Bird and Quest

The Vermont Center for Ecostudies lists 382 species of bird that occur in Vermont, whether year-long resident or migratory visitor. The VCE’s Vermont Atlas of Life citizen science operation has recorded sightings of 332 of these species thus far since its conception. And 219 species have been recorded across the state just since the start of this past April (2018). Programs like iNaturalist collect these sightings from volunteers in the public to compile an ever-growing, crowdsourced set of data for use by anyone– from conservationists, to mindful developers, to researchers studying specific species.

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Similar in form and function to iNaturalist, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has put together its own program to collect data on species distributions. Naturally, theirs specializes in birds. It’s called eBird. eBird participants have spotted more species than the VCE acknowledges occur in Vermont, with their total up at 385. Is the discrepancy a new development? Perhaps migratory paths are shifting, destinations changing, bringing Vermont new visitors. What if shifting precipitation and temperature trends are convincing some past residents to find new homes, or even making Vermont attractive to prospective immigrants? Perhaps none of these. But if we ever begin to answer such questions, it might likely be thanks to eBird and iNaturalist, existing to harness the massive potential of crowdsourced data sets.

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Vermont is ripe with birding hotspots and Valley Quest can lead you to a good many of them. Some examples, from late August through September the Gile Mountain Quest near Norwich will take you to a vista along the migratory path of the Broad-winged Hawk. These birds accumulate aerially in large groups, termed kettles, and past recordings reveal sightings of thousands of hawks a day. While near Norwich, you should also check out the Flowing to the River Quest for more raptor encounters. This Quest will take you along a tributary of the Connecticut River into Osprey and Bald Eagle territory. This Quest is also a great opportunity to learn that there is (some find this hard to believe) way more than one variety of duck. This is a rich spot to discover all sorts of waterfowl – while the Bald Eagles will do no harm, beware the swan and geese! (Especially if they have chicks nearby, these two are known to pick fights.)

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Bring a notepad Questing with a list of the birds you might encounter, and tally each one you find. Then once you finish up your day and arrive home (or even the next day, or next weekend, it’s flexible) report your sightings on the eBird website to contribute to their catalog. eBird also exists as a free app if you’re interested in reporting in real time.

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If you were able to hear birds, but couldn’t spot them, consider bringing your phone along and using an app like Song Sleuth which will automatically identify your audio recording. To dodge the pricetag you can also try the Cornell Lab’s app Merlin BirdID, which offers recordings of different songs from each species for you to listen for your match. Merlin also has a handy tool to help you uncover the identities of birds you didn’t recognize. Once you simply log the size of the bird, the context you saw it (whether flying, on a fence, in a tree, etc.) and the color, you’re presented with a list of all the possible birds you may have encountered.

Many Valley Quests also overlap with eBird’s map full of birding hotspots. This searchable map can help you see all 385 species that Vermont has to offer. If you find a hotspot location that would make for a strong Quest, let us know, we’d love to help you write one or work with community members to spotlight your site with a Quest! Happy Questing! (Below are a nighthawk, hooded merganser and belted kingfisher)

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A Valley Side-Quest

While Questing is an absorbing hobby in its own right, it opens the door for a number of Side-Quests that you may find enrich the experience. One such Side-Quest is to collect data for any of a number of Citizen Science projects actively under way in the twin states. By participating in Citizen Science projects as you Quest, you inform active conservation research efforts that seek to better understand and protect our local natural environments.

The Vermont Center for Ecostudies is one local research and conservation organization actively tapping into the power of crowd-sourced Citizen Science to aid local plant and animal species. The Center has set up a dozen different organized Citizen Science projects that community members like you can contribute to. They offer a range of expertise requirements from beginner to expert.

The VCE’s most popular project is the Vermont Atlas of Life, hosted on iNaturalist. iNaturalist is a website and smartphone app with which the most casual or expert observers of the natural world can help to keep track of the plant and animal species living in our local environments. The observations are logged in a public database of different species’ population data, which researchers and conservationists can then tap into.

