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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Birding in WaCo: Berlin Pond

Berlin Pond is arguably the top birding spot in all of Central Vermont. On top of providing birds with great habitat, the pond provides Montpelier residents with their drinking water. With its status as a public water supply comes a host of protections from development and recreational uses. The shoreline of Berlin Pond is undeveloped and activities such as fishing, swimming, and boating are banned. These restrictions have caused tensions with local residents who recently protested by kayaking, ice fishing, and even proposing a fishing derby. But many others have made good use of Berlin Pond even without penetrating the water’s surface. Bikers, joggers, and of course, birders frequent the roads that circle the pond and over 160 bird species have been reported in this Audubon-designated Important Bird Area.

Although winter is probably the least exciting time to visit Berlin Pond, there are always surprises waiting to be found. The pond typically freezes over in winter, but when open water remains, many species of waterfowl can be found including Common Goldeneye, a winter duck that can be difficult to find away from Lake Champlain. Even when the pond is frozen it can be worth a visit… River Otter and Bobcat have been seen walking across the ice! Wild Turkey can be seen grazing in the open fields along the road loop. A myriad of different species inhabit the surrounding forests, and lucky visitors may see Northern Goshawk, Pileated Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and a host of other year-round residents.

In the spring, a flood of birds returning from the south arrive at Berlin Pond. In early spring, large numbers of waterfowl use the pond to rest along their migration, and some settle in to nest. At least 15 different species of ducks have been documented between March and May. The state threatened Black Tern regularly uses Berlin Pond as a stop during spring migration. Don’t forget to glance upwards for terns, gulls, and swallows; many species of these (including some rare ones) can be found catching insects and circling the water below. A wide variety of other songbirds can be found along the water’s edge and in the nearby forests.

In summer, many birds become quiet, but the numerous nesting species can still offer brilliant sights and sounds even in the hottest months. Raptors such as Osprey and Bald Eagle frequent the pond. Yellow Warblers nest in the shrubs and small trees along the shoreline, offering great eye-level views. Look for Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Baltimore Oriole, Eastern Kingbird, Red-winged Blackbirds, and other songbirds as they gather fish and insects to feed their young. In addition to these colorful species, a number of very elusive birds nest at Berlin Pond. You’re far more likely to hear the “gidik gidik” of the Virginia Rail or the “bloonk-adoonk” of the American Bittern than you are to see these birds. In the fall, waterfowl are again a source of excitement for visitors. Species such as Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck, scaup, and others can be found around the pond and the brilliant fall colors make for a picturesque autumn scene.

To get to Berlin Pond, from I-89 take exit 7 (Berlin) and make your first right onto Paine Turnpike N. After 0.3 miles, make your first right onto Crosstown Rd. Immediately after passing under I-89, make a left onto Paine Turnpike S and then be ready for a quick right onto Brookfield Rd. A parking area is located at the North end of the pond off Brookfield Rd. After parking here, you can walk about a quarter-mile with nice views of the water. There is a nice viewpoint from the south end of the pond as well, which is accessible by continuing down Brookfield Rd. and turning left onto Mirror Lake Rd. Beware mud season! The road can be really rough in early spring.

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