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west rutland marsh - may monitoring report

Nothing beats May at the marsh! This beautiful morning 26 participants tallied 74 species, not quite close to last May’s 81, but well above this month’s average of 68.

A Least Bittern was heard along Marble Street, just north of the kiosk, giving its low chuckle. One American Bittern was heard and one was seen. Two Green Herons were observed at the mid-point of the walk along Pleasant Street. Five Great Blue Herons were flying high in formation, perhaps towards the heronry in Florence.

Two Virginia Rails were seen well near the boardwalk engaged in, well, making more rails. A third rail was heard along Water Street. Wilson’s Snipe have been in much evidence this year – one was heard from the boardwalk and there were two more near the power line.

Virginia RailThe full flycatcher contingent is in: Alder, Willow, Least, Great-crested Flycatcher were all present as well as Eastern Phoebe and Eastern Kingbird, all very vocal.

A Red-breasted Nuthatch, a species not often seen at the marsh, was observed near a possible nest hole. Interestingly no White-breasted Nuthatches were seen. 

All three of the expected thrushes were singing – Veery, Hermit and Wood. A fourth thrush, an American Robin, was seen carrying food. Red-winged Blackbirds and Grackles were also carrying food so the season is well underway. 

Along with Yellow Warblers and Common Yellowthroats along the whole route, there was a nice assortment of warblers along Whipple Hollow Road. Three Canada Warblers and a Northern Waterthrush were in their usual spots. Also present were Ovenbird, Black-and-white, Nashville, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Yellow-rumped and Black-throated Green.

One Savannah Sparrow was singing along Marble Street.

The next marsh walk is scheduled for Saturday, June 11, at 7 a.m.

The day's list:

Canada Goose 14
Wood Duck 1
Mallard 3
Wild Turkey 1
American Bittern 2
Least Bittern 1
Great Blue Heron 5
Green Heron 2
Turkey Vulture 1
Virginia Rail 3
Wilson's Snipe 3
Mourning Dove 18
Belted Kingfisher 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 2
Downy Woodpecker 5
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 2
Alder Flycatcher 3
Willow Flycatcher 2
Least Flycatcher 6
Eastern Phoebe 4
Great Crested Flycatcher 2
Eastern Kingbird 4
Yellow-throated Vireo 1

Warbling Vireo 9
Red-eyed Vireo 7
Blue Jay 13
American Crow 3
Common Raven 4
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 2
Tree Swallow 5
Barn Swallow 6
Black-capped Chickadee 13
Tufted Titmouse 4
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
House Wren 3
Marsh Wren 11
Veery 7
Hermit Thrush 1
Wood Thrush 1
American Robin 8
Gray Catbird 18
European Starling 2
Cedar Waxwing 4
Ovenbird 7
Northern Waterthrush 1
Black-and-white Warbler 4
Nashville Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat 30
American Redstart 14
Northern Parula 2
Blackburnian Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 19
Chestnut-sided Warbler 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1
Black-throated Green Warbler 2
Canada Warbler 3
Chipping Sparrow 2
Savannah Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 12
Swamp Sparrow 17
Eastern Towhee 1
Scarlet Tanager 2
Northern Cardinal 6
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1
Red-winged Blackbird 34
Common Grackle 8
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Baltimore Oriole 4
House Finch 2
Purple Finch 3
American Goldfinch 26
House Sparrow 1


flight of the snowbird

Ring-billed GullMention the term "snowbird" and what comes to mind? If you are a birder you are hoping for an influx of birds from Canada to our area. However if you are of a certain age you think of leaving the cold for warmer climes. My story involves both of these migrants.

In late December we headed south to Titusville, Florida which is on the east coast right across from the Kennedy Space Center. Just minutes away is the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge offers a wide variety of winter migrants as well as endemics. A tour through the Black Point Drive is always filled with great flocks of waders, coots, ducks and other species that can be observed fairly close up.

Playalinda Beach is a short ride from this drive and offers a chance of seeing Northern Gannets as well as shorebirds such as Ruddy Turnstones and the ever cute Sanderlings. As I made my way down this beautiful beach I came upon a small group of Royal Terns and Laughing and Ring-billed gulls.

Close inspection of the group revealed that one of the Ring-billed Gulls was banded, both with the standard aluminum band plus a blue tag on the other leg. I quickly got out my camera and took some photos of the gull. Upon returning to our campground I reviewed the photos and found that the band had the alpha-numeric code of 3AF. Thanks to technology I went online and googled "ring-billed gulls with bands." The site came up immediately and I filled out the form with all the details of where and when as well as the identification tag. The next morning my email had been answered. Professor Jean-Francois Giroux, a professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal, is part of a study of these gulls and how they disperse.

My bird, I was told, is a male, banded on May 17, 2012 on Ile Delauriers, Varennes, Quebec. Subsequently it has traveled from there to Playalinda Beach and has been seen most winters. Come late March this snowbird makes his way back to Canada.

A couple of years ago I had seen a Ring-billed Gull on the very same stretch of beach with the same tag! The odds of seeing a tagged bird more than once is rather remote, but here was my bird loafing in the sunshine once again!

