A Status Report on the Bald Eagle in the Connecticut River Watershed
By John Buck
photograph by Frank Dinardi
sketch by Bruce Macdonald
Dead drifting my canoe along a stretch of the upper Connecticut River a few miles upstream of the Wilder Dam, a flash of white against the dark green pine background revealed the perching spot of an adult Bald Eagle. I had been receiving credible reports of a pair of eagles in the area and wanted to see if I could confirm a nest or at least a territorial pair. Remaining motionless for fear of flushing the bird, I waited in hopes it might reveal a second adult or even a nest. Eagle nests are unusually difficult to spot by themselves, despite measuring as much as six feet in diameter and weighing several hundred pounds.
The upstream breeze counteracted the River’s current allowing me to remain in place for nearly an hour. A second bird never appeared and whether the eagle decided I wasn’t worth the risk of remaining, or it was hungry, or simply wanted to see more of the River, it flew off to the north. With a mighty push of its legs, shaking the pine bough as it released its grip, and a few deep powerful strokes of its six-foot wingspan, the eagle was soon out of sight. Though I had seen many eagles over the years, my feelings of awe and inspiration were just as profound as my first encounter so many years ago. It is no wonder the peoples of the Wampanoag, Pequot, Abenaki, and Quinnipiac, were among the many first Nations to revere the Bald Eagle and place them highly within their tribal rituals and customs.
Ever since the Continental Congress officially adopted the eagle in 1782 as our nation’s national symbol, the species has had a remarkably difficult existence during the past 200 years. Habitat loss due to extensive land clearing and polluted waterways, popular fashion using wild bird feathers, persecution, and later, the introduction of DDT into the food chain resulted in an estimated population of less than 500 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states by the 1960s. And, no nesting pairs were found in the Connecticut River basin as recently as 30 years ago. In fact all of New England was void of nesting Bald Eagles except for some of the coastal and more remote habitats of Maine.
Through public awareness and laws,
habitat quality steadily improved to the
point where eagles could find suitable
nesting and feeding habitat.
Today’s eagle population is a different story. There are an estimated 10,000 nesting pairs in the 48 lower states including at least 50 pairs in the Connecticut River basin. Through public awareness and laws such as the Migratory Bird Treaty ACT (1918), the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (1940), the Clean Waters Act (1972), and the Endangered Species Act (1973), habitat quality steadily improved to the point where eagles could find suitable nesting and feeding habitat. These actions and the banning of DDT in 1972 allowed for the growth and resurgence of Bald Eagles throughout the land. So well has the eagle population recovered that it was removed from the federal endangered species list in 2007. This success story is being repeated in the Connecticut River Basin, too.
The lower part of the River was first to experience the eagle’s return. First to have eagles disappear from the state, Massachusetts last recorded nesting eagles in Sandwich in 1905. But from 1982 to 1988 the state undertook an aggressive effort to reestablish a nesting population by importing orphaned eagle chicks from the Great Lakes region of Michigan and neighboring Canada. The transplanting work centered on the Quabbin Reservoir where, during the six-year reintroduction, 41 eaglets were raised to adulthood, and by 1988, Massachusetts had their first nesting eagles in 83 years. Success at Quabbin extended beyond its borders to include 11 pairs along the Connecticut River by 2018. Eagles are a regular sight along the River in Massachusetts. Turner’s Falls (Greenfield) and vicinity has proved popular for nesting eagles. So well have the eagles faired in Massachusetts that the state has proposed the species be down-listed from threatened to a species of special concern.
Farther downstream, Bald Eagles have experienced similar success. Sharing the story of the eagle’s perilous decline with the other Connecticut River states, Connecticut was fortunate to retain a modest residual population of wintering eagles along its lengthy Long Island coastline, especially at the mouths of major rivers like the Connecticut. But, in 1992, a pair of eagles successfully reared two chicks in Litchfield County. Since then the state’s eagle population has steadily grown to where the state downlisted the eagle population from endangered to threatened in 2010. Connecticut’s eagle population continues to expand and by 2018, state biologists estimated between 50–55 pairs to be residing in the state. Although winter continues to be the best time to view eagles in towns such Haddam and Essex, tributaries of the Connecticut like the Scantic River in Sommersville and Shenipsit Lake in Ellington also support a feeding habitat and potential nesting territories as well as offer viewing opportunities.
