Mad Birders Score an Orange Crowned Warbler on New Year’s Day

Posted on Friday 2 January 2015

Orange Crowned WarblerThis bird was NOT supposed to be here now. Warblers head south for the winter, right? Well, mostly right…but not always. Zacheriah Cota-Weaver was the first of ten Mad Birders out and about in Washington County on a “First Birding” expedition to notice a small yellow bird in a line of Spruce trees on a small side street in Montpelier. Chip Darmstadt got on the bird and eventually all of the birders got a look at this little jewel. The bird’s cooperation (and that of two very bird friendly homeowners) for about twenty minutes helped the ‘First Birders’clinch the identification. Not a bad first warbler of the year said Zach!

Jeannie Elias @ 12:10 pm
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Mad Birders Christmas Bird Count Featured on WCAX TV!!!

Posted on Wednesday 31 December 2014

The Mad Birders were delighted to be featured in a WCAX story about the Christmas Bird Count. The Chickadees, as they are known, who covered the  Waitsfield South sector for the 2014 count included Pat Folsom as the leader, along with Ellen Barillaro, Bonnie Darby, Christine McGowan and Tom Rogers. Watch the video here.

Jeannie Elias @ 10:32 am
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Posted on Wednesday 31 December 2014


Good news birders! Mad Birder Embroidered Logo Tee Shirts; (featuring the same glorious image shown above on one of our hats*) can now be ordered! The price will be $20 for any shirt. The shirts will be available in an astounding variety of colors (click on the style of your choice to see color options). Choose from Women’s Short Sleeved, Women’s Long Sleeved, Men’s Short Sleeved or Men’s Long Sleeved. Decide on your style, color and size and then send us an email to and we will answer questions and make arrangements from there.

* Our Mad Birder logo is based on a photo of a Ruby Crowned Kinglet generously donated by Bryan Pfeiffer.

Jeannie Elias @ 9:30 am
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Christmas Bird Count 2014

Posted on Friday 5 December 2014

The 115th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count will take place in the Mad River Valley, Northfield and Roxbury Friday Dec 19, 2014.  The longest running Citizen Science survey in the world, the Christmas Bird Count provides critical data on population trends. Tens of thousands of participants around the world know that it is also a lot of fun! Now in our ninth year of participation the MAD BIRDERS will have nine full teams of four out looking for birds in our ‘circle’. If you feed birds at home you can help by either doing a ‘feeder watch’ sometime that day or allowing a team to come observe the birds in your yard. Please contact Pat Folsom 496-3663, Jeannie Elias 496-4730, Nancy Turner 496-2523, or Patti Haynes 496-2220 for more information. There will be our now infamous pot luck and count down at the home of Jeannie Elias and Craig Goss that evening at 6pm. photo(46)

Patti Haynes @ 8:12 pm
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Bicknell’s or Bust!

Posted on Wednesday 25 June 2014


The weather could not have been better for this year’s Mad Birders Bicknell’s quest on Lincoln Peak – aka Sugarbush South. Twenty three birders arrived June 21st to head up the mountain in hopes of finding this bird. We were not disappointed! After an easy ride up the Super Bravo quad we hiked the rest of the way to the top –  an elevation of 3,975 ft.  The sun was shining, the temperature remained in the 60’s, there were no bugs, and we saw and heard many other birds on our way up including Blackpoll Warblers and Swainson’s Thrush. Our lunch at the platform once again provided a Bicknell’s singing and awesome views of the mountains and valleys below. Bicknell’s Thrush generally breed above 2,950 ft and are considered one the most rare and vulnerable songbirds in North America.

Patti Haynes @ 10:11 am
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Posted on Tuesday 27 May 2014

Over sixty of our fellow Vermont birders descended upon Pat and Scott Sainsbury’s CrossHaven Farm on Sunday, May 25th to meet up with over 80 species of birds for the 3rd annual BIG MORNING. It was a really wonderful gathering with many people who have not made it to this event in past years, and many who are now two and three year veterans of the trails on the old farm. CrossHaven Farm has 300 acres of mixed age / mixed species forest, plus 100 acres of hay fields and pastures, and 1-1/2 miles of river front on the Mad River.

Over 60 birders gathered for the 3rd Annual Big Morning!

Over 60 birders gathered for the 3rd Annual Big Morning!

The early risers met at 5:00 AM and were greeted with valley fog and many birds calling through the mist. By the beginning of the second walk at 7:30 AM, the sun was shining. Good looks of many warblers this year, including Tennessee and Canada Warblers, along with many Blackburnians. Ian Clark found a number of beauties in just one flowering apple tree.

Female Common Yellowthroat

Female Common Yellowthroat

Male Common Yellowthroat

Male Common Yellowthroat

MadBirders co-sponsor this event with the Sainburys and provide much of the volunteer work and cooking that make it all come off so well. Our walk leaders this year were Chip Darmstadt and Larry Clarfeld of the North Branch Nature Center and Mad Birders extrodinaire Pat Folsom and Ali Wagner.

