Bird-watching Opportunities at Vermont WMA’s
Spring is finally here and wildlife enthusiasts are dusting off their binoculars and heading out looking for birds as they migrate into the Lake Champlain Basin from the south. Some of the best bird-watching opportunities are on the area’s wildlife management areas, or WMAs.
Wildlife management areas are owned by the States of Vermont or New York and managed for wildlife habitat and for wildlife-based recreation such as hunting, fishing and bird-watching.
Paul Hamelin, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department biologist who coordinates habitat management and access on Vermont’s WMAs, believes that while there are opportunities for birding at every WMA, a few stick out to him as particularly good places to spot birds.
“Dead Creek WMA in Addison is perhaps the crown jewel of birding in Vermont,” said Hamelin. “An incredible two hundred bird species can be found there, particularly ducks, shorebirds, and hawks. And each spring and fall, thousands of snow geese touch down at Dead Creek on their annual migration.”
Dead Creek has trails and a lookout platform, but Hamelin suggests a canoe or kayak for best access. A new Dead Creek Visitor Center is scheduled to open this October.
On the other side of the state, Hamelin recommends Wenlock WMA in Ferdinand, which has the endless bogs and boreal forests that the Northeast Kingdom is known for in a tidy, 2,000-acre package. He recommends people check out the new boardwalk and viewing platform at Moose Bog.
“Wenlock is a great place for birders to check off four of Vermont’s premiere boreal bird species; the Canada jay, boreal chickadee, black-backed woodpecker, and state-endangered spruce grouse,” said Hamelin. “You might also get lucky and see another state endangered bird, the rusty blackbird, which is sadly becoming increasingly rare in the northeastern U.S.”
For a rare bird sighting in southern Vermont, Hamelin recommends Birdseye Wildlife Management Area in the towns of Ira, Castleton, and Poultney.This WMA, formerly known as Bird Mountain, recently increased by nearly 3,000 acres. At the center of the WMA is Birdseye Mountain, a large hunk of rocky cliffs that are home to the world’s fastest bird, the peregrine falcon, which can dive to over 200 mph.
“Peregrine falcons are the star of the show at the Birdseye, but there are also fantastic opportunities to see and hear warblers, thrushes, and sparrows,” said Hamelin. “After the peregrine nesting season is complete in mid-August, there is a well-worn goat path that takes brave souls up the rocky slopes of the cliff face for fantastic views of the newly conserved ridgelines.”
Vermont’s wildlife management areas are found in every corner of the state and there are birding opportunities at every one of them this time of year. Birding is inexpensive and is an easy activity to get started in. Hamelin recommends people check out their nearest wildlife management area this spring.
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Access to Vermont’s wildlife management areas is free, but birders can help the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department in its effort to conserve habitat for birds and other species by purchasing an annual Vermont Habitat Stamp, available for $15 on the department’s website at vtfishandwildlife.com. There is also more information on birding opportunities on wildlife management areas on the Fish & Wildlife Department’s website.