Wildlife Watch: Winter birding basics

Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 6:39 PM EST
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COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - Winter weather doesn’t stop wildlife. In this week’s Wildlife Watch, Ike Bendavid reports on how birds can be active even in the most inclement conditions.

We know that many birds fly south for the winter, but we headed north to the Colchester Causeway with Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s Josh Morse to learn about some species that are sticking around.

“We have a wide range of birds that migrate through, some that breed here, and some that migrate here. That changes season to season and habitat to habitat,” Morse said.

Morse sets up his scope to try to find some avian activity. “Birding is a great activity because you can do it anywhere in Vermont and you do it any time of year in Vermont for winter birding. It doesn’t matter if we have had a snowy winter or if we are having a warm snap, you can find birds,” he said. “A great thing about winter birding is that you can tailor it to your interest level and activity level.”

We ran into Clem Nilan, a passionate birder out of Burlington, who was also braving the weather to see a specific bird. “The ducks brought me out here today. This is a good place to see some ducks. Sometimes you can get an unusual duck out here,” Nilan said.

Nilan came out prepared for not only the weather but with equipment like a scope and binoculars, gear that Morse says some will use depending on their experience level. “You can start birding with just your eye and a bird book or a smartphone app to try to help you identify what you are seeing. And you can work up from there. Binoculars really can improve what you can see, gives you a little distance. And for waterfowl, a scope can be helpful to give you a little bit further view,” Morse said.

And for beginners, sometimes you can hear the birds before you see them. “Birding by ear can seem intimidating but picking it up only really requires that you go out, find the bird, watch and listen, and try pin that sound to what you are seeing,” Morse said.

It’s a reminder that most places in the state have good opportunities to get out and find our flying friends. “You can find winter birds anywhere there is public land in Vermont -- so, the department’s more than 100 wildlife management areas. You can find them in every county in the state is a great place to look -- state parks, town parks, really anywhere that is going to have that habitat feature that you are looking for, whether that’s open water, farm fields, or forests,” Morse said.

As for Nilan, he says it’s easy to get started. “There are a bunch of organizations that cater to new birders. Green Mountain Audobon -- which I’m part of -- has a site. We have outings all the time. You can go on these outings and you will be with people that will be on the same sort of level you are and someone might have a scope. People gladly share binoculars or someone has an extra pair in their car,” Nilan said.