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Monday, June 10, 2013

Vermont Birding Weekend

View from Dave's Mountain Community
       The unconventional birding trio of Dave Eberly, Gary Becker and myself made the long trek to the alluring state of Vermont the first weekend of June 2013. This was a quest for the recently added species Bicknell's Thrush (split from Gray-cheeked Thrush) and other goodies the state of Vermont had to offer. We left Pennsylvania around three in the afternoon and drove well into the night arriving at Dave's mountain home at 11PM. Unfortunately the weather forecast was for rain the entire weekend and that was mostly true.
         Friday was supposed to be the worst of the days weatherwise so we did not chase the Bicknell's Thrush until Saturday. We started the day at Dave's, finding Least Flycatchers, RT Hummingbirds, American Redstarts and Blackburnian Warblers right at eye level from his balcony.
Gary watching the show from the balcony

             A quick drive around the community produced a great looking Mourning Warbler, more Blackburnians and Bobolinks.
            We then headed to a place called the West Rutland Marsh and as soon as we arrived the rains followed us. We got out of the car, walked about 100 feet and Gary got his lifer Virginia Rail. We were walking on a boardwalk and one flew up right in front of us. We spent some time looking for the bird and eventually Gary saw it walking though the reeds. At this same location we had the chance to compare the Willow and Alder Flycatcher calls, as both were singing within about 30 feet of one another. Exploring the area we also found Wood Thrush and Veery, E Kingbird, Yellow Warblers and Marsh Wrens.
Virginia Rail crossing the road
          We drove around the corner on this little side street and got out of the car. Right in front of us was another Virginia Rail and two young birds. I looked further up the street and there were four more Virginia Rails and emerging from the reeds we started counting 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 black downy young  Virginia Rails looking for mama.
Virginia Rail chicks 
           After the impressive rail showing we headed to out next stop outside of the small town of Brandon. We stopped at the covered bridge and found a lot of species including Baltimore Oriole, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Scarlet Tanager, plus Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and we watched the Cedar Waxwings hawking for insects over the creek.

Birding in the rain outside of Brandon
          As you might remember, the state of Vermont was hit very hard by Hurricane Irene. Brandon was on of those towns that got clobbered. The creek runs right through the middle of town and it washed houses right down the main roads.
There used to be a pizza shop right here. Not any more.
          Next we went to Hollow Rd, another place outside of Brandon. Here we pulled up to a clear cut for high tension wires. We walked up a trail through the scrubby growth and were lucky enough to find a gorgeous male Golden-wing Warbler. Also in the area were Indigo Bunting, Field Sparrow and Chestnut-sided Warblers.      
           Later that day we changed from birding to botany and headed to the Spirit in Nature Trail.
         This was an area of dense forest with paths that were named after different religions, like Buddhist and Hindu paths. It also included a Labyrinth where you would follow the trail to the center and offer a gift to the gods.  
Gary offers his gift to the birding gods
          Walking the trails there were many flowers in bloom but the one that I enjoyed the most was the Pink Lady Slippers.
Pink Lady Slippers in bloom

Dave falling off the beaver dam with Gary coming to rescue
Dave showing off his photography talents
          Last stop of the day was to the Green Mountain National forest to look at the Texas Waterfalls. There was a quite impressive drop of about 200 feet in a series of falls surrounded by hemlock forests. A real nice setting.
Bridge over Texas Fall showing the hemlock forest

A couple of rain soaked sightseers
          After a short nights sleep we were psyched to be going to Mt Mansfield. Mt Mansfield is the highest mountain in Vermont with a summit that peaks at 4,393 feet (1,339 m) above sea level. The summit is in Underhill and the ridgeline, including some secondary peaks, extends into the town of Stowe. When viewed from the east or west, this mountain has the appearance of a (quite elongated) human profile, with distinct forehead, nose, lips, chin, and Adam's apple. These features are most distinct when viewed from the east. Unlike most human faces, the chin is the highest point. Mount Mansfield is one of three spots in Vermont where true alpine tundra survives from the Ice Ages. 
Stunted forest at summit of Mt Mansfield - home to Bicknell's Thrush
          We could not drive up the toll road to the summit until the toll gate opened at 9AM. This caused some trepidation because we always heard stories that you have to be in Bicknell's habitat just after sunrise. But we ventured on nevertheless. We arrived at the toll gate at exactly 9AM and started the drive to the summit. At the entrance gate the visibility was about two miles but as we started climbing it deteriorated abruptly. At the summit visibility was about 200 yards when the mist from the clouds cleared but at times it was only about 100 feet and very wet with winds around 30 mph. 
          We walked around the parking area for a while but heard nothing but Blackpolls and White-throated Sparrows. So we ventured out a little farther and suddenly we heard the singing of a Bicknell's. We felt lucky at this point but that feeling dissipated after hunting  for the bird for about two hours and not getting a look at anything that even resembled a thrush. 
           Needing a little rest and a new strategy we headed back to the car. We drove down the road about a half mile and tried another location, but no luck. So we returned to the sight of the bird that we knew was on territory. After another half hour the bird came in to within fifty feet of our position and sang his little heart out. Unfortunately, trying to look through this thick forest was impossible and we missed our opportunity. Another half hour passed and we relocated to a better viewing area on the forested mountainside. With a clearer view suddenly the bird was singing within 100 feet and then all of a sudden there is was on a tree branch right in front of us about 15 feet away. The Bicknell's immediately saw this crazy trio of birders and took flight never to be seen again, but after a four hour effort we had accomplished our goal.
Bicknell's Thrush - Photo from internet 

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