Vermont and New Hampshire have shared a long and interesting history together. Beginning with the fact that, while New Hampshire was one of the original 13 colonies to form the United States, Vermont (once named New Connecticut) remained as an independent nation from 1777 until 1791 when it was admitted to the union as the 14th state. That subtle but important difference is still played out in many things today including Bald Eagle restoration. The difference is due to the fact that 90 percent of the River between the two states belongs to New Hampshire. The eagles, however, don’t know that, nor do they care. Eagles on both sides of the River hunt the River’s tributaries in both states. The only boundary lines they are concerned with are those established by the eagles themselves. Like so much of the habitat in Massachusetts and Connecticut, reforestation along the upper reaches of the River is, once again, an excellent eagle habitat.
New Hampshire reported its first successful nest in 1988 in the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge. Though not part of the Connecticut River drainage, the first eagle nest is always significant. As New Hampshire’s eagle population steadily grew other major water bodies began to attract the expanding population including the Connecticut River. From Hinsdale on the Massachusetts line to Northumberland in Coos County, near the Quebec border, eagles have taken advantage of the hundreds miles of unoccupied habitat. New Hampshire officials report over 50 nesting pairs in the state today with nearly a dozen calling the Connecticut River their home.
Vermont, on the other hand, despite its abundant unoccupied habitat, is one of the last states in the lower 48 to have a nesting pair of Bald Eagles. For reasons known only to the eagles, Vermont’s first modern day nesting pair was discovered in Springfield in 2002. As is often the case with new nesting pairs, success often requires more than one season’s attempt. However, nesting success finally occurred with another pair farther upstream in the town of Concord in 2008, and the Springfield pair was eventually successful. With that, Vermont ended a 60-year absence of the species from the state. As with the other three Connecticut River watershed states, Vermont’s repopulation progressed in fits and starts. Today, record numbers of eagle nests and offspring are being reported each year centered on the state’s three major eagle waterbodies (including Lake Champlain and Lake Memphremagog). Vermont wildlife officials report over 30 nesting pairs in the state with nearly a third of them lining the western shore of the River. However, without those first nests along the Connecticut River, the Bald Eagle’s resurgence would have been delayed even further.
A mere 50 years ago there were an estimated 450 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles in the entire continental United States. Today there are that many in New England alone. Whether by human assisted transplant efforts or through natural expansion of populations along the coast of Maine and Long Island Sound, it is clear the Connecticut River has served as a vital destination for Bald Eagle recovery. With continued habitat protection efforts, vigilance towards environmental toxins, and preventing dilution of important legal protections (e.g. Migratory Bird Treaty Act), the upper limits of Bald Eagle occupation in the basin are yet to be seen. There is still much unoccupied habitat within the River basin. Although Bald Eagles are normally quite wary of people, some have shown more tolerance than others and will likely continue to expand in Connecticut and Massachusetts. With so much unclaimed habitat in New Hampshire and Vermont yet to be spoken for, the future for this magnificent species looks very bright along the 410 miles of the Connecticut River.
JOHN BUCK is a fifth generation Vermonter. John’s interest in the natural world was shaped during his early years in rural Orange County at a time when there were more cows than people.
John received his BS and MS degrees in Wildlife Biology at University of Vermont. Following graduation, John was hired by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department as a founding staff member of the Department’s new wildlife habitat management program for private and public lands. Throughout his 39-year career, John managed habitat conservation projects. Until his recent retirement, John focused on threatened and endangered species and conservation of their respective habitats.
