Saturday, May 31, 2008
BioBlitzes happen all over the planet. They are a blend of science, celebration,education, community, and loads of fun. Normally, a BioBlitz covers a park, reserve or some other designated natural area. But the Montpelier BioBlitz will be like no other. It will be the nation’s first-ever BioBlitz of an entire state capital.
“Think of this as a First Night for nature,” says BioBlitz organizer Bryan Pfeiffer, who will be searching for birds at dawn, dragonflies by day, and fireflies at night. “It’s a unique opportunity to discover and share the biodiversity in our state capital.”
Montpelier’s North Branch Nature Center is sponsoring this BioBlitz. The Vermont Center for Ecostudies and eBird are major partners. The 24-hour clock starts ticking on Friday, July 11, at 3pm. During that weekend, Montpelier will be alive with biologists, naturalists, families, students, and other inquisitive folks with binoculars, insect nets, field guides, cameras, enthusiasm and abundant curiosity. Scientists will offer free public lectures on nature. Interested landowners will discover the natural diversity in their own backyards. Downtown merchants will join the festivities. In short, the City will be transformed into a unique, thriving nature festival.
The 24-hour survey concludes Saturday evening with a huge barbecue supper, during which participants will report on what they found and generate a tally of the number of species. BioBlitz results will be compiled and made available to city planners, landowners, scientists, and the general public. Of course, the results will be entered in eBird as well.
Anyone can participate: biologists, naturalists, students or site volunteers. Get more information and register online at www.northbranchnaturecenter.org.
Lake Champlain is the host to many summer bird cities. These nesting colonies may consist of just a few birds nesting together to over 10,000 raucous birds, ranging in size from Popasquash Island, at less than an acre, to Valcour Island at more than 1,000 acres.
There are thirteen colonial nesting waterbird species on Lake Champlain, including gulls, terns, cormorants, herons and egrets. Their populations range from the state endangered common tern to explosively expanding populations of double-crested cormorant or the Caspian tern, a newcomer first observed nesting in 2001.
Colonial waterbirds use a wide variety of nesting habitats ranging from rocky, bare islands to forests and swamps. Each species is adapted to a specific nesting niche. Common terns nest on small rocky islands with little vegetation, while herons and egrets prefer shrubs or trees for nesting.
Lake Champlain colonies are monitored and managed by a number of different organizations, including Audubon Vermont, High Peaks Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others. Ownership of the more than 25 sites supporting colonial waterbirds ranges from Green Mountain Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, state and federal government, to private property. With all of these managers, monitors and owners a cohesive, scientifically-based colonial waterbird plan for Lake Champlain has been hard to attain. There are several individual management plans, such as the controversial Lake Champlain Islands Wildlife Management Area long-range management plan that calls for oiling eggs and shooting of adult cormorants and ring-billed gulls, to the very successful Common Tern Recovery Plan.
Common Tern numbers were estimated at 300-400 pairs in the late 1960's but declined through the 1970's and 1980's. In 1987 the Common Tern Recovery Project began working to enhance tern productivity. Thanks to efforts of Mark LaBarr, a conservation biologist at Audubon Vermont who has been monitoring and managing common terns for Vermont for nearly two decades, tern numbers and breeding success have increased dramatically. Management activities include posting the islands to limit human disturbance, control of gull and cormorant populations on the nesting islands, efforts to limit predation from owls and night herons, use of decoys and calls to reintroduce terns to traditional nesting islands and education about current conservation efforts.
Humans and pets easily disturb nesting waterbirds. Flushing adults from nests during cool spring days or hot summer weather may put excessive stress on eggs and nestlings. Nests are well camouflaged and can easily be trampled. Terns protect their eggs and young from nearby marauding gulls. But if they are flushed from the colony by people or pets the eggs and young are left exposed and can be quickly depredated.
Other Bird Sightings
The return of many summer breeders combined with the passage of far northern breeders on migration stirs the competitive blood of many birders in May. Experienced birders can easily observe over 100 species of birds in a day in late May.
Shorebirds made stopovers this week on their way to the arctic. A dozen black-bellied plovers, 43 semipalmated plovers, and 4 Dunlin were seen at Charcoal Creek west of Mississquoi National Wildlife Refuge on May 20th. The first semipalmated sandpipers were reported from Grande Isle. On May 18th 300 least sandpipers were in Herrick’s Cove in Rockingham.
