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Friday, January 11, 2013

Washington County still chasing 200 in year-long bird quest

A Yellow Warbler at Berlin Pond

For years, it seemed like the Holy Grail.  Always so close, yet just out of reach.  Central Vermont bird enthusiasts have been working diligently to record 200 species in Washington County in a calendar year, and in 2012, we came closer than we ever have before.  

Bird sightings throughout the year were recorded by over 100 observers using the online database called eBird.  For the most part, records are accepted based on the honor system, but for rare sightings, documentation is often required.  The final tally stands at 199 species in 2012, one away from the coveted 200-mark.  Every single species is valuable, but rarities are essential to passing the 200-threshold, and we’d like to start the new year by honoring some central Vermont’s “best birds of 2012”.

1.      Varied Thrush – Normally found along the west coast, this species occasionally gets very lost and ends up at bird feeders in New England.  This was what happened at Mountain Valley Farm in Waitsfield, where owners Gib and Sue Geiger graciously allowed birders to visit and see this unusual bird.

2.      Acadian Flycatcher On May 26, Scott & Pat Sainsbury opened up their home to nearly 50 birders from across the state for a morning of breakfast and birding.  Among the 64 species observed, the highlight was surely this southern flycatcher, last seen in Vermont over 2 decades ago. Congratulations to Chip Darmstadt for discovering this gem!

3.      Gray-cheeked Thrush – Part of why this bird, which breeds in Canada, is so rarely recorded in Vermont is because it looks nearly identical to the Bicknell’s Thrush.  When one showed up in a mist net at the North Branch Nature Center, researchers were able to closely examine and measure the bird, confirming that it was in fact the unusual Gray-Cheeked Thrush.

4.      Cackling Goose – This never-before seen species in Washington County was recorded twice this fall!  Looking like a miniature Canada Goose, “the cackler” can blend in very well to large goose flocks.  Excellent work to Craig Provost and Ken Benton for identifying these hard-to-find birds!

5.      Golden Eagle – This species is always rare in Vermont, but most frequently seen in the fall during migration.  It came as a great surprise when Eric Cannizzaro, a participant of the Plainfield Christmas Bird Count, managed to spot one soaring overhead.

Will 2013 be the year that we finally surpass 200 species? For more information on Washington County’s birds, and to help get involved in 2013’s Bird Quest, visit www.NorthBranchNatureCenter.org or call the North Branch Nature Center at 229-6206.

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