In his new career, along with his family, John runs a small organic bird-friendly maple syrup operation in Washington, Vermont. When not working the woods, John sings in the baritone section with the Burlington-based choral group Solaris Vocal Ensemble and with the Vermont Symphony Chorus.
American folklore has it that Benjamin Franklin suggested to the Continental Congress that the Wild Turkey be selected for the national symbol instead of the Bald Eagle. While that suggestion cannot be substantiated, he did offer in a 1784 letter to his daughter that the turkey is a far more respectable bird as indicated by its cunning and bravery. Franklin went on to describe the eagle as having a “low moral character” for its reputation as a thief and a bully. Though the turkey is all of what Benjamin Franklin described it as, I turned my canoe for the Vermont shore thinking how different history might have been had the Founders chosen anything but the Bald Eagle.
Text and photos by Emily Dixon
A dreamed of trip becomes a reality— paddling down our Connecticut River
I know the mouth of the Connecticut River well. My commute between my parents’ houses was faster by water than car, crossing the channel from North Cove in Essex to head to the protected Lord’s Cove in Old Lyme. I grew up with osprey squawks, an occasional swimming deer, and telling the tide by the directions of the boats in the mooring fields. Years later at Smith College, I often saw the Connecticut River while biking, watching the ice flows in February with huge tree trunks fouling the pilings in April. I often thought about paddling my way downstream from college to home. There was never enough time until, five years later, the trip finally materialized.
This past summer, I canoed from Northampton, Massachusetts, to Long Island Sound with my partner, Connor O’Neill. We used The Connecticut River Boating Guide: Source to Sea by John Sinton, Elizabeth Farnsworth, and Wendy Sinton for our route and daily map. It fit perfectly into a gallon Ziploc and was perched on a dry bag throughout the trip. The trip was 92.5 miles, and we added a few slight detours to round it up to a 100 miler. This is my diary:
Elwell Recreation Area → Brunelle’s Marina
Mileage: 7 miles
Elwell Recreation Area in Northampton, Massachusetts, in our trusty, blue 16’ Old Town fiberglass canoe, Mudbug, a common nickname for our favorite seafood snack, crawfish. After triple checking gear and finding the 35 perfect stow positions for various dry bags, we set off. With all our food and 20 liters of water, the gunnels seemed dangerously close to the wave tops at the protected boat launch. After a beautiful and uneventful short paddle, we arrived at Brunelle’s Marina.
Brunelle’s Marina → Holyoke Rows
Mileage: 7.5 miles
Initially, excited to read in the guide books about the power company providing a shuttle service to paddlers to circumvent the Holyoke Dam. When our ride came in the morning, we chatted and decided that we would regret not doing the portage on foot. We pulled out at South Hadley Canoe Club and carried all of our equipment the one mile through Hadley to launch at Beachgrounds Park. While resting our tired backs at the South Hadley Public Library, we were offered a ride, which we also turned down. A little stubbornness got us a long way on this portage. The canoe over our heads was light as a feather compared to the heavy dry bags digging into our shoulders. After launching in the shallow water below the dam, we had a quick paddle to the community rowing and paddling organization, Holyoke Rows, to camp for the night. This was well timed because big thunderstorms rolled through that afternoon. We set up our tent on the club’s open porch and rode out the storms by cooking good food and napping in the hammock.
Holyoke Rows → King’s Island
Mileage: 15.5 miles
Waking up to a clear sky, we launched Mudbug under the watchful eye of a beaver building his home under the floating dock. North of Springfield, Massachusetts, we spotted three large creatures hopping on the west bank of the River. As we paddled closer, we realized, to our delight, that the creatures were actually a family of bald eagles. We slipped by silently in our canoe, mesmerized by their beauty, size, and comedic antics. As we approached the Route I-91 bridge, we stuck to the east bank of the River knowing the breached dam, and subsequently the Enfield rapids, were ahead. The water picked up speed making its way around the initial structure of the old dam. Thinking we were safely below the dam and had avoided a second portage, we celebrated and moved confidently back into the middle of the River. Our revery was interrupted by the increasing low roar of falling water. We paddled furiously back to the safety of the east bank in time to navigate Mudbug over an eight inch drop. We breathed a sigh of relief, knowing the breached dam was now actually behind us; ahead lay King’s Island.
