Bird Observer: The Birding Journal for New England

Bird Observer

The Birding Journal for New England

June 2015

Vol. 43, No. 3

Birding Orleans County in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont

Bob Stymeistand Martha Steele


Mad Brook Trail trailhead. (Photograph courtesy of the author).

Orleans County is one of three counties that constitute the Northeast Kingdom (NEK) of Vermont. Although Martha grew up in Burlington, Vermont, on the western side of the state, she knew little about the northeastern corner before adulthood. She introduced Bob to the NEK, which got its name in 1949 from then-Governor of Vermont George Aiken.

The NEK is a region that has historically struggled economically and is a little too distant from major metropolitan areas such as Boston or New York City to attract large numbers of tourists. But of course, birds pay no attention to political boundaries, and the rich and diverse habitat of the Kingdom results in one of the better regions in the northeastern United States to bird in spring and early summer.

In this article, we focus on Orleans County, with short descriptions at the end of the article of nearby Wenlock Wildlife Management Area (WMA), the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge, and Victory Basin WMA in Essex County. We focus on the months of May and June, by far the most exciting and productive time of the year. To whet your appetite, consider a June day on our property on Wood Warblers Way in Westmore, where Martha’s mother lives. Westmore is home to Lake Willoughby, considered by some to be the Lac Lucerne of the United States. Glacially formed, it is one of New England’s deepest lakes, with a depth exceeding 300 feet in some spots.

Our property is 120 acres of mostly hardwood forest, with an edge plantation of coniferous trees planted in the early 1950s and an open field with several varieties of apple trees. We have recorded 100 species of birds from our property. Waking up and walking onto the deck off our bedroom on an early spring morning often brings distant calls of the Common Loon from Lake Willoughby below us, as well as the calls of an incessant Common Yellowthroat, Wood Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Barred Owl, Pileated Woodpecker, Purple Finch, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, White-throated Sparrow, Black- capped Chickadee, Winter Wren, Ovenbird, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager, and on and on it goes. We have several bird boxes in our meadow with nesting Tree Swallow, Eastern Bluebird, and chickadees. We have a kestrel box up and ready for one of the nearby birds to discover and we put up a Barred Owl box last fall. We welcome our avian travelers back and wish them well in finding mates and raising their young. With all of this abundance, sometimes it is hard to tear ourselves away from just walking the edges of our property.

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