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west rutland marsh -september monitoring results

Eleven birders, invigorated by the cool morning temperature, set out for the 134th consecutive RCAS monthly monitoring walk around West Rutland Marsh this morning. The species count was 38, right on target for our September average, but four short of this time last time.

a dense fog hangs over West Rutland MarshFor the first half of the trip, a dense fog obscured all but the near view. Oddly, however, this allowed for great views of three birds. First, a Belted Kingfisher was perched on a small tree, framed by fog, but close enough for detailed observation.

Shortly after that we came across a Cooper’s Hawk, which we determined to be an immature by its streaked breast and yellow eye. It sat patiently for several minutes giving all a good look. It was still perched, undisturbed by our movement, as we walked on.

The highlight for the morning was a Swainson’s Thrush, a life bird for several in the group. It, too, sat still for several minutes, allowing us to observe the field marks that distinguish it from other thrushes. And, after remarking at the start of the walk that we have not added any new birds in over a year, this was the first appearance of a Swainson’s Thrush on a marsh walk. Our species list now stands at 145. 

Warblers were scarce with three Common Yellowthroats and one Nashville Warbler. The only vireo observed was a Blue-headed, still singing. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird was seen speeding across a field. The day’s total would have been 39 if a cuckoo seen in flight could have been determined to be Yellow-billed or Black-billed.

It must have been a good year for Gray Catbirds – 17 were recorded. Red-winged Blackbird numbers also were high (399), but nowhere near as high as last year’s count of 2,447.

By mid-morning the fog had cleared to reveal a perfect Vermont day and a handsome male Northern Harrier coursing over the marsh.

September 20, 2012 list:

Canada Goose  2

Mallard  12

Wild Turkey  26

Great Blue Heron  2

Northern Harrier  1

Cooper's Hawk  1

Broad-winged Hawk  1

Red-tailed Hawk  1

Mourning Dove  20

Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1

Belted Kingfisher  2

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  3

Downy Woodpecker  6

Northern Flicker  5

Pileated Woodpecker  1

Eastern Phoebe  6

Blue-headed Vireo  1

Blue Jay  38

American Crow  11

Common Raven  3

Black-capped Chickadee  16

Golden-crowned Kinglet  1

Swainson's Thrush  1

American Robin  2

Gray Catbird  17

European Starling  16

Cedar Waxwing  11

Nashville Warbler  1

Common Yellowthroat  3

Savannah Sparrow  1

Song Sparrow  11

Swamp Sparrow  15

White-throated Sparrow  6

Northern Cardinal  3

Rose-breasted Grosbeak  1

Red-winged Blackbird  399

House Finch  7

American Goldfinch  15


thank you Green Up volunteers!

A big thank you to the thirteen(!) RCAS members who volunteered their Saturday morning to clean up West Rutland Marsh during this year’s Green Up Day! With all your hard work the marsh is sparkling again and ready for the spring migrants that are pouring into the marsh and beyond.

Joining with other community members, we picked up everything from computer parts to tires to things too disgusting too name. Meanwhile West Rutland highway department employees worked hard patrolling the roads picking up the trash with their front-end loaders and trucks.

Always with our ears to the birds, we managed to compile a list of 33 species, many of them first of year birds for us. The che-bek of the Least Flycatcher was heard across from the boardwalk. The beautiful Baltimore Orioles are back at several of their usual spots along Marble Street. A Veery was heard along Whipple Hollow Road, where volunteers were also serenaded by a Winter Wren. Great Blue Heron, Osprey and Belted Kingfishers flew over. 

Each year we shake our heads in wonder that such thoughtless dumping occurs. By mid-day we are glad we made the effort again and can enjoy the marsh and its amazing birds in this best season of the year.


time to visit the marsh

The final days of April are here and the floodgates of migration are wide open. In the past two weeks several species have returned to Rutland County. And plenty more are on the way! Saturday’s trip RCAS trip to West Rutland Marsh is a good example of why it’s a great time to get out there and go birding.

Despite unfavorable weather predictions, 27 participants joined RCAS for the April 21 monthly monitoring walk around the marsh. Fifty species were tallied, well above our April average of 41 species. The marsh birds are back – American Bittern, Virginia Rail, Marsh Wren and Swamp Sparrow. All we need is now is Least Bittern and Sora to complete the picture.

