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Bird Feeding Season Is Here

White-breasted NuthatchThanks to everyone who supported RCAS by buying seed at our recent seed sales. Special thanks go to Anita Campeau of Blue Seal Feeds in Brandon and Paul Garland of Garland’s in Rutland for all their help and support for our annual sales. And, new members, we're glad to have you join us.

Winter is around the corner (we’ve started to see a few flakes here and there). We'll be spending more time watching birds from the comfort of our homes. And while we all enjoy this pastime, it’s important to keep both our feathered and furry friends healthy by following a few steps for backyard feeding.

A recent twist on bird feeding is bears. Vermont Fish & Wildlife recommends putting feeders up on December 1, although they may recommend moving that date later if weather conditions are warm and there is no snow cover. It is illegal to feed bears in Vermont and this includes knowingly leaving bird feeders out if you know bears are in your neighborhood. So regardless of the time of year, you must take in your feeders. This is for the protection of you, your family, your property AND the bears. A fed bear is a dead bear. You can learn more by clicking here.

bears sometimes do more than just smell the geraniumsAs for the health of the birds, salmonellosis, trichomoniasis, avian pox, aspergillosis, and conjunctivitis are diseases that may 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.

Disease 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:



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.

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

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.

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: nine parts water) for 2-3 minutes. Allow to air dry. Once or twice a month should do, but weekly if the weather is especially warm.

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.      

PREVENT CONTAMINATION. A metal trash can is great for this. Keep rodents out of stored food. Mice can carry and spread some bird diseases without being affected themselves.

ACT EARLY. Don’t wait to act until you see sick or dead birds. If you do notice sick birds, take your feeders down, clean them well and wait two weeks to put them up again. With good prevention you’ll seldom find sick or dead birds at your feeders. And don't worry about the birds not having seed. They do fine without us.

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.

And now you know the tips, back in a comfy chair with a hot cup of shade-grown coffee and enjoy the show!


West Rutland Marsh - November 2017

None of today’s eight participants awoke this morning with much enthusiasm for a walk around West Rutland Marsh. It was drippy, cold and generally November.

Nevertheless, we did manage to come up with 23 species. This compares to our November average of 19 and is two more than last year’s walk. Our high was 27 species in 2011 and our low 11 in 2004.

As always, we started at the boardwalk. American tree sparrows have returned. Chickadees and a tufted titmouse were rushing back and forth to and from the feeders.

A call note in the birch tree near the boardwalk sounded suspiciously like a yellow-rumpled warbler and, after much searching, that is exactly what it turned out to be. The morning was instantly brighter.

A short distance down the road, near the green house formerly known as the yellow house, a lingering song sparrow was spotted. Two robins looked pretty miserable sitting atop trees in the rain across the road from each other. Two golden-crowned kinglets were heard, but not seen. A purple finch flew overhead.

We flushed a grouse along Whipple Hollow Road. A red-winged blackbird (others were heard in the reeds and cattails) and a lone common grackle at a feeder were also seen along Whipple Hollow.

Black-capped chickadees, mourning doves and dark-eyed juncos were the most abundant birds of the day.

The next walk is scheduled for Saturday, December 2, at 8 a.m.

Today’s list: 

Mallard  5
Ruffed Grouse  1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  6
Mourning Dove  17
Downy Woodpecker  3
Blue Jay  11
American Crow  7
Black-capped Chickadee  29
Tufted Titmouse  3
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  2
American Robin  2
European Starling  8
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)  1    W
American Tree Sparrow  6
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  18
Song Sparrow  1    
Northern Cardinal  2
Red-winged Blackbird  1
Common Grackle  1
Purple Finch  1
American Goldfinch  1
House Sparrow  3




West Rutland Marsh - October 2017

Red-winged BlackbirdThe bright blue sky and brilliant foliage made today’s walk around West Rutland Marsh very enjoyable. Twenty-two participants found 29 species. This is quite a bit less than last year’s 37. The October average is 32.

