Sunday, July 1, 2018

LaPlatte River Marsh Natural Area

There's an old joke about a disheveled man who staggers into a bar, slumps onto a stool, and tells the barkeep to bring him a double whiskey and leave the bottle. The bartender, being an excellent bartender, asks the man what's the matter. "Oh," the poor guy says, "I used to be a birdwatcher. I used to spend hours in nature. I was relaxed. I was happy." "So what happened?" asks the bartender. BIG SIGH. "I became a guide."

There are definitely times in the life of anyone who leads birding field trips when worrying about logistics distracts us from birding. Will there be clean port-o-lets? Will everyone be able to get up and down the steps of the van? Will there be hordes of deer flies? What about poison ivy? And ticks?? 

And - worst of all - WILL THE BIRDS SHOW UP???

Thank goodness for the field trips in which everything works!!!

Black-crowned Night Heron - photo by Barbara Mines

Saturday's OLLI trip to the LaPlatte River Marsh Natural Area in Shelburne was one of those times. 

In two earlier classroom sessions, we looked at birds of Vermont's streams, lakes, rivers and marshes, and then we looked at warblers. We decided we had a better chance to get good looks at the big birds, so we headed for Shelburne Bay and the mouth of the LaPlatte River. And the big birds rewarded us! Every bird we hoped to see showed up, got close, and stayed close! 

Black-crowned Night Heron - photo by Skip Fanus

Great Egret - photo by Skip Fanus

Great Egret - photo by Barbara Mines

photo by Skip Fanus

When my daughter (then eight or nine years old) first saw a tern, she said "It's all points!!" This flying Caspian Tern illustrates what she meant. 

photo by Barbara Mines

photo by Skip Fanus

One Osprey slowly enjoyed a fish for breakfast while another (his or her mate?) coyly hid behind foliage.

Osprey - photo by Barbara Mines

photo by Skip

As a bonus, even some warblers showed up, got close and stayed close! Two little beauties uncharacteristically perched on overhead wires. 

Yellow Warbler (above) and Common Yellowthroat - photos by Barbara Mines

The Common Yellowthroat appeared to be doing some sort of AM exercise routine, hopping up and down in place. 

There were also many other delights, including this devoted Eastern Kingbird mama sitting on a nest a few yards from us, on a dead branch overhanging the river. Her mate alternated between standing guard and catching insects nearby.

photo by Barbara

photo by Sklp

Many other species were also involved in the great task of reproduction. A Hairy Woodpecker fed its begging chick. Cedar Waxwings gathered nesting materials. Song Sparrows and American Robins scolded us for getting too close. Canada Geese sailed by in flotillas with many fluffy youngsters. 

The people were as wonderful as the birds: Barbara, Inge, Liz, Lizabeth, Marianne, Muffy, Skip, Tricia. 

Special thanks to Barbara and Skip for so many wonderful photos!

photo by Barbara

photo by Skip

photo by Barbara

photo by Skip

Let's end with one more look at the brooding kingbird - with hopes that her babies fledge successfully!

photo by Skip

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Plum Island Birds, Beach and Nature - Part 2

The expedition of Vermonters to Plum Island MA continues to be exciting more than a week after we all got back home! Here are more beautiful and evocative photos, taken by Sheri Larsen and Peter Swaine.

First, some of Peter's portraits of Plum Island birds and beauty.

Warblers are notoriously hard to find, hard to see, and hard to photograph. They're often very high in the trees and they NEVER stop moving. Peter got some gorgeous warbler pictures.

Blackburnian Warbler, the only North American warbler with a flame orange throat

Magnolia Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

American Redstart female

Northern Parula

Shorebirds were another exciting group of species, like these Black-bellied Plovers.

Dowitchers are chubby shorebirds with a unique feeding style, moving their bills up and down rapidly like sewing machine needles. We saw a large group, unfortunately far away.

American Woodcock

American Pipit

Now some of Sheri's photos.

Snowy Egret showing off its "golden slippers"

Bobolinks - male above, female below

Gray Catbird

The next two photos are exciting! Piping Plovers are on the endangered species list, and Sheri got proof that these little birds are busily increasing their numbers.

This Eastern Mockingbird appeared to have an injured wing. It could fly, but it didn't look happy with the overall situation!

