no wind, turned into very pleasant day. Four participants tallied 22 species, three more than January last year and well above our average of 18 for this month of the year.

A Northern Shrike was seen in the same vicinity it was last year, no doubt attracted by the birds coming to the feeders at the kiosk and the house up the road.

Three Red-tailed Hawks and a Cooper’s Hawk were noted. Two Common Ravens were quite vocal.

Highbush Cranberry, Viburnum opulusBlack-capped Chickadees and Blue Jays were abundant. Eight Downy Woodpeckers was an unusually high number. Seven Red-winged Blackbirds were seen.

Although fruit supplies seem to be dwindling, about 20 American Robins and a couple of Cedar Waxwings were observed.

The next marsh walk is scheduled for Saturday, February 14, and is being held in conjunction with the Great Backyard Bird Count.Today's list:

Cooper's Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  3
Mourning Dove  23
Downy Woodpecker  8
Hairy Woodpecker  2
Northern Shrike  1
Blue Jay  31
American Crow  5
Common Raven  2
Black-capped Chickadee  45
Tufted Titmouse  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  3
American Robin  20
European Starling  10
Cedar Waxwing  2
American Tree Sparrow  7
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  3
Northern Cardinal  4
Red-winged Blackbird  7
House Finch  2
American Goldfinch  5
House Sparrow  3


trip report: winter regulars & rarities

Meach CoveSpectacular blue skies compensated for the bitter cold experienced during RCAS’s Winter Regulars and Rarities field trip on January 17. Nineteen participants, dressed from head to toe in winter gear, stopped at various points along Lake Champlain and the open fields of Addison County and southern Chittenden County to survey for birds that spend the winter in Vermont. 

Ducks are always a highlight of a winter trip. Stops at Shelburne Point, Shelburne Farms, Meach Cove and Charlotte Town Beach were the most productive as the ice continues to close in. Shelburne Point offered Common Goldeneye, Ring-necked Duck, Common Merganser as well as Mallard and American Black Duck. 

Five Horned Grebes were seen at Shelburne Farms and two Common Loons at Charlotte Town Beach. The only Bufflehead of the day were seen here as well. A male Northern Pintail was curled up among the resting Mallards at Meach Cove (aka Shelburne Beach). 

A single Snow Goose was among a flock of Canada geese at Converse Bay. 

In addition to the above, large rafts of waterfowl, well out of identifying range, were observed at several points along the route. 

Four Bald Eagles, two adult and two immature, were seen at Meach Cove. A fifth Bald Eagle was seen later along the route. A beautiful gray male Northern Harrier was swooping over the fields along Jersey Street while just south of there a Peregrine Falcon was actively hunting pigeons around a farm.

Another highlight of the day was spotted while the group scanned the water at Kellogg Bay. One of the participants turned to find a Ruffed Grouse, unperturbed by our presence, feeding in a tree immediately behind us.

Snow Buntings were in short supply as were Horned Larks (none were seen). However, 12 Rough-legged Hawks made up for that as well as numerous Red-tailed Hawks. 

Eastern Bluebirds are always a welcome sight. A small flock was spotted along Converse Bay Road. A couple of American Robins were seen in this area as well. 

Ruffed GrouseOne of the last stops of the day was in Bridport at a feeder location that has hosted a Harris’s Sparrow, a rare visitor to the state, since November. This was a life bird for several members so the wait for its appearance in the deepening cold of the closing day was worth it. 

The total species list for the day was 42 with 20 eBird checklists were submitted. Thanks to Roy Pilcher for serving as the trip leader!

Trip list:


Snow Goose
Canada Goose
American Black Duck
Northern Pintail
Ring-necked Duck
Common Goldeneye
Common Merganser
Ruffed Grouse
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Peregrine Falcon
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Harris's Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
House Sparrow







golden-winged warbler survey

Golden-winged Warbler/photo by Mark LaBarrThe Golden-winged Warbler has been in the bird news a lot lately, but mostly for the wrong reason. Its numbers are declining at an alarming rate. Suitable habitat is getting harder for it to find. Also, it is being out-competed by its cousin, the Blue-winged Warbler, with which it hybridizes.

Golden-winged Warblers are pretty fussy about their habitat and for that reason occur only in certain areas of Vermont. A quick look at eBird data for the past ten years shows them on the western side of the state, primarily in the Champlain Valley and down into Rutland County. Click here to see a map. Only a scattering of reports show them in the southeastern portion of the state. Some of the best habitat for Golden-winged Warbler as well as Blue-winged Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Brown Thrasher, Prairie Warbler, Field Sparrow and American Woodcock occur along power lines. The early successional shrubbery interspersed with open areas is exactly what these species need for successful nesting.

Good citizen scientists always love a project! For the past three years Audubon Vermont has partnered with VELCO (the Vermont Electric Power Company) to determine the population and location of Golden-winged Warblers and the other above named species along VELCO’s power lines in the Champlain Valley. Rutland County Audubon members and other volunteers from Otter Creek Audubon and Green Mountain Audubon took to the power lines enthusiastically (what true birder can resist birding with a purpose?).

The work was not without its challenges – ticks, hot weather, cold weather, steep hills, thorns, barbed wire, cows, and, on one occasion, yaks. Sites from West Rutland north to Williston were surveyed. The other above-named species were counted as well along with Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Some good news has come out of the project. Forty locations were surveyed and 60 Golden-winged Warblers were located, a higher number than expected. Seventy-three Blue-winged Warblers were tallied. Observations of these two species were confirmed by sight as the songs and calls produced by hybrids can sound like Golden-winged, Blue-winged or a combination of the two. Fifty-three hybrids were also counted (check your field guide to see just how confusing this can be!) along with 38 ‘winged’ warblers that were heard only.

Hopefully the power line surveys will continue in 2015. If you are interested in participating, contact us at birding@rutlandcountyaudubon.org. And if you are out birding and see any of these species this spring, please submit your sightings to eBird.

Thanks to Margaret Fowle of Audubon Vermont for much of the above information.