Outside Burlington, Vermont.

Outside Burlington, Vermont.

I do not recall ever flying to multiple domestic destination one after the other without returning home first. But that happened twice last year, the first time being a trip that had three distinct legs. I flew to Burlington Vermont, then to Newark, and then was driven to Queens, returning from LaGuardia. Having visited St. Johnsbury last March, I was not expecting another invitation from a Vermont organization. But Erin Talmage and Allison Gergely of the Birds of Vermont Museum in Huntington wanted me to give a presentation to cap off the exhibit and programming they were offering as part of the anniversary. The museum had a fall speakers series and they would be partnering with the Green Mountain Audubon Society. Vermont in October and such enthusiastic hosts made the offer most appealing.

Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain

Champ.

Champ.

Allison picked me up at the airport in Burlington and took me on a tour of the area before we ended at her house in Huntington where she hosted a dinner which included Erin and museum board members. One highlight of the tour was the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, one component of the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. Established in 2003, the museum is a celebration of the lake that draws 100,000 visitors a year. It is an impressive venue with a wide range of exhibits to engage a diverse audience.  I have a particular fondness for lake sturgeon and bowfin and the aquarium offers some impressive individuals.  We hung out a bit on the porch but failed to get a glimpse of Champ. In fact our only sighting of  the cryptid was in the gift shop.

Bowfin.

Bowfin.

After dinner that night I accompanied Shirley Johnson (a board member of the musuem) and her husband, a physician specializing in ski injuries), back to their lovely home in Williston. The following morning was a bird walk with the Green Mountain Audubon Society. I had been warned that rains were expected so I brought a poncho which proved to valuable. Rusty blackbirds and a red-shouldered hawk were the avian highlights.

Bird walk with Green Mountain Audubon Society.

Bird walk with Green Mountain Audubon Society.

The  Birds of Vermont Museum is all about promoting the study and appreciation of birds. The core of its collection are 470 bird carvings representing the life work of a most extraordinary  man, Bob Spear. Self taught, he carved his first bird in 1938 and over the subsequent decades his technique has become so  refined his creations truly do  look as if they hatched from eggs rather than sculpted from wood. The museum’s web site gives the example of his tom wild turkey which took two years and 1,300 hours to complete.   The Bald Eagle required 400 hours of work “because of the large size and in particular because the brown color on the bird is burned with a hand tool, rather than painted.” Having amassed his collection Bob then set about establishing his museum, converting the barn next to his house as the show-case. And before that, he established the Green Mountain Audubon Society. He was going to come down to the museum to meet but illness unfortunately prevented that from happening. Besides the collection, the museum also offers a window to view the feeders and an adjacent 100 acre bird sanctuary/nature preserve. While watching the feeders with Allison, I glimpsed a large accipiter whoosh by which Allison said was the resident goshawk. I really love that species and wished I had obtained a better view.

Broad-winged hawk carving at the Birds of Vermont Museum.

Broad-winged hawk carving at the Birds of Vermont Museum.

"Perilous Passage" exhibit at Birds of Vermont Museum with Allison and the flock.

“Perilous Passage” exhibit at Birds of Vermont Museum with Allison and the flock.

The talk was held at the University of Vermont and we well attended. After lunch the next day I was taken to the airport for the next chapter of my trip. Back on October 10, 2013,  I received an e-mail from the Turtle Back Zoo, the largest zoo in New Jersey.  Despite the early participation of the Cincinnati Zoo and significant effort, zoos proved to be generally uninterested in Project Passenger Pigeon. So it was exciting for a zoo to reach out. The message said that if I was able to give a talk, they would seek a grant to pay my way. I did not hear anything definite from them again until Many 2014 when they indicated the money had come through.

Blogger and Rick.

Blogger and Rick.

I was picked up at the airport by Terry DeRosa, general curator of the zoo, and situated in my motel, located very close to the zoo. It was late in the afternoon so he picked me a bit later and we had a fine dinner at McLoone’s Boathouse.  The next day, Friday, was jam packed. Through the magic of Facebook I had become friends with Rick Wright, an outstanding writer and scholar who, among other things, is the book review editor of Birding magazine. He picked me up and we headed to  the coast where we spent half a day at Sandy Hook, part of Gateway National Recreation Area. Birds were moving particularly raptors. We had a number of species including merlin and peregrine. There was an awkward moment when Rick looked up and said Cooper’s hawk. I followed his gaze but what I observed looked like a peregrine, one of which we had just seen. I tried to be low-key about it but asked if he was sure, given my differing conclusion. He looked up again and saw the peregrine: then I saw his Cooper’s and all was well.  We also came upon some banders who had just captured a white-throated sparrow and a junco as we arrived.

White-throated sparrow.

White-throated sparrow.

Rick brought me back to the hotel in plenty of time for a tour of the zoo by Terry. Brint Spencer is the director of the zoo and he was responsible for getting the zoo to host me. He had been gone earlier but was going to be back in the afternoon.  The zoo opened in 1963, nd encompasses almost 16 acres.  AZA accredited, it is the most visited in the state. Terry took me behind the scenes and treated me to a feeding of  Razor,  a most engaging (although with a prickly sense of humor) North American porcupine.  Between Terry and Brint I recieved a tour of the zoo. One of their  rarest boarders is an Amur leopard, a race of spotted leopard that inhabits a tiny portion of the Russian Chinese borders. There are likely no more than 40 left in the wild.  They also have a Komodo monitor, a species that has long interested me and that was inspiration for a 1992 Indonesia trip. A particularly popular attraction at the zoo is the budgerigar enclosure where budgies of all colors gather around the visitor, particularly those armed with food.

Amur leopard.

Amur leopard.

Blogger and Razor.

Blogger and Razor.

 

Rick and his wife attended the evening talk. So did Nancy Tognan who is with the Queens County Bird Club. When word spread that I was going to be in West Orange, Nancy asked if I would be interested in giving a talk at the bird club. When I  told her I could not stay in the area that long, she offered as an alternative a day’s birding and lodging at her family’s home. After the talk, she took me to Queens where I met her spouse Lou. Up bright and early, we met the seven other intrepid club members, including the trip leader Ari Gilbert, at  Jones Beach Coast Guard Station. The clouds were not stingy as they released quantities of rain throughout the day. We wound up  with 47 species including American oystercatcher, lesser backed-backed gull, five species of warblers (pine among them), and a huge flight of thousands of tree swallows. We broke for brunch but the rains kept a comin’ so we pulled the plug. Later Nancy, Lou and I explored Robert Moses State Park and the Marine Nature Area in Oceanside.

Birding with Queens County Bird Club.

Birding with Queens County Bird Club.

 

Saw-whet owl carving at Birds of Vermont Museum.

Saw-whet owl carving at Birds of Vermont Museum.

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