Nature Detective Notes: Late March-Early April – Birds and Butterflies

There was so many things to report in my observations, that this is the second installment of the late March-early April edition. Don’t forget to check out yesterday’s installment, Plants and Trees, and check back tomorrow for the final installment.

Birds and Butterflies


Robins!: It’s so wonderful to hear these backyard Thrushes during the early morning hours! They seemed to be “on time” this year, as well—with their arrival and with their singing; Most tend to hunker down during snow storms and then are able to feed on available tree fruits and invertebrates; they spend a good deal of time on the ground, so always seem happy when that snow melts and exposes grass or bare ground—worms and insects…yummy.


Phoebes!: another Spring migrant that “says its name” when singing—“phoe-be!” (last syllable up in pitch) “phoe-be!”(last syllable down in pitch)”; Very adaptable to the presence of humans, as are Robins, but a bit more selective in their nesting habits; they CAN find food sources during early Spring snow storms, yet depends on how long that cold lasts; I will monitor whether they come to the Visitor Center and Billings Barn areas; usually it’s “now I’m here, now I’m not” with these birds.

tree swallows

Tree Swallows!: I couldn’t resist this picture, being a romantic and all!; These fast little flyers and gliders in our meadows were back in, almost, full force last week, feeding on the many flying insects that were present; Sadly enough, on my way home during the snow storm this past Monday, I noticed them “chasing snowflakes”, perhaps, and scraping at the barrel to find a meal along Prescott Pond where we live; Although they are able to forage on certain fruits like Bayberry, I’m not sure how well they made it through the storm; I am sure we’ll have another wave of migrants come through and hopefully they don’t endure the same conditions.

red-shouldered hawk

Red-Shouldered Hawks: I’ve seen a number of these hawks circling overhead and making that distinctive, loud “Kyah! Kyah! Kyah!” over the past 2-3 weeks, often in pairs; Like Robins, Phoebes, Tree Swallows, and a handful of other birds, these are your “long distance migrants” that overwinter down in the southeastern US; So great to hear and see them back again down in these parts! A pair nested at the sanctuary at the Museum of American Bird Art last year and I am guessing that they’ll favor that again, instead of the woods around us; A little smaller than your Red-Tailed Hawk with a tail that isn’t always so “broad”, reddish coloration in spots and banding, are good field marks.

blue jay at feeder 3_21_16A

Blue Jays mimicking: blue jays are such an intelligent species and I love that they will often “mimic” the call of Red-shouldered Hawks AND Red-tailed Hawks; But why do this in the first place (and I have heard them carrying on around our Visitor Center)?? To monopolize food resources, of course!  Plenty to read about this behavior, so check it out on the web!


red-bellied woodpecker

Yellow-shafted Flickers and…Red-Bellied Woodpeckers: two similar-sized woodpeckers with fantastically similar ranges, migrates (the Flicker) and the other does not (the Red-Belly); Down south they may occupy a similar niche, but not around here; the Red Belly (pictured here) tends to be a little more secretive, nesting in the forest, and occasionally making its squirrel-like “chuck, chuck, chuck” call;  whereas the Flicker tends to nest closer to forest edges and human settlement…often foraging for ants on the ground, and alighting with a “kek, kek, kek, kek…” and showing the yellow shaft beneath its wings; no wonder it doesn’t spend much time here in the Winter!

Male Belted Kingfisher. Canon 40D with 300mm f/2.8L IS, 580EX flash with Better Beamer in ETTL mode FEC 0.

Kingfisher: Every Spring I always look forward to hearing the coarse “rattle” of this bird as it flies through our nearby marsh and pond, flapping its wings in a type of unison; They spend their winters in the southeastern US and tend to do a bit of moving around in order to find open water in which to dive into and fish; Females (like the one in this picture) are slightly more colorful than males, and that brownish band on the chest is a giveaway; Unusual in the bird world, but it works for them!

great blue heron

Great Blue Heron in flight: Graceful, majestic, patient, and more are all adjectives I would use to describe this fantastic bird; No doubt that the latest Spring snow storm forced many to the coast OR had them hunkering down beneath a tree; masters of disguise, keep an eye out for them in these places, along ponds, and in the air.


Spring Azure: an early Spring Butterfly in our forests.

Eastern Comma: another early Spring butterfly found within open forests and forest edges; like the Spring Azure, Mourning Cloak, and a few others, they overwinter as adults.

Mourning Cloak: always one of the first, early Spring butterflies I grew up seeing in VT; saw one a few years ago at Habitat laying dormant beneath a hollowed-out log; A big question is “will these butterflies rebound from this past week’s cold and snow?” they are slightly more delicate than other insects, but northerly species and tougher than we think.

Check back tomorrow for the next installment: Amphibians and More.

Until then,

-Acciavatti Instep, Non Stop

Nature Detective Notes by Michael Acciavatti. Michael is our full-time teacher naturalist who often heads out on the trails to stretch his legs and observe what is happening. His enthusiasm and knowledge make for wonderful updates about the nature of Moose Hill. We hope that you will be inspired to head out on our trails as well and enjoy the changes that each season, or better yet, each month bring to Moose Hill. We look forward to seeing you here!

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