Friday, May 28, 2010

Look For It Now: Red-spotted Newt

This little fellow was running around the peas in my garden the other morning. What a sight to see! He is a red-spotted newt, also known as a red-spotted eft or eastern newt. This particular newt has three life stages, including the aquatic larva or tadpole stage, the red eft or terrestrial juvenile stage, and the aquatic adult stage. In the photos, this amphibian is in the eft stage.

Eastern newts dwell in moist environments in both coniferous and deciduous
forests, and in or around lakes and ponds. They love a muddy home! They avoid predators by secreting toxin through their skin.

You can see in the first
photo how small these bright orange newts are when compared to my hand. From nose to tail, they are usually about 3-4 inches long. Efts eat a variety of foods, which may include spiders, caterpillars, flies and frog eggs.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Bird's Best Friend

VINS' volunteer carpenter, Peter Mitchell, has done it again. He's volunteered his hard work and time to build us brand new enclosures for our wild bird patients. His dedication to making Wildlife Services, our rehabilitation department, the best it can be has made him a bird's best friend (and ours, too!)

This spring, Peter constructed an addition to our raptor flight cage. The flight cage is where raptors (owls, hawks, osprey, etc.) and other large birds spend their last days before being released back into the wild. In the flight cage, we can monitor birds' flight abilities and allow them to work their muscles to regain strength.
A contribution from a long-time VINS donor made the construction of the addition possible.

The addition to the flight cage includes 3 separate raptor and waterfowl enclosures that can open into each other, as well as open into the flight cage. That way, we can house birds separately, or allow them to fly through the 3 enclosures and/or into the flight cage. The addition will allow us to house more birds outdoors as they progress through rehabilitation -- getting them back to the wild more quickly. It's a rehabilitator's dream! And we think the injured raptors who go through our rehab program will find the new enclosures just delightful.

In the photo above, Peter works on the flight cage addition back in March. Below, Peter puts in the final screw to the addition May 26, and beneath that: the completed flight cage addition.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Look For It Now: Yellow Lady's Slipper Orchid

Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium pubescens) is blooming in Vermont. Look for this wild orchid in bogs, shady swamp areas and wet woodlands. The plant may stand 12- to 30-inches tall, and flowers with a yellow, slipper-like blossom in May and June. Each flower is held above the foliage on the stalk, with a single leafy bract behind the flower. Locally, one can find this special flower in Eshqua Bog, a 41-acre preserve in Hartland, VT, diverse in bog and fen plants. Photo by Sara Eisenhauer.

On Saturday, June 12, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., VINS is offering a naturalist-led tour of Eshqua Bog for an up-close look at a variety of native Vermont wildflowers, including the lady's slipper. Call (802) 359-5000, ext. 223 for more information and to register.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Owlet Love

Wild owls are a fierce bunch. With knife-sharp talons and flesh-ripping beaks, these birds of prey are high in the food chain and not to be messed with.

As babies, however, owls look like soft, fluffy balls of innocence. Sure they've still got talons and a decent-sized beak, but their downy feathers and big, child-like eyes make them appear far less threatening than their full-grown counterparts.

The VINS Wildlife Services department now has three baby barred owls in its care. Each one came from a separate nest, and none were able to be re-nested due to various circumstances. We always encourage the public to re-nest baby birds (whether its a songbird or a raptor), because the parents always do the best job of raising their young. We're good foster parents here at VINS, but bird moms and dads know baby birds best. It is great, however, that these young barred owls have each other to spend time with -- they are far less likely to imprint on humans when they can associate with others of their kind.

For now, we are hand-feeding the owlets chopped mice and keeping them together in an indoor enclosure. Just yesterday, they began eating food left in their enclosure on their own. They grow up so fast! They'll soon be independent, flying, and ready to take flight into the wild where they belong.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

As the borers approach, should we cut the ash?

By Chuck Wooster for "The Outside Story"
Illustration by Adelaide Tyrol

Early May is a gut-wrenching time for those of us who love ash. The trees take their time leafing out, appearing stone-cold dead for weeks after the maples have flowered and put on their fine show. Even the recalcitrant oak comes to life before the white ash stirs.
Thinking an ash tree is dead is not entirely unjustified: ash trees can suffer from ‘ash yellows,’ a disease in which microbes invade the circulatory system of the tree, causing it to lose color and vigor and die over the course of a few years. This happened on our farm three years ago: two vigorous youngsters above the pasture, each about 14 inches in diameter and straight-trunked for 30 feet, kicked the bucket seemingly overnight. At a summer’s end, they were a little pale and patchy in the crown, but the following spring I still thought they were just late to leaf out. Then by the Fourth of July I realized they were goners.

