Sunday, August 18, 2019

American White Pelican on Lake Champlain!

 photo by Clem Nilan

We're doing a mini-posting about a maxi bird, a bird with a nine foot wingspan and a huge yellow bill as long as some people's arms. 

photo by Clem Nilan

The bird was too far away for us to get good photos, but fellow birder Clem Nilan kayaked out and got some truly awesome shots!

We drove to Campbell Bay in Swanton hoping to get a glimpse of an American White Pelican that's been seen in several locations around the northern end of Lake Champlain. White Pelicans breed in Canada's prairie provinces and in some isolated spots in the western U.S. They winter in the Gulf states, Mexico and southern California. When one of them shows up in Vermont, birders from around the state travel long distances to get a look!

The big bird was close to a mile away, sharing a fallen log with gulls and cormorants. We first saw just a big round blob, much bigger than the Great Black-backed Gull next to it. If we hadn't heard that there'd been a pelican at this location, we might have thought it was a buoy or maybe an errant swan from Swan-ton. But it was a gorgeous day to be next to the lake, with sun and gentle breezes and snippets of conversation floating to us from people camping nearby. So we stayed put, chatting with some campers, watching Caspian Terns and Belted Kingfishers diving for fish, and checking on the white blob every few minutes.

Finally, after almost an hour, our patience was  rewarded! The "blob" awoke, straightened, and turned toward us, showing a gigantic yellow bill. The pelican!!

Several other birders must have had some sort of special birder radar and started pulling into the parking lot at exactly the right moment. We all watched in awe as the pelican preened a bit and, one time, spread its huge wings for us.

After ogling the rare bird for many more minutes, a group of us went to a nearby marshy area and enjoyed a small flock of Semipalmated Sandpipers. Bernie has a special affinity for shorebirds and got some great portraits of these pretty little birds.

Other birders added such camaraderie, stories and laughter to the day! 

Pat, Matt, Donny, Maeve, Martha

More of Bernie's shorebird pictures:

We'd never realized that the bills of Semipalmated Sandpipers are triangular at the end,

until we studied these photos!

PS about the pelican
The American White Pelican on Lake Champlain is a vagrant: a solitary bird that shows up hundreds or even thousands of miles from the usual nesting area, wintering area or migration route for its species. Vagrants are exciting because they give birders rare opportunities to see species they don't see very often - but vagrants also make many birders a little sad because the lone birds are so far out of their normal range that they almost never reconnect with any others of their species. Maeve's second novel is about a vagrant, a little bird that shows up in Vermont and changes the lives of the birders who see it. Ivy's Optics can be found on Amazon and at There may also be copies left at the local Phoenix Bookstores in Burlington and Essex. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Bicknell's Thrush and Bit O' Balsam IPA

I am pleased to report that I was the winner (citizen science survey prize) of three 22 oz. bottles of Lawson's Finest Liquids Bit O' Balsam IPA brewed in honor and support of VCE's Bicknell's Thrush Conservation work.

Sean Lawson and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies joined forces at Lawson's original Warren, VT. brewery to collaborate on the Bit O' Balsam IPA according to the Lawson's Finest Liquids website. Proceeds from the sale will benefit Vermont Center for Ecostudies and their efforts to conserve the Bicknell's Thrush. 

How cool is that? I won a locally brewed, very special limited-edition / quantity beer, and even met the man (Mike Sargent) who collected some of the ingredients - balsam tips from high up the Green Mountains. 

And there is more. I received the prize beer at The Taproom in Waitsfield (an incredible site both inside and out, and the surrounding boardwalk as well) and met several of the VCE staff. It was an honor to meet these dedicated and talented folks including, Susan Hindinger, Karen Bourque, Sarah Carline, Nathaniel Sharp, Mike Sargent, and Chris Rimmer (second from left on second photo).

All this while listening to Chad Hollister strum guitar and sing to the large audience both outdoors and inside.

Now it is time to savor the taste of the Green Mountains, relish the Bit O' Balsam IPA and the work the VCE staff and volunteer Citizen Scientists do throughout the year. Then get back to observing nature!

View my recent citizen science posting @ School is out, Science is IN! Jericho Citizen Science.

Seeking to live a life of greater simplicity closer to nature.
Bernie Paquette

Sunday, July 21, 2019

I THINK I CAN, I THINK I CAN - Young Green Heron at LaPlatte

Adolescence is HARD! There are so many life skills to learn. If you're a young bird, you'd better learn them fast, or you'll starve!

I'm getting mighty hungry. 

No prob.
I know what to do!
I watched Mom and Dad fishing lots of times.
The yummy little fishies are down there, in the water.

First you find a nice stick to stand on.

Then you flatten yourself out and creep along the stick, real sneaky-like.

Ah, this is good. That funny-looking leaf will disguise me. 
YES! A tasty little fish! 

Hmmm. Farther away than I thought. 
No problem. Just lean forward a bit more!

And a little more.

Was anyone watching?!? 
No one to the left ...

 No one to the right...
Whew! That could have been embarrassing!

This time I'll hold on even tighter.

When we walked the trail at the LaPlatte River Marsh Nature Area, we were riveted by the sight of a young Green Heron figuring out how to catch a fish. 

The poor youngster started out on a limb a full yard  above the water - and fell in twice. Then it tried hopping to another branch, overcorrected, and almost fell in again. 

Finally, the bird went to a much lower branch and successfully caught two fish in a few minutes. 
It's a steep learning curve when your very life depends on it!

We heard a train, an airplane, and distant cars and lawnmowers - but there's still a sense of remoteness as this trail winds through woods, along the river and beside an extensive wetland. 

In addition to the Green Heron, we saw Great Blue Herons and a Black-crowned Night-Heron along with nesting Eastern Kingbirds and fishing Belted Kingfishers. Other birds included  Song Sparrows, a Wood Duck, phoebes, Common Yellowthroats, Eastern Wood-Pewee and Great Crested Flycatcher.

Ospreys are raising young on the platform near the entrance to the trail. 

The feisty youngster did its best to look and sound dangerous. 

Another critter with a raptor name caught our attention: a Common Pondhawk.

There were also delicate blue dragonflies.

Every time we walk in an area like this, we're grateful for organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and all of the state's various land trusts for conserving such beauty!

More photos from this peaceful ramble: