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trip report - September hawk watch

Each year Rutland County Audubon takes a trip to Mt. Philo State Park in Charlotte to watch for migrating Broad-winged Hawks. Some years we hit it right. On September 12 we didn’t. Hawks are pretty particular about the weather when they migrate moving en masse following the passage of a cold front and winds from the north. The big flight occurred a few days later with 2,855 counted at Mt. Philo on September 16.

Nevertheless it was a worthwhile trip because of one bird in particular - an immature Golden Eagle Golden Eagle (immature) that soared over our heads and circled giving all a fine view. It was a life bird or a first Vermont bird for many of us. Sometimes birding is like that. You don’t always see what you set out to see, but if you stick with it you are sure to see something good.

So how many Broad-winged Hawks were seen during our trip? Two, to be exact. Other migrating raptors included five Osprey, one Bald Eagle, four Sharp-shinned Hawks, and two American Kestrels.

Other stops and highlights for the day included four Common Loons at Charlotte Town Beach, two Blue-winged Teal and seven Hooded Mergansers at the Charlotte ferry landing, and two Green-winged Teal and two Marsh Wrens at Dead Creek Wildlife Management.


a new found place to bird

Marv and I usually choose our vacation destinations with birding in mind so Newfoundland seemed like just the place for this summer’s adventure. A place whose provincial bird is the Atlantic Puffin had to be good. Besides the provincial flower is the carnivorous pitcher plant, it has geographical features called Atlantic Puffintickles and bights, food items such as bakeapples and cod cheeks, place names like Ha Ha Bay, Cow Head, and Happy Adventure, and a quirky time zone. It was intriguing. Newfoundland doesn’t rival Texas or southeast Arizona in number of species, but it does have a number of seabirds not found in southern locations. It also provides the opportunity to see those birds and other species in their breeding habitats.  Even without birds, we would have enjoyed Newfoundland immensely. And the birds were wonderful.

Newfoundland can be reached by air or ferry, but by arriving by water you get the sense of arriving at a “New Founde Lande,” an island known as “The Rock.” It also gives you the opportunity for a little pelagic birding. We were fortunate to run into a group from the Brookline Bird Club in Massachusetts and spent a good portion of the trip on the bow taking advantage of their seabird expertise. New birds for us on the 100-miles crossing of the Cabot Strait from North Sidney, Nova Scotia to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland included Common and Manx shearwaters, Northern Fulmar, and Leach’s Storm-petrel. At 8 inches the storm-petrel seems a surprisingly small bird for such a large expanse of water. Northern Gannets were also present in good numbers and their plunge diving is fun to watch. Any feelings of seasickness were quickly dissipated!

We spent the first seven days on the west coast of Newfoundland at Gros Morne National Park. TSpruce Grousehe park consists of rocky coastline, stunted spruce forest called tuckamore, bogs, and high elevation arctic-alpine habitat. Something for everyone and every bird!  There we saw Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Spruce Grouse and Black-backed Woodpecker. Other northern species included Olive-sided and Yellow-bellied flycatchers, Swainson’s Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler and Lincoln’s Sparrow. Shorebirds included Ruddy Turnstone and Semipalmated Plover. We saw Arctic Terns for the first time and saw female Common Eiders snoozing on rocks with their young.

Gray JayBird behavior is always fun to watch. While waiting on a dock for a boat tour, we were greeted by Gray Jays. The Canadian Gray Jays are as comical and sometimes bad mannered as their U.S. counterparts, systematically making the begging rounds as new passengers arrived, with occasional stops to peer into trash barrels.

The highlight of the week was a trip to the top of Gros Morne Mountain. A friend of ours will be receiving the “Understatement of the Year Award.” When asked about the hike, he replied, “It wasn’t too bad.” At 806 meters (that’s 2,644 feet for the climbing Gros Mornemetrically-challenged), the grueling hike of 16 kilometers, which sounds more impressive than ten miles, resulted in magnificent views and a life bird. The Rock Ptarmigan, usually found much further north on the rocky arctic tundra, is the birders’ target at Gros Morne. We had excellent views of three females and seven soon-to-be teenagers. Good thing because after that hike we weren't about to descend without seeing one! A digital disaster has prevented us showing you a photo so here is one of Roy Pilcher’s so you get the idea.Rock Ptarmigan (male)

Stay tuned for more including the puffins....


Audubon at the fair

Rutland County Audubon will have an exhibit at the Vermont State Fair in Rutland this year. The Web of Life  is part of the display at the Forestry Building. The exhibit includes some interesting connections among segments of our environment such as birds, forests and humans and includes photos of some of our local favorite birds. Our friends from the forestry building invited us to be there because of the link between birds and forests.

We hope you stop by! The fair runs from September 4 through the 13th. Wednesday, September 9, is free admission to the fair.


eight years of marsh monitoring completed

On Thursday, July 16, 2009, a group of Rutland County Audubon members and friends completed eight years of monthly marsh monitoring of the birds associated with the West Rutland marsh. The first of these walks around the 3.7 mile perimeter of the marsh took place on August 16, 2001, with 15 observers during which 45 species were tallied. The number of species tallied is now 137 while observer participation has reached 1127. The lowest number of species ever recorded on a monthly walk was 28 on April 16, 2005, and the highest number was 70 on May 18, 2006.

Bird monitoring at the marsh has several objectives. One objective is to raise the awareness and appreciation of the general public to this Important Bird Area as an exceptional natural resource. A corollary to the awareness and appreciation is the hope that the future of the marsh and its sustainability will be ensured. A second objective for monthly bird monitoring is that it offers an educational opportunity for birders of all ages and experience to sharpen their identification skills, both visual and auditory, in a collegial and welcoming environment. Finally, with all sightings entered on eBird, the cumulative record will provide researchers an opportunity to advance bird conservation here in Vermont and beyond.

Marsh walks are scheduled monthly generally on a Thursday or a Saturday. Participants meet at the West Rutland Price Chopper parking area at 7:00 a.m. except during winter months when the gathering time is 8:00 a.m. All walks are free and open to the public. Come join us!


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!