The campsite was located on the northeast side of the island. After setting up camp on one of the two tent platforms constructed with the help of the sports retailer, REI, we paddled to some smaller islands located close by. The smaller islands provided a great place to float in the current and drip dry in the setting sun.
King’s Island → Island North of Route 291
Mileage: 13 miles
As we made our way south, the River widened; the water was fast and crystal clear. We paddled atop fields of eelgrass and hidden fish darting between the blades. Making our way closer and closer to Hartford, we decided to take a brief detour up the Farmington River for a midday hot dog at Bart’s. After struggling against the current, a hot dog loaded with sauerkraut and a tall root beer were a welcomed prize. We set up camp on an unnamed island located north of the Bissell Bridge. The island became quite busy with people fishing, jet skiers, and kids running around, all enjoying the River at sunset.
Island N of Route 291 → River Highlands Park
Mileage: 17.5 miles
We started out early knowing we had many miles ahead of us. We were joined by the Hartford Riverfront Rowing Club as they rowed north and we paddled south. Filling up with potable water at the Hartford boat house, we stopped and enjoyed a breakfast snack with bustling Hartford in the background. South of Hartford, the scenery became more industrial with infrastructure for old barge traffic and a faint odor from local landfills. Reaching Crows Point, near the Glastonbury Boathouse, the River was wild once again, hosting lots of enthusiastic water skiers. By the time we reached River Highlands we were exhausted. After a lovely dinner on a riverside picnic table, we fell asleep while several owls hooted nearby.
River Highlands → Chapman Pond
Mileage: 20.5 miles
Setting off in early morning fog, we were accompanied by great blue herons hunting for breakfast along the bank. They leapfrogged downriver as we glided past. As the day progressed and the River got deeper and wider, motorboat and jet ski traffic increased. We tied up our boat at the Blue Oar in Haddam, Connecticut, for a well earned hamburger.
Our boat was the smallest and dirtiest on the dock. As we entered the restaurant, it became clear by our appearance (and our smell) that we had been traveling for some time.
After waving goodbye, we continued past the Goodspeed Opera House on the eastern shore. The entrance to Chapman Pond was barely discernible behind a group of small islands covered by small motorboats. As we passed through the narrow entrance, the pond opened up before us. We noticed a small break in the bank’s brush indicating a campsite nearby. A short walk up the hill were two tent platforms in an open wooded area with views of the pond below. After setting up camp, we paddled back out for a refreshing River swim and boat wash. A slight breeze at the site made for a wonderfully bug free night.
Chapman Pond → Long Island Sound
Mileage: 14.5 miles
Waking up with several people fishing in the pond, we made our way south observing many osprey along the way. As we neared Gillette Castle, the ferry was dutifully making its trips back and forth across the River amongst fish leaping out of the water. We turned east into Selden Creek, following the marshy waters and enjoying the peaceful respite from motorboat wakes. A brief stop in downtown Essex, where we fueled on our first coffee in a week, gave us the push we needed to make it to the sound. We battled large waves near the gas dock on the east bank at the railroad bridge before tucking into the end of the Lieutenant River for the final stretch through the marsh creeks leading to the Sound. We passed crabbers and paddle boarders along the twists and turns before the current picked up and soon we were in the Sound. We were amazed at how shallow the water was at Griswold Point and ceremoniously dipped our last smoked pepperoni stick into the water for a celebratory bite, our journey having come to a close.
The paddle down the River displayed the wide range of life the River supports, from abundant wildlife to the industrial Springfield skyline to happy shrieks emanating from the rides at Six Flags. This trip would not have been possible without the help and support of our parents. Collectively, they took care of our dog, drove us to our launch, stored our gear, and towed us back from the Sound. The food was plentiful from homemade cookies to mid-trip burgers, and the finale on the grill; we are grateful.
