Tom Swochak and Janice Zepko
Nine participants carpooled in three vehicles and met up at the Vermont Welcome Center in Guilford at 7:00 a.m. The weather was a mild and breezy, with a dry forecast for the rest of the day.
Our first stop was Allen Bros Marsh in Winchester, where we counted the usual Wood Ducks, Mallards, Red-winged Blackbirds, Song and Swamp Sparrows, Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler and Common Yellowthroat. Highlights here were an American Kestrel perched high up on a leafless branch, an Alder Flycatcher heard only, and a Great Blue Heron in its nest.
Our next stops were the grasslands that surround the Windsor State Correctional Facility plus the extensive farm fields nearby. We were treated to Snipe, Bobolink, two Virginia Rails, which gave us stunning views, and Savannah Sparrow on the lower road. While on the road up the hill, we added several species, as we drove slowly, stopping twice to exit the cars for a longer listen. We heard Red-eyed Vireo, Eastern Wood Pewee, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Indigo Bunting, Black-and-white and Black-throated Green Warblers, Ovenbird, Redstart, Chimney Swift and House Wren to name a few.
We stopped at a rest area in Bradford enroute to Victory Basin and picked up Pileated Woodpecker, Ravens, and Turkeys. It was 1:00 p.m. when we began birding the Victory Basin WMA. We were hoping to glimpse any of the big four boreal species that are permanent residents (Boreal Chickadee, Black-backed Woodpecker, Canada Jay and Spruce Grouse). The elusive northern species escaped us, but we did manage excellent views of Magnolia Warbler, Northern Parula, a surprise Spotted Sandpiper and a Common Merganser with young in tow floating along the Moose River and viewed from Victory Road.
Day 2 began at 5:00 a.m. We drove north to Moose Bog for another opportunity to garner the prized boreal species. The weather forecast was for cold temps, rain and wind, but we managed about three hours of dry weather to explore the bog before the rain began to hamper our ef-forts. We heard Hermit and Swainson’s Thrushes, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, White-throated and Lincoln’s Sparrows, Yellow-rumped, Magnolia, Nashville and Palm Warblers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Blue-headed Vireos, Northern Waterthrush and many more species as we walked the trail to reach the boardwalk into the bog. Once there, we heard the distinct drumming of the Black-backed Woodpeckers, but we never did get eyes on the bird.
Next stop was at the Silvio O. Conte Visitor Center, a clean and beautiful education center with rest rooms. We were all impressed! From the center, we walked on the steep trail leading down to the Nulhegan River and enjoyed views of Blackburnian, Black-and white, and Chestnut-sided Warblers, while other species were heard only.
Rain was setting in, but before we called it a day, we tried in vain to find boreal species on Stone Dam Road and on a second attempt to Moose Bog using an alternate trail. We did hear many northern nesting species sing their beautiful songs, which is always a treat.
Day 3 brought a return to sunshine and more mild temperatures, though the wind continued. Our first stop was at the Barton Marsh in Newport. We walked the railroad bed that dissects the marsh and provides wonderful marsh views on both sides. There were at least ten Marsh Wrens belting out their songs and keeping us company during the walk. We spotted an Osprey, a Common Loon, and four Double-crested Cormorants flying by and a Pied-billed Grebe with young swimming close in. A White-tailed deer and two fawns stood still on the railroad tracks and watched us approach before moving off to safer grounds.
Next stop was the Franklin Municipal Airport located on Route 78 just east of Swanton. We found it to be less inviting this year, with “No Trespassing” signs and expanded fencing around the facility. From the adjacent farm field, we were able to hear Grasshopper Sparrow. Savan-nah and Vesper Sparrows gave us nice views along with the pleasure of their songs, both perched on the fence and atop the maintenance building. Also there was an American Kestrel flying about and then hovering while hunting over the airfield.
Missisquoi NWR on the northern end of Lake Champlain was next. We visit here on every trip to northern Vermont to see the nesting Black Terns and this year did not disappoint. We had wonderful views of a Black Tern flying low and close as it moved from one side of the road to the other, plying the marshy waters in search of little fish. Five Great Blue Herons were spotted and several Ospreys, two on their nests. Tabor Road gave us exceptional views and photo opportunities of two Common Snipes and one sharp-eyed member glimpsed two American Bitterns as they flew over the field. This spot also rewarded us with great looks at Purple Martins, Barn, Tree, and Cliff Swallows, as well as Bobolinks and two Northern Harriers.
Our last birding stop of the day was Colchester Pond, where a Golden-winged Warbler was re-ported to be present near the power line cut. We hiked the trail north along the edge of the pond, getting pleasantly surprised by the sighting of two Caspian Terns in flight over the pond, and three Common Loons floating mid-way across the pond. It was a fitting end to a wonderful weekend in northern Vermont. We ended up with a total of 103 species!