To read this article in its entirety, please visit "The Outside Story's" web site at The VINS Nature Blog will run excerpts from current articles in Northern Woodlands' "The Outside Story" periodically to enhance our nature offerings to our readers.

Fill Summer with Adventure, Learning

By Beth Roy

Camp and School Programs Manager

As the days grow longer, the trees’ leaves mature and turn a dark green and migratory birds arrive for nesting season in New England, it’s time to plan family vacations, outdoor excursions and summer camp for kids! VINS is offering an exciting array of brand new nature camps for children in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. This summer, we’ll provide more than 200 campers with the opportunity to spend a week immersed in hands-on nature adventures.

Nature camps will be available at several locations throughout Vermont and New Hampshire, including Storr’s Pond in Hanover, NH; Purple Crayon Productions in Woodstock, VT; VINS Nature Center in Quechee, VT; Burr and Burton Academy and Hildene in Manchester, VT.

Campers in graders 1 through 3 may jam with The Junkman, a nationally renowned percussionist and environmental educator. Kids can discover the science and art of making music and learn to “tune in” to the music of the natural world. Campers in grades 4 through 6 who are fascinated by both technology and the natural world can learn about technology like computer mapping, solar power and radio telemetry during a week of Enviro-Tech. VINS is also introducing a new mixed ages camps for kids entering grades 1 through 6. Perfect for siblings and friends who would otherwise find themselves separated by grade, campers can register for a single day or an entire week of nature-focused camp.

VINS believes that all children should have the opportunity to experience VINS Nature Camp. We provide camp scholarships, or camperships, to families in need of support. If you wish to apply for a campership or would like to donate to this important program, please call 802-359-5000, ext. 221 or e-mail For a full detailed listing of offerings and to register for VINS Nature Camps, visit

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Little Bliss For You

It's a beautiful weekend here in Vermont, and I'm going to add to your bliss by sharing this video of a gosling currently in our care. He's just about the cutest thing around.

The baby Canada goose (a.k.a. gosling) was found orphaned a few days ago, and was unable to be reunited with his family. We are caring for the bird now, but we'll keep our eyes peeled for potential Canada goose families we could sneak this baby into. Sometimes, when a gosling or duckling becomes orphaned, you can find a foster family for him or her by uniting the baby with a waterfowl mom who has kids around the same age. Often times, the mother waterfowl will start caring for the new baby as if it were one of her own. It doesn't always work, but it's usually worth a shot. Bird moms always do the best job of raising their young.

For now, we'll keep this little goose tucked away with us, safe and sound.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

One Duck's Tale

Ducks seem to be everywhere in Vermont. It's easy to spot a merganser or two floating down a river, a wood duck in a tucked-away pond, or a sord of mallards on a lake. But imagine one woman's surprise to see a drake -- a male mallard -- wandering around the parking lot of a busy shopping center. That's no place for a duck!
In the photo, Sara Eisenhauer holds the duck while he is hydrated by another staff member.

It was clear something was wrong, as the duck was unable to hold his head up properly and appeared weak and disoriented. He was brought to VINS for care, where we indeed found that the bird had little control over his neck. His head would kind of hang listlessly to the side of his body: it was not pleasant to see. We suspected he was hit by a car and suffered nerve or possible brain damage. He also had a scrape beneath his left eye.

We immediately started the dehydrated, thin bird on fluids, and gave him a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory to try to treat the head trauma. For the next week, the bird struggled to maintain some kind of composure over his body. We started him on solid foods, and he had trouble getting his head into the bowl to eat. He also was terribly frightened and fought us with a surprising ferocity, perhaps because of his vulnerable, injured state.

Unfortunately, in more than a week's time, the duck showed no signs of improvement. The staff agreed that the duck was suffering due to his condition. We made the difficult decision to euthanize the bird, feeling that his quality of life was too poor to continue treatment as no improvement was apparent. In the end, we felt he likely had irreversible brain damage, and would have never been able to return to the wild. Always a tough choice to make -- but we feel we did the right thing.

