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During these trying times OCAS does not feel that it is safe to hold public in-person events, but we are continuing our regularly scheduled walks at Otter View Park and the Hurd Grassland so that we can collect bird data. And also, so that through these posts, we can share our sightings with you. Public walks will resume once public health officials say it is safe to hold gatherings again.

This month’s wildlife walks at Otter View Park and the Hurd Grassland took place on a blustery morning during the peak of fall migration. This led to an interesting mix of species, activity and also inactivity.

At the Park despite the stiff north wind, there was a fairly good fallout of birds, mostly to be found in the shelter of the shrubs and marsh along the boardwalk. Activity was also centered on the water accumulated in pools created by beaver dams in that area. An Eastern Phoebe was hawking for bugs just above one of the pools, and a Robin and a Yellow-rumped Warber were seen taking drinks below. A good number of Purple Finches were seen in the trees here. One bird who may have mistaken October for March was a male Red-winged Blackbird that was at the top of an ash singing its spring song. Down at the end of the boardwalk a pair of Wood Ducks, resplendent in their fresh breeding plumage, were seen swimming downstream. Coming back along the trail there was a frustratingly brief look at a warbler which may have been an Orange-crowned, but unfortunately this observer didn’t get good enough of a look to say for sure.

Another missed opportunity came not long after. As I was walking along the sidewalk on Pulp Mill Bridge Rd. I spotted a dark, crow-sized bird winging south using the strong tail-wind. I picked it up too late to see the head, or to get an impression of the tail, but the wing shape was unlike anything I had seen before. Pointed an wavy looking, with just a hint of lighter feathers on the inner part of its primary feathers. It was not a corvid, not a raptor and not a gull. My mind went to sea birds and the closest thing I could come to was a Jaeger. But without a better view of the bird, its ID will forever remain unknown.

Over at the Hurd Grassland the wind was really playing up. This kept most of the birds down out of sight, but also played into the best sighting there, a Northern Harrier using the breeze to cruise slowly over the big fields. Insects were well represented with an Isabella Tiger Moth caterpillar, AKA Wooly Bear, seen crossing a trail, as well as a good number of Bumblebees visiting the still abundant Asters in the edges of the shrubland. With the leaves off most of the shrubs, bird nests hidden so well in the summer have become obvious, including one—which may have been a Field Sparrow nest—which had the remains of a chick that never fledged inside.

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.

During these trying times OCAS does not feel that it is safe to hold public in-person events, but we are continuing our regularly scheduled walks at Otter View Park and the Hurd Grassland so that we can collect bird data. And also, through these posts, so that we can share our sightings with you. Public walks will resume once public health officials say it is safe to hold gatherings again.

September’s wildlife walk at Otter View Park and the Hurd Grassland took place a week late because the person who was supposed to do it was really caught up in a good book and just plain forgot about it. No, harm done, really as it just moved the visits more into the heart of the migration season.

At Otter View Park, I had to carefully pull my car into the parking lot as there was a Mourning Dove that for some reason would not flush away from the car. When was safely out of the way, and I had parked and got out, it was still sitting nearby under a bush. That is until a minute later when a Cooper’s Hawk zoomed overhead, and then it flew away rather briskly. As the Hawk passes through a nearby tree, it spooked out yet another Cooper’s Hawk which then followed it away out of sight. Along the trails there was a good mixture of sparrows including White-throated, Song and even a young Swamp that I found confusing before settling on its ID. A hard frost the night before had caused almost all the Spotted Touch-me-not seedpods to explode in the night, littering boardwalk with seeds and casings. Another neat sighting I had came on my way back, walking along Pulp Mill Bridge Rd., when I spotted a Chestnut-sided Warbler in a tree across the road. And while I was looking at that, an immature Scarlet Tanager popped out near it as well.

At the Hurd Grassland, I decided that taking the long route around the big field wouldn’t be very profitable, so instead I stuck close to the hedgerow where I could find birds in the trees and bushes. This payed off when I turned the corner around the tip of the hedgerow and found a Black-throated Green Warbler browsing in the trees. A little further down I also spotted a Lincoln’s Sparrow which popped out of a bush and showed of its buffy breast with fine streaks. Not long after that I spotted a small raptor diving towards a scattering group of birds. I got my binoculars up an was able to see it was American Goldfinches which were escaping from a Sharp-shinned Hawk. The hawk then landed in a tree nearby allowing me to get some pictures before it took off after some more birds. All through my walk I was spotting groups of Blue Jays up about 100 feet in the air winging south. Though we have Blue Jays all year, their cousins to the North are not year-round residents of their breeding grounds, and can be seen migrating through our area at this time of year. I counted 44 in all in the hour I was at the grassland.

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.

