Your wildlife sightings are news to us! If you have pictures or stories of encounters with fauna or flora in the area, please email them to us and interesting ones will be posted to this page.

Ron Payne
rpayne72@myfairpoint.net

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

  • Book Review: A World on the Wing by Scott Weidensaul
  • American Bittern on a Bike
  • Mystery Bird Mortality Event
  • The Grants Go On
  • 6th IPCC Climate Change Report
  • Wind Towers Off the California Coast
  • Calendar of Events

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.

Eight people came out for the August wildlife walks at Otter View Park and the Hurd Grassland to help us catalog birds and other species. August is often a quiet time of year being at the end of breeding season for most birds, and before the start of migration, but we did manage to observe some nice things.

The best action at the park happened down on the boardwalk where there were a good number of Gray Catbirds being conspicuous and noisy. This is one of the best times of year to see Red-eyed Vireos as they come out of the treetops and down to eye level to fatten up for migration on berries and we did in fact get to see one. A Virginia Rail was heard not seen in the cattails as was later a Marsh Wren. A Spotted Sandpiper was seen flying down Otter Creek, where nearby a group of immature Mallards were floating. In the reeds we spotted the smallest American Bullfrog anyone in our group had ever seen, which made us decide that rather than a bull, it must be a “calf frog.” Another interesting sighting was pointed out to us by a neighbor of the park. A collection of red material at the bottom of a beaver-dammed basin that one might write off as algae or some other detritus were in fact tubifex worms, a harmless organism often found in wastewater effluent. Sure enough, looking at them through binoculars or cameras we could see their many clustered bodies wriggling in the water.

Over at the Hurd Grassland, with the fields now mowed, there wasn’t much action there other than some Barn Swallows hunting low over the grass. In a hedge we saw Cedar Waxwings as well as an Eastern Bluebird. In the shrubland section we heard and saw Field Sparrows making use of the habitat we are maintaining for them, along with an Eastern Towhee which also briefly let off a quick call. At the north end of the property, looking up a power line right of way, we caught sight of a Pileated Woodpecker oddly perched up high in a power poll. Several Common Yellowthroats were heard calling in the shrubs, and we finished off our walk with a fly-over by an Osprey.

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, Sept. 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. We hope to see you there.

Nine people came out for this month’s wildlife walk at Otter View Park and the Hurd Grassland. The weather was perfect for an early July morning, and the birds were deep in their breeding cycles. Speaking of which, one of the neatest finds of the morning came when we spotted an American Goldfinch nest right in the parking lot of the Park. Also seen nearby was an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit, one of a bumper crop of these guys in the area this year. Down on the boardwalk Marsh Wrens were still making a bunch of noise in the marsh, and Red-winged Blackbirds were seen tending recently fledged chicks. A Mulberry Tree on a slope near the marsh was loaded with ripe berries, and this attracted all sorts of birds, most prominently American Robins and Gray Catbirds.

Over at the Hurd Grassland Brown Thrashers were found skulking around a hedge near the entrance where they are often seen. In the field we saw a Song Sparrow catch a large insect which pictures later revealed to be a Preying Mantis. Song Sparrows were very agitated when we got near one of the new birdhouses we added to the property this year suggesting they were still nesting in it. In the shrubland we both saw and heard Field Sparrows. The most unusual observation of the day was hearing a Scarlet Tanager singing at the property. They are much more usually found in denser woods than at the Grassland. And as a nice bookend to our walk, we again saw Thrashers in the same hedge as we were leaving.

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, Aug. 14 at 7:00 AM. Meet at the parking area of Otter View Park at the intersection of Weybridge St. and Pulp Mill Bridge Road. We hope to see you there.

This month’s walk at Otter View Park and the Hurd Grassland took place on a classic early June morning featuring near perfect weather. Eight people in total came together to help survey birds and other wildlife at the two properties, and had a very enjoyable morning. 

At Otter View Park most of the action took place down on the boardwalk. The big news of this summer is that we have at least two pairs of nesting Marsh Wrens, making a lot of racket rattling around their nest sites in the cattails. Also quite active were Green Herons, two of which were seen hunting from logs down the river and flying over the marsh. Also spied on the river was a small family of Hooded Mergansers, a mother with at least three ducklings. Another nice treat was seeing a River Otter pop its head out of the water very near the end of the boardwalk. And a male Baltimore Oriole provided a nice look at its blaze orange belly as it flew past overhead.

