No Birds — Smell the flowers

Last month, while on an outing to Lamoille County, I was a little frustrated with the lack of birds until I noticed some of the plants blossoming along the roadside where the dog and I were walking. I changed gears and decided to look more closely at the flowers and shoot some photos.  Some I knew, others I looked up in my guidebook, Wildflowers of Vermont by Kate Carter (a great little guidebook.)

Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare)

Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare)

Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima)

Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima)

Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota)

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Fireweed  (Epilobium angustifolium)

Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium)

And lastly, a plant that I am sure is common but one that does not jump out of the book at me.  Ideas?

UnknownW

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Bon Voyage Hummers

This year has been one of the best for attracting hummingbirds to our feeder — we had several families nest in the area. Many feisty juveniles have delighted us with their antics over the last few weeks. They have been hitting the sugar water and more than once, I have thought: “Tank up, you’ve got a long haul ahead.”

Hummer1W

This past weekend, we took the Airstream over to New York state to visit some dear friends and returning Monday afternoon, I immediately noticed that the hummers seemed to have left.  A couple of days later, it’s definite.  They are on their way.

Hummer2W

We saw trees turning color in the higher elevations and noticed the Canada Geese moving in New York state.  Here, the goldenrod is everywhere and the bees are loving it. Soon the asters will blossom and more birds will depart.  The Common Yellowthroats are still here as are the Song Sparrows but they have their bags packed to go.

Hummer3W

Sitting on the back lawn with a blue sky above and northwest winds blowing the pines, I’m thinking of those hummers, wondering how far they have gone so far, and wishing them a safe passage on their long perilous journey.

See you in Florida or here in the spring.  Buen Viaje amigos.

Posted in Backyard birds, migration, Vermont Birding | 3 Comments

Camping at Stillwater State Park

Last week, we spent three nights at nearby Stillwater State Park on Lake Groton.

Stillwater State Park has 62 campsites, 17 lean-to shelters, a beach and boat launch.

Stillwater State Park has 62 campsites, 17 lean-to shelters, a beach and boat launch.

We don’t do a lot of camping in Vermont, figuring that we already live in the woods, but it’s nice to visit a few of the parks mid-week when the campgrounds aren’t quite as crazy.

The park entrance landscaping is typical of the lovely displays throughout the campground.

The park entrance landscaping is typical of the lovely displays throughout the campground.

We brought our kayaks, my bike, and our birding gear.  We also found some “summer reading” mystery books at the “take one, leave one” collection at the visitor center.

We were at site 43, probably our favorite.

We were at site 43, probably our favorite.

The area has some interesting geological features — many of them being these massive boulders – glacial erratics – which were lugged here by glacial ice.

This boulder was at the side of our campsite.  Penny is putting up with me but ready to get down.

This boulder was at the side of our campsite. Penny is putting up with me but ready to get down.

Vermont parks have no services per se and most of their sites are for tents, pop-up campers, or lean-tos so there are few sites for large RVs and not that many for our mid-sized 25 footer.  There is no cell signal for many miles but a decent wifi connection at the office.

Many families spend a week or two at the park, often reserving the same site year after year.  There are an amazing collection of tents, tarps, and lean-tos and more than not, several generations camping together.  It’s good to see kids out on their bikes or just framming around in the park – and they seem to get tired and go to bed early.

The birding was ok for late July although we missed hearing the song of the Veery which we heard last time we were there.  I did hear and see a Canada Warbler as well as some Nashville Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Blackburnian and Chestnut-sided Warblers.

We took the short hike up to Owl's Head and enjoyed some pretty views.  The water behind Mary is Kettle Pond.

We took the short hike up to Owl’s Head and enjoyed some pretty views. The water behind Mary is Kettle Pond.

One of the objectives of the trip was to test the new adjustable weight distribution trailer hitch.  Our original hitch was carrying the trailer nose too high and so, after four winter trips, I decided to get a new one.  After a lot of messing around and replacement parts, I got it hitched up and it worked great.

We read a lot, paddled a bit, hiked some, and went to bed early.  It was a wonderful stay at a pretty well-run state park.  And it was only an hour’s drive home.

