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May 12, 2012 - The World Series of Birding
The World Series of Birding takes place in New Jersey each year, and for over a decade, youth teams have participated with NBNC. In this annual event, which is part competition and part fund raiser, teams scour the Garden State in an attempt to find and identify as many types of birds as possible. As one generation of World Series alumni are becoming adult conservationists, a new generation is participating for the first time, and both shared the experience together this year.
Our youth team had the joy of discovering Cape May County and exploring the fields, forests, beaver ponds, and beaches full of birds. From dawn until dusk, they enjoyed countless “life birds” and tallied an impressive 111 species. Our team of young adult “alumni” spent a full 24-hours scouring Cape May and finding 148 species during the competition.
Whether watching a Ruby-throated Hummingbird sitting on its nest by day, or listening to the echoing calls of Clapper Rails ringing through a saltmarsh at night, the memories from our birding “big day” will last a lifetime.
January 28, 2012 - Superbowl of Birding IX
Our forth year competing in the Superbowl of Birding started in the same spot as last year, with the whistle of a Screech Owl at 5:15 am. It ended at the same place as last year, too, with a Short-eared Owl hunting over sand dunes with the setting sun. But that is where the similarities end... 3 feet of snow last year, but bare ground and open water in 2012. And, consequently, a very different suite of birds.
The weather was definately a factor in the birds we saw. Open water provided habitat for waterfowl that typcially fly further south, such as Northern Pintail, Ruddy Duck, and American Coot. Even some insectivores were toughing it out on the coast this winter including a Gray Catbird and a vagrant Townsend's Warbler, seen gleaning insects from atop a tall spruce tree.
Oddly enough, we tallied the same number of species as last year, but since the Superbowl works on a point system (rare birds worth more points) we ended up with our best score so far! The weather was nothing short of perfect, and a good time was had by all. A full species list is shown below:
In this competition, birds are ranked by difficulty to find
December 17, 2011 - 51st Plainfield Christmas Bird Count
“Atypical” would be a good word to describe the 51st Plainfield Christmas Bird Count. Warm temperatures leading up to the count and the absence of snow likely played a role in the birds we encountered. While the number of species seen (37) was higher than average, the total number of individuals was rather low. Many of the “common” birds were sparse, and extremely low counts were reported for many species including chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, and woodpeckers. With an abundance of open ground and hence plenty of foraging area for birds, it is possible that the usual year-round residents were dispersed across a larger area than normal, rather than being concentrated at feeders. Read more.
October 2, 2011 - Geprag Park Beginner Bird Walk
A group of eager youngsters enjoyed a brief reprieve in the cold, stormy weather to enjoy a bird walk. The morning started with a Merlin swooping and diving through a flock of several hundred starlings. The hunt went on for several minutes before the Merlin flew away with empty talons. The birds had already put on quite a show before we had even left the parking lot!
Interesting birds continued to present themselves as the morning progressed, with migrants such as Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Blackpoll Warblers hopping about. But for beginning birders, just as much excitement was had from the "common" birds. One of the highlights was watching a flock of Cedar Waxwings as they ate Juniper berries just 20 feet from the group.
Summer 2011 - Bird Banding at Summer Camp
NBNC hosted its third year of our Avian Wonders camp for grades 4-7 this year, but kids of all ages got to enjoy some wonders of the bird world this summer. Campers as young as 3 years old observed NBNC staff and volunteers operating a bird banding station on the property. In bird banding, songbirds are captured in mist nets, carefully removed, identified and measured, and "tagged" with a band before being released. Bands look like little metal bracelets the birds wear on their feet to help identify them if they are recaptured in the future.
In addition to providing important scientific data that helps us study our breeding birds, bird banding has offered a unique way for children at NBNC to connect with birds. As the old expression goes, "a bird in the hand" can be a valuable thing, especially when it comes to igniting awe and curiosity in our summer campers. Stay tuned for fall banding opportunities!
May 21, 2011 - The 2nd Annual Youth Bird-a-thon!
An early-morning thunderstorm was not what we were hoping for to start our birdathon, but the team of eager young birders endured the pouring rain and eventually the skies cleared up enough for some great birds to be seen. Highlights included excellent views of Chestnut-sided Warblers at NBNC and a Virginia Rail seen at Berlin Pond. With only minor coaching from adult cheperones, the team of avid young birders identified 32 species of birds:
May 14, 2011 - The World Series of Birding!
The World Series of Birding is always an adventure and this year was no different. With a new team name, "The NBNC Chocolate-headed Cowbirds (with sprinkles)", we scoured the shores, forests, marshes, and meadows for every bird we could possibly find. Read more, see pictures, and view a complete checklist of our 150 species at the NBNC blog.
