Warbler Weekend at Highland
White-winged Scoters, Boreal Chickadees and 16 species of Warbler
greeted the Vermont Bird Tours weekend trip to Greensboro and
the Highland Lodge. We got some amazing through-the-scope looks
at warblers and other songbirds, including Scarlet Tanager, a
female Ruby-throated Hummingbird building a nest and an Indigo
Bunting performing at the Lodge. Long, high-quality looks at warblers
are the priority on this trip. And we got plenty.
A cooperative Mourning Warbler found its way into our hearts (and
Scott Bassage's digital camera -- digi-scoped while he sang from
an exposed perch for 10 minutes or so). Blackburnian Warblers
really performed this weekend. We watched several through the
scopes. Up here, we see birds on breeding grounds (not in migration),
which means territorial males tend to sit up and sing for us.
It's not often that birding groups watch warblers through spotting
scopes. But that's what we do on this trip. It's among the most
satisfying birding experiences I know. This trip isn't necessarily
about quantity; we don't generate a big species list. It's instead
about quality (as well as the grace, simplicity and astonishing
food at at one of Vermont's lodging treasures). Here's the complete
Warbler Weekend Trip List.
Berlin Pond Bliss
A Red-necked Grebe in breeding plumage, an American Bittern feeding
out in the open and jaw-dropping looks at Scarlet Tanager were
among the highlights from Vermont Bird Tours outings to Berlin
Pond on May 20 and 21. As usual, the pond was a playground for
birds. Warbler numbers and diversity were somewhat low at 15 species.
But we were busy. Here's the complete Berlin
Pond List from the weekend -- 70 species.
King Rail, Cerulean Warbler and Lark Sparrow were only a few
of the highlights from this year's Vermont Bird Tours trip to
Ohio and Ontario from May 7-12. Our group got great looks at these
and many other delights during the height of migration. We enjoyed
long, gratifying looks at 28 warbler species (29 if you include
the Pine Warbler Bryan spotted before the trip). Cerulean Warbler
was sort of a trip mascot this year -- we readily found them at
Crane Creek State Park in Ohio. Our group's discovery of a King
Rail (above) at Magee Marsh in Ohio was big news. We've obviously
got nothing against Vermont, but the migration is simply better
out there. Here's proof -- our
Migration is picking up steam. A smattering of birds at Herrick's
Cove in Rockingham (during constant rain) on May 3 included Green-winged
Teal, Virginia Rail, Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Flycatcher, Warbling
Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Black-and-white Warbler, Palm Warbler,
Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Northern
Waterthrush, Marsh Wren, and Chipping Sparrow.
Fish Crow in Burlington
A Fish Crow was calling at the Burlington Intervale on Thursday
afternoon, April 20. (I was actually out there looking for butterflies.)
Be aware that female American Crows can offer a somewhat similar-sounding
begging call early during the nesting season. It's normally a
bit more drawn -- like a higher, nasal version of a typical crow
caw -- than the more abruptly ending Fish Crow caw. This one was
kind enough to issue the more distinctive two-noted "uh-uh"
call as well.
Also of note was a Carolina Wren singing on April 23 across from
the Plainfield Fire & Rescue Station (where, as a volunteer
firefighter, I can often be found when I'm not out birding).
Bryan on VPR's Annual Bird Show
From woodpeckers to
warblers, even a question about which bird belongs on the Vermont
license plate, were fair game during Bryan's annual "Bird
Show" appearance on Vermont Public Radio. Follow the "Bird
Show" link then scroll down a bit.
Bryan on Ivory-billed Woodpecker
List online to Bryan's
Vermont Public Radio interview about the trip to Arkansas
in search of Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
Ivory-billed Trip in the Valley News
Search of a Long-Lost Woodpecker
By Dan Mackie
Valley News Staff Writer
Five biologists from
Woodstock's Vermont Institute of Natural Science took a road trip
recently to join the search for the Holy Grail of ornithology
-- the ivory-billed woodpecker.