Over at the Hurd Grassland, we were very happy to see Tree Swallows making use of some of the 11 new bird houses recently installed on the property. Barn Swallows were also seen zooming back and forth over the grass. In pleasing news for our management of the fields, we saw three Bobolinks doing display flights, the timing of their appearance suggesting they are refugees from other cut fields in the area. In the shrubland we had both Field Sparrows and Brown Thrashers present, both focus species for that section, as well as Chestnut-sided Warblers, another good shrubland species. We also had nice looks at several butterfly species, including Black Swallowtails and Eastern Wood Nymphs.

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, Jul. 10 at 7:00 AM. Meet at the parking area of Otter View Park at the intersection of Weybridge St. and Pulp Mill Bridge Road. We hope to see you there.

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

  • Northern Long-eared Bat: Endangered or Threatened?
  • Eager, The Surprising Secret Life of Beavers, a review
  • One Way to Collar a Cat
  • Nurturing Birdathon birders
  • Owls of the Eastern Ice, a review
  • Emerald Ash Borer Update
  • Calendar of Events

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.

With COVID restrictions for outdoor events loosened by Vermont health officials, the OCAS board voted at our board meeting on May 6th to allow the public to again attend our monthly wildlife walks at Otter View Park and the Hurd Grassland. With just a couple of days for publicity to get out about this change we were pleased to have seven people show up to help us document wildlife at these two properties. 

As people arrived at the Otter View Park parking lot, I took the opportunity to take a picture from the Middlebury Area Land Trust’s phenology calendar photo stick, getting the first picture of the year there dominated by the color green. As we stated out on the walk propper, Gray Catbird was head chattering away from nearby shrubs. Down on the spur trail to the boardwalk, the slow whistling song of a Blue-headed Vireo alerted us to its presence, and showed itself quite well hopping around in the branches of a tree alongside a Yellow Warbler. A little further down the boardwalk the other common local marsh warbler announced itself with its “witchity-witchity-witchity” song, but remained hidden throughout our visit. On the boardwalk we also ran into two birding college students who told us they had just seen two Virginia Rails, and sure enough, not long after we heard one calling too. On our way back out we saw a Ruby-crowned Kinglet which seems to be an absolutely ubiquitous bird anywhere you go in the Champlain Valley right now.

After a short commute we began the second part of our walk at the Hurd Grassland. Along the fence line at the edge of the property we were pleased to see a Tree Swallow peeking its head out of one of the birdhouses mounted there. Not long after we saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk zooming past overhead with mobbing Barn Swallows and Tree Swallows harassing the raptor to quicken its pace out of the area. Down in the grassland we were pleased to hear a single song from a Savannah Sparrow. Then as we were about to exit the loop around the field, we heard the jangling song of a Bobolink—a male perched at the end of the hedgerow overlooking the grass. Hopefully this presages a summer of nesting by both of these species at the property this year. Though the Bobolink was exciting, we were distracted from it by a drama happening in some nearby trees. A group of Crows were excitedly mobbing something hanging from a branch. It turned out to be a Red-tailed Hawk, dangling from a tree, wings outstretched with Crows repeatedly diving at it making a serious racket. We speculate the Hawk was in this posture to threaten the crows with its talons. After a couple of minutes of this the Hawk dropped into the brush below out of sight, the Crows continuing to mob it for a few more minutes before giving up. After that excitement we had the fun of parsing out the ID of an Empidonax Flycatcher, which we eventually decided was a Least Flycatcher after close examination of a blurry picture. And rounding out the good potential breeding news of our walk, we heard both a Field Sparrow and a Brown Thrasher singing in the appropriate habitat of the shrubland section of our property. 

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.

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 Bird-a-thon fundraiser. All the money raised will go to support our educational and outreach programs. For example, this year we committed to give $5103 to 10 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. Some of these programs will be delayed due to the pandemic, but we will fulfill these commitments when possible.

Money from Bird-a-thon 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 Bird-a-thon team.

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

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 Sunday rather than a Saturday because the person who was supposed to do it forgot. But no harm no foul, with data being collected a day late, and there were some cool sightings that might not have happened on the correct day.