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iNaturalist is also a useful tool for Questers. You can take a photo of any species of plant or animal—mushroom to mammal—and members of the iNaturalist community will hop on and suggest possible identifications. Even the most obscure fungus or caterpillar will be reliably ID’d in likely a few hours, given your picture is detailed enough. The process is fun, intuitive, rewarding, and connects us to those in our communities that also find curiosity, splendor, and awe in the natural world. It also really enriches the Questing experience. Have you ever seen a new mushroom, insect, or shrub on a Quest, and wondered what it was? Snap a photo and upload it to iNaturalist to bring your discovery and learning full circle.

The Vermont Atlas of Life project has already logged more than 210,000 wildlife observations, of nearly 6,000 unique species residing in our tiny state. Citizen Scientists regularly log sightings of some of the most prolific residents like the American Robin (1,430 observations) and the Black-capped Chickadee (1,724 observations), submitting geographic data to help monitor population distribution and track trends from year to year. iNaturalist participants have also logged some of rarest and most ephemeral residents and visitors – like the Snowy Owl (250 observations, the 2017-2018 winter was a huge year for these), the Northern Two-lined Salamander (94 observations), and the Silvery Blue (88 observations).

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A note on cataloging rare species: the pet trade is a real and serious threat to many species we know and love. For example, the wonderful wood turtle (0 observations on iNaturalist, and for good reason). Once relatively common in Vermont, the wood turtle has suffered habitat loss and illegal collection to the point of obtaining the classification of “endangered.” Reporting such species to public databases could accidentally lead to their being scooped up and sold.

However, these species are still perhaps the most critical to report.  Reputable organizations like the VT Herpetology Atlas or the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife need need the help of Citizen Scientists to keep track of these endangered species to aid in their protection. So if you do encounter one of these beautiful shelled beasts, please report your sighting to an organization you can trust.

Herricks Cove

Hey Questers,

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Herricks Cove Wildlife IMG_0460Festival in Rockingham Vermont. If you’ve never been, it’s a wonderful event featuring local groups such as the Nature Museum, VINS, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, and more. There was something for everyone–a shooting range presented by 4-H, face-painting, t-shirt making, and many local (as well as exotic) animals!

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At the festival, Valley Quest Coordinator Sara Cottingham and I led a guided Quest at Herricks Cove, one of the premier birding sites in the Upper Valley. This Quest highlights over seven bird species, many of which we saw on the Quest. In addition to birds, we had the pleasure of watching a beaver swim in the early hours of the day, viewed beautiful Trillium flowers, and discovered an insane amount of fiddle heads.

 

If you missed this year’s festival, be sure to take the detour to Herricks Cove off of Route 5 next time you are in Rockingham, Vermont. You won’t be disappointed.

Intern Spotlight: Carrie Borowy

Every summer Valley Quest recruits an intern to help us monitor our 170+ Quests. Carrie Borowy joined us in March as our spring and summer Valley Quest intern for 2017.

Carrie dove into the Valley Quest program headfirst in March. She helped write the new Farm-Way Quest as well as an upcoming Quest made with the 5th graders at the Union Street School in Springfield, VT. She helped get the 2017 Super Quest and other Valley Quest promotional materials distributed for the start of the season. Now that summer is on its way, you’ll most likely find her out checking and updating Quests throughout the Upper Valley!

So far, her favorite Quests are the Hemlock Paradise Pool Quest in Thetford and the Flat Rock Quest in Orford. “It’s a toss-up,” says Carrie. “Both lead to beautiful swimming holes! I had no idea they were in the area until I completed those Quests.” She’s looking forward to taking a canoe out on the Loon Quest and Connecticut River Quest this summer!

Carrie recently earned her BSc in Biology from the University of British Columbia. Her four years out West kindled her passion for the natural sciences at both the ecological and cellular level. A Hanover native, Carrie loves the beautiful views and unique sense of community the Upper Valley has to offer. Her favorite pastimes include finding new swimming holes, learning how to play the guitar, trying new foods, and sketching floor plans of small homes.

Thanks to our volunteers!

Special thanks to volunteers Ted Frazer, Lois Frazer, Linda Kahl, and Misty Dumont! These avid Questers have been busy this summer checking on Quests, replacing missing Quest boxes, updating clues, and helping recruit box monitors.

These folks recently put up a new birdhouse built by Ted Frazer at the Valley Quest of White River Junction to house the treasure box. (And don’t miss our feature on Ted and his birdhouses!)

