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coastal adventure

SanderlingsMid-November is one of the best times to head to the New England coast in search of winter migrants. Cape Ann, Plum Island and the nearby beaches are areas that migrants frequent in their flight south. Other species will find these areas perfect for a wintering spot. I recently visited there with friends.

Cape Ann juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, giving the birder an opportunity to view a variety of ocean birds. Halibut Point is a high bluff that has a dramatic view of the ocean below which gives the observer a great chance of seeing these migrants as they pass by.

Our group had hoped for some alcids to be moving through, but it was not to be. However, the appearance of a flock of harlequin ducks made up for that. We watched as these sturdy creatures dove into the surf right by the granite rocks. We also saw gulls and gannets as well as other waterfowl.

After spending an hour and a half there we packed up and headed to Gloucester Harbor. There we saw common eider, red-breasted merganser, bufflehead and a common loon. A flock of snow buntings circled over us several times before landing on some rocks just feet away from us! Their soft calls and beautiful plumage made for a magical close-up view.

The next day we traveled to Plum Island and the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. This area provides 4,700 acres of pristine coastal habitat. This includes 3,000 acres of salt marshes that has seen 300 plus species of birds that are either residents or migratory. In addition, this refuge has critical nesting habitat for the endangered piping plover. With six miles of beach there are many chances to observe a nice variety of ocean and coastal birds. There are hiking trails that travel through dunes, marshes and coastal scrub allowing the birder to find inland birds in proper season.

Long-tailed DuckDriving down the park road offers easy access to the salt marshes and ample opportunity to observe shorebirds and waterfowl. Our plan was to start at the north end of this island. As we drove along, there on a fence sat a Cooper's hawk, intently watching some terrified house sparrows.

Continuing on we arrived at the parking area and made our way to the beach. Here we had a great view of the channel with a strong tide running. Harbor seals were popping up and looking around as red-throated and common loons dove for a meal.

One surfaced with a wiggly silver fish for its effort. An eBird notice told of a Pacific loon there and, in no time, one of our group spotted this bird. It was in transitional plumage, but the distinctive head shape was the clincher.

We returned to the park road and headed south along the salt marshes where black-bellied plovers and dunlin were resting. American black ducks were the most abundant waterfowl. Others there included hooded merganser and bufflehead. And, of course, mallards. A sharp-shinned hawk rocketed by in front of our car in pursuit of something as we made our way along the road.

We stopped at a view point overlooking a pond where three gadwall sedately paddled about the water. Off in the distance a bald eagle sat on a rise of land while overhead a rough-legged hawk hovered in search of food.

Continuing on I spied a northern shrike perched atop a distant tree.

We then parked at one of the beach access paths and scanned the ocean finding more loons, red-necked grebes, a variety of gulls and a lovely flock of sanderlings that twittered as they probed the sand. Northern gannets were seen gliding over the ocean with their startling white plumage.

All too soon our coastal adventure was coming to an end. However, before departing I checked eBird once again and saw that a king eider was being seen at Crane Beach. Fortunately, this spot was on my way home and only half an hour from Rockport.

I soon arrived there and set up my scope to scan over 1,000 white-winged scoters in hopes of finding this beautiful duck. Luck was with me and in less than five minutes I was watching the bird.

As I walked down the beach semipalmated plovers scurried along. I then met two young women, birders and photographers, who told me they had just seen a snowy owl about a half mile down the beach. Wasting no time I quickly made my way there following their footsteps in hopes of finding the bird. As I got nearer I saw a person staring intently through binoculars. I set up my scope and scanned that area and there it was. I made my way closer to this bird which seemed totally unconcerned with the people that were delighted to have this visitor from the north. The owl sat and posed for numerous photos putting a perfect end to the coastal birding trip.


west rutland marsh - november monitoring report

Birders almost equaled bird species for RCAS’s monthly monitoring walk around West Rutland Marsh this morning. With clear skies and the forecast promising temperatures in the 60s, no one minded much.

Nineteen observers counted 21 species. Although this seems low it still beats last year’s 19 which is also our 16-year average. Past November walks have yielded anywhere from 11 to 27 species.

There were no real surprises. Raptors consisted of five red-tailed hawks and one Cooper’s hawk.

A belted kingfisher was seen from the boardwalk as it flew from Water Street to the power lines. A northern flicker was heard and a red-bellied woodpecker was seen.

Eastern bluebirds were heard singing, but not seen.  Sparrows were represented by three American tree sparrows and a lone junco.

The next walk is scheduled for Thursday, December 8.

Today’s list:

Mallard  4
Cooper's Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  5
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  6
Mourning Dove  4
Belted Kingfisher  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
Downy Woodpecker  4
Northern Flicker  1
Blue Jay  23
American Crow  9
Common Raven  2
Black-capped Chickadee  43
Tufted Titmouse  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
Eastern Bluebird  2
European Starling  20
American Tree Sparrow  3
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  1
Northern Cardinal  4
American Goldfinch  20


seed sale and membership drive - november 5

White-breasted NuthatchIt’s time to stock up on birdseed! Join RCAS on Saturday, November 5, for birding banter and an opportunity to purchase birdseed at a great price and without sales tax. And if you haven't joined RCAS, we'd love have you be a part of us.

We have two locations: Garland’s Farm and Garden on Park Street in Rutland (8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and Blue Seal Feeds on Route 7 in Brandon (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Cash or checks only please!

And since it’s that time of year, it’s worth re-printing our recommendations for keeping a healthy bird feeding area:

Salmonellosis, trichomoniasis, avian pox, aspergillosis, and conjunctivitis are diseases that commonly affect birds that visit backyard bird feeders. Sick birds are less alert and less active. They feed less and often cower on a feeder, reluctant to fly. Their feathers look ill-kept. Sick birds are more vulnerable to starvation, predation, dehydration, and severe weather. Eventually, these diseases are fatal.

Dark-eyed JuncoDisease is one of the many natural processes affecting wild species. You can minimize the risks and spread of avian diseases at your bird feeders by taking the following precautions:

1.       GIVE THEM SPACE. Avoid crowding by providing ample feeder space. Lots of birds using a single feeder looks wonderful, but crowding is a key factor in spreading disease. Crowding also creates stress that may make birds more vulnerable to disease. Several feeders at wide intervals help disperse the visitors.

2.       CLEAN UP WASTES. Keep the feeder area clean of waste food and droppings. A Broom and shovel can accomplish a lot of good, but a vacuum such as you might use in your garage or workshop will help even more.

3.       MAKE FEEDERS SAFE. Provide safe feeders without sharp points or edges. Even small scratches and cuts will allow bacteria and viruses to enter otherwise healthy birds.

4.       KEEP FEEDERS CLEAN. Use feeders that are made of a material that can be sterilized (e.g., polycarbonate). Clean and disinfect feeders by fully immersing them in a 10% bleach solution (one part household bleach: 9 parts water) for 2-3 minutes. Allow to air dry. Once or twice a month should do, weekly could help more if you notice sick birds at your feeders.

5.       USE GOOD FOOD. Discard any food that smells musty, is wet, looks moldy or has fungus growing on it. Disinfect any storage container that holds spoiled food and the scoop used to fill feeders from it.

6.       PREVENT CONTAMINATION. Keep rodents out of stored food. Mice can carry and spread some bird diseases without being affected themselves.

7.       ACT EARLY. Don’t wait to act until you see sick or dead birds. With good prevention you’ll seldom find sick or dead birds at your feeders.

8.       SPREAD THE WORD. Encourage your neighbors who feed birds to follow the same precautions. Birds normally move among feeders and can spread diseases as they go. The safest birdfeeders will be those in communities where neighbors cooperate with equal concern for the birds.

9.       BEARS. Also, be sure to delay setting up feeders until the possibility of bears has passed for the year. And if you do have a beer in your neighborhood, take your feeders down immediately (as well as removing any outdoor pet food, garbage and anything that smells intriguing to a bear). And let your neighbors know so they can do the same.


west rutland marsh - october monitoring report

The fall foliage is still brilliant on the hillsides, but the crystal coating on the cattails and other marsh vegetation this morning was a reminder of what is to come. Eighteen participants, sporting wool caps and warm gloves for the first time this season, joined together for our monthly monitoring of West Rutland Marsh.

Today’s tally was 37, three more than one year ago, and five more than our average for October (the high was 39 in October 2007).

Many species have departed or are at least packing their bags. In sharp contrast with September, only one gray catbird was recorded. No common yellowthroats or marsh wrens were observed, but a swamp sparrow sang weakly in the cattails.

Several ruby-crowned kinglets were flitting in the trees and goldenrod seedheads along with a few golden-crowned kinglets. Their contrasting call notes were quite obvious.

White-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos were seen in several spots along the route as well as song sparrows. Our first vesper sparrow for this walk was seen briefly along Marble Street. This is the third month in a row we have added a new species to our monitoring list.

Three purple finches, the two males looking particularly bright in the morning sun, sat in a bare tree. One was heard singing.

Three red-tailed hawks were noted, but no turkey vultures.

Our next walk: November 19 (Saturday) at 8 a.m.

Today’s list:

Canada Goose  2
Wood Duck  2
Mallard  2
Red-tailed Hawk  3
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  6
Mourning Dove  6
Belted Kingfisher  2
Downy Woodpecker  6
Hairy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)  1
Pileated Woodpecker  1
Peregrine Falcon  1
Eastern Phoebe  1
Blue Jay  19
American Crow  45
Common Raven  4
Black-capped Chickadee  25
Tufted Titmouse  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  3
Brown Creeper  1
Carolina Wren  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  5
American Robin  65
Gray Catbird  1
European Starling  3
Chipping Sparrow  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  17
White-crowned Sparrow  2
White-throated Sparrow  10
Vesper Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  9
Swamp Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  5
Red-winged Blackbird  49
Purple Finch  4
American Goldfinch  17


bobolink project results

Rutland County Audubon and many of our members have helped support the Bobolink Project for the past three years. Here is an encouraging report from Margaret Fowle at Audubon Vermont about this year’s results:                 

As many of you know, Audubon Vermont joined Mass Audubon and Audubon Connecticut to help continue the Bobolink Project in 2016. This project provides a financial incentive for farmers who delay haying during the Bobolink nesting season (mid-May through mid-July). To date, approximately $114,500 has been raised since 2013 in Vermont, enough to support bird-friendly management on 1,600 acres of hayfields in the State.

In 2016, the total acreage enrolled in Vermont was 407 acres. In addition, 22 acres were enrolled in Massachusetts and 98 acres were enrolled in New York, for a total of 527 acres. Allan Strong from UVM and Audubon Vermont staff surveyed the Vermont Bobolink Project fields in 2016 and estimated that 175 nesting pairs produced nearly 500 young. To do this work, we walked transects back and forth across each field to count the numbers of females and males, and then extrapolated the number of young produced using metrics from Allan's work. Often the landowners joined us on our survey and it was great for them to see the number of birds in their fields. In addition to the Bobolinks, we observed Savannah Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks, Northern Harriers and many other species.

Thanks to all of you who supported this important project - we look forward to continuing the work in 2017. Currently any donations to the project are going towards the 2017 field season. For more information, click here.