A special thank you to those who donated the incredible door prizes — Ian Clark who brought two beautiful prints (Wood Duck and Snowy Owl), Maeve Kim who donated a copy of her recently published novel and Liz Lackey who offered up a huge comprehensive volume of Audubon’s Birds of America.

Song Sparrow, singing!

Song Sparrow, singing!

Our sincere appreciation to everyone who donated to the “birders’ social conscience” fund. This year, we once again raised over $1000 ($1100 actually!) All of the money will be divided between Vermont Center for Ecostudies for their avian research and North Branch Nature Center for their youth birding programs. And many thanks to Ian Clark for providing these photos from this year’s Big Morning.



Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Immature Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Patti Haynes @ 10:10 pm
Filed under: Events

Think Bobolinks!!!!

Posted on Tuesday 8 April 2014


The Bobolink is a small songbird that migrates between South America in winter and the Northern and Midwestern sections of the United States in spring and summer. This male of this cheerful species is often described as wearing a tuxedo backwards, due to the contrasting black and white patches of its plumage.
Its song is described as burbling, rambling and exuberant. Unlike many migrating songbirds that breed in North American forests, the Bobolink is a grassland bird that makes its nest in fields, meadows and pastureland. Very little savannah or prairie land still exists in this country these days and any kind of open land, as we all know, is becoming a rarity. As a consequence, habitat for Bobolinks is on the wane and Bobolink populations are in steep decline.

The Champlain Valley and various Vermont river valleys, including the Mad River Valley, contain perfect habitat for Bobolinks. Vermont bird watchers and nature lovers look forward to their annual appearance. As is so often the case a beneficial use of land for humans is at odds with the needs of other species. Bobolinks nest in open hay and farm fields and pastures, but need such areas to remain unmown until mid-summer in order for the breeding cycle to be complete. Working farmers on the other hand, need to plant fields, hay them or use them for grazing starting in early spring.

What can be done to preserve both Vermont’s agricultural heritage as well as our Bobolink population, along with the many other flora and fauna that live in grasslands that also benefit from delayed mowing? Conservationist and retired businessman Michael Sweatman of Elmore, Vermont had an idea. Could publicity, technology and volunteerism be combined in a minimalist fashion that would result in Bobolink awareness and habitat preservation? The Friends of Bobolinks Project is that idea brought to life.

The concept is simple:

  • Select a manageable geographic area.
  • Use technology to map the open spaces in that area large enough to support Bobolinks.
  • Use volunteers to survey each open space a half dozen times over the course of a Spring and Summer to determine whether a field is in agricultural use and if so for what type of agriculture and at what intervals, as well as monitoring those fields for the presence or absence of Bobolinks.
  • Educate landowners who are not using their fields for agricultural purposes where Bobolinks are or could be breeding about the potential benefit of deferring any land use activities until after the end of Bobolink breeding season.

In 2013 a Friends of Bobolinks project was launched by Sweatman in the Lamoille Valley which covered 96 square miles of land. A total of 272 fields were surveyed of which 88 were not being mown. Bobolinks were observed in 44 of these fields and through media coverage along with personal contacts, 40 landowners became Friends of Bobolinks, forming a core of a new movement to create awareness and improve Bobolink conservation.

In 2014 the Mad Birders, the valley’s own birding organization is piloting a Friends of Bobolinks project in the Mad River Valley. Join the Mad Birders at 4PM on Saturday April 19, 2014 at the Warren Town Hall to hear Michael Sweatman describe the project and learn how you can be involved. Call Michael Sweatman of the Friends of Bobolinks at 802-253-8142 (cell 371-9025) or Jeanne Elias of the Mad Birders at 496-4730 for more information.

Jeannie Elias @ 7:39 pm
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Spring Migration is upon us!

Posted on Thursday 3 April 2014

American Woodcock

American Woodcock

This American Woodcock was spied along Center Fayston Road at High Noon on 4/3/14 by Mad Birder Craig Goss.  Good Spotting!  Listen for these birds doing their mating call and aerial ballet at dusk and dawn (and all night long on nights of a full moon) for the next two months.

Jeannie Elias @ 1:40 pm
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Happy Spring Morning! by Scott Sainsbury

Posted on Saturday 22 March 2014

Snow Bunting

Six more inches of snow last night! It feels like we’re living in a igloo.

This morning, the snow was so high on the ground around the feeders, that all the doves, cardinals, and other birds that wait on the ground for the chickadees to spill seed for them to pick up, were finding nothing. It was comical, but disconcerting, watching them try to figure out how to land on the feeders. So, I went out on the back deck with a scoop of seed and a shovel to clear a spot for some food that they could easily reach.

As I was shoveling, a small bird flew in front of me at eye level, and disappeared around the barn. All I caught was white, black, small — so I thought Chickadee. But something wasn’t right. Was I seeing things, or was that bird too big, flying differently? And wasn’t there a hint of brown? Oh well it was gone.

But, I decided to peek around the corner to see if the bird was still in sight. When I did, it erupted from the protected area in front of one of the garage doors, and quickly disappeared around the Cedars further up the drive. No ID, but again, it just didn’t seem quite right for a Chickadee.