Paint for Rain

Rain barrels are not only an excellent way to collect runoff rainwater for watering gardens and washing cars. They also make excellent canvasses! Join the Vermont Institute of Natural Science this Saturday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., to learn about rain barrels and water conservation, and try your hand at painting a barrel. The Art on A Rain Barrel Festival will feature 30 pre-selected teams and local artists painting designs on rain barrels to be placed at various locations throughout Vermont and New Hampshire. Enjoy the spring weather and tour the live raptor exhibits while you're here. For more information, visit the VINS web site at

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Look For It Now: Foam Flower

Foam flower (tiarella cordifolia) is blossoming in Vermont. Look for this woodland plant's delicate white flowers on a tall, leafless stalk. Foam flowers' leaves, which look a bit like maple leaves, grow in clumps on the ground. This flower is a member of the saxifrage family, and is sometimes referred to as "false miterwort" due to its similar appearance to miterwort. Foam flowers, which can reach 12 inches in height, bloom May into June -- so there's still time to head outdoors to look for it now! (Photos by Meghan Oliver)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Poor Sam Peabody: Rumpless Wonder

The white-throated sparrow is a year-round mainstay in Vermont and throughout much of New England. Their distinct song, which some say sounds a lot like someone calling, "Poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody," is a treat to hear in the deep woods or amidst a green-lawned suburb. Some folks further north think the bird sings, "Oh, sweet Canada, Canada, Canada," but I can't say for sure who is right.

These plump little birds have the standard brownish sparrow get-up, but they do have a couple telltale identifying marks... but you're probably going to need your 'nocs to see these! (And by 'nocs, I mean binoculars, of course.)

First off, these sparrows are named for their white throats. They've got a patch of white along their throat that is bordered by a crisp black line -- really making the white throat pop. Secondly, these birds have yellow lores. The lores are the areas on either side of the face, above the beak and by the eyes.

In the photo above, you can see this white-throated sparrow is missing all of his tail feathers.

On April 21, a white-throated sparrow narrowly escaped death after being pawed at by a dog. Luckily, the dog's owner was able to restrain his dog, and brought the bird to VINS for care. Songbirds have a neat feature to help them escape predators: their tails pull out easily, so when a predator tries to grab the bird, the tail feathers are often pulled out while the bird flies away to safety. Such was the case for this little guy, who is missing every single one of his tail feathers. He sustained no bite wounds or scratches... just a drafty behind.

The good news is the sparrow is eating well, flying about his mesh enclosure superbly and has a bright, energetic attitude. We'll keep this rumpless wonder with us until we can be assured he'll fly well in the wild.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Recipe for Amazing Summer Camp Experience

By Beth Roy, Camp Programs Manager and School Programs Coordinator

Take 8 individuals with a passion for the environment and education.
Sprinkle in 4 masters degrees and 7 bachelors degrees. Include a heaping scoop of more than 45 years of combined experience. And what do you get? VINS’ Nature Camp staff for the summer of 2010!

One of the most important roles I play as Camp Programs Manager is in the hiring of our camp staff each year. This years’ hiring process was truly a delight. As I interviewed individuals it became clear to me that I had the potential to pull together an amazingly qualified staff. Now that the hiring process is complete, I am planning the camp curricula in more detail. This year’s highly experienced staff will allow me to offer new and exciting offerings each camp week. The 2010 VINS Nature Camp staff men and women have a host of skills that will ensure a fun, safe and educational summer for children.
  • 4 of our 8 staff have previous experience in the VINS Nature Camp Program.
  • 3 have wilderness first aid experience.
  • 2 are certified lifeguards.
  • All our staff are required to be certified in first aid and CPR.
  • All have had experience in other residential and day camp programs.
To see a full listing of our Nature Camp staff, download a PDF of their bios. To learn all about this summer’s VINS Nature Camps including online registration, please visit our website's camp information page or call 802-359-5000, ext. 221. Scholarships are available. We hope to see you in camp this summer!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Look For It Now: Trillium

Look For It Now is a new weekly series on the VINS Nature blog. Each post will feature something in nature (be it a bird, a flower, a bug, a tree, etc.) that you can find (blooming, blossoming, breeding, nesting, etc.) right now in nature. We hope our Look For It Now series will inspire you to get out into nature and look around. There's so much to see!

This week: trillium.

Trillium is a native spring perennial in Vermont and much of North America. It's easy to identify with its 3 large leafy bracts, topped with a 3-petaled flower, which may be maroon or white in Vermont. These shade-loving plants can be found in moist wooded areas, often along roadsides and on the forest floor. Trillium's season is coming to a close, so get outside and look for it now! (Photo by Meghan Oliver)