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A hint of spring drifted on broad wings with a bald head over Montpelier Sunday afternoon. Only days after the Vernal Equinox came our first Turkey Vulture.

This vulture counts as an actual spring migrant, unlike those American Robins you’ve been seeing, many of which over-winter in Vermont or even farther north. We won’t see a big wave of robins from the south until the sap starts gushing.

But the major nature news in Montpelier are the Beavers of Spring Street. They’re logging trees along the North Branch of the Winooski River in full view from your balcony on the Spring Street Bridge.

I’m a bit conflicted about their work on the river. As it runs through the city, the North Branch and its riparian zone don’t constitute a pristine waterway. It’s hard enough to get trees to grow along the North Branch. So it tough to see them fall as well.

I’ll confess to knowing little about North America’s largest rodent. I can’t think offhand of where these beavers have been lodging all winter. But on rivers the North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) will sometimes dig dens into the bank. Most of what we’ve been seeing from Spring Street is feeding — it’s easy to see the munch marks on the fallen trees. You won’t see any dams on the North Branch below Wrightsville Dam anytime soon. And among beavers, you’re missing the real action – rodent romance.

Beavers generally breed in January and February across their range. And, yeah, they do it under water or in lodges during winter. Gestation is about 100 days. Litters average three or four kits. I’ll try to keep everyone posted on these beavers.

In the meantime, walk out the door to a dawn chorus in the city. Here’s what’s singing like spring:

  • Blue Jay
  • American Crow
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • European Starling
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Norther Cardinal
  • House Finch
  • American Goldfinch
  • House Sparrow

Red-winged Blackbirds are due any day. And here’s more on vultures and other early spring migrants.

By the way, I’m still searching for a title for these occasional dispatches from Montpelier. I had first called the feature “Montpelier Nature Now.” My revised choice is Montpelier Wild. I’ll take comments and suggestions below. Be cruel. Thanks!

  1. Judy Brook says:

    Hi Bryan, I’m in favor of Montpelier WILD. I’ve been away for nine days birding in south Texas (94 new species for my life list) but on my first day home (3/31) I heard red-winged blackbirds near Magic Hat Brewery in South Burlington.

  2. Linda Young says:

    Montpelier WILD works. (though it makes me wonder what WILD is an acronym for). Thanks for all the notes! Anyone see/hear any robins yet? I saw one in Burlington about a week and a half ago.

  3. Marjorie Power says:

    When I was on the City Council back in the 90s, the Trust for Public Lands helped the City acquire the North Branch River Park. One of the hooks for fundraising was a small group of ironwood trees which was unusual this far north–outside their usual range. After the deal was done, when we attended the grand opening and our guide pointed took us to see these special trees, all that was left were a group of stumps with cone shaped tops.

    But I can remember that as a child in the 40/50s, it was a big treat to visit the beaver pond and if we were very, very quiet, we might hear a smack and then a see wake from a swimming beaver. Most times, we saw nothing. Now they sure are back. I remember in the 80s sitting in the Waterworks restaurant in downtown Winooski and seeing a beaver sitting up on some rocks in the river while the traffic wizzed overhead on the bridge to Burlington.

  4. Rob says:

    I think those trees along the left bank are very destructive to the retaining wall so I think the beavers are doing a service to get rid of them.

  5. Brenda says:

    I live near the Montpelier pool and we have bank beavers who are quite destructive. I saw one yesterday scampering along the riverbank. We have had to put chicken wire around any trees we want to keep. They dam up the frog pond in our area also, which causes runoff to divert from the stream and across our field. They are fascinating to watch from the bridge, but I’m not a big fan of the damage they are capable of doing. I will enjoy your posts, Bryan! Thanks.

  6. Gary Miller says:

    On the Allegany River in PA, we had plenty of “bank beavers” who denned in riverbanks. If you look below the bridge on the right, you’ll see a tree that leans out over the water and has a big root mass beneath. That used to be home to some muskrats. But if I had to gamble on it, I’d bet it’s a beaver den now.

  7. Carolyn says:

    Red-winged blackbirds (4 males) arrived in East Wallingford on the 19th and have been territorally singing even though there’s still 2+ feet of snow on the ground and no open water, aside from spring seeps in the yard and a mostly iced-over river 1/4 mile away.

  8. George Lisi says:

    I think Montpelier WILD works. Its clear, its short, and it undomesticates things a bit. Gives a sense of something vital infusing rather than something quaint accommodated in ‘leisure time’.

  9. Emily Marie says:

    I’ve been watching the beavers of this stretch of the North Branch for years. Seeing them and signs of them but where they’re lodging remains a mystery to me. It’s been driving me a bit batty, actually, after all these years. This is the first year they’ve been so destructive to the trees on this stretch of river. Although I know there has been a lot of beaver problems down by the high school in years past. Anyway … how about “Montpelier, Untamed.”?

    • Bryan says:

      Thanks, Emily. This is great. Let’s assemble what we can here about these beavers. I suspect the folks at North Branch Nature Center might have some insights.

  10. Barb says:

    How about Wild Montpelier?

  11. Montpelier Montage! Too many nature notes and WILDs around. Gotta have a bit of pizazz! 😉 john

  12. Chris Terry says:

    I saw three turkey vultures after the GMFF movie at the Pavilion.

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