This trip has been run bi-annually since 2008. The weather for the entire time this year was warm, sunny and only a bit breezy from time to time. Day one focused on several prime birding locations within the Connecticut River Valley as we made our way to the Northeast Kingdom. Our first stop at Allen Brothers Marsh in Winchester brought us a Green Heron that called out getting our attention, and then flew across the marsh for all to see. A pair of female Hooded Mergansers with two ducklings shared the marsh with several female Wood Ducks and their young. Kestrel, Kingfisher, and Purple Finch were also added to the list. Our next stops were the grasslands that surround the Windsor State Correctional Facility plus the extensive farm fields nearby. As we studied a close Wilson’s Snipe, we were all treated to what many felt was the most exciting part of the entire trip. An American Bittern flew from a distant portion of the farm fields into the reeds within 100 feet of our group. We admired and photographed the bird in its often seen, long necked "frozen" pose. What occurred next is not so common. A second bittern flew in and landed a short distance from the first bird. We were then treated to an apparent courtship activity as the first bird slowly strutted over towards the second bird proudly displaying its white shoulder patches for all to see. We left to continue our journey north quite, well pleased to have observed such a wonderful moment together. After several more stops, one including two Common Loons on Stiles Pond in Waterford, we arrived at our last major destination of the day, the "Blowdown" trail in Victory Bog. This is a well-known trail frequented by birders in search of a group of species collectively known as "Boreal Species". We did not locate any of the big four permanent residents, (Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, Black-backed Woodpecker or Spruce Grouse). We did however have excellent views of a Mourning Warbler. Northern Parula, Palm Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Winter Wren, White-throated Sparrow and Hermit Thrush were also heard or seen.
Day two brought a return to Victory Bog, and a two hour morning walk along the Rogers Brook/Lee's Hill trail that winds through beautiful boreal forest habitat. We were again in search of the "big four" boreal species. We were only able to get in "close proximity" to a Black-backed Woodpecker that was seen ever so briefly by several of our group, but we all heard the bird calling and briefly tapping. Other species added to our trip list were Swainson's Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Broad-winged Hawk and Red-shouldered Hawk. We next headed further north to walk the Moose Bog trail located in Ferdinand. This trail rivals Victory Bog as a choice for birders hoping to locate the "big four" boreal species. We found none! Roadside birding in the area added to the numbers of individuals for most of the northern breeding species noted above, but sadly we had no further sightings of the "big four".
Day three began at 5 am with a trip to the Barton Marsh in Newport. We walked the railroad bed that dissects the marsh affording wonderful views. The Marsh Wrens that maintain a significant population in the marsh sang constantly. Two American Bitterns flew past in the distance as did the only Black Duck of the trip. We were disappointed not to locate any of the Pied-billed Grebes known to breed in the marsh. After breakfast we began the 50 or so mile drive west to the Lake Champlain area. The next stop was one of the lesser known birding hotspots in Vermont; the Franklin Municipal Airport located on Route 78 just east of Swanton. It did not disappoint, as a drive along the perimeter road that encircles the airport gave us at least seven Vesper Sparrows and a like number of Grasshopper Sparrows and Savannah Sparrows. All three species often perched on the chain link fence that borders the airport, giving wonderful views. Many of the birds sang for us, adding to the experience. Not one airplane landed or took off during the hour we spent birding the airport grounds.
Our next stop would be the Missisquoi NWR, an extensive refuge on the northern end of Lake Champlain. A roadside stop along Route 78 in Swanton gave us at least six Black Terns, upwards of 10 Great Blue Herons, 2 Great Egrets, several Ospreys and a distant Bald Eagle. A stop at the visitor center located on Tabor Rd gave us close views of the dozens of Cliff Swallows that nest on the visitor center buildings. We drove up the road a mile or so to visit a large Purple Martin colony of at least 30 gourd nests where dozens of birds were seen. As we drove the back roads of Swanton, one more "special bird moment" occurred. Alongside the dirt road, we noticed a small puddle with exposed mud shoreline and we were treated to six or more Cliff Swallows plucking insects off the water just 30 feet away. A pair of Killdeer flew in to join the feast, and then a Wilson’s Snipe joined the party. We continued on to Mud Creek WMA and birded that beautiful wetland. On the way back to Massaschusetts, we stopped in Berlin at a large reservoir with an undeveloped shoreline and had one last birding memory. Two adult Common Loons were floating together in the center of reservoir. As we scoped the birds we noticed two little chicks swimming with the adults, multiple times mounting the backs of the adults then returning back to the water. Final species count for the three day trip - 113.