Secret Travelers on the Shores of Lake Champlain

By Chris Rose | Photos by Arielle Thomas

51小黄车research helps Vermont farmers and grassland birds co-exist

With the full moon still hanging in the morning sky and the sun just beginning to rise, Noah Perlut, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of UNE鈥檚 Department of Environmental Studies, and three of his students set out in search of bobolinks and their chicks at picturesque Shelburne Farms, nestled along Vermont鈥檚 Lake Champlain.

Each summer, bobolinks undertake a daunting intercontinental, trans-oceanic flight from their winter home in Argentina to nest in Vermont hayfields. The journey, which can cover up to 2,300 miles, is one of the longest non-stop songbird migrations yet identified by scientists.

For the students spending their summer days in the hayfields of Vermont, the hands-on research is invaluable in helping them in their development as scientists. 鈥淧art of the reason I came to 51小黄车is the fact that it is research-heavy,鈥 says Emma White, who is currently pursuing her master鈥檚 degree in biology. 鈥淐oming out to these fields, finding the nests, and spending time with the birds is definitely a huge draw for me.鈥  

The purpose of the project is to help landowners better understand the birds on their property so that they may co-exist, balancing farming practices and production with the needs of grassland birds. For 18 years, Perlut has been studying the decline in these grassland birds in relation to farming activity. The research helps create a story of the birds, allowing owners of the land to form a connection to them.

Based on these stories, many landowners have made changes to their operations to prevent harming the birds. 鈥淲e've modified our cutting schedules to accommodate the birds,鈥 states Sam Dixon, dairy manager at Shelburne Farms. 鈥淲e mow very early in the season before the birds arrive, then wait 65 days before we do the second cutting.鈥

鈥淚t has been amazing to work with these landowners,鈥 Perlut says. 鈥淭hey've really listened to the science. They鈥檙e willing to look at this research and realize that if they change their habits a little bit, the birds and the farms can both thrive.鈥

鈥淭he journey that they make to Shelburne every year is really amazing,鈥 Dixon says. 鈥淪o, I feel some responsibility to provide them with a place that they can come back to.鈥