Outside my window, a robin pecks around in the rain. It’s the day before Thanksgiving, and the forecast calls for the rain to turn to snow tonight in my Massachusetts hometown. So why isn’t this robin right now flying south toward a warm, easy winter?
American robins are facultative partial migrants: they decide each year whether to migrate
Casual birdwatchers see robins as harbingers of spring, but you can actually find them year-round throughout much of the U.S. Based on my own observations, robins seem to stick around more now than they did twenty years ago—perhaps global warming plays a role in that trend (see November 6 post). But climate change can’t explain why some robins flee wintertime and others take their chances.
[Update: The day after publishing this post, I stumbled across an article by biologist Mark Davis saying that more robins stay in the north for the winter now because of a greater winter food supply: they happily eat the berries of several increasingly common non-native species.]
Many birds, like warblers and hummingbirds, migrate annually no matter what. Others, including robins, kingfishers, and chickadees, are “partial migrants”: within a single population in a given year, some will migrate and some will not. Backyard birdwatchers who rejoice in the first robin of spring aren’t necessarily unobservant. There are fewer robins around in winter, and those that do stay often roost in bogs and swamps instead of backyards. Each year, a robin must decide based on the available food supply whether to migrate; a snowy winter landscape can never provide as much food as the same land in summer. Some robins may even leave mid-season if the conditions turns especially harsh. Continue reading
Shelby and one of her dad’s bucks sometime in the early 90’s.
By Shelby Perry
It’s hunting season, and this year I’m working through my end-of-semester stress with a rifle. I’ve never been a hunter before, but, as a native Vermonter, deer camp, hunter-safety orange, and the first rule of gun safety (always point your muzzle in a safe direction!) have been in my vocabulary since childhood. As I prepare for my first rifle season as a hunter, I have been surprised to find that many of my classmates did not grow up around hunting, and haven’t really thought about what it might mean to them. Staying safe during hunting season really boils down to three main points, and shouldn’t be intimidating or frightening.
- Be visible. Wearing hunter-safety orange any and every time you go out in the woods during rifle season is a must. A lot of people think wearing any bright color will do, but almost nothing is more visible and recognizable as human in the late fall forest than hunter-safety orange.
- Be respectful. Few things are more frustrating for a hunter who has been shivering silently in a tree stand since dawn than a person or dog thrashing obliviously past. If you think there might be a hunter already in the woods it’s best to stick to heavily traveled trails or to just avoid the area during rifle season altogether. Less about safety and more about etiquette, respecting other legal uses of the forests you love is a condition on which your own access depends.
- Take it seriously. “It won’t happen to me” is the wrong approach to safety during hunting season. Spend 8 hours looking for deer in the woods and your brain will start to make them out of everything – tree branches are antlers, the crunching leaves under a retreating rabbit are footsteps. I am not condoning the actions of anyone who would pull the trigger before being absolutely certain of their target, but I am saying that it is wise to set yourself up for success. Never assume your safety is someone else’s responsibility.
Snorkeling in frigid waters for a species at-risk
By Levi Old
On a dead-still summer night, I army-crawl upstream.
“We have a large adult!” says Jen.
I rise to one knee and pull the fogged snorkel mask off my head. “A big one?” I mumble in a haze.
“Yeah, really big. Much larger than I’ve ever seen this far up the creek,” she replies, pointing to where it kicked its caudal fin gently against the downstream flow. “It’s right there beside you.”
I cinch the mask on my face, place the snorkel in my mouth, and dunk back into the frigid water:
Twenty-six inches of wildness.
Jen pops her head out of the water and says, “Isn’t that just a beautiful creature?”
She snorkels one side of the creek and I snorkel the other. An assistant in waders walks the creek, tallies our fish sightings and makes sure we do not go hypothermic. Continue reading
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