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This month’s wildlife walk at Otter View Park and the Hurd Grassland continued to be a Covid-19 safe walk, but with the slight addition of two more OCAS Board Members, Gary & Kathy Starr, who joined me to survey birds and other wildlife while maintaining a safe social distance as much as possible. This was another odd weather day, unseasonably cold, but at least it hadn’t snowed the night before like last month. Still, the cool weather did seem to restrain the birds a bit and though we did have most of the usual suspects on our walk, some others were being inconspicuous.

At the park we had Catbirds hanging out right in the parking lot and noted European Starlings going in and out of a natural cavity in a Silver Maple tree. We also noticed that the Arrowood bushes there had been hit hard by Viburnum Leaf Beetle this spring. They were almost completely bare, but they usually manage to re-leaf later in the summer. Down on the boardwalk we hear Yellow Warbler and Common Yellowthroats. Red-winged Blackbirds went nuts with their alarm calls when a Cooper’s Hawk flew by right over our heads. On the creek there were no sign of waterfowl, but a Belted Kingfisher was seen moving from perch to perch in the trees, and Tree Swallows were seen coursing back and forth low over the river. Also notable were a couple of Great-crested Flycatchers

Usually we would carpool over to the Hurd Grassland, but times being what they are, we traveled in separate cars. From the head of the trail we observed Eastern Bluebirds and House Wrens making use of some of the many birdhouses on the fence line. Down in the lower field we were very pleased to see a male Bobolink singing from perches and dropping into the grass. Since this is our first sighting of one here this year, we speculate that this bird is a refugee from recent cutting of hay-fields in the area. In the shrubland section we had a Field Sparrow and an Eastern Towhee each give a hesitant call, probably conserving energy for a warmer moment. Alder Flycatchers are regulars to this section of the property almost every year, but we were pleased to also find a Willow Flycatcher using it as well. These are two bird species which can only reliably be told apart by their songs. Another neat sighting was a group of what we believe are Fragile White Carpet moths, which seemed unbothered by the light rain that had stated by the end of our walk

All our bird sightings have been submitted to eBird and the full checklists can be viewed at the following links:

Otter View Park

Hurd Grassland

Other wildlife sightings are submitted to the Vermont Atlas of Life.

Our next public walk will take place once public health officials say it is safe to hold gatherings again.

One of the regular features of Otter Creek Audubon board meetings is that we take time at the start of each one to share interesting wildlife sightings we have had in the previous month with each other. This has been a long-standing practices but we thought it would be a fun idea also share these sightings with you.

Warren King reported finding a Pine Warbler in Ripton during his birdathon, a sighting he considers unusual. Dave Hof agreed but said he had found also found one in a different location in Ripton. Ron Payne said he was surprised to find one at a similar altitude at Silver Lake in Leicester.

Gary and Kathy Starr were excited to see a Bobcat in their yard in Weybridge. Gary also found an Eastern Eyed Click Beetle in his workshop. Wikipedia says their larvae feed on decaying wood, something there might be a good quantity of in the building.

Carol Ramsayer spotted a Gray Fox walking down her driveway in Middlebury, and has also heard reports of a Black Bear in the South St. area. She has also seen many Bobolinks lately in fields that the Trail Around Middlebury runs through.

Dave Hof reported finding a Gray Cheeked Thrush in a place one might not think to look for one, on the shore of Lake Champlain on Turkey Lane in Ferrisburgh. You can see pictures of the bird on his eBird Checklist. He also was surprised to see a Common Nighthawk in Ripton.

Ron Payne reported hearing an odd sounding bird with a four note rising song that he couldn’t immediately identify. After a not insignificant wait, he managed to see the bird, which turned out to be a Wood Thrush. You can hear a recording of it on his eBird Checklist. He regrets not getting a better recording.

And finally, Amy Douglas reported a Piliated Woodpecker in her yard in Shoreham during our teleconference!

Please let us know what interesting things you have been seeing lately in the comments.

This past Saturday we continued our solo monitoring of Otter View Park and the Hurd Grassland in lieu of our regular monthly wildlife walks. Hopefully we will be able to invite the public to join us on these walks again soon, but in the meantime, you can come along with me virtually, and reader, let me tell you it was a weird walk.

Obviously when planning a birding walk in May, one doesn’t expect to have to plan for snow. But there I was at Otter View Park with a half inch on the ground, flowers bowed under the weight of snow, and recently arrived migrants not very willing to show themselves. Birds like Virgina Rail, American Bittern, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat which had been recorded at this location in the past week were not to be found. More hearty birds like American Robins, Read-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles seemed unperturbed. A Mallard and a Wood Duck seemed OK with things as well down on the river. I suspect a Canada Goose that was sitting unmoving down on the bank of the river with its belly feathers fanned out below it was hiding a number of goslings underneath, but we shall never know. One new species that hadn’t been reported recently, showing that migration hadn’t stopped completely was a pair of Spotted Sandpipers seen flying up the river. Back at the parking lot I also got a good look at a Northern Flicker which was foraging on the trunk of a tree.