Posted in Vermont Birding, Vermont State Parks | Leave a comment

Babcock Nature Preserve

One of the benefits of doing a big year in another county is to explore new birding places.  Yesterday I did that when I visited the Babcock Nature Preserve, a pretty 1,000-acre area of forest that serves as an outdoor laboratory for field biology, ornithology and environmental science courses at Johnson State College.  It has a large b0g, three ponds, and lots of deer flies.  

There is a gated-gravel/dirt road that makes it easy walking.

There is a gated-gravel/dirt road that makes it easy walking.

The dog and I arrived about 9 as a nearby Hermit Thrush sang away in the deep woods.  There was no one else around as we headed out laden with bug dope.  The first two bodies of water are partially hidden and require some bushwhacking to check them out.

Babcock1

There were dozens of chipmunks squealing and running as we moved along, giving Penny lots of chances to crash through the underbrush.

ChipmunkW

The biggest pond is Rittenbush Pond which featured a cooperative Common Loon who ignored us and moved around the quiet pond.

LoonW

The college has some rustic cabins around the pond which, while worn from weather and use, seem to get a lot of use from students and leaders.

One of the cabins is directly across the pond.

One of the cabins is directly across the pond.

Rittenbush4

I saw or heard 22 species of birds — nothing new per se except for the new setting.  We spent several hours watching and listening — and several Swamp Sparrows, like this one, trilled away.

SwampSpW

I was wishing that I had a plastic bag with me to grab some of the discarded beer cans and water bottles that folks, not necessarily students, had tossed here and there.  My frame of mind was improved when I got to Rittenbush Camp and saw this sign.

Rittenbush3

“EARTH provides enough for everyones (sic) need, not everyone’s greed.  Keep Mother earth —“.  (I cut off the ending with the camera — provide your own ending word.)  Good birding.

The preserve is named for Robert and Anne Hanchett Babcock who donated the tract to the Vermont State Colleges. Robert Babcock was the first provost of the Vermont State Colleges, a member of the Vermont House of Representatives, and a lieutenant governor of Vermont serving under Governor Robert Stafford.

Posted in County Big Year, Lamoille County | Tagged | Leave a comment

Some July Birds

The woods are lush and green and many birds have stopped singing as they nest and tend to offspring and the deer flies and no-see-ums abound — yet it’s a great time to get out and bird.  There’s a lot to see: White-throated Sparrows trying out their new songs and getting part of it; the crop of house wrens that fledged out of our bluebird house that scold me and Penny as we walk by; the half dozen new Blue Jays that have discovered and are hogging our suet.  Ever present to me in the muggy mornings is the thought that most of these birds will be out of here in a month or so — which gives this time of year a poignancy.

Yesterday, we took the expensive drive up the toll road at Mt. Mansfield (no connection, unfortunately) to show our son and grandson some more of Vermont.  Of course, I did a little birding, hearing Bicknell’s Thrushes and seeing Swainson’s Thrushes.  I also ran into the guys from Vermont Center for Ecostudies who band birds on the summit each summer.  Here is a photo of one of the Blackpoll Warblers I saw and heard.

 A Blackpoll Warbler at the summit parking lot, Mt. Mansfield.

A Blackpoll Warbler at the summit parking lot, Mt. Mansfield.

Today, I took a few shots of some of the birds in our woods as I walked the dog on our series of trails.

We have had a family of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks nesting on our property with at least two young males.

We have had a family of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks nesting on our property with at least two young males.

Eastern Phoebes seem to be silent this time of year and this one did not bob its tail.

Eastern Phoebes seem to be silent this time of year and this one did not bob its tail.

EPhoebe1W

We seem to have dozens of new Song Sparrows.  This one has caught a little treat.

We seem to have dozens of new Song Sparrows. This one has caught a little treat.

White-throated Sparrows a practicing their songs and chipping at the dog and me as we move by them.  This guy was about ten feet away, holding his ground.

White-throated Sparrows are practicing their songs and chipping at the dog and me as we move by them. This guy was about ten feet away, holding his ground.