VCE biologists found the first Bicknell’s thrushes of the year on the summit of Pico Peak on May 19th and Stratton Mountain on May 21st amid snow and rime ice. The distinctive “quick-three-beers” song of the olive-sided flycatcher was heard at Berlin Pond on the 21st.
There were first sightings of several warblers for this spring. Bay-breasted warbler was seen in Pownal on May23rd. Cerulean warbler was observed in Middlebury May 18th. A Wilson’s warbler and a Tennessee warbler were found on May 21st in Strafford. A paddling birder reported seeing a Swainson’s warbler at close range, very rarely seen this far north, at Mississquoi NWR.
A xanthochroistic (yellow in place of red pigments) Rose-breasted Grosbeak was at a feeder in Bridgewater. Xanthochroism occurs not only in birds, but also in other organisms. It may be caused by dietary deficiencies or a genetic mutation.
You can explore all the birds reported last week in Vermont and add your own sightings at Vermont eBird .
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Despite standing about two feet tall, the American Bittern can be very difficult to see, even at close range. Its cryptic plumage, consisting of brown, tan, and white stripes, allows it to blend in remarkably with the reeds and cattails of its preferred habitats. In addition, when alarmed a bittern assumes a reed-like posture – stretching its neck and body out vertically, compressing its contour feathers, and pointing its long, straight bill skyward. To enhance this camouflage, bitterns sometimes sway back and forth as if they were blowing in the breeze. Like many herons, its eyes are set low on its head and angle downward, so they still see forward with their heads pointed straight up.
Sometimes confused with immature Black-crowned Night Herons, which are uncommon outside the Champlain Valley, American Bitterns are a lighter, warmer shade of brown, and have a distinct black stripe starting just below the eye and extending down the side of the neck. American Bitterns typically arrive in Vermont in late-March or early-April, and unlike most other herons are solitary nesters.
Typical breeding habitats for American Bitterns include cattail marshes, wet meadows, bogs, shrub wetlands, and occasionally hayfields. In Maine, bitterns used wetlands of all sizes, but were most abundant in larger wetlands, and preferred impounded and beaver-created wetlands to those of glacial origin. Another study found that American Bitterns nested only in wetlands greater than 24 acres in size, indicating they are an area-sensitive species. However, smaller wetlands adjacent to hayfields may be suitable.
Although American Bitterns nest singly, males can be polygamous, with several females nesting within a single territory. Nests are placed on an elevated platform constructed of emergent vegetation such as cattails, sedges, and grasses. The 3 to 5 plain, unmarked, buffy-brown to olive-brown eggs are incubated by the female alone. Brood rearing and feeding is apparently also the female’s responsibility, and chicks are given partially digested, regurgitated food ranging from insects, to fish, to amphibians, snakes, and small mammals.
Several sightings of American Bitterns were reported recently, including observations in Killington, Strafford, and at the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area (DCWMA) in Addision. Other notable sightings this week include a Sandhill Crane and immature Black-crowned Night Heron in Norwich, a Little Gull in Grand Isle, an Orchard Oriole at the Farrell Access area DCWMA, and Whippoorwills singing in Goshen and Brandon.
You can explore all the birds reported last week in Vermont and add your own sightings at VT eBird.--Steve Faccio
Thursday, May 22, 2008
VCE began the 16th season of montane songbird research yesterday with an expedition up Stratton Mountain to begin to mist net and band birds on their long term research plots. Despite some tough weather conditions early in the evening, VCE biologists were able to capture two Bicknell's Thrushes. One of these thrushes was first captured as a yearling in 2004 while the other was a captured last year as a yearling. Both were males and immediately came into the mist nets in response to recorded songs.
This morning the weather proved to be too poor for field work. With temperatures hovering around 28 F, rime ice, snow and wind - even VCE biologists chose to only watch the weather out the windows of the Stratton Mountain ski patrol building, which is the VCE field quarters for the summer.
Check back often and we'll keep you posted on our field work each week!
Listen to this short interview...