They didn't find it.
(If they had, this item would have been on the front page.)
We stopped at Graceland, and we didn't find Elvis, either,
said Bryan Pfeiffer of Plainfield, Vt., a biologist who does consulting
work for VINS.
There's no failure,
said Pfeiffer about quests like this one. Disappointment,
In late February, the
biologists drove a van to the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge
(with a stop in Memphis) to volunteer for two weeks in the search
for the ivory-billed woodpecker, last sighted in 1944. Last year,
ornithologists raised hopes that the bird might still populate
the refuge's remote forest and swampland. A fuzzy videotape and
audio recordings support the claims, but a raging debate
about the evidence remains, Pfeiffer said.
The VINS team joined
an effort led by Cornell University researchers. Pfeiffer said
they woke at 4:30, headed out an hour later, and put in 12- to
14-hour days looking for signs of the woodpecker. Sometimes biologists
canoed in pairs, or spent the day walking singly. Pfeiffer said
he walked 6 to 10 miles a day.
Near each day's end,
they spent 90 minutes monitoring a potential ivory-billed roost
site. No sightings were made, but Pfeiffer said, It was
fabulous to walk all day like that. Sometimes we'd sit and wait
and try to be as small and quiet as we could. Bobcats would walk
by, and possum and white-tailed deer
Kent McFarland, a biologist
at VINS who organized the trip but had to bow out at the last
minute because of a family emergency, said he regretted missing
out but there was a silver lining. I told them I'd mowhawk
my hair if they found the woodpecker, he said.
Eagle Extravaganza (and
Eagles put on a show for a Vermont Bird Tours eagle watch on Saturday,
March 25. At the mouth of Otter Creek in Ferrisburgh, we watched
them soar above us, fly by us, play in the air and simply sit
on the ice and eat fish. At least 8 eagles were there on March
25, but Bryan and his pal Ted Murin spotted 11 there a few days
earlier and another dozen at the Champlain Bridge (to NY). Other
highlights from from Saturday's trip included a cooperative Pileated
Woodpecker excavating a cavity; a delightful smattering of waterfowl,
many of them courting; various other raptors (including the Rough-legged
Hawk pictured to the right) and two Bohemian Waxwings at our meeting
spot in downtown Vergennes. Here's a partial list of what Bryan
bumped into during exploits in the Champlain Valley (between Charlotte
and Addision) from March 23-25:
American Black Duck
Harlequin Duck (Charlotte Town Beach)
Great Blue Heron
Great Black-backed Gull
"Hey, Don't Blow Your Top"
to Ruby-crowned Kinglets comes across loud and clear in a series
of images showing various stages of "excitement" in
a male. The images are featured in the spring issue of Vermont
Life Magazine. You can view them by clicking here
or on the kinglet to your right.
Bryan's Ivory-billed Adventure
I'm just back from Arkansas, where a team of five biologists
affiliated with the Vermont Institute of Natural Science helped
in the search for Ivory-billed Woodpecker. While none of us found
Ivory-bills (as expected), the bottomland forest of the Mississippi
River basin is an enchanting place -- everything from birds to
bear to butterflies. (That's Scrubgrass Bayou to the right, part
of our search area.)
Each field day began at 4:30am, when we awoke to shovel oatmeal
into our guts before heading into the field dark and early at
5:30am. From that point on, we'd canoe on the bayou or bushwhack
the woods the entire day looking for any sign of Ivory-bills,
including potential cavities and feeding sites (whose coordinate
we dutifully marked on our GPS units). We were mostly on dry land
or wading in shin-deep water (deep enough to commune with Wood
Ducks). And, except when we were two to a canoe, we bushwhacked
alone all day, between six and 10 miles per day.
