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Bird Watching at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park

May 26, 2016 05:28PM ● By Finn Mc Farland
The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park (MBRNHP) in Woodstock is a destination for birders in the Upper Valley. Park ecologist Kyle Jones and wildlife biologist Kent McFarland of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies recently led a group of bird watchers on a walk through the park while offering tips and tricks for beginning birders.

The walk began at the Forest Center, a platinum-certified LEED building used for classes and events at the park. Passing the historic mansion and open lawn, where they could more easily point out songbirds, Kyle explained that the towering Norway Spruce trees along the edge were planted almost 140 years ago when Frederick Billings called the estate home. The tall evergreen trees attract breeding songbirds such as the bright yellow Magnolia Warbler, the striking Northern Parula, and the tiny Red-Breasted Nuthatch.

“For beginning birders, the edge of the lawn offers a great peak at species they may only be able to hear from below the trees as we go deeper into the park’s forest,” explained Kent.

As they walked beneath the thick canopy covered in new leaves, Kent and Kyle identified birds more and more just by ear. A Hermit Thrush, the Vermont State bird, sang from the hillside. A Blackburnian Warbler sang its high-pitched song from the tops of the highest trees.  An Ovenbird belted out its “teacher-teacher-teacher” song nearby. A bright-red Scarlet Tanager sang like it had a sore throat, eluding the birders’ binoculars but not their ears. Learning to identify birds by ear is an important skill for aspiring birders because after spring leaf-out, birds are difficult to see and identify in the trees. “I’d say that about 80 percent or more of the birds I identify in the forest are by ear alone,” said Kent.

In just a few hours, the group tallied nearly 40 bird species, only a fraction of the 149 species that have been observed in the park, but a good morning nonetheless.

Visitors and birders can explore hotspots using Vermont eBird, a website and smartphone app for birders to record their sightings and observations as well as explore other birders’ data. There are six birding hotspots placed across the park for eBirding.

MBRNHP offers miles of old carriage roads and hiking trails through the forest, perfect for bird watching and enjoying the outdoors this summer. The park also offers several guided tours throughout the season, providing introductions to its history, stewardship, and native wildlife.

To learn more about the MBRNHP, visit Ranger-led interpretive tours and walks are offered during the park’s open season from May 23rd to October 31st. For reservations, call (802) 457-3368 ext. 222.

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