This summer, the Birds of Vermont Museum in Huntington, has a special exhibit commemorating 100 years since the death of the last passenger pigeon, Martha, at a Cincinnati zoo. In the 1800s billions of passenger pigeons, flying in huge, tight-knit flocks, darkened the skies. The resulting massive excrement entirely wiped out many farmers’ crops and decimated total woodlots. The birds reached such numbers despite the female laying only one egg at each nesting. The telegraph and the railroad caused the passenger pigeon’s decline and extinction. With the advent of the telegraph, flock sightings and roosting areas could be quickly transmitted, and, via railroad, sportsman hunters rapidly congregated at those sites.
The exhibit includes many fascinating details about the biology of the bird. It is accompanied by photographs and contemporary art interpretations of the meaning of extinction. This special show is on display until the end of October.
The Birds of Vermont Museum was established in 1986 to preserve and exhibit the bird carvings of Robert N. Spear, Jr. Bob Spear has carved 488 birds over 35 years. His quest began in the 1930s when he challenged himself to carve a parakeet that had flown into the woodshed of his family’s farm in Colchester. A career as a technical specialist with General Electric supplied his livelihood, but he carved on his lunch break and when he was off work. In an introductory eight-minute video, Mr. Spear demonstrates the intricate carving and painting methods he has devised to create a lifelike appearance of the birds, yet ensure depiction of precise field marks. The background herbaceous vegetation has also been designed and constructed by him. It begins with sheets of tin. His carving studio, adjacent to the museum, is open to visitors.
The museum’s main large second floor room showcases Vermont birds. Each species, male and female is exhibited within its natural habitat. Look closely and amidst the abundant flora you will find the nest with eggs. Not only are the birds accurate in detail, and beautiful in color, but they are artfully poised in their characteristic stance and activities. The species are organized by family and genus (for example, all warblers are along one aisle) so the viewer has the opportunity to compare and contrast fine differentiating features.
Be sure to ask at the main desk for the little gizmo that lets you hear the bird calls. Each display has a bar code label above the species name. Just press the button on the gizmo, do a nice even sweep across the bar code, and you will hear the clear distinctive song of the species.
The second floor has a separate composite exhibit of owls, and, on the balcony, (and suspended from the ceiling), of raptors.
The first floor has a diorama of wetland birds and a separate room with a selection of tropical birds. Around the corner is a huge picture window facing an open yard with several birdfeeders. Comfortable chairs are nearby and numerous binoculars for your use sit on the window sill. Indigo buntings were the prize sighting when I was there in May. A small gift shop is well-stocked with nature books for children and adults. There are many interesting titles which go far beyond basic field guides.
The museum is open daily May 1 through October 31, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and $3 for kids. It is located on Sherman Hollow Road in Huntington. It is indicated in the Vermont Atlas & Gazetteer or go to their website, www.birdsofvermont.org, for directions. The phone number is 802-437-2167.
Back down Sherman Hollow Road is the Green Mountain Audubon Center, consisting of two barn-size buildings. Trail maps are available at the kiosk. I had just enough time to do the Hires Trail following my visit to the Birds of Vermont Museum. It was easy, generally well-marked and otherwise clearly evident with a densely-packed bed (and few rocks or roots). I didn’t even notice that it gently ascended to Lookout Rock which afforded a nice vista of Mt. Mansfield and Camel’s Hump. Spring Beauties were blooming at the side of the trail during my visit. The entire trail system is five miles. Other trail headings suggest different environments – beaver ponds, hemlock swamp, white pine, sugar bush and sensory trails. It is open to the public at no charge, daily from dawn to dusk. Their website is www.vtaudubon.org and the phone is 802-434-3068.