- courtesy of benjamin roesch
- Felix and Leo explore a tree-branch structure
The fire station near our home in Burlington's Old North End makes it difficult to pay much attention to the birds. So a recent visit to explore the trails of the Green Mountain Audubon Center in Huntington provided my family with a welcome dose of avian music.
Operated by Audubon Vermont, a state program of the National Audubon Society, the center is situated on 250 acres and boasts five miles of hiking trails open to the public year-round. The property is the site of school field trips, family and preschool programs, and camps. But on a rainy Saturday in early May, we had the woods — and the birds — to ourselves.
Accompanied by my wife, Shannon, and our two boys, 9-year-old Felix and 6-year-old Leo, I parked in the small lot by the Audubon Center's sugar shack, where families can sample maple syrup when the sap is running in March. The Audubon's clearly marked, mostly flat trails begin only steps from busy Huntington Road, but the hum of cars was quickly replaced by chirping birds as we got deeper into the woods.
We were struck by the volume and variety of the chirrups, squawks, honks, blares and snorts we heard along the way; Leo pointed out that one bird sounded like it was laughing. The ground was a bit mucky from several days of rain, and we were all glad we'd traded our sneakers for boots before leaving the house. Our only regret was that we forgot our binoculars.
Along with ferns and fiddleheads, the trails are dotted with informational placards. One of them detailed the wide variety of birds that inhabit the surrounding woods: scarlet tanagers, black-throated blue warblers, black-capped chickadees, red-winged blackbirds and ovenbirds. Another marked the beaver pond, which has a small wooden viewing shack where visitors can scope out the semiaquatic rodents' dens and watch sunbeams dance across the water's surface.
Farther down the path, we stumbled upon a cluster of teepee-like structures made from tree branches — most likely the handiwork of a school group — that Felix and Leo loved exploring. The boys also enjoyed wading and throwing rocks in a nearby brook. Before long, the trail wound back around to where we had started.
Since we were in the neighborhood, we decided to stop at the Birds of Vermont Museum, just a two-minute drive down the road. The museum's admission fee — $7 for adults and $3.50 for kids — is reasonable, considering what awaits: more than 500 life-size New England native bird species hand-whittled and painted by the late master carver Bob Spear. Most of the birds are housed in glassed-in dioramas on the second floor, where the lighting and natural backdrops make the birds appear so lifelike I almost expected them to fly out of the enclosures. and Leo especially liked Spear's workshop, which has been converted into an educational exhibit that gives visitors a glimpse of his tools and methods.
When we returned to the Old North End later that day, our boots were muddy and our smiles were big. In the days that followed our trip, I felt more aware of the birds in my neighborhood than usual. Especially in the morning, North Avenue is alive with their music, a natural counterpoint to the cars, dogs and sirens. A day at the Audubon Center was a good reminder to listen a little more closely.