Bird Observer: The Birding Journal for New England

Bird Observer

The Birding Journal for New England

June 2016

Vol. 44, No. 3

Birding Essex County, Vermont

Thomas Berriman


Victory Road, Victory Basin Wildlife Management Area. All photographs by the author.

Essex County is located in northeast Vermont. It is one of three counties that make up what is known as the Northeast Kingdom, named by Governor George Aiken in 1949. Essex County is the least populated county in New England, with just 6125 residents. There are a dozen or so towns in the county, only three of which have populations over 1000, the rest having populations of a few hundred or less. Almost all of these towns can be found along the paved perimeter roads that circle the county.

Take a drive along the only paved roads in the county (save one section of east-west road, Route 105, from Island Pond to Bloomfield) around the perimeter of 675 square miles of undeveloped wilderness and you will begin to appreciate how vast this 45-mile-long by 23-mile-wide section of Vermont is. Starting from Lyndonville in Caledonia County, head northeast on Route 114 to Island Pond, and continue north on 114 to the town of Norton on the Canadian border. There, Route 114 takes a 90-degree turn east, shadowing the 45th parallel of the Canadian border, to the town of Canaan. Canaan is on the border of New Hampshire, and here the Connecticut River divides the two states of Vermont and New Hampshire. At Canaan you will make another 90-degree turn and head south on Route 102, following the western shoreline of the Connecticut River, to the town of Lunenburg. Route 102 ends here merging into Route 2. Follow Route 2 west to the town of Concord to complete the circuit of Essex County.

I reference this circuit because there is so much acreage that cannot be reached by automobile, especially in winter but in summer as well. The good news is that within this circuit there is one paved road and a few gravel roads that are maintained year-round for access to some of the best birding locations in Vermont. In winter you will be able to access at least a few of the very best locations for finding boreal species and winter finches. In summer after mud season—usually around mid-May in Essex County—you will be able to access hundreds of miles of good hard-packed gravel roads to gain entry into the heart of The Kingdom. On most of these roads you will be able to use your family sedan without four-wheel drive.

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