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. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Boreal Birds - NEK VT Moose Bog & Victory Basin

Birders talk about going to the Northeast Kingdom and getting a boreal trifecta (seeing three species of boreal birds in one day) or a boreal Grand Slam (four boreal species). On Thursday, with the help of NEK birding expert Tom Berriman, we had a BOREAL BONANZA!

We watched a Spruce Grouse preening, only a few yards from us, apparently oblivious to our presence.

We enjoyed Black-backed Woodpeckers - plural.

We had brought with us peanuts and sunflower seeds, and Gray Jays rewarded us by flocking around us and eating from our hands.

We saw White-winged Crossbills, first quick flyovers at Moose Bog and then in the road and on a tree at Victory Basin.

We saw a sad sight along River Road in Victory: a male and female crossbill dead in the road, obviously having been hit by a car.  

Tom said the birds often come down to dirt roads and pick up small pieces of gravel with their tongues. Because the species evolved in tundra areas further north, with few roads, few people and very few vehicles, they don’t seem to notice oncoming cars as potentially dangerous.

We never got a good look at a Boreal Chickadee, though we heard them in several locations. We were just too entranced by the other birds that seemed so comfortable with us, birds that went on with their daily lives and granted us the privilege of watching. 

The three of us practiced slow birding, moving carefully and quietly, stopping in one place and letting nature get used to our presence.
First, we spent five hours at Moose Bog. (Tom: Five hours. Three-quarters of a mile. Bernie: Walk less. Bird more.) Then we drove to Victory where we spent another two-plus hours.  

Vermont’s only boreal habitat is found in the NEK. The area is characterized by spruce/fir forests, bogs and wetlands, sphagnum moss, moose and wildness. 

The NEK's boreal habitat provides breeding territory for several species that are more common further north, in Canada. 
We found the area full of a unique beauty: the bare snags, the hundreds of spider webs, the dark and mossy forest.

(There's a bird in the above photo - one that Bernie didn't notice when he was taking the picture! We think we're watching them. But they're watching us!)

Insect-eating pitcher plants are common at Moose Bog.

Our day started with a spectacular sunrise along Newark Road, near where we’d stayed. 

The rest of the day lived up to its promise!

 One of the joys of birding is viewing bird behavior!

Magnolia Warbler in fall plumage

Thanks so much to Tom, whose expertise, enthusiasm, good eye and amazing ear for bird calls gave us a day we won't forget!

For your reference:
Wenlock Wildlife Management Area and Moose Bog

Birding Vermont's Moose Bog, by Bryan Pfeiffer

Vermont Birds and Words