Few things are more salutatory for a birder than getting to explore a previously unknown site. Such was the case this past weekend when ten birders, under the Mascoma Chapter of NH Audubon’s auspices, took a walk through what some call the “Windsor Flood Plain.” The site offers a combination of agricultural and riparian habitat that is a magnet for sparrow and warbler species during fall migration.
The “Windsor Flood Plain” in northern Windsor, VT is located just east of “Artisans Park,” a business complex on US Rt. 5 that includes the production and showroom facilities of Simon Pearce and the Harpoon Brewery among others. It is accessed by parking at the north end of the Simon Pearce facility. From there one walks north across a field parallel to the railroad tracks. At the field’s far end is a dirt path crosses the tracks into agricultural fields owned by McClellan Farm.
When we arrived at the site, it was shrouded with the morning mist that has been a feature of mornings in the Connecticut River valley for most of the past few weeks. This would create challenging lighting conditions that would make it a challenge to identify the sparrows and warblers we’d hoped to see.
The day’s activity got off to a promising start before we even left the parking area. A greater yellowlegs flew by giving its distinctive whistling, three note call bybefore disappearing into the mist. It was a good bird, one seen more regularly on mudflats or shallow ponds, than at our resent location.
Leaving the parking area and striking out towards the track crossing, we were quickly in the thick of a yellow-rumped warbler migration. Dozens were observed flitting in and out of the sumac and hardwood trees lining the railroad right of way. In the same area, a song sparrow was heard but not seen its identification determined by its characteristic call note described in some field guides as a nasal “chip” or “jimp.”
Fields planted with corn, pumpkins and various squash varieties lay spread out before us as we crossed the tracks. Crows and blue jays could be heard calling but remained unseen due to the heavy mist. Moments later, those calls were joined by a common raven’s deep, harsh croak.
Striking out along the edge of the cornfield we encountered a good range of species but that tally would not include the numbers or variety of sparrows we had hoped to see. We would record six sparrow species for the day and in disappointing numbers: chipping (12), song (8), savannah (7), swamp (10, field (1) and white-throated (1). Timing is everything.
By 9:00 A.M. the sun had burned away a good amount of the mist cover. We were pre-occupied with scanning the shrubs for sparrows when one of our party called out, “hawk!” Following her lead, we looked skyward and across the field and saw the bird, identified as a Cooper’s hawk, gliding north along the tree line. Suddenly small squads of blue jays appeared, flying at the hawk as if World War II fighter planes attacking a bomber. Momentarily the poor hawk was mobbed by perhaps a dozen squawking jays that chased it relentlessly up and down the field’s length, the hawk unable to shake its antagonists. It would be a good ten minutes before it escaped its relentless pursuers.
Our circuit of the cornfield took us along its eastern edge bordering the Connecticut River. There we hoped to see migrating waterfowl like common or hooded mergansers as well as Canada geese. But we were disappointed on that score too. We managed to record only two calling Canadas, heard not seen.
Returning to our cars and comparing notes, we tallied 25 species for the morning with yellow-rumped warblers by far the most numerous, their count estimated at more than 120! It was a respectable showing and one that certainly warrants a return trip as fall migration progresses.