Highlights included two blue-headed vireos, both singing and one seen. A single pine siskin was detected among the goldfinches.

Waterfowl consisted of Canada geese, mallards and American black ducks, none in any great number. Woodpeckers seen were downy woodpecker, northern flicker and yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Raptors were represented by one red-tailed hawk and one sharp-shinned hawk.

Red-winged blackbirds are on the move with 500 counted. Grackle numbers were quite a bit lower with only five.

White-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos have returned to the marsh. No doubt tree sparrows will appear soon. Three swamp sparrows were seen or heard while the marsh wrens have departed. Three song sparrows were also observed.

Our next walk is scheduled for Thursday, November 16, at 8 a.m.





Today's list:

Canada Goose  11
Mallard  3
Sharp-shinned Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Belted Kingfisher  2
Downy Woodpecker  6
Northern Flicker  1
Blue-headed Vireo  2
Blue Jay  11
American Crow  10
Common Raven  4
Black-capped Chickadee  25
Eastern Bluebird  8
American Robin  9
European Starling  5
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  4
White-throated Sparrow  18
Song Sparrow  3
Swamp Sparrow  3
Northern Cardinal  5
Red-winged Blackbird  500
Common Grackle  5
House Finch  6
Purple Finch  8
Pine Siskin  1
American Goldfinch  39
House Sparrow  1













Hog Island Audubon Camp

Hog Island – perhaps an unlovely name for a magical place, National Audubon’s camp on the coast near Bremen, Maine. A more delightful spot could not be found to spend a few days in June in the company of fellow birders and immersed in ornithology with some of the country’s top experts.

This year my husband Marv and I, along with friends Connie and Mark Youngstrom and Carol Ramsayer, attended the Field Ornithology session. Marv and I had attended the Joy of Birding session three years earlier and always knew we would return. Connie and Mark were new to Hog Island and Carol was also a repeat camper.

Hog Island is just a stone’s throw from the mainland. Most of us could probably swim the distance if we had to. But once on the island, you enter a different world where birds and conservation are always the focus in a setting infused with the Maine coastal culture. The history of Hog Island could fill another article. It includes ornithological luminaries such as Roger Tory Peterson and Allan Cruickshank. You can read more about that by clicking here.

early morning bird recordingThe accommodations are rustic, but clean and comfortable. Not that you spend that much time in them. Every minute is packed. Some mornings begin around 4 a.m. for bird banding or bird sound recording - just about the time you hear the lobster boats going out. The long June days, punctuated with delicious meals, are filled with field trips and lectures and end with evening programs on a wide variety of topics. Should anyone be scared off by all this activity, it’s all optional so if you don’t feel up to something you can take a break. The Adirondack chairs placed around the lawn are awfully inviting.

The very best part of Hog Island (and it really is hard to pick one) are the instructors and staff. Our camp director for the week was Scott Weidensaul. Anyone who has picked up a birding magazine or read a book on birding knows Scott. His vast knowledge of birds, nature in general, and his sense of humor set the tone for the week. The instructors do not gather together separately, but spread themselves among the campers during social hours and meals. 

bird banding with Scott WeidensaulInstructors for the week along with Scott included Kevin McGowan from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Sara Morris, Professor of Biology at Canisius College in Buffalo; Angelika Nelson, curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics at Ohio State University; John Kricher, professor at Wheaton College in Massachusetts and author of A Neotropical Companion; Stephen Kress, director of the Seabird Restoration Program; and Anthony Hill, bird bander. The collective knowledge, experience, enthusiasm and humor of the instructors was unequaled.

None of Audubon camp would run smoothly without the Friends of Hog Island led by the very capable Juanita Roushdy. Under her guidance and tireless hard work, the staff and volunteers expertly run the camp.