At Otter View Park, Carolina Wrens, Song Sparrows and Eastern Phoebes were all singing their heads off while I took the requisite picture of the park from the MALT Phenology Calendar photo stick. A Tree Swallow and Osprey both seen flying overhead were both expected April sightings. Down on the boardwalk, the Red-winged Blackbird females had arrived and the Males were all heavily engaged in claiming territories and trying to attract mates. No waterfowl were sighted on the river, but while looking I had the unusual experience of seeing two Wild Turkeys fly across to the park side. A few minutes late while walking out, I saw them again flying across the marsh to the west, and even managed a blurry picture of one. Still hanging on from their abundance in winter was one Common Redpoll heard flying nearby. The best sighting of the day came near the end, though when I spotted a Vesper Sparrow from the sidewalk on Pulp Mill Bridge Road. It was cooperative enough to perch in a tree long enough for me to see all its field marks. 

While at the Park, I was surprised not to hear any Swamp Sparrows in the marsh, but that was fixed over at the Hurd Grassland where four of them were heard in cattails around the property. Northern Flickers were very conspicuous flying around giving their long “ke-ke-ke” calls. Of special note, I spotted an Eastern Meadowlark perched on power lines across Weybridge Rd. from the property, hopefully contemplating nesting in our grass. A Mallard was spotted on the pond east of the trail which flushed when I went by, and more of them were sighted in flight later in the walk. In the shrubby section which has seen recent management work to set back the growth of the bushes, a Field Sparrow was heard doing its bouncing ball song. At the very northern end of the property I heard what I thought was a very quiet call of a Red-tailed Hawk and other squawking raptor complaint sounds. It gave me the notion that there might be a hawk nest in some tall pines in the adjacent property, but I was disabused of that idea when a Blue Jay hopped out and revealed that it had been mimicking those sounds all along. And the final neat sighting of the day was a Pileated Woodpecker feeding on suet at Gale Hurd’s house.

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.

On Thursday, April 8, Otter Creek Audubon held a special online Cabin Fever Lecture series event, Green Mountain Meadowlarks: Ecology and Conservation of an Imperiled Grassland Bird. Presented by Kevin Tolan, Staff Biologist and Grassland Bird Outreach Coordinator from The Vermont Center for Ecostudies, he told us about a new effort to conserve Eastern Meadowlarks. If you weren’t able to attend live, we have recorded it so that you can view it at your leisure.

Eastern Meadowlarks in the Northeast are rapidly declining; based on the latest USGS Breeding Bird Survey results, they’re undergoing an estimated 8.7% and 8.8% annual decline in Vermont and New Hampshire, respectively. With their recent designation of Threatened in New Hampshire, and imminent listing in Vermont, now is a golden opportunity for targeted survey efforts. VCE is partnering up with New Hampshire Audubon to launch a bi-state “blitz” this spring to encourage birders and community scientists to target areas of grassland habitat with the goal of seeking out meadowlarks. Participants are encouraged to adopt a local block to survey for meadowlarks and track land management. To learn more about the Blitz and how to participate please visit val.vtecostudies.org/projects/eastern-meadowlark-blitz/ or reach out via email at grasslands@vtecostudies.org

This was our final lecture of 2021. We plan to be back again next year with three more lectures to help you get through the winter, hopefully as in person events!

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 walks at Otter View Park and the Hurd Grassland did their absolute best to confirm that it was actually taking place in March. But before we get to seasonal birds, I have to report that we had a sighting of the the melanistic Tufted Titmouse that you can see a picture of in our November issue of Otter Tracks. It was good to see that this bird is still hanging around the area. As far as signs of spring go, a pair of Eastern Bluebirds foraging together is a good sign. And so was an American Robin scratching on the ground on an adjacent yard. Two White-throated Sparrows might have been migrants or overwintering birds. But down in the Marsh, Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles singing from high perches really set a spring tone. Flocks of Canada Geese flying overhead and a passing Turkey Vulture helped too.

Over at the Hurd Grassland the theme continued with a big flock of Grackles and Blackbird refueling beneath a nearby feeder. Two Common Ravens flew by in the same direction, both of them carrying what looked like food in their bills, a possible indication that they already have a nest with chicks. Bucking the trend a bit were some still remaining Common Redpolls seen at a feeder. When we were down in the lower field we made sure to take a picture from the Photo Post next to the Birdhouse. You can see how that process works, and the results in the pictures above. And we ended our walk with the nice treat of a close flyby by a Red-tailed Hawk.

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.

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