Sunday, December 3, 2017

Plum Island - Great Any Time of the Year!

We love birding in Vermont, but we also enjoy birding in other areas. Plum Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, is a mecca for birds and birders alike - and it's only about four hours away. 

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge takes up most of the island, with seashore, estuary, rivers, dunes, walking trails, boardwalks, and the largest unbroken salt marsh in New England.

In May, the shrubs and trees of the Refuge are full of newly-returned migrants. 

Catbirds sing from every third bush.

Birders and nature photographers haunt the woods in search of the 36 species of warblers that have been seen on the island.

Eastern Towhees are everywhere, usually rustling around in the underbrush but occasionally coming out for a photo op.

Shorebirds use the island as a stop-over during spring migration and again from late August through mid-December. 

(From top to bottom: Sanderlings, Willet, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet in flight)

In spring and summer, the marshes are full of herons and egrets, like this Snowy Egret showing off his "golden slippers". 

The National Wildlife Refuge system was designed to provide feeding areas for waterfowl - and ducks love the salt marshes of Parker River Refuge! Winter brings thousands of American Black Ducks.

There are also Gadwalls and Northern Pintails (pictured below) as well as many others.  

Short-eared Owls are a special winter treat on the island. These tawny beauties can be seen cruising over dunes and grassy areas from about 3PM until sunset and again in the early morning.  

At any time of year, Plum Island features great natural beauty. 

Plum Island is famous for astonishing sunrises and sunsets.

Last May, we spent five days on Plum Island and were joined by other Vermont birders for two guided walks. 

It was unseasonably cold - and VERY windy - but the birding and the camaraderie were great!

We'll be heading back to the island in May 2018. Check in with us in January for specific dates! 

Plum Island, Massachusetts - Birds,
Beauty, More Birds ... and Relaxation!!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Birding on Lake Champlain

A perfect day for lake birding aboard UVM's research vessel, Melosira! We're in the middle of fall migration, and we're all hoping to see birds that use Lake Champlain as a corridor when they head south for the winter.

Once we got out onto the lake, Allan Strong was in charge of "chumming": tossing small fish in the wake of the boat to attract gulls in the hope that their excited milling around might attract flying fish thieves (aka jaegers).

Jaegers breed on tundra, north of the Arctic Circle. They get a lot of their food by dive-bombing and harassing gulls into dropping freshly-caught fish.

The birders on board were an enthusiastic and jolly bunch so the trip started with laughter and conversation.


Cat and Clem




But there was also a lot of intense scanning - of the water, the sky and the surrounding land.






Ian and Mark




We saw several species in large numbers: pigeons inside the Burlington breakwater, Double-crested Cormorants, and gulls (Ring-billed, Herring and Great Black-backed). 

photo by Julie Filiberti

photo by Julie Filiberti

Other species appeared one at a time: a Black-crowned Night-Heron, a Great Blue Heron, a Belted Kingfisher, a Common Loon.

Finally - a jaeger!!! 

But which kind? The size suggested Long-tailed, the smallest of the three jaegers - but that's also the species that usually migrates way out to sea and is the least likely to be seen inland. 

Books were consulted. Specific field marks were discussed at length. 

Photos were compared.

Kent and Mick

The conclusion? The bird was definitely a juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger (that hasn't yet grown the characteristic very long middle tail feathers).

photo by Julie Filiberti

photo by Julie Filiberti

Later, we lucked out and saw a second jaeger, this one probably a Pomerine. The identification won't be definite until several photos are studied. 

Boat birding is very different from many other kinds. You can talk and laugh and hoot and cheer, with no fear of scaring away the birds. There are often long periods when absolutely nothing happens - time to enjoy the sun sparkles on the water, the wind in your face, and the friendly chatter all around you - and then there will be a brief explosion of excitement.

Jan, Julie, Roger, Cat



A great postscript to the day, from Liz Lackey: Big thanks to Allan for organizing and orchestrating; to all for helping with the ids; and to Captain Steve for putting the Melosira through her paces without tossing us overboard.

A second PS, added three days after the outing: The mystery bird was identified from photos as a Parasitic Jaeger.

The whole group (minus Captain Steve and crew mate Brad). 

The whole group with Bernie taking the photo and Brad joining us.