Our four full days of camp were divided between seminars and field trips. The seminars were long enough to get a good dose of ornithological knowledge, but not long enough to get too antsy to explore the Maine coast. Field trips went to birding hotspots on the mainland including the beautiful Great Salt Bay Farm in Damariscotta. A boat trip to Eastern Egg Rock Island, home of the world’s first restored Atlantic Puffin colony, was another highlight with bald eagles, common eiders, a razorbill, terns and gulls seen along the way. And of course the puffins! The boat trip was especially meaningful after hearing Steven Kress talk about the Seabird Restoration Program on a prior evening.

learning about birds with Kevin McGowanA word about the food: Hog Island could be considered a culinary destination. The chef, aided by an energetic group of assistants and volunteers, provided three healthy, flavorful meals a day with many of the ingredients locally sourced. The final dinner of the week is always special – lobster right out of Muscongus Bay, followed by cream puff puffins, as delicious as they are adorable.

While we were at Field Ornithology this year’s artist-in-residence, Michael Boardman, was in residence. He welcomed visitors to the artist’s cottage he was inhabiting for two weeks and was happy to show us his work. One afternoon we had a sketching session with him. Let’s just say some of us were better than others! But it was fun and instructional.

Atlantic PuffinThe Coastal Maine Bird Studies for Teens session was held concurrent with Field Ornithology. Although we attended different sessions and field trips, we shared our meals and evening programs. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm and knowledge in the next generation of birders and ornithologists. Their presence did not detract, but indeed added to our enjoyment of the week. I have no doubt that in about 10 to 20 years’ time, we’ll be seeing their names pop up in the birding world, whether in leading field trips or publishing ornithological studies.

For anyone remotely thinking about Hog Island, my advice is to go if you can. It’s not inexpensive, but everything is included. Registration for all the Audubon sessions at Hog Island will open on October 18 and the sessions fill quickly. Birders of all skill levels are welcome. No matter your experience, whether you picked up binoculars yesterday or have birded the seven continents, you will gain something from Hog Island. 

Board Member Marsha Booker attended Hog Island's Joy of Birding session a few years ago. Click here to read about her experience.



West Rutland Marsh - September 2017

What a difference a day makes! After the past week of record-breaking highs, 18 birders were greeted with a north wind and a lower, but still pleasant, temperature for today’s walk around West Rutland Marsh. Finally fall is in the air.

The number of species was quite low, with 30 observed. This is lower than our September average of 39 and quite a bit lower than last year’s 45. No doubt the stiff wind was keeping many birds down.

The marsh itself was fairly quiet with a great blue heron, a handful of mallards and two swamp sparrows. Red-winged blackbirds, at least 50, were attempting to rise from the cattails, but were being kept down by the wind.

One species was taking advantage of the wind and pointed south. Several large flocks, some over a 100, of Canada geese were seen in their traditional V formation with 1,134 reported for the day.

Another species probably in migration was black vulture – with four spotted over the ridge next to the marsh. This was a life bird some participants and we all had good looks at them. Seven turkey vultures were also seen.

Raptors included two red-tailed hawks and a Cooper’s hawk.

Three warbler species were spotted: one common yellowthroat, two yellow-rumped warblers and one black-throated green warbler. A blue-headed vireo was still singing and a chipping sparrow was seen in a yard.

The next marsh walk is scheduled for Saturday, October 21, at 8 a.m.

Today’s list:


Canada Goose  1134    
Mallard  6
Great Blue Heron  1
Black Vulture  4    
Turkey Vulture  7
Cooper's Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  5
Mourning Dove  4
Downy Woodpecker  1
Eastern Phoebe  4
Blue-headed Vireo  1
Red-eyed Vireo  1
Blue Jay  41
American Crow  38
Common Raven  1
Black-capped Chickadee  13
Tufted Titmouse  1
American Robin  5
European Starling  1
Common Yellowthroat  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)  2
Black-throated Green Warbler  1
Chipping Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  2
Swamp Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  1
Red-winged Blackbird  50
American Goldfinch  7
House Sparrow  3