At the Hurd Grassland, grassland birds were not in evidence, and if they were anywhere nearby, I hope it was somewhere warmer than under the snow-covered grass. An Eastern Bluebird was seen on several occasions carrying food to a nest box leading me to believe there are chicks inside. Tree Swallows were also busily jostling for positions in the unoccupied nest boxes nearby. A Barn Swallow was also seen flying overhead and likely looking for a place to set up shop too. The most interesting sighting of the day came when I was down in the lower field when I heard the “pipit” call directly over my head allowing me to look up in time to see an American Pipit fly overhead. In the shrubland the only bird specific to that habitat that was observed was an Easter Towhee heard repeatedly calling. Odd as the weather was, it did afford the opportunity to take some interesting winter-in-may photos.

All our bird sightings have been submitted to eBird and the full checklists can be viewed at the following links:

Otter View Park

Hurd Grassland

Other wildlife sightings are submitted to the Vermont Atlas of Life.

Our next public walk will take place once public health officials say it is safe to hold gatherings again.

Click for a printable pledge sheet.

Once again this May teams of OCAS birding volunteers will spend a 24-hour period scouring Addison County to find as many species as we can for our annual Birdathon fundraiser. All the money raised will go to support our educational and outreach programs. For example, this year we committed to give $9308 to 18 Addison County classrooms to fund field trips and class projects. We have also awarded a scholarship to a local teacher to the National Audubon Society’s Hog Island camp in Maine. Though the Covid-19 outbreak has changed when these programs might happen, we plan to fulfill these commitments when as things return to normal in the near future.

Money from Birdathon also goes to support our Cabin Fever Lecture Series, Otter Tracks Newsletter and many other programs, none of which would be possible without your financial support. You can help us out by either pledging an amount for each species found, giving us a flat gift, or by creating your own Birdathon team.

ANONYMOUS DONOR MATCHING CHALLENGE

This year we have had a special opportunity to expand our Addison County educational grants when an anonymous donor pledged to gift $4,000.  Historically with current funds, we have not been able to fully support all approved grants.  The additional donation pledge allowed us to fully fund the approved grants.  We are hoping for a successful Birdathon as all money raised will be matched dollar for dollar up to $4,000.00.  This will allow us to maintain our high level of educational participation throughout Addison County. 

You can participate by using the printable or by donating online with the button on our Donate page.

In this issue of Otter Tracks you will find the following articles:

  • Red-bellied Woodpeckers in the Champlain Valley
  • Order Out of Chaos?
  • New Partnerships for the Birds
  • Letter to the Editor
  • Atrazine Back in the News
  • Cornell Lab Education Newsletter for Kids Available
  • Vermont’s Declining Bird Species
  • A Season on the Wind, a review
  • Calendar of Events
  • Anonymous Donor Matching Challenge
  • A Change of Plans

Otter Creek Audubon Society members will receive a copy in the mail but you can always find the latest issues of Otter Tracks in color on our home page. You can also browse issues going back to the year 2000 in our Otter Tracks Archive.

This month’s walk at Otter View Park and the Hurd Grassland was of course cancelled due to the current Covid-19 situation. But these walks have always served a dual purpose. Both giving the public a chance to go birding with us, and also to compile data over time of the birds and other wildlife using these two properties. When we were writing the management plan for the Hurd Grassland last year, that data came in very useful in showing the species trends due to past management. And so, not wanting neglect that second purpose, monitoring of both properties was done solo by your truly, and thus I can present you this report.

The weather was quiet lovely with clear skies and a waning moon hanging in the sky to the west. The first notable bid observation came from the parking lot of the park from which a Chipping Sparrow could be heard giving its long mechanical trill. Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds were abundant, but the female red-wings had yet to show up. Song Sparrows were quite vocal all around the property and White-throated sparrows were also heard giving their “sweet Canada” song. Down at the end of the boardwalk, two Osprey were seen flying overhead, most likely the pair that nest below the Middlebury Lower Project dam. Walking back out, the “way” call of a Hermit Thrush alerted me to its presence, and patience allowed me to see it and get a picture. When I got back to the parking lot, I had the amusing experience of watching an American Robin attack its own reflection in the window of my car. After shooing it off, I left taking the “interloper” with me.

Over at the Hurd Grassland Dark-eyed Juncos were still hanging around and an Eastern Bluebird was seen singing from atop a birdhouse. A flight of Tree Swallows seen overhead will certainly soon be looking for nesting sites for themselves. From down in the lower field I spotted a Merlin zooming through the grounds of the farm across the road, then perched atop a spruce tree to scan for prey. The first Swamp Sparrow I’ve heard this year was singing from the wetland, and a pair of Mallards were dabbling in a small temporary stream. Last month we had an Eastern Meadowlark fly overhead, but they weren’t there while I was visiting this time. In the shrubland section, however, a Field Sparrow, one of our target species for that habitat, was seen singing from a small pine tree.