By Judy Preston
Photography by Jody Dole
The aquatic plant known as Trapa natans has the unfortunate common name of water chestnut, leading people who are first hearing about it to think that it may well be a bonus source of that good appetizer, with a strip of bacon wrapped around it.
But the reality is, this non-native species is an aggressive rooted aquatic plant with floating leaf rosettes and a central submerged cord that can extend up to 16 feet, enabling it to form a dense mat on the water’s surface. By July, plants produce a whorl of seeds (nuts) below the water’s surface that detach and sink once mature. Seeds have been shown to remain viable for up to twelve years, underscoring the threat of long-term establishment once this plant takes hold.
This invasive species has gradually been moving down the Connecticut River from several large concentrations in Massachusetts. In 2011, a baseline effort to locate, map, and remove occurrences in the Connecticut River estuary was funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, working with the Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency (subsequently RiverCOG) in Essex. Several large populations have been located in the estuary, including in Salmon Cove, Selden Cove, and even on the Connecticut River mainstem.
Early detection and control is essential to controlling Water Chestnut; extensive infestations in Lake Champlain in Vermont, and the Hudson River estuary in New York make it unlikely that complete eradication will be possible in those waters. Our estuary abounds with largely intact fresh, brackish, and saltwater tidal wetlands that are essential habitat for a concentration of resident and migratory bird and fish species. Water Chestnut has the potential to fundamentally alter the ability of the Connecticut River estuary ecosystem to continue to support the biological, economic, and social amenities that have been its hallmark.
In 2018, after the discovery of large concentrations of another aquatic invasive plant, Hydrilla, in the Connecticut River north of Middletown, an email list serve was formalized to help conservationists problem solve about how to protect the Connecticut River and its many coves and marshes. It will take the persistence, resources, and energy of many people to stem the tide of these plants in the estuary—and the entire watershed.
If you think you have found either of these plants, or are interested in helping join the effort to keep it out of the Connecticut River estuary, please contact Judy Preston ( firstname.lastname@example.org), Margot Burns (email@example.com), or Friends of Whalebone Cove (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Judy Preston works for the Long Island Sound Study and CT Sea Grant at UConn’s Avery Point campus in Groton. She lives in Old Saybrook.
"These bird losses are a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife."
–Ken Rosenberg, Cornell’s conservation scientist
One of us visited the heart of the Soviet Union during its latter days and was struck by the absence of birds in general, and certainly the absence of avian variety. Among the major differences between the USSR and North America was the lack of proven, sensible environmental laws and regulations governing such things as pesticides, hedgerow preservation, and land use in the Soviet Union. This fall, scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology spearheaded a sobering report, “Decline of the North American Avifauna,” Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw1313 (2019), that forces us to moderate our pride in environmental regulations at home. The 11 authors, from government agencies and NGOs across the US and Canada, analyzed data collected over 50 years from a suite of A Rude Awakening and Call to Action governmental and citizen science programs. They found that the number of birds in North America has declined by nearly one third, or a loss of 2.9 billion birds, since 1970. According to Cornell’s conservation scientist, Ken Rosenberg, “These bird losses are a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife.”
The study raises at least two important questions of interest to those of us who live in the Connecticut River Watershed: First, which of our local birds are declining in number? The study says that grassland birds such as bobolinks have declined by more than 50%, and that more than 90% of the bird losses are from just twelve bird families such as sparrows, finches, and swallows. Redwinged Blackbirds, abundant within the CT River Valley, have declined on the North American continent from 260 million 50 years ago to 170 million today.
In terms of what each of us non-farmers can do to stem this decline, we should keep our cats indoors, make our windows bird-friendly, and support our local conservation groups. In coming issues, we will have more to say about this, but for now, let’s cherish what we have and work hard to better share this planet with all its creatures.