 

Valley Quest of WRJ

Where to Buy the Best of Valley Quest Book

If you’re interested in Questing, then you have probably noticed that many of the Quests posted online are located in “The Best of Valley Quest Book.” If you don’t know what that is, Best of Valley Quest is a book containing clues to 70 of the best Quests in the Upper Valley!

It’s easy to order the Best of Valley Quest online or through phone/email, but we’re also proud to have our books for sale in several locations around the Upper Valley. If you’re out Questing one afternoon, and the Quest you want to do isn’t listed on the Valley Quest App or through our website as a pdf, then you can pick up the book in any of the following locations:

  • Dan & Whit’s in Norwich, VT
  • King Arthur Flour in White River Junction, VT
  • Main Street Books in Warner, NH
  • Morgan Hill Bookstore in New London, NH
  • Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, VT
  • The Montshire Museum in Norwich, VT
  • The Fells in Newbury, NH
  • VINS in Quechee, VT
  • Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock, VT
  • Hartford Welcome Center in Hartford, VT

Once you have the book, you’ll have access to Quests that take you all over the Upper Valley. The book is as easy to use as our app and website, and includes a place for you to document stamps from each Quest you go on. Whether you’re a long time Quester, or just joining in on the fun, the Best of Valley Quest is the perfect way to enhance your Questing experience by putting clues right at your fingertips.

Quest With Me: Edgewater Farm

I stopped at Edgewater Farm in Plainfield, NH with my daughter last week to check off another stop on the Super Quest. We were greeted by a beautiful lush plants, gorgeous produce, and eager staff who provided us with lots of reading materials to help us on our Quest.

Talia contemplates Integrated Pest Management as we hunt for the solution to this puzzle

Talia contemplates Integrated Pest Management as we hunt for the solution to this puzzle

This Quest is all about Integrated Pest Management (IPM), so Talia and I checked out the plants and greenhouses to learn about insects. This holistic, environmentally friendly approach to pest management reduces the need for chemical pesticides. Edgewater Farm monitors plants to detect problems early, and uses “good” insects to keep the “bad” insects away.

Good bugs rule!

Good bugs rule!

Once we solved the puzzle (it was deceptively tricky!), we went back inside the farmstand to pick up some tasty fruits and vegetables for the week. Talia couldn’t wait any longer, so she snatched a tomato to eat while she toddled through the farmstand.

Enjoying a tasty heirloom tomato

Enjoying a tasty heirloom tomato

Have you registered your team for the Super Quest? Once you’ve completed your quest and solved the puzzle, you will be entered into the grand prize drawing!

13 Ways to Go Questing in August

1. Explore by water
Grab your canoe and get out on a lake. In the early morning or at dusk on this Quest at Mascoma Lake, you might spot a loon!

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2. Take a friend on their first quest
Pick your favorite quest and invite a newbie to join you. It’s always more fun with a friend! And maybe you’ll inspire a new lifelong Quester.

 

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3. Enjoy some poetry

Feeling creative?
Try this Quest in Hanover
Written in haiku! 

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4. Reach a fitness goal
Questing isn’t just fun, it’s good for you, too! Grab your pedometer and find a mountain to climb (or maybe just a hill).

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5. Go on the Upper Valley Farms Super Quest
Fresh foods, beautiful views, and alpacas, too. Solve the puzzle and you’ll be entered to win the grand prize!

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6. Visit a new place
Tired of the same old routine? Use our Valley Quest directory to discover a Quest in a town you’ve never visited, or a trail you’ve never noticed before.

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7. Be a photographer
Bring your camera (or your iPhone!) and photograph your journey. Send us your favorite snapshots and you might see yourself in a future blog post!

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9. Channel your inner architect
Look at the Upper Valley through a new lens. Try an architecture Quest, like this one that guides you through downtown Claremont, New Hampshire.

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10. Eat a tasty treat
Out of syrup? Try this Quest at Sugarbush Farm and enjoy some maple candy while you’re there.

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11. Be an Earthsaver
Bring a trash bag and clean up your path while you’re questing.  The planet will thank you, and so will your fellow Questers!

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12. Get inside on a rainy day
Got the rainy day blues? Try an indoor Quest, like this one at the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vermont.

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13. Write your own quest
Feeling ambitious? Create your own Quest in your favorite special place. Find instructions here, and don’t forget to share it with us when you’re finished!