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
-Chris, Kent, Steve, and Julie
Sunday, May 18, 2008
14 May 2008 – The latest report from Bird Studies Canada’s High Elevation Landbird Program (HELP) is now available on the website. Results from six years of monitoring indicate that the Bicknell’s Thrush is declining at a rate of 19% per year in both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The Bicknell’s Thrush, which is listed as a Species of Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, is likely one of North America’s rarest landbird, with fewer than 50,000 individuals worldwide. It is restricted to high elevation and coastal habitats from the Gaspé Peninsula and Cape Breton Island to the Catskill Mountains of New York. Reasons for the decline are unknown, but high elevation habitat is threatened by climate change (predicted future changes in July temperature suggest the loss of more than 50% of Bicknell’s Thrush habitat over the next 30 years, and more than 90% over the next century), acid rain, mercury deposition, forestry operations (especially pre-commercial thinning), and habitat loss and degradation on the species’ Hispaniola wintering grounds.
The International Bicknell’s Thrush Conservation Group is working on an international Conservation Action Plan for this species. In Atlantic Canada, BSC has drafted a document entitled “Bicknell’s Thrush Best Conservation and Stewardship Practices for Nova Scotia,” which is currently being reviewed by partners and stakeholders. The final Best Practices document for Nova Scotia will be posted on BSC’s website in the next few months. To volunteer for the High Elevation Landbird Program and experience the thrill of hearing one of North America’s most elusive songbirds in the highlands of New Brunswick or Nova Scotia this June, please contact Becky Whittam at bwhittam AT birdscanada.org or 506-364-5047. To volunteer for VCE's sister program in the U.S., Mountain Birdwatch, contact Julie Hart at jhart AT vtecostudies.org.
Known for its nomadic tendencies, Glossy Ibis have been reliably reported in Vermont a dozen or more times since the early 1980s, almost always in spring, as migrants likely “overshoot” their breeding destinations. Recently, a few individuals nested on the Four Brothers Islands in Lake Champlain. Like most wading birds, Glossy Ibis are gregarious and nest in colonies, usually with other heron species. Atlantic coast populations have undergone a dramatic range expansion in recent decades, rapidly colonizing New England in the early 1970s and even pushing into New Brunswick in 1986. However, numbers have since diminished in some of the northernmost colonies.
Glossy Ibis, like other members of their family, are tactile feeders, probing with their long, decurved bill into the substrate of shallow water or mud to locate their primary invertebrate prey—insects, mollusks, crustaceans, and worms. In some seasons, plants, such as cultivated rice or sorghum, may be important in their diet. Birders should keep an eye out for this distinctive, surprise visitor anywhere in Vermont!
With the spring migration in full swing, there is no better time for Vermont birders than mid-May. Landbirds, sporting their many hues and diverse vocalizations, are stealing the show. During the past week, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds returned to many locations across the state. The look-alike group of Empidonax flycatchers—Least, Alder, and Willow—were all reported, as were Great-cresteds, with their distinctive ‘wheeping’ calls. The warbler parade is nearing its peak, and the following species all made first appearances—Golden-winged, Tennessee, Chestnut-sided, Cape May, Prairie, American Redstart, and Canada. Very rare in spring was an Orange-crowned warbler reported in South Coventry on May 10. Scarlet Tanagers provided a splash of brilliant color against the emerging green foliage, with the first of numerous statewide reports from Sunderland on May 7th.
Among sparrows, the early waves of White-throateds and Dark-eyed Juncos have largely moved through Vermont, or settled on their breeding territories. Smaller numbers of wWhite-crowned Sparrows now frequent many feeding stations, and the season’s first Lincoln’s Sparrows were reported from Essex and South Starksboro on the 6th. A single GrasshopperSparrow, a Threatened species in Vermont, was observed in Moretown on the 9th. Baltimore Orioles returned en masse and are singing their rich, whistled songs from treetops all over the state. Two male and one female Orchard Oriole were observed at the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area Farrell Access, a reliable spot for this rare Vermont nesting species, which primarily breeds in the southeastern U.S.
Among water-based birds reported during the past week were several Great Egrets (an increasing species in Vermont), single Caspian Terns on Grand Isle and at Delta Park in Colchester, and the following shorebirds: Semipalmated Plover, Solitary Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, and as many as 100 Least Sandpipers at Dead Creek.
