Birding at Mud Creek WMA
By Bruce MacPherson
The name Mud Creek may not sound particularly inviting when it comes to birding, but, believe me, the Mud Creek WMA in Alburg is one of Vermont's premier birding spots. Interestingly, if you go to Vermont eBird and look at the checklist for the Mud Creek WMA "hotspot", the species list is quite modest-65 species or so. But note, also, that the number of data entries on this list is very small, reflecting the fact that Mud Creek is seldom visited even by the experienced birders who contribute their findings to VT eBird. If you go to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife account of bird life in this refuge there are a number of species that do not appear on the VT ebird list such as Virginia Rail, Sora, Black Tern, and Least Bittern. Without promising that you will see any of these species, my take is that the Mud Creek WMA is visited infrequently and underappreciated by birders. I don't think we know for sure all of the species that reside there, breed there, or pass through there in migration. Here is an opportunity for some exploration and some fun.
Let me give you a few examples. I have visited Mud Creek WMA perhaps a half dozen times in the past few years. Twice I participated in a GMAS field trip lead by long time birder Ken Copenhaver, who likely has more experience birding in Mud Creek WMA than anyone else in Vermont. I have never been disappointed by my visits to Mud Creek and occasionally I have been amazed. Like the day last spring when I found over 1000 Snow Geese flying back and forth between the marshy waters of Mud Creek and the adjacent corn fields. Only Dead Creek WMA in fall can boast such large numbers of Snow Geese in flight. But, in contrast to Dead Creek, I was alone to enjoy the show. My personal list of waterfowl from Mud Creek includes Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Canada Geese, Wood Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Mallard, American Black Duck, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Common Goldeneye, and Hooded Merganser to name a few of the "regulars". My best view ever of an American Bittern in flight occurred at Mud Creek. But, of course, there is more to bird life at Mud Creek than waterfowl.
Mud Creek WMA is mainly cattail marsh and forested swamp, so it is not surprising that birds of the marsh are heavily represented on the Mud Creek species list. Among the birds to look for in the marsh are nesting Osprey, Northern Harrier, Pied-billed Grebe, Tree Swallow, Swamp Sparrow, Marsh Wren, Red-winged Blackbird, and the occasional Rusty Blackbird, a declining species in Vermont. But there is an excellent selection of other birds, too, including Baltimore Oriole, Great-crested Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-eyed and Warbling Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and a nice selection of warblers, including Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and even the occasional Bay-breasted Warbler. On one of our field trips to Mud Creek Ken lead us to the base of a white pine tree where a Barred Owl roosted.
The easiest way to get to Mud Creek WMA is to follow route 2 through the Champlain Islands until you reach route 78 in Alburg. Turn right on route 78 and drive about a mile to a small parking lot on the left. The main trail is the old Rutland Railroad roadbed, which is elevated above the marsh. As Ken Copenhaver points out, you can walk through the swamp without getting your feet wet. Serious Vermont birders will want to visit the Mud Creek WMA. If you go, bring your spotting scope for an optimal birding experience.