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Monday, May 16, 2011

Binoculars + Caffeine + New Jersey = World Series of Birding

Another year; another great trip for New Jersey for the World Series… a 24-hour birding marathon in which 80 teams scoured the garden state for every bird species they could find. Although we didn’t see the bird/creature on the right, it was the emblem for our team “The Chocolate-headed Cowbirds (with sprinkles)” which celebrates the support we received from a grant made by Ben & Jerry’s. Whether we were scouring the 10,000+ shorebirds at Heislerville, peering through the canopy to see the Acadian Flycatcher at Belleplain, or whistling to Eastern Screech-Owls just before dawn, our mixed-aged team enjoyed every minute of the trip.

Weather has played a major role in what birds we see during the competition and this year was no different. Migrating warblers were wholly absent and raptors were sparse. We often needed to visit 2-3 locations to find particular birds species that were found easily the day before. While some birds proved very difficult to find, we had great luck with sea birds. Amongst the ocean-faring birds we saw were Common Loon, Northern Gannet, Black Scoter, Surf Scoter, and a total of 3 Parasitic Jaegers! Another highlight was the huge abundance of shorebirds at Heislerville. While we missed the rare Curlew Sandpiper that hid amongst the thousands of shorebirds, we did manage to find 18 species of shorebirds during the big day including a banded Semipalmated Sandpiper (pictured right).

(our group during the big day... about 13 hours into our birding adventure)

The Northern Flicker that flew over the van on our trip back raised our total species count for the trip to 150, with 139 species seen during the competition. A complete list of birds seen during our big day is shown below:

(click on the checklist to see a bigger version)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Day of the Nighthawk

The North Branch Nature Center’s Youth Birding Program has partnered with middle school students in central Vermont to revitalize the nesting habitat of the Common Nighthawk. Once a common sight to people in Vermont cities, nighthawks used to swoop and dive across the sky at dusk, collecting insects as they went. Their preference to nest in large, open spaces may once have precluded Vermont from possible breeding locations, but since at least the late 1800’s Common Nighthawks have made use of gravel rooftops to raise their young.

Unfortunately, the Common Nighthawk is in steep decline throughout its breeding range and has not been seen breeding in Montpelier in recent years. One cause of their decline is loss of habitat: both natural and artificial. Conversion of gravel rooftops to other substrates is believed to be one cause for their disappearance from urban areas. In 2007, New Hampshire Audubon began a research initiative to install gravel “nest patches” on rooftops in order to create the Nighthawk’s preferred gravel nesting sites. Students from U-32 Middle/High School (Montpelier) and Crossett Brook Middle School (Waterbury), in partnership with North Branch Nature Center, will replicate the efforts of NH Audubon by installing Vermont’s first nest patches.

Yesterday, U-32 students installed a nest patch on their school’s roof, and will monitor this patch over the next few weeks. As Nighthawks return from their winter in South America and establish nesting sites in New England, we’ll be watching to see if our nest patch is used by a lucky Nighthawk family. Photos from the installation will be coming soon...