Summer Guide: Go birding

A ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, seen by bird watchers only occasionally in Vermont, rests in a Lincoln tree recently. Photo by Dale Cockrell

While staff at Vermont State Parks worked diligently this past spring getting ready for summer in the Green Mountain State, many birds were working hard to make homes for their babies.

Migratory birds returned to Vermont in March, April and May, and now they are singing their beautiful songs throughout the forests and fields. Summer is a great time to check out our avian neighbors.

There are many ways to do some bird watching this summer. There are numerous state parks that have a combination of wooded trails and open areas that make for the perfect venue to toddle along and look for birds. Even a walk in your neighborhood or a sit on your porch can be productive if you keep your eyes and ears pealed for the sights and sounds of our avian visitors.

Get yourself a simple, introductory bird book at the library or book store so you can start breaking down the things you see into recognizable categories. Most guides provide interesting background on the habits of each species, which enhances your experience of the birds you seek

Keep track of the birds you see — either in a special log or in the blank pages at the back of your guidebook. You will be amazed at how many birds you recognized after awhile.

But even if you go out birding just once it still enriches your summer. You enjoy the fresh air and beauties of nature, you might get a little exercise, maybe you make some friends if you join a group bird walk, and you might actually learn something.

One group of migratory birds you can see and hear in many Vermont State Parks are the thrushes.


Thrushes are medium-sized birds that sing beautiful songs. One common thrush is the American robin, easy to recognize because of their red bellies. Robins are building nests in trees (and maybe even in lean-tos) across Vermont right now. The female robin builds a nest from the inside out — starting with dead grass and twigs woven into a cup shape. She then reinforces the nest with soft mud and lines the inside with soft grass. You can see robins hunting for worms in grassy areas of many parks including D.A.R State Park in Addison.

Many thrushes sing unique songs because they can sing more than one note at a time. Perhaps you have been camping near a brook and heard a venereal song of notes spiraling downward. This song, sounding sort of like “veer-y, veer-y, veer-y” in downward notes, is from the veery — a thrush that lives near stream areas. This brown bird, about the size of a robin, is not flashy to look at but the song it produces is amazing to hear. As you read this, the veery is building a cup nest of dead leaves, bark bits, and small roots at the base of a tree near running water.

The most beloved thrush in Vermont is the hermit thrush. Although heavily debated by the 1941 Vermont legislature, the hermit thrush was designated as the Vermont State Bird effective June 1, 1941. The main debate centered on the migratory nature of the hermit thrush. Legislators questioned whether a state should recognize a bird that spends summers in Vermont and winters in the southern United States.

Hermit thrushes are brown forest birds about the size of robins with brown spots on their bellies. Just like the veery, the hermit thrush can sing more than one note at a time. You can hear the ethereal hermit thrush song in the morning and the evening in most Vermont woodlands. The song starts with a long single note, and then spirals upward. Listen for it while you eat dinner or breakfast. Hermit thrush nests are similar to veery nests, made of small twigs and roots and set on the ground at the base of trees. All three of these thrushes have light blue eggs, although veery eggs are sometimes spotted. Watch carefully for these nests during your next walk in the woods.

Nature enthusiasts of all ages are invited to take part in a beginner’s bird walk through Wright Park, a segment of the Trail Around Middlebury, on Saturday, June 18, from 9 to 11 a.m. The annual event  is hosted by the Otter Creek Audubon Society and Middlebury Area Land Trust.

Photo by John Hall

Walking through Wright Park is a pleasant way to enjoy a summer’s day and to sample the diverse natural landscape of Addison County. The route begins in a shrubland then leads into a forest, passing the evidence of former beaver activity. Walkers will enjoy their exploration in small groups led by local expert birders. There is much to explore: an unusual footbridge, woods filled with birdsong, the peaceful banks of the Otter Creek, and the rich diversity of trees and ferns. Along the way local naturalists will offer a station with a discovery activity. There will even be a “trail appropriate” snack available for hungry hikers.

Walkers may bring binoculars or borrow a pair from OCAS. The walk is family-friendly and suitable for all ages, but not appropriate for strollers or wheelchairs. Meet at 9 a.m. at the Wright Park parking lot north of Pulp Mill Covered Bridge. The walk will go rain or shine, but if you have questions please call 802-989-7115.

Just like migratory birds, we all want to return to our summer migratory spot — whether that is a walk in the woods or a spot on the lawn. During your next visit, take a moment to stop and listen in the forest and you will not be disappointed in the symphony you hear.

Editor’s note: Most of this story was provided by Rebecca Roy, Vermont State Parks Interpretive Program Manager.

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