Black-bellied Plover

The next two birds are either the same species (both Common Nighthawks) or the second one is a Whip-poor-will. The birds are both members of the goatsucker family, a group that hunts moths and other bugs at night and roosts during the day. People used to think they used their wide mouths to suck milk from domestic animals. 

These birds usually go undiscovered because of their camouflaged plumage.  It's rare to find one goatsucker, much less two! 

Finally, Sheri's "Beach Scene", a favorite of both Bernie and Maeve. The peaceful beauty of this photo makes us both eager to return to Plum Island!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Plum Island Birds, Beach and Nature

Sometimes birding is all about the birds. 

Sometimes it's being alone. 

Sometimes it's connecting with nature. 

And sometimes it's also about the people.

Bernie, Maeve, Jeff, Scott, Mary Ann, Michele, Premila, Sheri, Rich, Sharon (Cara took this picture.)

Cara, Maeve, Jeff, Mary Ann, Scott, Michele, Premila, Sharon, Sheri, Rich


Our recent experience on Plum Island had many things in common 
with other spring walks 
with fellow birders: 
elusive warblers, flitting nonstop,
way up high, 
difficult to get close to, to know,
our necks craning and creaking and straining
Eye ring or not?? Hard to tell at 35 feet away!

But there were also diving terns

and dabbling ducks

and shorebirds: SPSP, PP, SPP, BBP, AGP, and even more!

Semipalmated Sandpiper and Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated or White-rumped Sandpiper - ? - One of the little mysteries that makes birding so much fun!

Black-bellied Plover and American Golden Plover

Piping Plovers were courting, mating and nesting! These federally endangered little birds are protected at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (which takes up most of Plum Island) and at Sandy Point Reservation (the southern tip of the island).

All great birds,
rewarding to see (even if only for a millisecond!)

But the Birders!
So much more time to see them,
watch them,
enjoy them,
get to know them!

How the birds must relish watching us -
our different plumages,
our movements,

all those extra glassy "eyes",

and the weird noises birders make! Do they keep the flock together?

          Judy and Peter



When a Fish and Wildlife official drove up and down the beach asking for fishing licenses, a local fisherman pointed to us and asked, "You gettin' their licenses too?" So here's Jeff showing our birding licenses!

Actually, he was showing the remains of a skate, a relative of a manta ray with a long spiny tail. 

We also found a few "mermaid's purses", skate egg capsules. 

getting our feet wet in the cold, cold ocean

Birders often use both words and body language to describe what they've seen! 

      Birding is a special kind of meditation.

And now let's zoom in on the birds!!!

Willets provided the background music for the whole trip. We even got to watch willets making more willets!

Eastern Kingbirds were another most-frequent sighting.

Parker River Refuge has one of the biggest Purple Martin colonies in New England. 

This industrious bird kept bringing nesting sticks that were too big!


Great Egret in breeding plumage, with chartreuse around his eye and those amazing plumes!

Baltimore Oriole

and his nest!

Male Gadwall 

Green-winged Teal drake

Least Sandpiper

Canada Goose family out for a stroll

An American Woodcock surprised us and a group of UVM students by solemnly walking toward us all, doing his little up-and-down dance.

Several Mute Swans were visiting the refuge when we were there.

Northern Mockingbirds

More terns - We loved the terns!!

Common Terns

Least Tern

The tern in the middle, with the black bill, is a Roseate Tern. Thank You Allan Strong of UVM for the ID. Note the Roseate's long forked tail. Bill color varies from entirely black to having orange at the base depending on the time of year. (Bill is black in May). Read more at Cornell lab of Ornithology. More Roseate vs Common tern here

Also note the Roseate Tern is banded with a silver band on the left leg.

Gray Catbird

Blue Jay on the nest!! (Her tail is visible on the left.)

Brown Thrasher


This Wild Turkey nearly ran over Bernie!


Lesser Yellowlegs

Plum Island gave us lots to observe and explore in addition to beauty, ocean, dunes, sand and birds!

Horseshoe Crab

unidentified little crab

heart-shaped piece of shell, and sand dollar

And there were even more bird surprises! An American Pipit is a rarity on the island at this time of year, and getting to see a sleeping Common Nighthawk is a treat at any time!

Plum Island had one last surprise for Bernie and Maeve. On our overcast last morning, Bernie spotted a Tricolored Heron, a bird that should have been somewhere in the Gulf states!

"... a man becomes his attentions. His observations and curiosity, they make and remake him."
    William Least-Heat Moon, Blue