So, while it is frustrating to search for warblers in fully-leaved maple trees, there’s a lot going on lower down with all the “newbies” learning the ropes.  Slap on the bug dope and enjoy summer birds.  Most will be gone pretty soon.  Good birding

Posted in Lamoille County, Local Birding, Washington County, Yard birds | Leave a comment

Saturday Morning Birds

We took the Airstream to Massachusetts to see Jennifer and her family and do some birding in one on my favorite counties. Essex County is so geographically diverse and filled with good birds and some amazing birders. (I don’t count myself in that latter category!)  In a couple of days, I picked up 68 species and never got on to Plum Island for shore or sea birds.

Saturday morning, I took the dog on a little outing with the truck and we explored a few of the back roads of West Newbury.  It was a morning of dog walkers, runners, cyclists, and trash pickup trucks on the narrow wooded roads.  There is one short stretch that bisects a marsh – part of the Crane Pond Wildlife Management Area – where I have previously birded.  The road is paved until you get to the marsh, then there is a dirt stretch that is severely washboarded, but that didn’t slow down the folks out for their Saturday morning errands.  I walked the dog, dodged traffic, and saw some nice birds.  Here are a few photos:

The WMA is part of the headwaters of the Parker River and stretches across the towns of West Newbury, Newbury, Groveland and Georgetown.

The WMA is part of the headwaters of the Parker River and stretches across the towns of West Newbury, Newbury, Groveland and Georgetown.

In spite of being adjacent to developed sites, the marsh is wild-like.

In spite of being adjacent to developed sites, the marsh is wild-like.

Early in my walk, I spotted an Eastern Kingbird flitting about.  I took this shot just before the bird flew to a nest.

EKingbird1

I never would have spotted her (him?) if I had not seen the bird flying

I never would have spotted her (him?) if I had not seen the bird flying.

As might be expected, there were dozens of Red-winged Blackbirds.  It's amazing that a bird which we celebrate in early Spring can become commonplace and taken for granted.

As might be expected, there were dozens of Red-winged Blackbirds. It’s amazing that a bird which we celebrate in early Spring can become commonplace and taken for granted.

Likewise, the first Tree Swallows are exciting.  I never tire of watching these aerial experts perform their routines.

Likewise, the first Tree Swallows are exciting. I never tire of watching these aerial experts perform their routines.

Cedar Waxwings were looking sharp in the morning sunlight.

Cedar Waxwings were looking sharp in the morning sunlight.

After a while, in spite of the good birds, I got sick of eating dust from passing trucks and cars and headed back to the truck.  It was a good outing – a little piece of wildness in an urbanizing area.  Good birding.

Posted in Jennifer's, MA Birding | 1 Comment

Birding a New Patch

As I have launched a County Big Year for Lamoille County, I have found a “patch” where I have been focusing much of my attention:  it is close and pretty, and it is productive.

Lamoille County is about 10 miles from the house and the "patch" is 2 miles further.

Lamoille County is about 10 miles from the house and the “patch” is 2 miles further.

The patch is a hiking/bike/ski trail from Route 12 up to Little Elmore Pond.  Here’s the starting point with a bridge across the North Branch of the Winooski River.

Note the post, with a lock, to keep out four-wheelers and snow machines.

Note the post, with a lock, to keep out four-wheelers and snow machines.

The North Branch is a lovely stream here, colored brown with tannic acid.

The North Branch is a lovely stream here, colored brown with tannic acid.

Yesterday, I had a couple of hours so the dog and I went up for some birding.  I hadn’t even got out of the truck when I heard two Ovenbirds calling back and forth.

Ovenbirds are probably the most common bird along the trail -- usually hear five or ten -- but rarely see them.

Ovenbirds are probably the most common bird along the trail — usually hear five or ten — but rarely see them.  This one was more accommodating than most.

There’s little traffic on the highway but it’s nice to get up the trail a bit and get away from what road noise there is.  The the woods come alive with the calls of warblers however the new foliage makes sightings a challenge.  I never meet anyone along the way and it is wonderful just walking along, listening.  I usually keep the dog leashed going up so that she doesn’t spook everything before I get there and it pays off, we heard and saw a Tennessee Warbler early on the trail.

