Birding Q&A with Jim Shallow of Audubon Vermont

Jim Shallow is an expert guide to birding in Vermont

Why is Vermont such a special place for birding?
Vermont has some of the highest diversity of bird species in the United States.  Our forests, farmlands, wetlands, rivers and lakes provide breeding habitat for birds that travel from as far away as Central and South America.  The diversity of our landscape gives birders the opportunity to walk in our forests and see neo-tropical migrants like the colorful Black-throated Blue Warber or Canada Warbler. Or take a kayak on our waters to see Osprey, Great-blue Heron and Common Terns.  In winter, we even see birds like Snowy Owls that wander south from Canada to enjoy our relatively warm winters.  No matter what outdoor activity you enjoy in Vermont, it can be enhanced by birding.
 
What are some of the different species that can be found here?
Over 200 species of birds can be found in Vermont.  Our highest mountain peaks are home to the elusive and rare Bicknell’s Thrush.  In our forests, birders can regularly encounter a number of colorful warblers and other songbirds such as Blackburnian Warbler, the Black-throated Green Warblers and the Scarlet tanager.  On our remote ponds, one can find Common Loons, Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks.

Describe your most memorable birding experience in Vermont.
I think every birder in Vermont looks forward to May birding like a five year old looks forward to Christmas. Several years ago, we had a string of wet days in May, and then one day we had a break in the rain at lunch time. I went out with one of my co-workers to take a quick 30 minute bird walk along the Winooski River in Richmond.  The sun came out for a brief period and the birds took advantage of this moment to sing out and dry out.  We came across one tree that had 12 different species of birds in it.  The colors rivaled any Christmas tree decked out in ornaments.  We returned to the office just in time to see the rain clouds return, but it didn’t’ matter because we had our fix.

What is the best season for birding in Vermont?
While each season in Vermont has different birds to offer, spring and early summer are considered the prime birding season.  The migratory birds are returning to our forests, farmlands and waterways.  These birds come back to Vermont decked out in full breeding plumages.  So birders are treated to vivid yellows, oranges, blues and reds in a wide variety of color combinations.  Added to this eye candy are many different songs each species has to announce it presence to potential mates or rival suitors.  In late May, it is not uncommon to encounter 70 or more bird species in a day of birding. 

What are some of your favorite spots for bird-watching in Vermont?
I am often asked this question, and I regularly stumble for an answer because Vermont offers so many different places to see a wide-variety of birds.  But it will come as no surprise that the Green Mountain Audubon Center and our neighbor the Birds of Vermont Museum in Huntington are on the top of my list.  The trails wind through a variety of forest, fields, wetlands and streams, which provide a great bird encounters.  Other favorite areas include important bird areas like West Rutland Marsh, Herrick’s Cove and Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area.

What advice would you give to someone interested in birding?
Join a birding outing.  Going out with other birders and a guide is a great way to see birds, learn their songs and see unique places.  Of course a good bird book such as “Sibley’s Guide to Birds” and a decent pair of binoculars help.  But joining others will give you the opportunity to use your binoculars and field guide and pick up tips from local experts that will help you become a better birder. 

Tell us about Audubon Vermont.
Audubon Vermont is a state-wide membership organization dedicated to engaging people of all ages in education, conservation, stewardship, and action to protect birds, other wildlife and their habitats.  As a state program of the National Audubon Society and working with our seven local chapters, we have the unique ability to address bird conservation at the national, state and local levels.  Our Green Mountain Audubon Center is Vermont’s oldest environmental education center. Located on 255 acres the Green Mountain Audubon Center is an outdoor classroom that provides conservation education programs to over 3,000 school children each year. Our biologists are working to restore Peregrine Falcons and Common Terns to Vermont.  In addition, our bird conservation programs are working with landowners and land managers to adopt common sense habitat management strategies that will help maintain Vermont’s role as a globally important nursery for migratory birds.  For more information, visit vt.audubon.org.

Photos: Above left, Jim Shallow. Above right, Audubon Vermont.

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