Spring migration is just beginning across the state and birds are on the move!
As fast as winter began, our winter raptor surveys have finished! We had a great few months looking for birds of prey in Addison County, with lots of snow cover and consistent cold temperatures.
The week started off icy, with an Arctic north wind blowing drifts into the remaining snow cover. The frigid weather was fitting for our “target” species. These birds are in the same family as Red-tails, Red-shoulders and Broad-winged Hawks, however their breeding grounds are restricted to the arctic tundra throughout the world, and they are well-adapted for extreme cold. In North America, they breed in Northern Canada and Alaska, and migrate south into the “lower 48” states for the winter.
As we slowly transition into winter, reports of migrant birds are trickling in throughout the state. Snowy Owls have been sighted in Colchester and Waterbury and researchers from Project SNOWstorm predict a “sizeable push” of immature birds this year. Snows experienced a robust breeding season in the eastern and central Canadian Arctic this summer which may lead to more sightings as winter progresses. These young birds sometimes wind up in trouble and end up at the Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation. This season we have already seen a young female who was in distress and emaciated. Unfortunately, the bird did not survive but samples will be sent to Project SNOWstorm in an effort to better help the species as a whole. Blood work will also be collected from any others that end up in rehab and sent to researchers in the project.
With spring in full swing we have officially wrapped up our winter raptor field season. Both Middlebury and Goodrich have been reliably checking in and sending location data for us to analyze. So far each bird has revealed drastically different movement patterns.
The last few weeks have been excellent for winter bird watching. Since our transmitters are arriving later than expected, we’ve decided to change strategies and set up standardized survey routes. While we’re mostly focusing on raptors, we love all birds and can’t help but stop and watch some of the large flocks of winter birds we’ve been seeing too.
We’re still waiting for all our materials to come in, but that hasn’t stopped us from getting in the field. We went out recently for another round of trapping with our partner from Cornell, Bryce Robinson, to find another abieticola (a subspecies of red-tailed hawks).
Similar to our prior outing, we didn’t catch a bird until late in the day. Just as the sun set over the fields, our research coordinator Jim made one more attempt before we called it a day and this beautiful bird came to the trap.
For the past few weeks, our research team has been searching for red-tailed hawks throughout Addison County in preparation for trapping. While this gave us a good idea of where to look, we quickly learned that it is important to stay flexible, and most of all, patient.
Addison County Vermont is the place to be for birders. Its mix of unique habitats draw hundreds of birds and bird watchers alike. In the winter it is known for being home to several migratory artic species including Rough-legged Hawks, Snowy Owls, and thousands of Snow Geese.
This fall marked the first season of an official hawk watch site on the top of Mt. Ascutney. Prior to that Vermont had three official sites throughout the state. With the help of VINS staff and volunteers we were able to staff the site for a total of about 46 hours. A total of 108 birds were observed in that period.