South Hero Marsh and Recreation Trail
by Bruce MacPherson
Spring is my busy season-prime time in Vermont for birds and birding. And high on my list of favorite spots is the South Hero Marsh and Recreation Trail. The marsh is so good that I have tried to keep it secret with some success. Although I occasionally run into bikers, joggers, and wayward dogs on the trail, I seldom see birders there. Big mistake. From March through September the South Hero Marsh is a prime site for birding.
Shirley Johnson and Chip Wright introduced me to the marsh a few years ago, though at the time neither of them had explored its full potential. I liked its accessibility and the variety of habitats it offered, particularly the wetlands. Since then, I have visited the marsh dozens of times recording over 100 bird species on my eBird list. Mallards, Wood Ducks, and Canada Geese nest there regularly. Two years ago I spotted a pair of Northern Shovelers that visited the marsh throughout the breeding season. Also, last year I practically tripped over a female Hooded Merganser leading her newly-hatched brood of four out of harm's way. Ring-necked Ducks and Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal turn up regularly in migration. I am looking forward to meeting their offspring. Likewise, a pair of Gadwall has been behaving suspiciously of late. Stay tuned for future birth announcements.
With all this waterfowl activity it would be easy to overlook the other birds that are regular visitors to the marsh. Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Green Heron, and American Bitterns refuse to be ignored. Likewise, foraging Osprey, hunting Harriers, and soaring Red-tails make their presence known. Topping off the menu is a nice selection of warblers in migration enhanced by the occasional Bobolink, Savannah Sparrow, and Eastern Meadowlark that inhabit the adjacent grasslands. Did I mention the flycatchers? There's more, much more, but you will have to make those discoveries yourself. Last year Shirley Johnson and I birded the marsh together and she discovered a bird that I had not seen before despite my weekly visits to the marsh-a handsome male Scarlet Tanager. Surprise!
The birding at the South Hero Marsh is excellent until it ends abruptly during the first week of October. Bang! Duck season. End of casual birding for the year. Baseball fans know the feeling. In October the season is over. Wait until next year.
To get to the South Hero Marsh and Recreation Trail, take route 89 to exit 17, the Champlain Islands exit. Continue on route 2 to the town of South Hero. After driving through the South Hero take the first left hand turn onto Tracy Road. The parking lot for the marsh is on the left about 200 yards down the road.