Finding birds with this type of banding and reporting the information to the proper study groups gives the researchers valuable data. So be on the lookout for any tagged birds, get a photo or write down the tag information. This is just another venue for the citizen scientist to add to the knowledge of migratory birds.



annual meeting and elections announcement

Rutland County Audubon Society will hold its annual meeting on Wednesday, July 6, 2016 at the Proctor Library, 6 PM. The primary purpose of the meeting is the election of officers and directors for the following year. Nominations are now open. If you are interested or know someone who would be a good candidate please contact Marv Elliott at birding@rutlandcountyaudubon.org. Nominations will be taken from the floor.

The evening will include a potluck supper. Bring a dish to share. Utensils, beverages and a dessert will be provided.



rusty blackbird migration blitz results

The following is by Bruce MacPherson, Green Mountain Audubon Society:

Rusty Blackbird populations have plummeted by over 85% in the past half century and no one knows why. Recognition of the catastrophic decline of this once-common bird eluded birders and conservation biologists until the past decade. Now a group of international investigators led by the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group is studying this problem by collecting data during the Rusty Blackbird's spring migration.

The count period for the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz in Vermont ended on Saturday, April 30. Thanks to everyone who participated in this citizen-science project.

Rusties finally moved through Vermont in good numbers during the last week of the count. Overall 761 Rusty Blackbirds were reported to VT eBird during our count period of March 15-April 30 compared to 658 in 2015 and 1090 in 2014. In the five years prior to the Blitz (2009-2013) the average number of Rusties reported during the count period was 187. The increased numbers in 2014-2016 are almost certainly the result of the increased effort by Vermont birders to find and report Rusty Blackbirds. Click here to see an eBird map of Vermont's sightings.

Rusty Blackbirds breed in marshes and bogs in the boreal forests of Canada and the northern United States, including Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. Vermont is at the southeastern edge of the Rusty Blackbird's breeding grounds. During the Second Vermont Breeding Bird Survey nesting sites for this frequently overlooked bird declined in the western part of Vermont, but increased in the northeastern highlands, possibly due to increased effort directed toward finding their nests. Nonetheless, only 20 nests were recorded in the second atlas down from 26 in the first survey. In 2014, at the urging of several conservation groups Rusty Blackbirds were added to the list of Vermont's endangered species. Understanding the factors affecting Rusty Blackbirds on their breeding grounds, wintering habitat, and migration stopovers will be essential first steps toward stabilizing the population.

Congratulations to Jim Osborn, who reported 184 Rusty Blackbirds along the Maquam Bog/ Old Railroad Passage Trail at the Missisquoi NWR on April 23, the highest count in Vermont this year. This observation along with those of several other observers establishes the refuge as the main stopover point for Rusties in migration in Vermont. 

But as Yogi reminds us "It's not over until it’s over." Last year only 67% of the Rusties in Vermont during migration were counted between March 15 and April 30. A significant number of Rusty Blackbirds will likely migrate through Vermont during the next two weeks. To get a full picture of the scope of Rusty migration Vermont birders are encouraged to visit Rusty Blackbird habitat during May and report their counts to VT eBird.

Interestingly, Rusty Blackbird breeding in the northeast has already begun. An occupied nest was found in New Hampshire on April 29 and Rusties have shown up at Moose Bog, a Vermont breeding site, during the past week.

So let's get out there and count those birds. Every Rusty Blackbird counts!



a sliver of redwood

This sliver of redwood is so small and weathered that an expendable matchstick would hold it with little esteem. It came from a redwood corpse now prostrate and long silent. For how long this redwood giant had rested there, only its living relatives know. Time is measured by them, neither in days nor years nor even decades, but centuries. This hulk of a giant with the girth and length of a commuter train was fortunate to die full of years, yielding his place to the next generation in crashing headlong into the embrace of mother earth. Along with his immediate living family gathered about him, they constitute the fortunate ones. With nineteen out of twenty of their kith and kin felled first by the axe and then by the chainsaw, this generation of giants that survives on these California foothills does so under special dispensation and protection.

It was an idyllic life, the happy confluence of soil and solitude, moisture and moderation, altitude and latitude that combined together to produce a sustained but measured growth. With head reaching to the heavens above and roots buried deep in the rich earth below it was, or so it appeared to be, a benevolent universe and without bounds. Daily mists sailed inland borne on winds traversing the cold California Current ever willing to cool and quench any lingering thirst that he or another maturing giant may generate. With crowns jostling for space and with bodies lean of limb, if branches should find room to extend horizontally, there a universe of lichens and mosses and an array of air breathing plants abounded. There the Marbled Murrelet, an avian creature of the oceans, would lay its single egg. There a lone chick would anxiously await the fading light of dusk for a parent’s return with sustenance from the sea.

If danger there was, it was heaven sent! Dark and foreboding cumulus clouds drawn eastward from the rising thermals of the Great Basin patiently waited an opportunity to discharge their burden of electrical energy. The giant who stood the tallest and stoutest would serve as nature’s lightning rod and would be humbled. The path traveled by the surge of electrical energy would instantly render sap to steam and in the process split the protecting bark asunder. From thence it would be a slow death, a half a century may be, but this majestic giant could not and would not survive heaven’s chastisement. In the event of a conflagration that death would be hastened while others, with their thick and fire resistant bark still intact, had less to fear. However, there would be casualties.  

All the while in the cool and moist dappled world below, a profusion of ferns and shrubs vied for whatever sunlight penetrated the canopy above, all pygmies at peace amidst the kingdom of giants.  

From a lowly California dogwood, a Varied Thrush called.  Evening came and morning came, and God acknowledged that what he saw was good.

California, summer 2001