All our bird sightings have been submitted to eBird and the full checklists can be viewed at the following links:

Otter View Park

Hurd Grassland

Other wildlife sightings are submitted to the Vermont Atlas of Life.

Our next public walk will take place once public health officials say it is safe to hold gatherings again.

Six people came out to this month’s wildlife walk at Otter View Park and the Hurd Grassland. Early March means early migrants, and we certainly had our share of those. Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds are back in force in and around the marsh at the park. Song sparrows were singing from all directions. Down on the Otter Creek we saw quite a few Canada Geese and a pair of Mallards. Some winter birds are still hanging on too, an American Tree Sparrow being good evidence of that.

Over at the Hurd Grassland we saw much the same when it comes to blackbirds. A few good sized flocks of Canada Geese heading further North up above us. Eastern Bluebirds were paired up and gifted us with good looks at their colorful plumage. But the biggest news of the day was an Eastern Meadowlark, one of the target species for management at the property, flying over the field and briefly perching in a tree overlooking it.

All our bird sightings have been submitted to eBird and the full checklists can be viewed at the following links:

Otter View Park

Hurd Grassland

Other wildlife sightings are submitted to the Vermont Atlas of Life.

Our Next walk will take place Saturday, April 11 at 7:00 AM. Meet at the parking area of Otter View Park at the intersection of Weybridge St. and Pulp Mill Bridge Road.

On Thursday, March 12, at the Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury, Otter Creek Audubon held the last of our three Cabin Fever Lecture series presentations for 2020. ‘Why Ghana?’ presented by world-traveling birder, Hank Kaestner. Ghana is a seldom visited West African nation which is rich in history, culture and, of course, birds, many of which are range restricted to western Africa. From the rain forests in the south, to the sub-Saharan desert in the north, colorful birds abound. Hank spent two weeks chasing “lifers” there, seeing almost 300 species of birds, one third of which were new for his life list. If you missed this presentation it can viewed online here thanks to the production facilities of Middlebury Community Television.

Hank Kaestner

We will be back again next year with three new presentations, but in the meantime, if you would like to see more, many of our past presentations can be viewed at this link.

On Thursday, February 13, at the Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury, Otter Creek Audubon held the second of three Cabin Fever Lecture series presentations for 2020. ‘Plants for Birds’ was presented by Gwendolyn Causer, Audubon Vermont, teacher/naturalist and Communications Director. Native plants provide food and shelter for birds and wildlife. To survive, birds need native plants and the insects that have co-evolved with them. Bird-friendly landscaping provides food, saves water, and fights climate change. If you missed this presentation it can viewed online here thanks to the production facilities of Middlebury Community Television.

Our next lecture will be, ‘Why Ghana’ presented by Hank Kaestner. Ghana is a seldom visited West African nation which is rich in history, culture and, of course, birds, many of which are range restricted to western Africa. From the rain forests in the south, to the sub-Saharan desert in the north, colorful birds abound. Hank spent two weeks chasing “lifers” there, seeing almost 300 species of birds, one third of which were new for his life list.This will take place on March 11, 7pm at the Ilsley Library in Middlebury. In the meantime, if you would like to see more, many of our past presentations can be viewed at this link.

Nobody came to this month’s wildlife walk at Otter View Park and the Hurd Grassland, which was wise because the roads were terrible after the previous day’s heavy snow and the parking lot at the park was unplowed and inaccessible. But the walk leader, who lives within walking distance of the park, and had no problem getting there safely, proceeded to walk the normal rout as usual. And honestly, it was a lovely morning. Though quite cold, the sun was glistening through the ice-laden tree branches, and the birds were happy to make use of the nicer weather to sing and find some food.

At Otter View park, Cardinals were visiting the Winterberry bushes in the parking lot. Woodpeckers were well represented with Piliated, Downy and Hairy all seen and heard. Getting down to the marsh was a little tricky as branches were bowed across the path and the boardwalk itself. It was worth getting there though for a nice flock of sparrows of Song Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow and Dark-eyed Juncos in the cattails and bushes.

Over at the Hurd Grassland birds were swarming the hedges and Gale Hurd’s feeders consisting mostly of a large group of American Goldfinches. American Robins were catching sun while sheltering in some White Cedars. A pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers were seen taking turns at a suet block. A big mixed flock including House Finches, Eastern Bluebirds and Blue Jays made a colorful tableau in the iced branches of a Black Cherry tree. The neatest thing seen on the walk, though, was a set of Bobcat tracks which wound in and out of the main hedgerow that runs down the center of the property.

Hopefully the weather will be better for the next walk, and we will be able to enjoy sightings like this with a good group of people.

All our bird sightings have been submitted to eBird and the full checklists can be viewed at the following links:

Otter View Park

Hurd Grassland

Other wildlife sightings are submitted to the Vermont Atlas of Life.

Our Next walk will take place Saturday, March 14 at 8:00 AM. Meet at the parking area of Otter View Park at the intersection of Weybridge St. and Pulp Mill Bridge Road.

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