Citizen Science at Old Pepper Place

Jim Armbruster, Research Coordinator

19th-century farmhouse

Old Pepper Place is a unique homestead located in Chelsea Vermont near the end of a class four road. Its remote location makes it a great place for VINS camp in the summer and more importantly a perfect home for wildlife. With that in mind I ventured out on a citizen science mission. My goal was to start an index of wildlife and document as many species as I could. Armed with binoculars, a couple of wildlife cameras, and iNaturalist on my phone I set off. Before I could focus on all the birds singing around me I had to take in the view.  Despite the clouds, the green mountains were still visible in the distance. I could only imagine what it must be like to wake up to a sight like that. Before long I was distracted by something else…an old barn off the side of the house. I heard rumors that a porcupine was breaking in and thought I would take a look. Sure enough the floor was covered in porcupine scat. It seemed that the porcupine was right at home in the old structure. It also appeared to be a perfect place for roosting bats.
Outside the chorus of birds was getting louder and so I ventured back outside. The first song I could register belonged to a field sparrow. To me he sounded like a bouncy ball singing from the tall grass. Several species of warblers were also incessantly signing from the brush. I recognized most but was suddenly hearing a song I was not familiar with. I followed the
churry churry churry churry chorry chorry sound into the taller brush. I was suddenly confronted by a disgruntled pair of Mourning Warblers. They both admonished me for interrupting their peaceful morning but gave me great views of their coloration. They did not however sit still long enough for a picture. I was at least able to record their song and upload it to iNaturalist. I am sure they had a nest nearby but it was almost impossible to find in the thick tangled vegetation.  In total I was able to observe 34 species throughout the day.

View from the backyard

My main goal was to set up the wildlife cameras I had brought in an area that I thought would have the most activity. I set out along the trails in hopes to find the perfect spot. There had been reported sightings from campers of moose tracks along the trails and near the water. I was determined to find the perfect place to get a picture of a moose. Along the way I followed large tracks that could have been moose but were too old to clearly identify. After following the trail for a ways, while occasionally stopping to take iNaturalist observations, I came out into a meadow along a hill. Just off the meadow heading into the woods I happened upon a well-used deer trail. It appeared to be recently travelled and most likely was used to access the meadow on a regular basis. I set the camera at the edge of the two habitats in hopes to capture the traffic in and out of the meadow. More often than not deer trails are used by a variety of species so my odds of documenting some interesting animals increased. On the way out I passed the water and set up my last camera. Cameras near water have the potential for capturing numerous different species and I hoped that would be true in this case.

Testing the view of one of the wildlife cameras
Pond access near the field

There was so much bird activity and so many great pockets of unique habitats that I had not realized hours had passed since I arrived. I now had to get back to VINS but at least I would be able to continue passively observing with the cameras. They also gave me an excuse to return and pull the cards to see who had been making the property their home. These wildlife cameras give us the opportunity to observe nature without interrupting and see how animals behave without the presence of humans. After a few days the wildlife will not be able to detect the scent of humans on the cameras and will continue about their lives without knowing I was even there. I am excited to see what the cameras capture in the next month or so. Stay tuned for the results!

To learn more about Old Pepper Place click here

Old Pepper Place observation index

To start using iNaturalist yourself click here

For more info on the citizen science projects VINS participates in contact me at jarmbruster@vinsweb.org

Contact blog@vinsweb.org with questions or comments.