The trail has water in vernal pools and a small brook runs alongside and the black flies are out and about.  Last week, about a quarter-mile in, I heard a loud bird up ahead, low in the underbrush, but didn’t recognize the call.  Quietly moving ahead with the dog straining, I saw a small bird moving and got it in the binoculars (one-handed since the leash was in the other) and saw an Ovenbird-like bird with a different call.  I realized that I had my first Northern Waterthrush of the year.

A "Selfie" along the trail - birding was slow.

A “Selfie” along the trail – birding was slow.

Of course, although the landscape is wild and beautiful, there is debris — some from hunters (shell cases), and some from former logging operations.  I spotted this big black object off the trail and thinking “bear cub,”  saw that it was just an abandoned skidder tire.

Why haul it out when you can just leave it in the woods?

Why haul it out when you can just leave it in the woods?

It’s really been fun getting to know this little area.  I see Common Yellowthroats in the same spots each visit and am getting to know the hot spots along the way.  I took my bike a few weeks ago and rode/pushed the six or seven miles up to Little Elmore Pond.  I approached the pond carefully, thinking that I might see some waterfowl but nothing was there.  I sat by the water’s edge, hearing a Barred Owl and a Pileated Woodpecker, when a shorebird whizzed past.  It settled on a rock and I got a few shots of this lonely Spotted Sandpiper.

SandpiperW

So far, in about a month I have over 60 species in this birding patch and got three new birds yesterday.  It’s been a good find and in fifteen minutes I can get there and be in wild country filled with some pretty good birds.  It’s a great place to slow down and enjoy things.  Here are a couple more shots of things along the way.  Good birding.

Fungi on yellow birch

Fungi on yellow birch

Many patches of violets adorn the pathway.

Many patches of violets adorn the pathway.

Posted in County Big Year, Lamoille County, Local Birding, Vermont Birding | Leave a comment

Cape Cod Birding Festival

I am pleased to announce that the Cape Cod Bird Festival will be held Friday to Monday, September 19 – 22! Headquarters will be at the new DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Hyannis, MA.

Our Friday night pizza social will feature David Sibley who will speak on ” The Psychology of Bird Identification” and will be available for book signing. Saturday night dinner will feature the entertaining Greg Miller who will talk about the Big Year and his experiences as well as being a movie consultant. David and Greg will also be field trip leaders.

Our Friday night pizza social will feature David Sibley who will speak on ” The Psychology of Bird Identification” and will be available for book signing. Saturday night dinner will feature the entertaining Greg Miller who will talk about the Big Year and his experiences as well as being a movie consultant. David and Greg will also be field trip leaders.

logotan300 The Cape Cod Bird Festival offers a wide variety of field trips, interesting workshops, a Vendor Marketplace and a Monday post Festival trip to Cuttyhunk Island.

Cape Cod offers fabulous birding during Fall migration! Where passerines, shorebirds, and pelagics are everywhere and where the unexpected is expected.

Registration is now open! Check out all the Festival details at www.capecodbirdclub.org and select the Festival site. You can contact me off-line with any questions. You may register online or by a mail-in-form.

Thank you and we hope to see you on Cape Cod this September.

Gerry Cooperman
trogon6@aol.com
CAPE COD BIRD FESTIVAL SEPT 19-22,2014

Posted in Birding Festival | 1 Comment

Out of the Blue — There’s Blue!

All Spring we’ve had a great variety of feathered visitors to our feeder and back yard but today was special.  This morning we’d seen the hummer, the grosbeak, the purple finches along with chipping and white-throated sparrows but just before lunch, I glanced out a the apple tree and saw a blue blob that can only be one thing up here: an Indigo Bunting.  What a special treat — I think it’s the first here since we’ve been keeping records.

First Indigo Bunting we've seen on our property.

First Indigo Bunting we’ve seen on our property.

I got Mary to the window as another one showed up.  The camera and binoculars were out in the truck so I scooted to get those while Mary watched our visitors move about the tree.

Two boys in blue looking for love.

Two boys in blue looking for love.

Just as I was trying to capture a couple of shots, a third male showed up.  I grabbed this photo of all three in the tree.

Can you see the third one?

