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Friday, July 11, 2014

Summer Scientists

Last week campers in grades 5th through 8th joined us for a week of scientific research during NBNC's Summer Scientists camp.  We joined a different researcher in the field every day as we learned their methodologies and aided them in their studies.

Sorting BMIs into ice cube trays

We began the week by heading to the Dog River with the UVM Watershed Alliance for some water quality testing.  After testing for dissolved oxygen, phosphorus, and other chemical and physical properties, we cast our nets for some Benthic Macro Invertebrates (river and lake bottom dwelling bugs).  Placing our nets firmly on the bottom of the river, we reached in and began rubbing rocks with our hands on the upstream side of the open nets, hoping to dislodge some critters, which would then be carried by the current into the net.  With many pollution sensitive species such as stonefly and dragonfly larvae combined with favorable chemical and physical test results, we concluded that section of the Dog River was indeed healthy.  Upon our return to the nature center, we dipped our nets one final time along the bend in the North Branch River before heading home.  

Hellgrammite found in North Branch River
Camper holding a baby wood turtle

Day 2 was spent wading in the Worcester section of the North Branch River with local wood turtle guru Mark Powell and his turtle dog Gracie.  Having been skunked last year, we would have been happy with just one turtle but as luck would have it, we found 3!  Gracie the turtle dog sniffed out in the brush one while our keen camper eyes spotted one basking on the bank.  After we helped Mark weigh and measure the turtles, we released them back into the water.  While bending over to return one of the turtles, a camper discovered our 3rd and smallest turtle of the day.  This turtles was less than one year old with its shell only measuring 1 and 3/4 inches!

For our third day, we stayed onsite at NBNC while visiting Chip and Larry at the bird banding station.  We caught several birds that had already been banded in years prior and some that had just hatched this year.  There were common yellowthroats, song sparrows, chestnut-sided warblers, and house wrens.  The highlight though was a species that we had never banded at the nature center... a red-winged blackbird.  Although they are a very common species at the nature center, they tend to stick to the fields and cattails. 

Female Red-winged Blackbird

Petting a Common Yellowthroat

Our week culminated in a full day citizen science adventure in Groton State Forest as we worked to photograph and identify as many species as we possibly could, which we would then add to the Vermont Center for Ecostudies project the VT Atlas of Life.  The goal of this project is to catalog every living species in the state.  So we photographed and identified everything from slugs to flowers, from birds to newts.  No better way to spend a day than exploring the wonderful flora and fauna of Vermont!

Eastern Newt
We found some Blue-eyed Grass while having lunch atop Owl's Head!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Shade for Coffee and a Home for Birds

Chestnut-sided Warbler is
one of the migratory species
that benefits from bird-friendly coffee
A guest post by Scott Maxham:

Birds and coffee don’t seem to have much in common at first thought. Although an early morning birder may beg to differ as waking up at the crack of dawn can be a bit easier with a quick caffeine boost. The connection between birds and coffee is deeper than most realize.

Coffee is a beverage enjoyed by many, but quite often we don’t think about where it was grown. If we do know where it was grown it is most likely to romanticize over the warm location and not how the coffee itself was grown. Unfortunately most coffee plantations clear cut rainforests to make way for the coffee plants. Habitats are destroyed and once pristine forests are no longer standing. This is a big deal because coffee does not require full sun to grow. Interestingly, shade-grown coffee plants produce higher quality beans than sun grown coffee plants.

Bird-friendly coffee can help preserve
forest trees, providing critical habitat.
This in turn means that tropical rainforests don’t need to be cut down. These forests are the overwintering habitats for many of the birds we enjoy and are happy to have nesting in North America. Of course, such forests are home to many other plants and animals. Forests are also great at storing carbon and creating oxygen. Forests prevent erosion and promote healthy water cycles.

Birds and Beans is a brand of coffee that aims to support farmers who grow shade-grown coffee. They seek out these farmers and then sell their coffee to bird-loving coffee drinkers. If you would like to taste this bird friendly coffee, visit our coffee page.

In an effort to determine the benefits shade grown coffee, in terms of bird populations, North Branch Nature Center’s ‘Avian Wonders’ summer camp surveyed the Beidler Family Farm, in Randolph, to see what birds resided there. Other organic and bird-friendly farms were surveyed throughout the U.S. and Central America as part of a project with Birds and Beans… stay tuned for the results!

We encourage you to help the cause by purchasing Birds and Beans coffee for yourself or another coffee drinking friend or family member as part of our buyer's club. It is also small and easy change you can make to protect birds all around the world. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

BirdFest 2014!

Learning how we study birds at the banding station
Earlier this month, over 200 people gathered at North Branch Nature Center to celebrate birds for our 3rd annual BirdFest. It all started at 7:00 a.m. with our early-morning bird walk. Participants scoured treetops and dense shrubs, spying dozens of colorful bird species as they busily built nests and searched for food. A pair of Black-billed Cuckoos inspired “ooo’s and aaah’s” as they perched out in the open for all to see. By 8:00 a.m., some of our early morning participants continued to enjoy the sights and sounds of birds while others made their way to the bird banding station to see avian research up close.

The bird banding station was busy with activity as a wide variety of species were captured and studied. Among the highlights was a Pine Warbler, a species that spends much of its time out of sight in treetops, and a first for us at the banding station! Other captures included chickadees, cardinals, a hummingbird, and a Magnolia Warbler!

Chip shows onlookers a Ruby-throated Hummingbird
just before release
The 9:30 a.m. bird walk with Paula Gills crossed paths with the banding station, where visitors continued to enjoy seeing birds up-close. And at the same time, a multitude of activities were beginning at BirdFest central. Kid’s tent; kestrel box building; live raptors; bird carving demo and workshop… all the action began just before 10:00 a.m.