I went back to my work, and no sooner had I shaken the seed onto the deck than a Snow Bunting re-rounded the corner, fluttered near me, was startled by my presence and bolted toward the river. I ran inside to tell Pat, and together, we scouted the windows of the house looking for the bird.

Eventually, we gave up went back to the kitchen. I stepped to the sink and looked out the window. And there, enjoying the fresh seed on the deck, was the first Snow Bunting we’ve ever had in our yard.

The bird stayed for a good while and ate much seed. Then it left. What a late winter’s morning treat! Great views. Good pictures. And elevated spirits on a “Gee who forgot to set Mother Nature’s alarm for the Vernal Equinox” spring morning.

Jeannie Elias @ 3:12 pm
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A Novice at the Mad Birder Christmas Bird Count by Christine McGowan

Posted on Wednesday 22 January 2014

I’m a novice birder. In fact, I can’t really call myself a birder. I know my Black-Capped Chickadees, American Goldfinches and other common backyard birds. But I struggle with sparrows, warblers and ducks. And I don’t (yet) keep a life list. When I discovered the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, I was excited to participate, but also a little nervous. I’d read The Big Year – and saw the movie – and I feared I’d be way out of my league with people who’ve been birding for decades.

The annual Christmas Bird Count is the oldest citizen science survey in the world that attracts tens of thousands of birders to help track bird populations. I live in Stowe, Vermont, and I found a Christmas Bird Count circle in the Mad River Valley, with a group known as The Mad Birders. They are a fun-loving group of avid birders who get together regularly to hike woods, fields and back yards in search of birds.

At 8 a.m. on Dec. 16th, I arrived in Waitsfield, VT to meet up with Pat Folsom, an energetic retired teacher who wrangles the Mad Birders. Pat was easy to spot, binoculars covering her face, eyeing a female cardinal across the river. She’d heard that a Carolina Wren had been seen visiting a nearby feeder, and she’d been scouting the area since dawn.


Pat Folsom, of Waitsfield, VT, searches for birds during the Christmas Bird Count

Pat Folsom, of Waitsfield, VT, searches for birds during the Christmas Bird Count

We soon met up with fellow teammates Ken Beebe and Ellen Barillaro. Ellen, a local school administrator, was our driver. Ken a longtime Mad Birder, rode shotgun. Despite being slowed a bit by Parkinson’s, he was ready for the day: binoculars around his neck and walking stick by his side. Our count began at the home of one of Pat’s friends, who graciously let us use her living room to get a ‘bird’s eye view’ of several feeders hanging on her second-floor balcony.  The thermometer read 8 degrees F, so we appreciated the view from inside. Several Blue Jays and Chickadees bombed the feeders. As Pat foretold, the Carolina Wren appeared within a few minutes. Check! What a great find!

Next we crossed the road to observe more feeders and noticed some Chickadees fluttering wildly in the nearby brush. Sure enough, a Northern Shrike was perched atop a poplar surveying the area. Check! Off to a great start, we drove to a nearby condo complex adorned with feeders. We racked up several dozen Black-Capped Chickadees, Blue Jays, American Crows and even two American Robins still hanging around. Among the highlights: a couple of Common Ravens snacking on a carcass; three Golden Crowned Kinglets feeding in some tall pines and two Common Mergansers that flew overhead toward open water on the Mad River.

A few elusive birds we never found:

We drove a total of 30 miles while birding the sector that Pat has been monitoring for eight consecutive Christmas Bird Counts. Our visits included old farms, new vacation homes, village apartments and other backyard birding ‘hot spots.’  All the ‘hot spots’ turned out to be private homes of people who love to feed ‘their’ birds, and were happy to let a car full of strangers traipse through their yards in search of an unusual species – or just to count the Chickadees and Blue Jays.

Some Belted Galloway cows were among the onlookers of our Christmas Bird Count team

Some Belted Galloway cows were among the onlookers of our Christmas Bird Count team

At day’s end, about 40 of us gathered at the home of veteran Mad Birder Scott Sainsbury for a potluck dinner, followed by the main event: the reading of our bird lists. The teams took turns sharing their day’s finds, each attempting to top the next with the sighting of a rare bird or an amusing story. As the evening ended, friends were already making plans to head out the next morning in search of a Northern Hawk Owl seen in Waterbury Center Vermont and making headlines in local birding blogs.


Team Chickadee:  from left to right: Pat Folsom, Ellen Barillaro, and Christine McGowan. Ken Beebe (not pictured)

Team Chickadee: from left to right: Pat Folsom, Ellen Barillaro, and Christine McGowan. Ken Beebe (not pictured)

My inaugural CBC was a success. Not only did I discover that searching for and counting birds is a great way to spend a day, but I also found a whole new community of people I suspect will become lifelong friends.

Did you know? Some of the best birding festivals take place on or around National Wildlife Refuges.


Christine McGowan is the Director of Strategic Communications for the National Wildlife Refuge Association, and a beginner bird watcher based in Vermont.

Jeannie Elias @ 8:06 pm
Filed under: Events