May 10, 2011 - Nighthawk Nestpatch Instillation Complete
The North Branch Nature Center’s Youth Birding Program has partnered with middle school students in central Vermont to revitalize the nesting habitat of the Common Nighthawk. Once a common sight to people in Vermont cities, nighthawks used to swoop and dive across the sky at dusk, collecting insects as they went. Their preference to nest in large, open spaces may once have precluded Vermont from possible breeding locations, but since at least the late 1800’s Common Nighthawks have made use of gravel rooftops to raise their young.
Unfortunately, the Common Nighthawk is in steep decline throughout its breeding range and has not been seen breeding in Montpelier in recent years. One cause of their decline is loss of habitat: both natural and artificial. Conversion of gravel rooftops to other substrates is believed to be one cause for their disappearance from urban areas. In 2007, New Hampshire Audubon began a research initiative to install gravel “nest patches” on rooftops in order to create the Nighthawk’s preferred gravel nesting sites. Students from U-32 Middle/High School (Montpelier) and Crossett Brook Middle School (Waterbury), in partnership with North Branch Nature Center, are replicating the efforts of NH Audubon by installing Vermont’s first nest patches. The patches were installed today (Crossett Brook) and last Thursday (U-32) and monitoring of the patches will begin later this month.
May 7, 2011 - Wells River Beginners Bird Walk
For our third year of spring bird walks on the Blue Mountain Union School trails, this was the first time we were able to walk under sunny skies! Not only was the weather good, but so were the birds, with over forty species seen. Warblers were plentiful, with nine species seen (including Magnolia, Yellow-rumped, Nashville, and others). Canada Geese stuck close by their nests on the beaver pond. Swallows and swifts flew overhead. But perhaps the biggest surprise was a Merlin that was seen several times throughout the walk, calling constantly as if it was establishing a nesting territory. This birding hotspot never disapoints! Our full checklist is shown below:
May 1, 2011 - Geprags Park Beginners Bird Walk
Birdwatchers wait all year for May, and a group of young birders started the month off with a trip to Geprag Park. Cosponsored by NBNC and Green Mountain Audubon Society, participants hiked the trails under sunny skies, turning up many noteworthy birds. Before we even left the parking lot, the noisy song of an Eastern Meadowlark rang throughout the field. As soon as we entered the forest, we were greeted by Black-and-white Warblers foraging, Nashville Warblers singing, and a pair of chickadees excavating a nest cavity! The forest floor was painted green and white by the Dutchman’s Breeches that carpeted it. As we proceeded, a Red-bellied Woodpecker let out a call, the first time one has been heard in this park. Just as we reached the end of the trail and got ready to turn back, we heard the “bee-buzzz” of the Blue-winged Warbler.
The buds have started to open, and little baby leaves have sprouted from the Red Maples along the trail. The grass will soon be tall and the forest canopy thick and the birds much harder to see. We’re looking forward to the upcoming Youth Birding trips and hope you’ll join us before the black flies come out!
March 20, 2011 - Winter Ducks
Spring has officially begun and there were plenty of signs of spring during the NBNC annual duck outing on Lake Champlain. Several stops along the lake revealed a menagerie of waterfowl viewed under the warming sun. We observed 13 species of ducks including those that winter in Vermont and those that are just migrating through. Of particular interest were several Barrow's Goldeneyes (pictured on the right) viewed at the former site of the Lake Champlain Bridge.
While ducks were our main target on this outing, the migration of geese was breathetaking with thousands flying north throughout the day including a flock of approximately 1200 Snow Geese sitting on the ice of the still partially-frozen Lake Champlain. In just a half-hour of lake-watching, we counted at least 5,000 Canada Geese traversing the landscape. A complete list of waterfowl species seen is shown below:
February 20, 2011 - Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC)
Feather Questers were excited to participate in this continent-wide citizen science project documenting winter regulars and rarities in and around the North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier. Staying true to the event's name, we looked into many backyards to view birds, seeing Cooper's Hawk and Pine Siskin amongst the birds on Elm Street in Montpelier. The real treat was getting to document some rare birds that have been loitering around Central Vermont for over a month.
The first rare bird we chased after was the Northern Hawk Owl, seen regularly near the Berlin/Moretown line off River Rd. When Hawk Owls appear in Vermont (only some winters), they can become very devoted to a single area, often perching in the same tree day after day. Since they are diurnal (awake during the day) they are often seen searching for food from the most prominent perch they can find (treetops, powerlines, fence posts, etc.) This particular Hawk Owl was first discovered just before New Year's Day and has since been seen by dozens of happy birders. Thanks to Feather Questers, we were able to document the bird for the GBBC.
The other rare bird seen during the GBBC was a Varied Thrush (last reported in Vermont in 2004) that has been present in the Bolton backyard of Don & June Kenney since mid-December. When Varied Thrushes do appear in Vermont, they will often find a small territory near a bird feeder and defend it vigorously, chasing off other birds. We viewed "VT" (as the Kenneys call him) from their bedroom as it ate June's homemade suet from their backyard feeders.