Can you see the third one?

They soon flew off together to a White Pine and then departed.  I figured that was it.  However, later this afternoon, two showed up in the tree and one came to the thistle feeder, to the dismay of the American Goldfinches who consider that their restaurant.

We did not see any females and I doubt that buntings will stay since most of our land is very wooded and they like more open spaces but you never know.

It was such a surprise and such a delight to see these handsome dudes.   Unlike the brown flycatchers and sparrows that can drive me nuts, these guys are my kind of bird: flashy and unmistakeable.

Posted in Local Birding, Vermont Birding, Washington County, Yard birds | 6 Comments

Russ Pond – A Mystery Solved

One of the neat things about tackling a new county for a big year is that you get to explore many new places.  In reviewing the Lamoille County map online and in a printed atlas (I need to get some topo maps), looking for interesting back roads and features, I came across a tiny body of water called Russ Pond just over the County line, not far from the highway.  There was nothing online about it other than a map, showing it with a trail leading to it.

With visions of flocks of unmolested waterfowl at a secret place, I took the dog on a hike to it the other day.  I  didn’t see any ducks or grebes but found an interesting mystery.

Gated roads are no big deal unless they are posted -- and you don't block the entrance.  Or at least that's my theory.

Gated roads are no big deal unless they are posted — and you don’t block the entrance. Or at least that’s my theory.

So, up the steep road we trekked and soon were away from the highway noise and hearing Yellow-rumps and the other usual suspects.  There was no evidence of recent travel but there was one small tree that had fallen across the path with a saw cut from perhaps this winter.  We came into an opening and up ahead, several large I-beams lay in the field.  I thought that a bridge might be up ahead but was puzzled by them.

Mystery2W

What are these massive I-beams doing in the middle of nowhere?

We pushed ahead about a quarter-mile and through the sparse trees, I saw a big rusty structure that at first looked to me like some sort of an industrial building — but as I got closer it turned out to be a massive A-frame skeleton built on ledge, anchored by a large reinforced concrete base.  Eerie to say the least — no sign of recent activity.

This photo does not reflect the size of this large structure -- it is very large -- and rusting away.

This photo does not reflect the size of this large structure — it is very large — and rusting away.

Since birding was the objective of the trip, I scanned the small pond, finding nothing on the water but one aluminum boat lying on the shore.  Penny went down to check it out.

Any critters under this boat?

Any critters under this boat?

I went down to the water and watched a Belted Kingfisher, oblivious to us, fishing on the far bank.  It was very still except for a few warblers and peepers — and a pretty little pond.

Russ Pond on a May morning - 2014

Russ Pond on a May morning – 2014

I walked back to the truck, after seeing my first Black-throated Blue Warbler for the county, wondering what the deal was with this place.  Did someone die?  All sorts of scenarios came to mind — but why haul skyscraper-style I-beams up a mountain and leave everything?

I searched for Russ Pond history online — nada — and decided to do a little research next time in the County.  So, yesterday morning, I stopped by the highway garage — they were out working somewhere — but found a young man working at the volunteer fire company building.  He didn’t know much about the place but said, “The guy who will know, if anyone does, is Warren over at the store.”

Warren Miller is a fixture in the County, a long-time resident who has operated the Elmore Country Store for ages, and who knows everyone.  I know him by name and dropped by, explained my birding trip and asked if he knew Russ Pond.  He responded, “Haven’t been up there in years, but the place is owned by a doctor from Nova Scotia.  He wanted a little piece of Vermont so I sold him 504 acres, for cheap money back then — about $80,000.”

I asked him about the massive structure and he related that the guy’s brother-in-law was a steelworker (which brings up all sorts of steel beam acquisition scenarios) and that the doc wanted to build something that could withstand anything.  Guess plans changed – there it sits.

I expected to have to get into tax records or go on a long chase for information but in the time it took to order a coffee and muffin, I had my answer.  No bodies, nothing newsworthy, but still a good example of some of the interesting things you stumble into into when you get off the beaten paths of Vermont.  Looking at the photo of the pond, I can see why the doc bought it.

Posted in County Big Year, Lamoille County, Vermont Birding | 2 Comments