Shelburne- Shelburne Bay and the LaPlatte River Marsh

By josh • 251 Birds, Nature, Wildlife • 9 Apr 2012

Shelburne (Chittenden County)
Shelburne Bay and the LaPlatte River Marsh
Town #5

I bird in Shelburne quite a lot.  There are a number of places in town that are not only filled with birds but are also attractive enough for other reasons that I can get people to go with me.  Shelburne Farms is an amazing place to visit whether you’re interested in architecture, agriculture, history, or just a nice walk.  It’s also the only reliable place for cattle egret in Vermont (outside of some tiny islands in Lake Champlain) and one of the few good places for grassland birds in Chittenden County.  Shelburne Pond is also a favorite, and the only place I’ve seen black-legged kittiwake and ruddy duck.

Shelburne’s also well known for easily-viewed winter ducks, especially at Shelburne Town Beach and the fishing/boating access at Shelburne Bay.  Both are good spots for scaup, mergansers, goldeneye, buffleheads, and occasional loons in the winter.  My first checklist for this project (from January 17, 2011) was from Shelburne Bay, when I saw:

  • American black duck (2)
  • Mallard (18)
  • Bufflehead (1)
  • Common goldeneye (91)
  • Hooded merganser (10)
  • Common merganser (2)

Not a great haul, but we take our excitement where we can get it in Vermont in January.

Across the road from the boat access is the LaPlatte River Marsh, a nice reach of floodplain forest and marsh with a mile-long trail following the mouth of the LaPlatte River.   It’s a good spot for waders and dabblers and has enough forest, marsh, edge, and meadow adjacent to guarantee a good variety of bird species (though it’s pretty thin when the marsh is frozen) and plant communities.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow, LaPlatte River Marsh, Canon 400mm f/5.6L at f/7.1, 1/640s, ISO 400

I visited on April 7th, in part looking for a great egret found by Jim Mead earlier in the week.  The egret was there along with several great blue herons.  I also saw what was probably an American bittern flying over, but I noticed it when I was getting out of the car and couldn’t get my bins up quickly enough.

The focus at LaPlatte is ecological restoration.  The floodplain forest is particularly susceptible to invasive exotics such as honeysuckle and buckthorn.  In most places the marsh isn’t terribly visible, and due to the sensitivity of the  shoreline and the restoration efforts it’s best to stay on the trail.  My only shots of this heron in breeding plumage are obstructed, but it’s a beautiful bird.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron, LaPlatte River Marsh, Canon 400mm f/5.6L at f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 400

The egret was cagey as well.  I was being so careful and quiet that I didn’t see the four deer at the water’s edge- when I knelt down beside a log I startled them and they crashed into the woods.  That scared up the egret, and I got only a poor flight photo through the trees.  The consolation prize was a view of a second heron from across the marsh.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron, LaPlatte River Marsh, Canon 400mm f/5.6L at f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 400

LaPlatte River Marsh also seems like a reliable place for brown creepers- I’ve seen them both times I’ve been this spring, and today there were three mingling with a small flock of chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches, and titmice.  I haven’t ever taken a decent photo of a brown creeper but I’ll keep trying.  Given their predictable behavior and steady habits it shouldn’t be too difficult.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper, LaPlatte River Marsh, Canon 400mm f/5.6L at f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO 200

Terribly noisy and poorly exposed, I know.  I somehow shot that at three stops less than I needed to and had to correct during RAW conversion.  Still, you get the idea if you’ve never seen a brown creeper before.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper, LaPlatte River Marsh, Canon 400mm f/5.6L at f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 400

And this one isn’t sharp or well focused.  But you can see how well they’re camouflaged.  That ridiculous tail helps them balance as the move up the tree looking for a meal.  Brown creepers climb up trees (unlike nuthatches, which usually go the other way) and move in a spiral pattern.  The two I observed at length on this day both circled in a counter-clockwise direction.  I don’t know if that’s always the case.  At least now I know where to find them at LaPlatte River Marsh so I can watch them some more and maybe, someday, get a better photo or two.

LaPlatte River Marsh

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *