Upland sandpiper. Bald eagle. American bittern. Northern pintail. Northern saw-whet owl. House sparrows. Oh, all of the house sparrows.
These are all birds I have seen relatively close to my house in downtown Montpelier. If you’re a birder, too, you may be thinking: Berlin airport? Berlin Pond? Maybe in Waterbury?
Nope, downtown Montpelier, on public land. I’ve seen or heard all of these birds within walking distance, in some of our many amazing city parks. We have a dozen. Go ahead, see if you can name them. Take your time. Did you get them all?
I have been visiting each of our parks over the past few years on an almost weekly basis. Every day at 6 a.m., I receive an email from a computer program I wrote. It tells me which parks or other areas of note in the city have been birded on that week of the year (in any year) or on that date. The list of parks that haven’t been birded helps me plan my morning walks. I don’t get to visit all of them (I work), but I normally get to visit at least a couple.
If I had dogs, I might walk them to the parks. But instead of a leash, I carry binoculars. I spend a few minutes at each park, counting the finches and the crows. I submit my observations to eBird.org, contributing to a better understanding of bird populations in the area over time. This doesn’t just help science; it’s helped me. I’ve grown to know our parks in all seasons. I become more rooted, more aware of small changes, more accepting of large ones.
I love this practice. I encourage you to visit each of the parks, too. So, here is a list of them, with a small note for each.
You know this one. Did you know that the conservation committee recently helped shepherd an expansion in the back, with a few acres of rare hemlock swamp? Have you seen the barred owl, which normally lives near the accessible path in the middle?
Summer Street Park
Just down the road from Hubbard is a small green that looks almost like someone’s yard. It isn’t. Two years ago, downy woodpeckers reared some very noisy youngsters in one of the maples. They call incessantly in spring.
Mill Pond Park
I often bird this one from the bridge over the river, where a great blue heron stands beneath the falls late into the fall. They sometimes look like Bernie Sanders, hunched over and grumpy.
This is a giant hole in the ground, with a walkway across that was previously used to turn around train cars on the tracks near the Hunger Mountain Co-op. It is also an excellent spot to find American redstarts, which often breed next to the river, or pine grosbeaks, which get drunk on the crabapple trees on Stone Cutters Way.
Confluence River Park
The city plans to continue improving this park by channeling hundreds of thousands of dollars into it, while the high embankment both shuts us off from the water and contributes to a channelized river that is faster and more prone to flooding. My favorite of birds I’ve seen here is a peregrine falcon, flying low over the river. Not seen recently? Beavers, who mitigate floods through their sustainable daming efforts.
This park, on the bike path near the highway, was sorely damaged by the July floods, but it’s still a nice place to look across the river. Look for robins as they continue to migrate through.
If there are two of you, one could wave across the river from Peace Park to Gateway Park. It’s a bit hard to hear birds over the sound of the highway, but otter and fox tracks are occasionally visible in the snow here.
Elm Court Park
If you know where this park is, congratulations. It’s the most neglected and underfunded in Montpelier, but it is a good place to sit and look at the former deli and wonder if it will ever reopen. Birds of note: Rock dove.
North Branch River Park
One of our larger parks, it features excellent trails for walking or skiing — if you don’t mind jumping to the side when bikers inevitably come through. If the Nature Center hadn’t cornered the market on naturalists, I suspect that this park would have a higher species count because of the more varied ecosystems represented. Currently, the counts on eBird stand at NBNC with 170 species and North Branch River Park at 113.
Yes, this is a Montpelier city park, even though it’s across the river and high on the hill, on a side street off of Berlin Street. Many long trails exist through the back fields and woods. If you’re looking for a quiet park, this is better than Hubbard. Great for forest birds such as ovenbirds.
The best park (I’m biased because I live next to it). Look for the ubiquitous Carolina wren and count the pigeons on St. Augustine’s.
The soccer field across from the synagogue is not meant only for kids! This park has a great amount of diversity, especially on the back hillside. Look for warbler swarms in the spring and autumn, as they migrate through.
Twelve parks. Did you miss any in your count earlier? If so, I’d suggest checking them out. You can learn more about these parks on the Montpelier City website, or about their inhabitants on ebird and iNaturalist. Let me know what you see!
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