What You Can Do
National Audubon

volunteer appreciation dinner and photo show

Purple-throated Mountain Gem in Costa Rica
Painted Bunting in TexasCabin fever anyone? This winter’s low temperatures and deep snow are keeping us from being outside as much as we like. Solution? Join us on Wednesday, March 4, at the Proctor Library as members and supporters show their favorite bird and nature photos. 

We are holding the program as a Volunteer Appreciation Dinner and is a good excuse to get out and enjoy the company other birders. It’s a potluck so bring a dish to share. The evening starts at 6 p.m. Utensils and beverages will be provided. The program is open to members and non-members alike. Bring a friend! Bring photos!

If you have photos to share, either send them to Marv Elliott at vtbirdhouses@yahoo.com or bring them along on a flash drive.

Contact Kathleen Guinness 287-9338 or kguinness@hotmail.com.

Cheerful thought: We are now less than a month away from Red-winged Blackbird arrival!


encounters with bugs and birds in mexico

Crimson-collared Tanager“Watching birds and eating bugs” – that’s how Mike Blust characterized the highlights of his September 2011 to November 2103 sojourn in Mexico as a Peace Corps volunteer. He spoke and showed photos of his experience at the Rutland Free Library on February 10, 2015 in an evening program sponsored by RCAS.

Watching birds has been a lifelong endeavor of Mike’s, a Ph.D. professor emeritus of biology at Green Mountain College, with special interests in ornithology and entomology and ongoing dragonfly research.

He and his wife, Evangelina, were based at Santiago de Anaya, Hidalgo, Mexico, a town of 2000 people at 7000 feet on the edge of a high plateau, 3-4 hours northeast of Mexico City. They lived in a small modest brick house. Although initially unfurnished, they readily found the basics and Evangelina put in a soon flourishing flower garden. It was not primitive living. They had a microwave and internet connection. But the house was not heated, and winter nights at 30-40 degrees F meant sleeping in their jackets.

Mike worked with the state agency of environmental and natural resources which was concerned that the local populace was overharvesting their endemic insects. The native Otomi Indians have always lived off the land, depending on it for food, including insects which are an important part of their diet. This is celebrated in the annual spring Otomi Indigenous Food Festival at which a football field sized white tent houses long tables at which contestants show off their prized insect-inspired recipes and delicacies. Visitors from a wide area flock to the event.

Four insects are commonly consumed. The pupa of the escamole ant is fried and mixed into dishes. Chinicuile worms, which live around the roots of the agave plant, are fried for snacks. The caterpillar of chicharas, which is found amidst the leaves of the agave, is also considered savory. Lastly, the mesquite bug, which feeds on the mesquite tree, Mike described as tasting rather sweet.

Violet-crowned HummingbirdAfter observing for the first few months, Mike concluded that the people knew a lot about harvesting and cooking, but didn’t have a knowledgeable grounding in the ecology and biology of their environment. His goal became the cultivation of a program for sustainable harvesting and management. As a part of this, he led the local farmers in planting a 2500 agave demonstration plot as a ‘no harvest zone” to try to increase the number of insects.

Evangelina latched onto similar goals, but focused on children’s education. She found the school system well-intentioned but sorely lacking in rigor. Pupils were encouraged to love the trees and animals, but had no familiarity with even common names much less species biology and interdependence. She developed illustrated information sheets on the trees, mammals, plants, birds, etc. with details on identification, life cycles, habitat and interrelationships. These were laminated and placed, with a bird bingo game, into “toolboxes for environmental and bio-cultural education,” sturdy green canvas tote bags which she designed and produced for distribution to numerous classrooms.

A secondary project of Mike’s was Saturday morning bird walks with high school students. They compiled a list of more than 100 common birds. Mike used photos of 72 of them to design an educational poster for schools.

“Time-off” was spent on intensive birding ventures. Highlights included seeing the Military Macaw in Oaxaca and participating in the Toh Birding Festival in the Yucatan. Overall, Mike saw 413 species.

The bird photos were enthralling, but Mike stressed their work with the people. The 21st century Peace Corps has matured from its origins. As experience and knowledge are gained, both in and outside of the program, its goals and projects have evolved in new directions and are often conceived and directed by the volunteers themselves as exemplified by Mike and Evangelina Blust in Mexico.


west rutland marsh - february monitoring report

Wild TurkeysDespite the light snow and the temperature at a superfluous one degree, no wind made it an almost pleasant day for the 163rd monthly monitoring walk around West Rutland Marsh. Six participants tallied 20 species, two fewer than February 2014, but above the average of 18 for this month of the year.

Two of the highlights came from two seasons. The klonk-er-ree of a Red-Winged Blackbird was heard, probably from the small group of blackbirds that have overwintered at the marsh. Hope that spring may actually arrive!

A short while later a Northern Shrike was spotted atop a tree on Pleasant Street while a flock of chickadees below sounded the alarm.

A Common Raven was making popping sounds from one of the power poles that cross the marsh.

Twenty-three Wild Turkeys were taking shelter in a row of evergreens along Whipple Hollow Road.

The next marsh walk is scheduled for Thursday, March 19.

Today’s list:

Wild Turkey  23
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Mourning Dove  13
Downy Woodpecker  2
Hairy Woodpecker  2
Northern Shrike  1
Blue Jay  17
American Crow  6
Common Raven  1
Black-capped Chickadee  33
White-breasted Nuthatch  3
American Robin  1
European Starling  19
American Tree Sparrow  3
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  10
Northern Cardinal  13
Red-winged Blackbird  1    
House Finch  8
American Goldfinch  7
House Sparrow  9


great backyard bird count: feb 13-16

Lots of us watch birds, but not enough of us count them! Here is your chance to experience citizen science at its best by contributing them to the Great Backyard Bird Count. Scheduled for February 13 through February 16, you can participate in as many days as you like, for as little as 15 minutes a day. It’s simple, easy and suitable for all ages.

Lots of information on the GBBC can be found by clicking here. There are tips on feeding birds, IDing birds, beautiful photos contributed by bird watchers like you, and the chance to watch the data maps in real time.

Count birds at your feeder! Count them on your favorite walk! Count them anywhere! Join other bird watchers worldwide and add your sightings to science!

The RCAS monthly monitoring walk around West Rutland Marsh is scheduled in conjunction with the GBBC. Meet at the West Rutland Price Chopper parking lot at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Feburary 14.




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.