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Vermont is home to dozens of migratory birds but none are as secretive and seldom seen as the Bicknell's Thrush. These birds depend on thick, high elevation balsam fir forests during their spring breeding season and are heard more often than seen. With an estimated 100,000 individual birds or less the Bicknell’s Thrush is a species of high conservation concern. Thanks to ongoing banding efforts over the last decade, researchers are discovering some of the secrets of these elusive frequent fliers.
Researchers from Vermont Center for Ecostudies study the rare and secretive Bicknell's thrush on Mt. Mansfield. Also, a visit to Sandbar Wildlife Management Area in Milton, Vt., and a day on the river with Matt Lavallee of Winooski, Vt., who is trying to earn certification from Vermont's Master Angler Program.
It’s not every day that a high school student has the opportunity to capture raptors for banding. But for Addison County kids that participate in the Diversified Occupation Program it’s a regular part of their science curriculum. The Diversified Occupation Program serves high school students with special academic and behavioral needs. The goal is for each student to graduate with a job in place and skills for independent living. For close to two decades special educator Rodney Olsen has used bird banding to engage students in science, the outdoors and the environment.
When it comes to hunting for upland game birds there's nothing more enjoyable and challenging than grouse and woodcock. These birds lay low and blend into their habitat, making it almost impossible to see them until they take flight. The most efficient way to hunt them is by using bird dogs. Host Lawrence Pyne joins John Hayes of Kirby Mountain Kennels in East Burke for a day of upland bird hunting.
By the 1960s peregrine falcon populations were all but eliminated in the northeastern United States due to exposure to DDT. But thanks to reintroduction programs, the bird has made a dramatic recovery in Vermont where it still remains an endangered species. Host Marianne Eaton accompanies members of the National Wildlife Federation and the Vermont Institute of Natural Science on a banding operation at the Rattlesnake Cliffs in Salisbury that is part of the Peregrine Falcon Recovery Project.
Woodcock are beloved by bird hunters and bird watchers alike, but these fascinating little migrants are nonetheless faring poorly. Human development and maturing forests are steadily eating away the thick, brushy habitat that woodcock require, and their numbers are likewise declining. In the last three decades, there has been a two to three percent decline each year in the number of American Woodcock in the East. One area where woodcock are doing surprisingly well is the Ethan Allen Firing Range in Vermont, where biologists are capturing and banding woodcock in order to better understand their habitat needs. Host Lawrence Pyne joins Scott Williamson from the Wildlife Management Institute on a nighttime woodcock banding operation at the firing range in Jericho.
Grassland birds and dairy farmers in Vermont have a unique historical relationship. By clearing forests to create pasture for cows, farmers also have provided ideal habitat for birds such as Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrows. Fifty or one hundred years ago, the birds thrived. But as dairy farms and their fields have disappeared, so has the habitat. These birds rely on open grasslands to feed. And instead of building nests in trees, they construct them in the grass on the ground. This practice can leave them open to predators as well as farm machinery. When a field is hayed, essentially all the nests fail. They're either destroyed by equipment, or crows and gulls follow the farmer to clean up. Farmers must hay. And they have to get the cut in while the hay still has some value. The ideal solution would be to delay cuts to give the birds time to hatch and raise their young. But that's a tricky timing issue for a farmer who needs quality hay. On the other hand, there are farmers who have wet fields and fields that are not productive. If these fields were properly managed, it would be helpful for the birds. And it might end up being financially beneficial for the farmers. Programs such as the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) could help. It's run by the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and provides landowners with financial help for managing their property using wildlife management strategies. In this segment we join field researchers at the University of Vermont who are part of a study to determine the long-term effects of agricultural management on populations of grassland birds through banding operations.
- Wildlife Habitat Incentives
Program (WHIP): Vermont page
- WHIP VT Contact — Toby Alexander