Bird Monitoring at the Catamount Outdoor Family Center

by Carl Runge


The Catamount Outdoor Family Center is a 500 acre preserve on Governor Chittenden Road in Williston owned by Jim and Lucy McCullough.  It is a recreational facility offering mountain biking, running and hiking in the summer and fall, and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. It is operated as not for profit organization with a master Plan for future development and use.

This property is rich in bird life. It consists of a number of diverse habitats including northern hardwood, white pine-hardwood, and hemlock forests, early successional forest, marshes, ponds, and open fields and grasslands.  Between 1996 and 2008 we identified 94 species at Catamount and confirmed breeding status on 24 during the Vermont Breeding Bird Atlas years, 2003-2007.  The GMAS has held several field trips at Catamount all of which have been very productive and enjoyable. This prompted us to think that Catamount would be a great addition to Vermont areas designated by Audubon Vermont as IBAs (Important Bird Areas).

To this end, we at the GMAS, with the assistance and enthusiastic cooperation of the McCulloughs, submitted an application for IBA status to Audubon Vermont in September 2008.  Our arguments were as follows: Catamount includes several healthy habitats producing a wide diversity of bird species, both migratory and breeding; Catamount has several areas of grasslands with well established  breeding populations of Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrows; finally, management practices at Catamount optimize breeding success. A major focus of the owner’s not for profit organization is to increase educational opportunities for nature and conservation. We envision Catamount becoming a major nature education center in Chittenden County.

In support of our application to AV, since April, 2009, we have been monitoring birds on the Catamount property each week.  Every Thursday morning we survey one of the four quadrants at Catamount. Thus, we cover the whole area every four weeks. We do cumulative counts, taking care not to double count birds on the return route. Each count takes two to three hours. Regular participants in the monitoring walks so far are Ali Wagner, Bill Mercia, Bruce MacPherson, Larry Haugh, Louanne Nielsen, Bill and Mae Mayville, and myself.

On our thirteen outings this spring and summer, we recorded 79 species, including eight that are new for the area.  We confirmed breeding in 17 species, seven new for the area. Notable new species include Winter Wren, Osprey, and Blue-winged Warbler. New breeding confirmations include Wood Duck, Mallard, American Kestrel, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Baltimore Oriole. Thus, to date we have identified a total of 102 species, including 31 confirmed breeders. All of our data from 2009 have been entered into the VT eBird database.

Audubon Vermont has yet to make a decision on our application for IBA status. On July 20, Bruce MacPherson, Lucy, Jim and I met with Jim Shallow of AV to discuss the progress of our application. Jim indicated that the IBA concept and process is in flux and is probably moving in the direction of larger tracts of land for inclusion as an IBA. Nevertheless, the IBA application remains active, and we agreed upon a common goal for Catamount: that all parties will work together toward conservation, stewardship, and education at Catamount, particularly with regards to birds and bird habitat.  Several steps were articulated and assigned which we hope will achieve this goal.

In the meantime, we will continue our monitoring efforts. So if you would like to enjoy excellent birding on Thursday mornings, come over to the Catamount Family Center and join us. The more eyes and ears we have helping out, the more complete our counts will be.

The photograph of a male Scarlet Tanager is courtesy of Roy Pilcher.

Catamount Outdoor Family Center Birding Checklist