Professor in the Department of Ecology and
Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University
and Curator of Ornithology at
Cornell’s Museum of Vertebrates
Letter from the Publisher:
estuary...A Magazine about Life of the Connecticut River
We elected to call our magazine estuary, not to focus on the estuary but because the estuary reflects the entire River and in fact its entire watershed, ecologically, historically, and recreationally.
There is an increased sense of community among those who share the same watershed, or valley, those areas that drain downward from a geological divider of some sort through lakes, rivers, and tributaries into something close to, say, sea level. Folks upstream realize that the way they live has an impact on those downstream, and those downstream are more respectful of how those who live upstream care for their stretch of the River.
One generally small fraction of any watershed, where it drains into the sea, is its estuary. The waters of estuaries are brackish, being a mixture of fresh water from upstream, and salt-water from the sea. Estuaries are home to unique plants and animals with many benefits to mankind. In the case of the Connecticut River, the estuary extends from Old Saybrook, Connecticut, where the River enters Long Island Sound, north for a distance of a mere 20 of the River’s 410 miles.
On a calm day, the estuary may also appear calm, but looks are deceiving. Underneath, with a rising tide, a massive salt-water wedge forces its way, with considerable unseen turbulence, along the bottom, with the less dense fresh water on top. Scientists know a great deal about these wedges, their chemical and biological makeup, and their impact, economic as well as ecological, on the estuary…and they want to know more.
Estuaries are important because of the unique plant and animal life they support. Water flows downstream carrying organic deposits from the entire watershed out into the sea (or Long Island Sound). Many of those deposits are subsequently returned upriver a relatively short distance by the next rising tide, thus providing the estuary with the lion’s share of the water-borne organic matter from the total watershed. Connecticut River’s estuary is a prime beneficiary of this phenomenon.
The Connecticut River estuary has adapted to a historic sea level rise of one tenth of an inch per year. To compensate, the estuary builds up its own shoreline with the large “clots” of organic matter that return upstream and are dispersed sideways into the marshes, with each tidal cycle. The increased rate of sea level rise to two tenths of an inch per year, which is what we are told is the rate today, may become too much for the estuary, and wetlands and salt marshes may not be able to keep their “heads above water.”
James O’Donnell, a scientist with the University of Connecticut’s Marine Sciences Department, has estimated that the sea level along Connecticut’s eastern shoreline may rise by as much as 20 inches by 2050. This means an average rate of half an inch per year, more than twice the two-tenths of an inch that is estimated to be the rate today. This could become a large problem for the estuary and for the many thousands of people who live in flood plains along the estuary.
And this is just one of the challenges facing the Connecticut River that we intend to cover in Estuary. The magazine will bring to our readers a wide range of topics about the “life and health of the River” covering not only science and conservation, but also recreation, birds and other wildlife, people, lifestyle, and history.
We at estuary can never know as much as we would like about the Connecticut River and its watershed. We can’t wait, however, to kayak down the Ottauquechee River in Vermont, traverse the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail around Mount Tom near Holyoke, Massachusetts, or cast a dry fly upon the Farmington River. We are excited as we observe, step by step, what scientists are doing to understand, preserve, and restore important features and attributes of the River.
We have thoroughly enjoyed these past few months just beginning to satisfy our curiosity about this region. We hope many of you will paddle along with us to learn much, much more about this amazing place we are fortunate to call home.
-Dick Shriver, Publisher
An invitation to submit stories
If you are reading this, there is an excellent chance you love the River as much as we do. The more we speak with readers like you, the more we hear new and interesting stories about the River. This is an invitation to submit those stories to us so that we might share them with other readers. We have a process for doing this. Go to estuarymagazine.com/submissions and read the detailed instructions on how to submit story ideas. You can also submit letters to the editor.
In every issue, we have six areas of interest for story submissions:
People. We’re interested in special people you know who have left their mark on the River, like famous artists, inventors, and engineers; interesting people behind current efforts to preserve the River and their work to enhance our watershed experience.
