The Catamount Outdoor Family Center: A Birding Update

By Carl Runge

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

In this article I would like to bring you up to date on our birding activities at the Catamount Outdoor Family Center in Williston.  In my 2009 report I described our efforts to earn for Catamount a designation as an Important Bird Area (IBA). Here is what has happened since then.

Catamount, located on Governor Chittenden Road in NE Williston, is a 500 acre preserve owned by Jim and Lucy McCullough and managed by their daughter and son-in-law, Abby and Eric Bowker.  It operates as a not for profit organization and is a recreational facility offering mountain biking, hiking and running in the summer and fall and cross country skiing and showshoeing in winter.

The property provides a broad array of habitats that attracts a rich diversity of bird life. Northern hardwood, white pine-hardwood and hemlock forests, early successional forests, marshes, ponds, and open grasslands are all found at the Catamount Outdoor Family Center.  Between 1996 and 2008, the McCulloughs, GMAS, the UVM Spatial Analysis Lab, and I working with the Vermont Center for Ecostudies and the Vermont Breeding Bird Atlas survey identified a total of 94 species of birds at Catamount and confirmed breeding  status for 24 species. Subsequently, surveys conducted after the Breeding Bird Atlas surveys concluded added several new species and new breeding birds to this total as described below.

During this past few years the GMAS held several successful field trips at Catamount. Our observations led us to think that Catamount would be an excellent addition to the places designated by Audubon Vermont as IBAs, and to this end we submitted a formal application to them in September 2008.  Unfortunately, Audubon Vermont never acted on this application, since the whole IBA concept apparently is in flux. As a result Bruce MacPherson, the current GMAS president, conceived the idea of establishing Important Bird Education areas in Vermont, an informal designation which would pinpoint certain locales in the state as centers for bird and nature education.  The driving force behind the establishment and operation of these centers would be local groups, in many cases local Audubon chapters.  This concept was approved at the Vermont Audubon Chapter Assembly meeting in April, 2010 and is in the early stages of implementation. At this point the Green Mountain Audubon Society has designated the Catamount Outdoor Family Center as its Important Bird Education site. This concept meshes nicely with the mission statement of Catamount:  “to promote family and community well being through activity and education in a natural environment.”

In 2009,  the GMAS began a systematic survey of the bird population at Catamount.  Several members have surveyed the area on a weekly basis (monthly in winter), and have recorded and tabulated the results. To date we have completed 71 surveys in all four seasons.  We have added to our original list so that the recorded species now totals 126 with breeding confirmation in 43. The immediate goal of this effort is to create a bird checklist for Catamount which will indicate seasonal frequencies for each species and designate breeding confirmations.  This checklist will be completed and available for distribution by May 2011. The checklist will be provided to Catamount to distribute to anyone who wants to watch birds there and a link to the checklist will appear on the GMAS website.

Notable species seen regularly at the COFC include Bobolinks, Brown Thrashers, Black-throated Green and Black-throated Blue Warblers, Savannah Sparrows, and Easten Bluebirds. Additions during the two Breeding bird Atlas survey years include American Bittern, Northern Shrike, Bohemian Waxwing, Philadelphia Vireo, Blue-winged, Wilson’s, Palm and Prairie Warblers, Winter Wren and Lincoln’s Sparrow.  New breeding confirmations include American Kestrel, Black and White, Black-throated Blue and Blackburnian Warblers, Scarlet Tanager, Eastern Wood Pewee, and Red-breasted Nuthatch.

With the survey results and checklist in hand, the next step for GMAS and Catamount will be to plan how best to utilize this property for bird and nature education.  A first step will be to hold the annual GMAS Birdathon at Catamount on Saturday May 18. Any and all additional ideas are welcome.  Please join us and stay tuned!

Note: A link to the COFC bird checklist can be found by selecting the Resources heading at the top of this page and scrolling down to the bottom of the page. Enjoy.