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26 March 2014

Chickadee Surprise at Victory Basin Wildlife Management Area in Vermont

Even after having lived for many years in the Bethlehem, NH area, it still amazes me how many interesting places there are to visit which are often less than an hour's drive from home.  Recently, I discovered that one such place is located in the neighboring State of VT at the Victory Basin Wildlife Management Area.

This Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is a 4,970 acre wetland and forest complex owned by the State of VT, and is managed by the VT Fish & Wildlife Department.  It is situated about 15 miles NE of St. Johnsbury in the town of Victory. Various access points to the WMA are located along an unpaved road which bisects the property (see map below).

On a sunny day, I drove about 45 minutes from my home to do some exploration by snowshoeing along a portion of the trail network within the WMA.  Although it was already 4 days into the official Spring Season, there was still a deep covering of snow throughout the region.

This was the first time I'd ever visited this wildlife area, and so I was uncertain what the conditions might be.  Upon arrival at the WMA, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the parking lot at one of the access points (Damon's Crossing) had been recently plowed.  Then, I was further pleased to see that the trail leading from the trailhead had a well-trodden snowshoe track.  I fully expected that it would be my task to break out the trail!

While I was putting on my snowshoes, I noticed some cute little chickadees flitting about. I didn't think too much of it.  After all, I was in a wildlife management area!

After snowshoeing for about 20 minutes or so, I noticed a snowshoe track branching off the trail.  If you know me, then you'd know that I just had to follow this track to see where it led.  Within about 50 ft, the snowshoe track abruptly ended at the scene shown below.  I was repulsively intrigued to see my cute little chickadees feasting like vultures on an animal carcass which had been wired to a tree about 10 ft above the ground.
Chickadees feasting on an animal carcass hung in a tree (most likely placed by hunters as bait, according to VT Fish & Game official)
On the day after my hike, I telephoned the VT Fish & Wildlife Department to report what I'd seen.  I was connected to a very helpful and knowledgeable staff member who is a Certified Wildlife Biologist.  I was told that the carcass (possibly beaver) had likely been placed in the tree as bait by hunters who were (hopefully) hunting something that was in season.  Apparently, the chickadees just so happened to be the unintended beneficiary of this rather large morsel of food.

I also learned from the VT Wildlife Biologist that chickadees are omnivorous.  Whereas they chiefly eat a diet of seeds, berries, insects, and invertebrates, they will occasionally eat carrion.  In thinking about it, perhaps this sort of stands to reason since the chickadees do eat the suet that I occasionally hang in my backyard during the winter months.  But I can guarantee you that what I hang in my backyard in no way resembles what I saw hanging from a tree at the WMA!

And so, you might quickly ask, what else did you see during your visit at the Victory Basin Wildlife Management Area?  Fair enough!  Shown below are some snapshots of some more pleasant scenes that I experienced during my snowshoe trek.  

Oh! And just as a side note, my snowshoe trek only covered a portion of the trail network at this facility.  There are other areas still to be explored that will be interesting to do in warm weather months.  But, since wet/boggy places such as this are magnets for hoards of biting insects, this visit will be done in late summer/early autumn, after their numbers have greatly diminished!
Snapshots taken at the trailhead named Damon's Crossing
Segment of trail leading through Victory Basin Wildlife Management Area
A portion of the vast bogs within Victory Basin Wildlife Management Area
Looking across bog at some nearby VT mountains (Burke Mtn and Umpire Mtn)
This last photo needs some explanation.  It didn't hit me as to what I was looking at when I took this snapshot.  However, once I got home and studied it, then it suddenly occurred to me that I was looking at East Mountain which is the site of an abandoned U.S. Air Force Base.  The two red arrows point to a couple of the many buildings that are still standing at this location.  More details about this facility can be found at a blog report (click HERE) that I filed after having hiked to this spot in September 2012.
East Mountain (site of abandoned U.S. Air Force Base).  Red arrows point to two of many buildings still standing at this location (click/tap on photo to enlarge it)

Click HERE to read a one-page information sheet about the Victory Basin Wildlife Management Area.

Click HERE to view a video (about 15 minutes in length) about this facility which aired on Vermont Public Television (VPT).

When talking with the official from the VT Fish & Game Department, I learned that in past years the trailhead parking lots at this facility have not been plowed on a regular basis.  But in the future, the Department expects to have money budgeted for consistent snow removal. Actually, this official was surprised to learn that the trailhead at Damon's Crossing had been plowed!  He assumed this was probably done by the Town of Victory since they recently passed an ordinance disallowing parking on the shoulder of the road during winter months.  Apparently, prior to the ordinance being passed, folks were accessing the WMA in the winter by parking at wide spots on the shoulder of the road.



Rita Wechter said...

I love the photo of the snowshoe trail leading through Victory Basin WMA. Looks like another gorgeous spring day! And this looks like an area deserving of further exploration too, especially during the seasons when the bugs aren't biting.

Regarding the chickadees, I didn't know that they feed on carrion—many times I learn something new when reading your blog, John. I just hope the hunters weren't trying to lure something to that spot illegally (as many of the hunters around here do).

Another nice report!

1HappyHiker said...

Rita, as always, thank you for reading and posting a reply to my blog.

The photo of the snowshoe track leading through the Victory Basin WMA was my ‘top pick’ for the day as well. Nearly the entire trail was just as picturesque as the scene shown in that particular photo.

Regarding the chickadees, it seems that we both learned something new! Up until the time I spoke with the person at Vermont Fish & Game, I also had no idea that chickadees will sometimes feed on carrion.