You can explore all the birds reported last week in Vermont and add your own sightings at Vermont eBird.
Friday, May 09, 2008
I heard my first-of-the-year Ovenbird Monday evening, giving me a real sense that summer is just around the corner. Their songs fill
But Ovenbirds are tricky songsters and what you hear may not be reality. Ovenbirds are famous for counter-singing. Counter-singing occurs when one male sings back to a neighboring male, usually for territory defense. Ovenbirds take it to the next level with the second male starting to sing with no perceptible break in between. From a distance, it may sound like only one individual is singing when in fact there are two!
Ovenbirds are so-named for the covered nest they build that resembles a Dutch oven. While many birders would love to find one of these construction marvels, they are extremely well camouflaged amongst the leaf litter. The parents are usually sneaky around the nest as well, landing and taking off some distance from the nest and walking along the ground to the entrance. In fact, Ovenbirds spend most of their time on the ground, whether it’s tending the nest or gleaning insects from the forest floor.
Ovenbirds require large contiguous patches of forest for high reproductive success. A study on Ovenbirds in the
Be on the lookout for these vocal neighbors the next time you are outdoors. Ovenbirds are small warblers with bold streaked spots on a white breast, an olive-brown back, white eye ring, and a bright orange crown bordered by black stripes. Superficially, they look like a thrush, but are distinguished by their smaller size and orange-and-black striped crown, and of course, their unmistakable loud song, “Teacher, teacher, teacher….”
It’s possibly the most exciting time of year to be a birdwatcher in
Other recent migrants that should start appearing in greater numbers include Ruby-throated Hummingbirds,
You can explore all the birds reported last week in
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Friday, May 02, 2008
Set your binoculars on this bird, and its brilliant, deep blue plumage may momentarily transport you to the tropics, where such stunning colors are the norm. Yet the indigo bunting is a common breeding songbird in temperate habitats of eastern North America, including Vermont.
The male’s bright blue plumage deepens to a purplish blue near its head. In the right light, it will knock your socks off. The female is brownish with tinges of blue on the shoulders, rump and tail. Yearling male plumage usually falls somewhere in between.
As if their attire is not enough to impress, male indigo buntings sing their heart out to defend territories and attract females. While most songbirds are quieting down as nesting gets underway, the male will continue to blurt out its series of two-note phrases long into summer. Songs of neighbors are similar or nearly identical to each other, whereas males with territories a few hundred meters apart usually have noticeably different songs.
Indigo buntings nest in shrubby, relatively open areas and in young deciduous forests. Power line right-of-ways, idle fields, roadsides, and forest-field edges are likely places to find the species breeding.
Guided by the stars, indigos trek to their wintering grounds in Florida, the Caribbean, and throughout Central America to feed in flocks. Interestingly, populations maintain their east-west relationship when they head south; individuals that breed in the eastern part of the breeding range winter further east than western populations.
Indigo buntings have recently joined the mounting chorus of returning migrants in Vermont; one was spotted two weeks earlier than usual at a feeder in Brattleboro. Many species are still migrating north, but some are already getting down to business. A pair of eastern meadowlarks was seen carrying nest material in Ferrisburgh, and a Cooper’s hawk was sitting on its nest in Rutland. Savannah sparrows have just arrived and are singing on territories at Shelburne Farms.
Yellow-rumped warblers are one of our most abundant migrants, and can be found just about everywhere in Vermont right now. Other recent songbird sightings include smatterings of hermit thrush, blue-gray gnatcatcher, eastern towhee, brown thrasher, purple martin, ruby-crowned kinglet, red-eyed vireo, marsh wren, winter wren, house wren, white-throated sparrow, and purple finch. Warbler arrivals include black-throated green, palm, yellow, black-and-white, Nashville, and Louisiana waterthrush. Also reported were a least flycatcher and a rose-breasted grosbeak. Another blue beauty, the eastern bluebird, was spotted at Otter Creek.
Waterfowl are still dotting Vermont’s marshes and open waters, and birders reported 130 ring-necked ducks at Otter Creek. Waders are popping up as well: great egrets were spotted in several locations throughout the state. A sora was reported from West Rutland Marsh, and Virginia rails have appeared at East Creek and Rutland Marsh.- Rosalind Renfrew