Although rare birds like these are exciting to document, especially as part of a nationwide project, it are the mundane sightings that make the GBBC so interesting. Over 40 Vermont cities and towns were represented in this year's GBBC and over 80 species tallied. For more info about the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit www.birdsource.org/gbbc
January 29, 2011 - Superbowl of Birding VIII
For twelve consecutive hours, the North Branch Noddies scoured the coast in search of all the birds that they could find in the Superbowl of Birding. This was our third year taking part in the competition and we tallied an impressive 66 species, more than we ever have before!
Fair weather and calm wind were a welcomed change from last year, and we were easily able to find Eastern Screech-Owl in two locations before dawn. At first light, we headed to Andrew's Point where birds were very active off the coast. Under good lighting and at close distances, we had great views of Red-throated Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Harlequin Ducks, and a group of a dozen Razorbill among others.
Before noon we had already found amazing birds such as the Barrow's Goldeneye at Loblolly Cove, the King Eider (pictured above) at Bass Rocks, and the Common Murre at Eastern Point. Every stop we made throughout the day seemed to add new species to our list. As the sun was setting, with less than 10 minutes left in the competition, a Short-eared Owl flew silently across the sky at Plum Island as our final bird.
After a fantastic day of birding, the Noddies were happy to learn that they won the Seeker's Award, which is given to the team that finds the most birds off of a special checklist of 30 species. The only species off the list that we didn't see were Northern Gannet, Iceland Gull, and Snowy Owl (which surprisingly wasn't found by any team).
In this competition, birds are ranked by difficulty to find (1 point being easiest and 5 points being hardest). Our complete checklist is below:
November, 2010 - Project Nighthawk VT Launched
This fall we officially launched Project Nighthawk VT by introducing middle school students from U-32 and Crossett Brook to this project which involves revitalizing Common Nighthawk nesting habitat. Their habit of nesting on flat, gravel rooftops since at least the late 1800’s made Common Nighthawks well known and easily accessible to people in cities. Although once present in central Vermont, Common Nighthawks are in steep decline throughout their breeding range and have not been seen breeding in Montpelier in recent years. One cause of their decline is loss of habitat: both natural and artificial. Conversion of gravel rooftops to other substrates is believed to be one cause for their disappearance from urban areas. In 2007, New Hampshire Audubon began a research initiative to install gravel “nest patches” on rooftops in order to create the Nighthawk’s preferred gravel nesting sites.
October 9, 2010 - Saw-whet Banding at Snake Mountain
To describe Saturday's banding night as a success would be an understatement. Clear skies, low wind, and lack of moon along with a favorable breeding season and an optimal mid-October date made for a productive night of banding in which we caught 20 owls!
Between 8:30 and 11pm, the times when capture rates are highest, we'd find up to five owls in the nets at once! Participants had ample opportunities to observe the owls close up and even to help record dataand release them.
September 17 & 18, 2010 - Cornell Lab of Ornithology Event
With the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in town this weekend, birders young and old converged for a fun weekend of birding. The event kicked off on Friday night with a presentation by Dr. Charles Walcott on the insights of 20+ years studying loons with the Cornell Lab. On Saturday, groups of birders fanned out accross Dead Creek. The youth/beginners group had a nice tally including several species not seen by any other group. A complete list is shown below:
September 5, 2010 - Beginners Bird Walk - Geprag Park
In partnership with Green Mountain Audubon Society, a group of five kids plus parents and trip leaders trekked around Geprag Park, a Champlain Valley birding hotspot. Cold, windy weather kept the birds quiet, but we still got a nice show from the birds we did see, including a group of 4 American Kestrels and 7 Eastern Bluebirds! A complete trip list is shown below:
July 12 - 16 - Avian Wonders Summer Day Camp
For the second year, NBNC and Feather Questers hosted this popular camp for kids entering grades 4-7. Participants visited the primier birding locales in Central Vermont and saw 59 species including American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, 11 species of warblers, Evening Grosbeak and many more. For a full trip report, see the latest Feather Questers Newsletter.
May 2, 2010 - Boreals at Moose Bog
In this remote area of the Northeast Kingdom, participants got a chance to experience a hike in the boreal forests more typical of Canada than the US. Along with the unique forest came a unique set of birds whose ranges barely penetrate into New England.
The highlights of the trip were most certainly the two male Spruce Grouse that we observed at close range. One individual (pictured on the right) strutted right past us within a few feet! Our other highlight was a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers excavating a nest cavity (pictured on left). The birds were spotted by one of our youth participants as we were in the cars getting ready to leave!
Alas, the Gray Jays eluded us, and just the sounds of Boreal Chickadees were heard. But this will give us just one more reason to return to this quintessential Vermont birding locale.
Bird Banding Demonstration
Dead Creek Wildlife Day
Saw-whet Owl Banding at Snake Mtn.
Berlin Pond Waterfowl Walk
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