By 11:00 a.m., early morning bird walk participants were enjoying talks about Bald Eagles and bird photography, while kids were excitedly roaming the area around the house as they explored, carved, built and discovered. By 1:15 p.m. the awards ceremony was underway for our drawing and photo contest participants. Over 50 species later, and seemingly in the blink of an eye, BirdFest was done!

Craig and the Red-tailed Hawk
Arts & crafts at the Kid's Tent
Remy carving some chickadees
Building Kestrel Boxes

Thanks so much to all of our presenters, including Allison from Birds of Vermont Museum for hosting the carving workshop, Remy Lary for a great carving demo, Craig from Outreach for Earth Stewardship for the always-popular live raptor show, John Buck and Tom Berriman for their great presentations, Paula Gills for leading the mid-morning bird walk, and everyone else who helped out in so many ways! And of course, thanks to our BirdFest sponsors for their support!

All photos by Eve Bernhard.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wildflower Wednesday #4

Another Wednesday is upon us, so here is another wildflower update from NBNC. All these pictures were taken today!

Galium (also known as bedstraw) flowers are tiny, at less than 5mm. But there are thousands of them in the fields of NBNC. Later in the season, after the flowers are long gone, we sometimes find caterpillars of the Galium Sphinx Moth feeding on green leaves.

Orange Hawkweed is an attractive but non-native wildflower that can be found scattered throughout the fields at NBNC.

Cow Vetch (also sometimes called Purple Vetch) grows throughout the fields at NBNC. We see the Northern Amber Bumblebee (Bombus borealis) visiting the flowers occasionally. 

Yet another non-native species, Goat's Beard is just starting to open up in the fields.

Coming Attractions:

Milkweed is getting close to flowering... I look forward to it blooming every year... it is a pollinator-magnet!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Amphibian Monitoring: 2014 Season Wrap-up

Thousands of tadpoles and salamander larvae are now happily swimming about vernal pools thanks to the hard work of the dedicated Amphibian Monitoring Program (AMP) volunteers! Over 2 dozen volunteers spent 50 hours patrolling busy roads and helping amphibians get across safely. 

With the coldest March on record, Wood Frog migrations seemed delayed as the snow slowly melted in early April. But by the end of the month, things had warmed considerable and the cold winter had no effect on the timing of Spotted Salamander migration. The ‘big night’ in central Vermont occurred on Earth Day, April 22, and volunteers were out in force to help them as they migrated across roads. Vernal pool breeders continued to migrate for the next several weeks, and we even had volunteers out in early May crossing Spotted Salamanders in East Montpelier. 

Collectively, volunteers monitored 12 road crossings, documenting 10 species of amphibians. Over 500 individual amphibians were moved off the road, including an impressive 136 Spotted Salamanders! The rare Jefferson/Blue-spotted Salamander group was also documented at several locations. Five new crossing sites were located by volunteers in Randolph, Calais, Elmore, Wolcott, and Worcester. Additionally, 35 people attended the 3 trainings offered this year to learn more about amphibian migration and what they could do to help.

While our efforts for the Amphibian Monitoring Program have wrapped up for the year, there will still be amphibians active on roadways during rainy nights for the remainder of the ‘warm’ season. Continue to stay alert for animals on the road and feel free to report your sightings to the Vermont Reptile & Amphibian Atlas

Thanks to all of the AMP's volunteers and supporters for another productive year!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Wildflower Wednesday #3

Yes, it is Friday, but the wildflower photos were all taken on Wednesday, June 11, 2014! They're all still in bloom, along with many others here at North Branch Nature Center.

Dames Rocket is an attractive but invasive flower at NBNC that blooms along the trail near the community garden as well as other spots near the river. Although the blossoms are pretty, be wary about planting it in your home garden because it can easily spread and become out-of-control!

White Clover is one of the few common plants that you can find on a mowed lawn. It is not native, but doesn't seem invasive at NBNC. It can be found on the lawn as well as at the edges of the mowed paths through the field.

Yet another non-native plant, chickweed grows in the field at NBNC and can be recognized by it's distinctive eight white petals.

And rounding out the week is another non-native/invasive plants: Birdsfoot Trefoil.  You can find this species growing in fields, along roadsides, and in other open locations.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Sanctity of Mud: Trekkers Spring 2014

For some people, mud is a thing to be avoided... something that will leave stains on clothing and tracks on the carpet.  It is gross, smelly, and slimy.  When they come to a muddy section of trail they do their best to skirt to the outside and walk around it or maybe, if it is too large, they deem it not worth the risk, turn around and head back from whence they came.  What lies beyond the muddy sign of things remains a mystery left unexplored.  Better to leave it for the more courageous wanderer...

Trekkers in search of good spoon carving wood.

To those of such a persuasion, consider this: what wonders will go unknown if the only path followed is the one most tidy?  What lies just beyond that soupy bit of trail cannot always be seen by staying clean.  Sometimes baptism by mud is the only way to experience the best that this world has to offer.  

Mud may not be the only obstacle.  Sometimes you have to crawl through the brush and get your hands a little dirty.

Trekkers harvesting wild leeks

Maybe it takes a little sweat and determination...

Trekkers cutting wood for spoon carving

The best fires aren't always the quickest or easiest to build...

Building a Leave No Trace fire

Sometimes you have to risk getting a little smoke in your eyes...

Cooking flapjacks over the fire, topped with our homemade syrup!

The quickest way isn't always the best way to do something.  Patience often garners the greatest results...

Boiling sausage in sap then caramelizing over the flames

Of course all of this is easier in the company of like minded individuals...

So go ahead and splash on through those puddles, and push through those brambles.  Drink up all that this amazing world has to offer...

Drinking sap strait from the tree

And dive on in... the mud is fine!