Each day ended with a 90-minute watch at a potential Ivory-bill
roost site. We'd navigate to one of those GPS-mapped cavities,
park ourselves and watch it from 80 minutes before until 10 minutes
after sunset. Its called the magic hour (although
this one has 90 minutes), but one of our team members, Juan Klavins,
has dubbed it happy hour. During that happy time,
indeed throughout the day, we would suspend our disbelief about
this bird, we would summon the faith that unlike the Great Auk
and the Labrador Duck, the Ivory-bill had somehow cheated extinction,
and that on this particular evening at the cavity one of them
would decide that you personally are not some worthless lump of
flesh in camouflage, that you, who drove cross-country 24 hours
through what our nation has become (a homogenous state of fast
food and WalMart), are deserving of a visit from the great mythical
woodpecker, a visit from what our nation once was. (OK, as you
can see, you also get to do some overly ponderous thinking out
there during happy hour.)
After all that waiting and thinking, we'd pack up and bushwhack
out by flashlight. We were usually back to base camp at 7:30 pm
for an hour or so of debriefing, data work and downloading photos
(of everything but Ivory-bills). We'd gobble down supper, get
our assignment for the next morning, and crash into our sleeping
bags by 10pm. Then we'd arise 6.5 hours later to do it again.
Thats it for now. I've uploaded a few preliminary our photos
at a quick-and-dirty VINS-Ivory-billed Website.
I expect to be doing a few slide presentations around Vermont
about the trip in the coming months. I hope to see you at one
Bryan Searches for Ivory-billed Woodpecker
Bryan and a team of biologists from the Vermont
Institute of Natural Science on Saturday begin an expedition to
the remote swamps of Arkansas for one of the great quests in all
of birdwatching: the search for the near-mythical Ivory-billed
by prospects of venomous snakes, waist-deep muck and freezing
temperatures, we'll spend two weeks in canoes and on foot trying
to locate and photograph the large, dashing and elusive woodpecker,
long believed to be extinct.
more like duck hunters than birdwatchers, head-to-toe in full
camouflage gear, the VINS team will work from before dawn well
into the evening, with the solitary goal finding and documenting
on film any signs of the huge black-and-white woodpecker.
is remote and sometimes imposing. Much of the habitat can be flooded,
so crews will travel by canoe. When on foot, the searchers wear
chest-waders. Dense forest growth and venomous cottonmouth snakes
are among the region's biodiversity, although cooler February
temperatures in Arkansas may keep snakes less active.
on this trip, you can read the complete VINS
announcement (PDF file) about our expedition or listen
to the Vermont Public Radio story.
returns (in time for Town Meeting), Bryan hopes to make some visits
around the state to talk about the Arkansas journey. Stay tuned
for news about that.
North Carolina Birding News
just returned from a winter vacation to see birds and butterflies
within only a (long) day's drive from Vermont -- to the coastal
plain of North Carolina. It's the same location he guides clients
to see Black Rail, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Bachman's Sparrow,
both Sharp-tailed Sparrow species, Painted Bunting and a host
of southern warblers in late April. In any event, here are just
a few highlights from his winter trip:
Black Skimmer (11)
Wilson's Plover (1)
Piping Plover (4)
Marbled Godwit (50)
Red Knot (12)
Cabbage White (1)
Clouded Sulphur (3)
Cloudless Sulphur (1 fresh)
Polygonia (anglewing) sp. (1)
Red Admiral (1)
These were at
Fort Macon State Park in Atlantic Beach, NC, on Feb. 2,
a Ring-billed Gull eating a Seahorse, a lifer (the Seahorse, that
is). By the way, Seahorses are among the few organisms in which
males get pregnant.
The "Gullible" Weekend
Gull, Glaucous Gull, Black-headed Gull, and all the common gull
species were among the highlights from from this weekend of gull
(and other bird) watching. Other notable species included Greater
White-fronted Goose and two Bald Eagles at Shelburne Bay. On January
8, while watching gulls in Gloucester, MA, we also enjoyed the
classic winter seashore specialties, including King Eider, Harlequin
Duck and Black Guillemot.