Annual wildlife day is more popular than ever
ADDISON — Taupe-colored lumps of fur and feathers specked with the white of bones — indigestible prey parts mashed together and then regurgitated from owl gizzards — sat on paper plates on the table like Halloween-themed, white-chocolate-chip cookies. Fascinated children and parents set the conference room abuzz as they dissected the pellets with bright blue plastic forceps and wooden probes, identifying and studying the skeletons of the unfortunate critters the owls had devoured for dinner.
The owl pellet workshop was one of more than 30 different activities enjoyed by those who attended the annual Dead Creek Wildlife Day at the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area off Route 17 in Addison on Oct. 3.
Around 500 wildlife lovers of all ages — 60 percent more visitors than in previous years — engaged in the bird banding, informative talks, expert-guided nature walks, wildlife photography, arts and crafts, and other opportunities organized by the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife for the pleasant fall day.
“Dead Creek Wildlife Day is a day we showcase our wildlife in the state, both nongame and game species,” said Nicole Meier, information and education specialist of Fish and Wildlife’s Hunter Education Program.
“It offers many opportunities for anybody who’s interested in nature to come out,” added Otter Creek Audubon Society Education Chair Carol Ramsayer, who has led the owl pellet workshop for the past five years. “There’s many hands-on activities. It’s a great opportunity for people to have fun in the out-of-doors, and learn about all the outdoor activities (and) wildlife around us in Addison County.”
According to Meier, the most noteworthy event on the schedule was furbearer biologist Chris Bernier’s new discussion of a project tracking the elusive Canada lynx in northeastern Vermont. Bear biologist Forest Hammond also spoke on black bear management in the southern part of the state. Another well-received event is a yearly search and rescue demonstration featuring Warden Rob Sterling of Fair Haven and his dog.
Other additions to the program included archery, 4-H pellet target practice, soap carving and bluebird box building, which were especially popular among younger participants.
“The highlight of the event is seeing how much fun kids are having,” said Ramsayer. “They’re all doing these different outdoor activities that give them experiences with the natural world. They’re just having a great time with their family and with other kids, too.”
The newly planned wild game cook-off, however, was cancelled because it did not receive a single entry. Meier pointed out the significance of the cooking competition in the context of the whole event, the state’s hunting culture, and larger food movements.
“We’re trying to broaden our audience to all people who love fish and wildlife, not just nongame species,” she said. “Almost all hunters in Vermont who shoot any type of game eat it. So cooking your own wild meat is a really big part of the hunt, especially now (with) the localvore movement and movement toward grass-fed, organic and humanely raised meat.”
Meier believes birds are the greatest feature of Dead Creek Wildlife Day. The area is abundant with ducks, snow geese, Canada geese, raptors, songbirds and owls, which makes it popular for viewing wildlife during the event. It thus supports activities such as the Big Sit Bird Identification Challenge, in which an expert birder counts the number of species he or she sees in one location throughout the day.
What makes Dead Creek Wildlife Day unique, Meier says, is a combination of programming and participation.
“The wide variety of activities offered and the amount of active fun learning sets it apart,” she said. “It also helps that all the people who come are themselves really passionate about fish and wildlife.”
When asked about plans for next year’s event, Meier said the coordinators may organize more nature walks and promote the wild game cooking contest in a more timely and targeted manner to attract participants.
This Dead Creek Wildlife Day was a collaboration between the Fish and Wildlife Department; Otter Creek Audubon Society; the University of Vermont Wildlife and Fisheries Society; the Nature Conservancy; the Department of Parks, Recreation and Forests; and the Vermont Fair Hounds Association. Green Mountain Power, National Bank of Middlebury, and Vermont Frames were sponsors.
“It was really great, and I think that everyone left with a smile on their face,” reflected Meier on how the day panned out. “Everyone came with questions, which we really appreciated. I hope people left satisfied with some of the answers we gave them.”