Highlights of the walk included a large number of American Bitterns (5), seen in flight and heard “pumping.” Unusually high numbers of Wilson’s Snipe (7) were observed as well. Besides Marsh Wren, both Carolina and Winter wrens were heard. A female Northern Harrier was flying gracefully over the marsh.

Warblers are putting in their first appearance of the year. Both Northern Waterthrush and Yellow-rumped Warbler were heard along Whipple Hollow Road. And the group had a good look at a bird that would have been a fitting subject for Ansel Adams - the Black-and-white Warbler.

In keeping with this week’s reports from around the state, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Brown Thrasher and Chipping Sparrow were all seen and/or heard. Click here for a full list of what was seen during the walk.

West Rutland Marsh, as always, needs our help. May 5 (Saturday) will be your chance to pitch in. RCAS spends each Vermont Green Up Day picking up the trash that has accumulated over the winter. Meet us at the West Rutland Town Hall at 9 a.m. to join in the effort. Trash bags are provided and work gloves suggested. If you need any encouragement, Least Bittern was heard during last year’s clean up.

May and June tie for the best months at West Rutland. Plan to join us on May 17 (Thursday) or June 23 (Saturday) for our monthly monitoring walk around the marsh. Meet at the West Rutland Price Chopper at 7 a.m.


a decade of bird monitoring

On August 16, 2001, fifteen members and friends of Rutland County Audubon sallied forth with the simple goal of recording, on a monthly basis, all the birds seen and heard on the 3.7 mile walk around West Rutland Marsh. The tally for that day was forty-five species! On July 21, 2011, ten years later, and having never missed a single month, nine well seasoned and, still enthusiastic, birders recorded 48 bird species. The log of species in the intervening years has now risen to 143 and the total number of participants to a staggering 1,395! Unforeseen only ten years ago was the introduction of eBird, now the ever expanding repository of not only these local marsh monitoring records, but of bird sightings across North America and now, in fact, to the world beyond.

What accounts for this quite remarkable number of bird species within the confinement of this relatively small area is the diversity of habitats. These include an extensive cattail marsh, a shrub swamp, some red maple-black ash hardwoods, stands of northern white cedar and white pine, in addition to open meadows and some, but limited, scattering of homes and formal gardens. If you have never done so, consider taking the time to visit the ten stations of the Bridge-to-Bridge Interpretive Trail to learn more about these habitats.

a Virginia Rail escorts its young across Marble St.Very few of the bird species encountered rise to the level of requiring Rare Species Documentation. Nevertheless, some of the totals recorded in a single monitoring walk are quite impressive. These record highs include American Bittern (5), Least Bittern (3), Alder Flycatcher (10), Willow Flycatcher (11), Least Flycatcher (10), Eastern Kingbird (29), Warbling Vireo (11), Marsh Wren (19), Eastern Bluebird (28), Veery (16), Common Yellowthroat (24), and Rusty Blackbird (18).

The occurrence, sustainability and diversity of these bird populations are directly tied to the health and preservation of the habitat upon which they depend. The encouraging news is that both Rutland County Audubon and the Town of West Rutland through their elected representatives are united in the goal of preserving this wetland ecosystem and the lands surrounding it.


time to visit the marsh!

The trees are leafing out, the marsh marigolds are blooming, and the West Rutland Marsh is sparkling after volunteers descended upon the area on May 7 as part of Vermont’s annual Green Up Day. Seven RCAS members joined town residents and other volunteers in the cleanup. Thanks to Dave McDevitt of the Nature Conservancy, our task was made easier by a team of ten AmericCorps of members, who used their day off to help with the huge task. 

Mounds of tires, mattresses, computers and televisions, bags of household trash, and the usual roadside trash of fast food wrappers and beer cans were pulled from the roadsides and ditches around the marsh. Despite the mess, the birds were singing brightly, and while they may not appreciate the efforts, visiting birders in the coming weeks will. 

If you haven’t visited West Rutland Marsh lately, now is the time!  Most of the migrants are back including American and Least bitterns, Virginia Rail, Sora, and Marsh Wren. We await the arrival of the flycatchers, Willow and Alder, and maybe some surprises.