By Joanne Garton
It has happened countless times: I walk into my favorite restaurant only to find that it is out of breakfast burritos. The manager points me to the tamales without ever explaining if it was a lack of eggs, a problem with the oven, or an angry mob of hungry burrito-eaters that wiped out the supply this weekend. I leave hungry and find somewhere else to eat.
These days, the red knot birds in Delaware Bay are similarly exasperated, but with no other food to eat when their seasonal feast of horseshoe crab eggs are gone, the migratory birds are starving. Horseshoe crabs are the favored bait for a growing market of eel and conch farms, diminishing the supply and diversity of breeding horseshoe crab pairs left in the bay. Continue reading
April showers bring more than May flowers, and birds aren’t the only creatures producing fantastic choruses in the springtime. While birders will set their alarms for 5:00am in order to catch the rainbow of spring migrants arriving in Vermont, herpetologists – that is, aficionados of amphibians and reptiles – will spend the wee hours of the night up to their knees in muck and water to glimpse the bizarre courtships of frogs and salamanders.
Beating wings fill my view. The snow geese are stark white, and the black tips of their wings pulse in contrast with their bodies. Hundreds – no, thousands – of these meaty birds move in unison. They squawk and honk, thousands of calls melting into an urgent and persistent roar.
At least that’s what I envisioned.
I had never seen snow geese, but I set out confidently to find the birds. I wanted to feel the wind from a thousand birds taking off at once. I wanted to feel their thunderous calls in my chest. Continue reading
There are many ways to rate a day. Perhaps you determine a day’s merit by how many to-do items you’ve crossed off, how many hours you spent outside, how many friends you ran into around town. My personal favorite rating system is the tangle test. By this measure, the best days leave me with bits of the field tangled in my braid as I untwist it in the evening.
Take February 20th, so good I couldn’t even wait until evening to untangle the mess and try to force my hair back into some semblance of order. As our van pulled away from the LaPlatte River Natural Area in Shelburne, my fingers battled a bird-worthy nest of twigs. Apparently that’s what happens when I, in true naturalist form, try to be a bobcat. Continue reading
Staying warm in the winter is hard. Chickadees eat constantly in order to survive long, cold winter nights. Squirrels spend precious time and energy creating complex insulated nests. Deer browse on nutrient-poor twigs to get as many calories out of their surroundings as possible. Yet compared to fish and other aquatic organisms, terrestrial wildlife breathe easy – literally. As fish battle the cold through the long winter, they are steadily running out of oxygen.
During this arctic grip on Burlington, when almost anything outside seems to groan or crunch or crack, when the cold itself seems evil, a drama begins each morning in frigid waters off Perkin’s Pier. In Lake Champlain, Common Goldeneyes are getting hot.
These perky ducks bob and dive, lunge and flutter, cavort and compete. Nearly four months before our woods will glow with a rainbow of migrating songbirds, Common Goldeneyes are already courting – proof that icy water doesn’t necessarily put a chill on carnal desire. Continue reading
I stopped running because I was surrounded by hundreds of crows. It was dusk on the bike path along Lake Champlain. Great masses of crows were flying in from the east to roost on the cottonwood trees along the shore. They fed on sumac fruits along the train track; they mobbed the tree-tops and hop-flew from one twig to the next; they perched all over the bare branches of the trees. In the light of the setting sun, their black feathers shone glossy and strong. More kept arriving almost continuously from the east, flying in over the barge canal. As they flew in they gave these weird, multiple-part calls, not at all like the usual “caw-cAW-CAW!” What were they saying and why were they gathering here? Continue reading
A special series of blog posts brought to you by Liz Brownlee
The Burlington Naturalist Scavenger Hunt Series: Discover the area’s hidden gems. Hone your naturalist skills. Learn to see the treasures along every walking path, trail, and creek.
This series of scavenger hunts is a chance to get outside, look closely at the world around you, and enjoy nature. The hunts are designed for budding naturalists of any age.
Hunt I: Williston’s Muddy Brook Wetland
Cruise east, away from the noise of Burlington. Slip south of Highway Two, curving along Hinesburg Road onto Van Slicken Road. Pass the oldest house in Williston – light grey stones, hand hewn in the 18th century. Crunch onto the gravel of the parking lot, leave your car (or bike!), and step into the wildness at Muddy Brook Wetland.
Cattails dance on the winter wind, and signs of animals layer this scrubby landscape. To the casual visitor, Williston’s Muddy Brook Wetland rejuvenates and relaxes. It is a deep breath at the end of the day.
For the budding naturalist equipped with this scavenger hunt, the wetland also offers mid-winter wonder. Look closely at the ground, the bent grasses, the flowing stream. Find and learn to identify scat, deciduous trees, nests, and other natural treasures. Enjoy!
by Danielle Owczarski
I squint as I gaze offshore at the landslide scars jacketing the slopes of the Adirondack Mountains, and become cognizant of the illusion in quiet looking mountaintops, in reality, stark and frigid underneath the winter’s languid sun. I lift the camera to my eye and focus on the lone silhouette of a twisted black willow frozen to the beach, beaten by icy waves. I am in awe of its ability to survive, alone and isolated at the interface of water and earth, defying death.
I am standing on a deserted public beach in Burlington, VT, situated west of the bike path and the Burlington Electric Department. My husband and I, dog in tow and cameras in hand, are in pursuit of stories told by the natural world; those neglected by people behind weatherproofed door jams. During the winter months, protected by the shelter of my apartment, I cannot tune out the arctic breeze whooshing against my door. I imagine the biting wind flowing through my veins, breathing life into my limbs, pushing me to be a part of the world beyond my warm, snug box. Once outside, the indoor fog in my mind lifts and my periphery expands initiating a new awareness. I enter the natural world to feel alive. Continue reading
by Audrey Clark
My stepbrother lounged in front of the television watching a reality TV show about mining in Alaska. I sat on the couch, facing away from the television, drinking tea and reading a book on visionary scientists.
After a while, I started to wonder what my stepbrother wondered about.
“What questions do you have about nature?”
Then, in an outpouring I wouldn’t expect from a non-naturalist, let alone one who was watching TV:
“Can plants feel pain? How does a woodpecker not get a concussion? How do you tell how old a tree is without cutting it down? How long does it take ants to build an ant hill? Where does honey come from? Like what part of the bee? What’s the best way to survive a bear attack? Can animals get sick from drinking bad water like we can? Why do monkeys have better immune systems?”
In honor of my stepbrother, here are my best attempts at answering these questions: Continue reading