Recreation. Tell us about your joys of River recreation such as special fly-fishing spots, frostbite sailing in the winter, your kayak or canoe trips, and riverside bicycle tours or camping.
Science and Conservation. We want to know about special efforts to improve the quality of the River waters, fish ladders, dam removal, invasive plants, restoring habitat, even the geology of the River
from ancient times to today.
Wildlife. Tell us about your River birding adventures, and “Wildlife Wonders” like black bears, beaver, the osprey success story, and more.
Lifestyle and Culture. We’re interested in real people you know living on the River, their lives, their homes, their avocations; what they have contributed to the culture of the River through their art, their photography, and their poetry.
History. We’re interested in the rich history of the Connecticut River; stories of early colonial settlers, native Indian tribes, their art and culture, the history of River steamboats, shipbuilding, covered bridges, and more.
Estuary magazine has an editorial focus for each issue. This inaugural issue focuses on Science and Conservation. Our June issue will feature stories on Summer River Recreation. In September, we will feature stories about Migratory Birds and Wildlife, and in December, you will read aboutHistory, Winter Ice, and Waterfowl.
One thing I’ve learned as this project developed is that the River defines us as her own Community. Whether Upriver at the origin near Canada, or Mid-river through Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, or where I live in Old Saybrook on the estuary, we, the River’s people, share a bond of love, respect, and care. I look forward to meeting many of you through Estuary, and hope you enjoy our articles and the extraordinary photographs that bring them to life.
–Lisa LeMonte, Managing Editor
This dramatic photo was taken by Frank Dinardi an amateur wildlife photographer from Connecticut. If you have a passion for nature and the art of photography, you can help estuary magazine document the variety of birds and animals in their natural habitat along the Connecticut River and its tributaries. We would also like to see action sports and landscapes. Share your work with us and our readers. We will select and present the best we see in our future quarterly issues and on our website. You’ll be compensated beyond bragging rights.
Submit online at estuarymagazine.com/submissions
By Karen M. Bourque
Just about a mile as the crow (or cardinal, or chickadee) flies from the Connecticut River’s western bank in Norwich, Vermont, sits a nondescript building that houses one of the most effective wildlife conservation organizations in the Northeast that
you’ve probably never heard of: the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE). There is no visitor’s center, no gallery of specimens to pore over, no lecture hall for attending natural history presentations. Instead, you’ll find ornithologists, herpetologists, pollinator specialists, outreach naturalists, and even a software engineer stuffed into offices and cubes, busily carrying out critical work in a race to conserve wildlife in the Western Hemisphere. They study, tweet, blog, write, lecture, live, breathe, and photograph nature. They even host a monthly radio show on Vermont Public radio called Outdoor Radio, and offer a lecture series aptly named Suds & Science that draws science fans from both sides of the river to gather at a local tavern for lively conversation and craft beverages.
What sets VCE apart from other research organizations is that their scientists engage—and in fact, depend on—the public for the success of their field research and wildlife monitoring projects. Projects like one of the continent’s longest-running studies of forest bird population trends, and saving the Common Loon from imminent extirpation in Vermont, for example. VCE’s army of volunteer citizen scientists—people like you— pour their hearts and souls (and collectively, a huge amount of time and energy) into a range of activities crucial to understanding the state of our natural world. They identify and count bird species from deep river valleys to the summits of the Northeast’s highest mountains; monitor and help rescue loons; evaluate vernal pool ecosystems; and submit thousands of observations of the myriad life forms along the Connecticut River watershed from Canada to Connecticut and beyond to a global biodiversity database.
And, they have a lot of fun along the way.
This collaboration of scientists and volunteers has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments, including:
These are but a few of many examples. Learn more about VCE’s work and how can you get involved at VTEcostudies.org, and follow them on social media (@vtecostudies). You don’t have to live in Vermont or have a background in science to make a real contribution to wildlife conservation as a VCE volunteer. After all, as VCE Executive Director, Chris Rimmer, often states: “Conservation is as much about people as it is about wildlife.”