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a rare gift!

Common Loon Parents and newly hatched chick at Spring Lake in Cuttingsville.

It all started with a phone call late Thursday evening. For close on two months Connie had watched over a pair of nesting Common Loon and by her best estimate hatching was imminent, probably the next day. But Connie was off the next day for a three day conference, would it be possible for me to be there the following day to record the highly anticipated event.

By 8.45 the next morning, Friday, I was ready, camera poised, adult on the nest, mate patrolling nearby and the sun clear and well placed. Fifteen short minutes later, the female loon, slid from her nest followed immediately by a single fluffy black chick. The chick “hit the water running” scampering over the surface at full throttle, ending up with a couple of head dips two or three meters later! For the next thirty minutes the two adults introduced the single chick to its immediate surroundings. The male, again I assume, took it upon himself to catch the first shiny morsels for the chick, but the actual transfer was not observed. The two adults, usually swimming together with the chick between them, if they decided temporarily to separate, the chick appeared to be in two minds as to whom to follow, but invariably, if the observer’s determination was correct, it would choose “Mom”.

After a thirty minute leisurely “swim about”, with the chick at times hitching a ride, the female loon clambered back on to the nest site, this time in the opposite direction to that first observed. Common Loon usually produce two eggs, hence the female must have decided that there was a second chick to be brought into the world.

For the next two hours the male’s behavior was somewhat confusing. With a very small minnow clasped in his beak, he was seen to circle many times around the nesting platform with the intent of feeding either the chick or his mate both on the nest. But the mate was apparently facing in the wrong direction and he could not fulfill his intent. What appeared to be in desperation, still clasping the shiny morsel and on three separate occasions the male clambered not only on to the nest but he appeared to be on top of his mate. While the trio was on the nest a few low vocalizations were heard. The retreat back into the water was “clumsy” to put it delicately!

Shadows began to close the curtain of opportunity to any further picture taking and so the events that followed were once again returned to the intimate privacy of the principal participants.

To be present at the birth of one’s own child, is humbling. To be present at the “coming out” of a not so common Common Loon chick, is a rare gift!


a successful year for RCAS

Rutland County Audubon celebrated another successful year at its annual meeting and potluck supper at the Proctor Library on June 26, 2009. Twenty-six people enjoyed a lively social hour filled with birding banter and the many delicious dishes contributed by all.

Roy Pilcher presented his program The Nesting Strategies of Birds. Using photos of birds and their nests, Alder Flycatcherwhich he took over 40 years, Roy explained how different species use materials (or sometimes lack of) and locations to maximize their chances of successful reproduction. The program was presented on RCAS’s new laptop and PowerPoint projector obtained with a grant from Audubon Vermont.

The Board of Directors feels that the past year has been a productive one and hopes its constituents feel likewise. Adhering to our motto Birding with a Purpose, we try to make our programs and field trips a valuable experience by educating others, advocating for birds and the environment, and contributing to citizen science efforts. This past year we brought Audubon Adventures to several classrooms and homeschools, applied for funding to conserve land at West Rutland Marsh, and continued our monitoring efforts in several locations. We hope you will join us in the coming year to make the 2009-2010 even better.

You can download a copy of the 2008-09 Annual Report here.


Kent Pond

Semipalmated Sandpiper Kent Pond


Kent Pond is a man made impoundment at an elevation of 1560 feet aligned with the ridge of the Green Mountains. Kent Pond is situated at the apex of the right angle formed by Route 4 East and Route 100. It may be accessed from either highway.

The pond itself, although relatively small and a popular fishing site from both the impoundment and by boat, has provided several surprises for bird enthusiasts. Among those surprises are Brant, Pacific Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Red Phalarope and Semi-palmated Sandpiper, all seen and documented during the month of May. To these may be added Lesser Yellowlegs in April and Dunlin in June.

Another common thread running through most of these sightings is that they occurred during or following an extended period of overcast and/or rainy weather. If these shorebirds were in fact migrating and following the ridge of the Green Mountains, Kent Pond would serve as a temporary sanctuary from the inhospitable elements.

At the time of writing this entry in the Birding Journal, (late June), Kent Pond is host to a pair of nesting Common Loon.


Roy Pilcher first recipient of citizen science award

On June 13, 2009 the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE) awarded Roy Pilcher the Julie Nicholson Citizen Science Award. The award, named for Julie Nicholson, who passed away earlier this year, honors an individual who exemplifies Julie’s commitment to the cause of citizen science and conservation. We can’t imagine anyone more deserving than Roy to be the first recipient of this award.

Along with his service to the environment through his work with Rutland County Audubon, Roy has spent countless hours working on VCE projects such as the Vermont Breeding Bird Atlas and the Vermont Butterfly Survey. His many contributions are too numerous to name them all here.

Several years ago Roy was awarded the Audubon Vermont Steve Young Award and noted “while I had to sever my African roots in order to start life anew in America, it was my love of birds and by extension Vermont's community of birders that more than filled the initial void. That same sentiment I repeat today on being the first recipient of the Julie Nicholson Award. It is a real honor to have my name associated with Julie's."

Nor surprisingly Roy was not present in person to receive the award because he was busy participating in citizen science. He was out monitoring the birds of West Rutland Marsh.

Congratulations, Roy!


rescuing rails - real and otherwise

Vandalism has always been a problem at West Rutland Marsh, long before Rutland County Audubon became involved. This story has a happy ending. On the afternoon of June 10 Marv and I went out to the marsh to make a minor repair near the boardwalk. A beautiful Virginia Rail photo graces the front of the information kiosk. 

photo by Marv ElliottWhen we arrived, we discovered that it had been hit with green paintball paint, still wet, and completely covering the rail photo. The logbook mailbox and an interpretive trail sign had also been hit with paint.

Marv contacted the sheriff's department (are they tired of hearing from us yet?) and was told that the sheriff did not come on duty until six, but the dispatcher would contact the State Police.

As we waited for the trooper to arrive, Marv wandered across the street to check out a flicker nest we had seen earlier. He was greeted by two adult Virginia Rails raising a fuss around an old cellar hole.  It was over four feet deep and filled with bags of garbage. Down in the hole were several rail chicks unable to get out and peeping frantically. We managed Photo by Marv Elliottto capture two of them, who went waddling off in the brush to join their parents. The trooper arrived, we gave him our report, and went back to rescue two more chicks. Then we heard two MORE chicks in the cellar hole. We rushed off to buy some paper towels, a bucket and a scrub brush before the paint on the sign dried, went back and cleaned the sign, and then were able to rescue the remaining two chicks.


By the way, we also heard a Least Bittern out in the marsh, saw a House Wren bringing food to a nest box and a Gray Catbird with its mouth stuffed with bugs for its young.