Birding at Burlington’s Intervale and the
Ethan Allen Homestead
by Bruce MacPherson
Burlington's Intervale consists of 900 acres of meadows, wetlands, small farms, and deciduous forest, bordered by the Winooski River to the north and east, Riverside Ave. to the south, and Route 127 to the west. Intervale Road in Burlington provides easy access to the Intervale and its trails. Two small parking lots are located just north of the Gardener’s Supply Company and the Intervale Compost Project entrance respectively.
The Rena Calkins Trail begins at the first parking lot and extends to the Winooski River. One arm of the trail encircles the compost project, while the other passes behind the Gardener’s Supply buildings and parking lot. A separate trailhead starting at Intervale Road leads to the Salmon Hole. Finally, the unpaved extension of Intervale Road runs between the small farms and community gardens, ultimately connecting with a bike path to the Ethan Allen Homestead. All of the Intervale’s trails are easy to negotiate on foot, although the trails themselves are not particularly well-marked. During the winter these trails are often accessible with cross country skis or snow shoes, adding another level of enjoyment to the outing.
The diversity of birds encountered in the Intervale is really quite remarkable. A search of the archives of the Vermont Bird List turned up over 100 entries at this site and VT eBird lists 10 species. Reports of Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, Great Blue and Black-crowned Night Herons, Great Egrets, Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers, Baltimore Orioles, Indigo Buntings, Chimney Swifts, and a variety of warblers, vireos, and kinglets were included in these entries. Mallards, Black Ducks, and Common Mergansers are regular in the Winooski River, especially in winter and spring. Bald Eagles are regular, if sporadic, visitors to the Intervale throughout the year. Likewise, soaring Red-tailed Hawks are a regular feature of the Intervale, especially in winter.
If you go to the Intervale, do not ignore the section of the Winooski River that runs behind the Gardener’s Supply parking lot. The small islands in that section of the river serve as a resting place for a variety of waterfowl, including Mallards, Black Ducks, and Common, and Hooded Mergansers. Although the Intervale offers fine birding throughout the year, I prefer to visit there during the winter, when the number of recreational users and farmers diminishes. In my most recent forays to the Intervale, Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Cardinals, and American Tree Sparrows were present in abundance.
Connected to the Intervale by the Burlington bike path, the Ethan Allen Homestead is an exceptional property for birding managed by the Winooski Valley Park District. The Homestead offers trails through wetlands, grasslands, woodlands and farm lands-well, garden lands, not to mention riverside trails along the Winooski River.
During a recent visit to the Homestead on a sultry July afternoon, I found goldfinches, chickadees, waxwings, and Song Sparrows present in abundance. I spotted a few House Wrens occupying a nest box near the Homestead and a number of Common Yellowthroat popped out of the bushes near one of the well-tended community gardens. Likewise, a Chipping Sparrow announced his presence by landing on the rail fence bordering the garden. In the wetland, where a nicely constructed boardwalk allows for excellent views of the entire marsh, I saw a Great Egret fly over and spied three Gray Catbirds flitting about in the trees. Surprisingly, I saw no herons or ducks, although I am sure that Great Blue Herons. Mallards, and Wood ducks, if not other waterfowl, inhabit the marsh. I'll need to check out this marsh later this summer.
And don't forget the bike path that winds along the border of the Intervale in parallel with route 127. Looking east from the bike path, you can survey the wetlands and marshy area of the Intervale for Wood Ducks, Belted Kingfishers, songbirds, Red-tailed Hawks and even the occasional Osprey.
In summary, Burlington’s Intervale and the Ethan Allen Homestead offer superb birding sites that are readily accessible to residents of Chittenden County. Check out the VT eBird link below for a complete checklist of the possibilities. In fact, while writing this article on a beautiful summer morning, I convinced myself to visit the Intervale and the Homestead this very afternoon. I'll see you there. Good birding.