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:

  • 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.

On Thursday, March 11, Otter Creek Audubon held the second our our Cabin Fever Lectures for this year, Birding New Zealand presented by OCAS Board Member, Gary Starr. In this presentation, Gary invites you to quell your wanderlust with a virtual birding tour of New Zealand, its birds, and its best bathrooms(?). New Zealand’s isolation gives it a collection of some of the most interesting, rare, and unique birds in the world. Kiwis, and many other charismatic species were on display in this entertaining show.

Though we had only planned two talks this years, we have now put together a third to help you get through whatever is left of winter. Next up, 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. Kevin will tell us about a new effort to conserve Eastern Meadowlarks in our area that you can participate in. This event will take place on Thurs. Apr. 8, 7pm. Email us at ocasvt@gmail.com to register for this online event.

In the meantime, if you would like to see more, many of our past presentations can be viewed at this link.

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 monitoring walk at Otter View Park and the Hurd Grassland took place on the 13th, one one of the coldest days in recent memory with temperatures down in the teens. With a fairly brisk wind, and solid snow cover on the ground, it felt very peak February. However with the sun shining through a thin layer of clouds—as can be seen in the pictures taken from the MALT Phenology Calendar photo sticks—the birds were actually fairly active, getting into early form for the coming spring. Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens, Black-capped Chickadees and American Tree Sparrows were all heard singing their territorial songs. The best sighting at the park, however, was a huge flock, of what I estimated at 70, Common Redpolls seen overhead making their way to the bird feeders at Starr Decoys.

Not to be outshone, though, the Hurd Grassland also feature a large Redpoll flock, I tallied in at about 60, that were swarming Gale Hurd’s feeders. Besides that, a singing Eastern Bluebird continued the very early spring theme, as did a Tufted Titmouse which was singing one of its non-toot songs. A passing Raven that was “quorking” and doing barrel rolls was also entertaining. Tracks were very evident all around the property, the most notable ones being Coyote and Bobcat, and abundant Eastern Cottontail Rabbit tracks which likely attracted the interest of the two predators to the 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.

On Thursday, February 17, The Green Mountain Audubon Society and Otter Creek Audubon held a joint online presentation, Black-capped Chickadees and The Fine Line Between Friend and Foe presented by OCAS Board Member, Dr. David Hof. Black-capped Chickadees are one of the most ubiquitous of our year-round bird species, and yet somehow always remain a joy to encounter. In this presentation we learned about these charismatic birds surprising and complex, life histories. If you missed it, you can watch it in its entirety in the embedded video above.

This was the first of two Cabin Fever Lectures we will be holding online this year. Next up, Birding New Zealand presented by Gary Starr, will take place on Thurs. Mar. 11, 7pm. Email us at ocasvt@gmail.com to sign up to register for this event. In the meantime, if you would like to see more, many of our past presentations can be viewed at this link.

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

  • 2021 Great Backyard Bird Count
  • Self Awareness in Birds
  • Presidential Last and First Days: An Editorial
  • A Birding Challenge and Opportunity
  • MALT 2022 Phenology Calendar
  • What a Hoot!
  • 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.

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