Otter Creek Audubon Society (OCAS), the Addison County chapter of the National Audubon Society, is pleased to announce the availability of a limited number of grants to help finance environmental education projects for Addison County schools. The mission of Otter Creek Audubon Society is to protect birds, other wildlife and their habitats by encouraging a culture of conservation within Addison County.  All local efforts are volunteer-run.  

Grant funds may be used to help defer the cost of transportation, admission fees, equipment, outside presentations, or other expenses that will improve students’ understanding of the natural world. Grants of up to a maximum of $800 per request will be awarded for use in 2021. Otter Creek Audubon Society seeks to assist schools in multiple school districts. Also, proposals that get students into the natural world will be favored. Applicants will be judged based on their response to the following questions: 

  • What is the environmental education value of the field trip/event/project?
  • What are the education outcomes you expect for your students?
  • How many students will the field trip/event/project serve?

OCAS realizes that educators must follow certain guidelines this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We encourage teachers to be creative in designing their proposals around these guidelines.  For example, given the relative safety of the out-of-doors, grant writers might consider an innovative outdoor learning space project.  Requests for other resources, such as the loan of materials from the OCAS Lending Library, might not be available until the spring of 2021.  OCAS wants to support Addison County educators, and we look forward to hearing what teachers need as they strive to provide their students with natural world experiences.  Keep in mind, though, that OCAS volunteers will be unable to offer in-class programs for the time being.

Please distribute the attached application materials widely to your school’s teachers.  Applications are due by Monday, November 2, 2020, and can be sent to cgramsmac@mac.com. Successful grant recipients will likely be contacted by Monday, December 21, 2020. Grant recipients will also be asked to provide a one to two-page summary, including photos, of their field trip/event/project after it takes place. 

Otter Creek Audubon is continually refining the field trip/event/project grant application process.  If there are any questions or recommendations about the application process please leave a message for Carol Ramsayer at 802-989-7115 or email cgramsmac@mac.com.   

CLICK HERE TO GET AN APPLICATION:
PDF or DOCX

During this continuing covid era, we are still doing monitoring walks with just OCAS board members, so we can still see what is happening at the Otter View Park and Hurd Grassland and still stay safe. This time I was joined by Gary & Kathy Starr. August’s monthly wildlife walk took place on the 8th of the month and broke our string of bad weather.

At Otter View Park bird activity was winding down with he bulk of the breeding activity done. An Eastern Kingbird was still nosily defending its territory, however. A family of three Northern Flickers seen moving through the thickets together suggest a successful nesting season for them. The highlight of here was a Purple Finch fledgling, which preened itself at the top of a tree long enough for at least one of us to get a good picture of it. Purple Finches generally breed in the mountains, so this bird had likely come down from the Greens to find food in the valley.

Over at the Hurd Grassland, this walk came too late for us to see the fledgling Bobolinks confirmed by myself on walks at the property in late July. American Goldfinches were abundant and very active, since as late nesters they were probably still working to feed nestlings. A Coopers’ Hawk was spotted in a bare Elm Tree, and as we observed, it took off and zoomed down very low over the fields. And in the shrubland section we heard an Eastern Towhee repeatedly giving its “towhee” call, though other shrubland birds were silent and unseen.

Apologies for the lateness of this report. Due to a post scheduling error by the author, it has sat in the drafts folder for almost a month.

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.

I am beginning to think that our wildlife walks in this closed-to-the-public, covid-19 era may be cursed by the weather. The May walk happened the morning after a blizzard, the June walk on an unseasonably cold morning, and the July 11 walk was during a Tropical Storm. Now as far as Tropical Storms go, Fay was kind of a bust, but there was still a fairly significant rainfall happening on the morning of the walk. But the birds won’t count themselves, so armed with good boots and an umbrella I set out to monitor the wildlife at Otter View Park and the Hurd Grassland.

While at the park the rain hadn’t really gotten going yet so I was able to get some pictures of flowers like Spotted Joe-Pye Weed and Buttonbush blossoms. The big Mulberry tree near the boardwalk is full of fruit and therefore attracting lots of bird and squirrel activity. The only birds I could make out through the gloom in the tree were Gray Catbird and American Robin. At the end of the boardwalk, a lone male Wood Duck duckling skittered away from me across the water like a high-speed hyrdroplane. And and Osprey was seen flying down the creek as well.

Over at the Hurd Grassland the rain had really set in and the walk became just a list of birds that aren’t bothered much by the wet. Red-winged Blackbirds, Song Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats all kept dauntlessly singing despite the rain. The surprise for me among them was a Alder Flycatcher that horned in with its song too. Only surprising because I would have thought them a more weather shy species. The most exciting part of the Hurd portion of the walk was when I stopped in “The Birdhouse” to get a few moments out of the wet. Inside, I found an Ultronia Underwing Moth trapped in the screened in enclosure. After getting some good pictures of it I was able to catch it and release it outside unharmed.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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