Monday, November 9, 2009

RUTland, VT - November 3rd

I am not sure what possessed me to take that rather bleary, cold Tuesday to drive an hour out to Rutland (which I found to be sarcastically referred to as "Rut-vegas" by locals). I knew I needed a getaway day, a short road trip not much over an hour, and new birding areas for the day. The Vermont Audubon website looked promising and mentioned a few areas around Rutland that are not being run by the hunters at this moment. I was excited.

I threw some day-hiking stuff in my car (granola bars, a full thing of water, my trusty hiking boots, extra warm clothing, maps) and took right off. The drive out there is lovely if you go through Granville, NY and Poultney, VT. There is nothing overly stunning about the drive, but it's quiet, you have nature with you the entire way, and you start seeing the scenery change a bit as you start driving near slate quarries.

My first stop was Castleton State College, located quite a jaunt back west from Rutland down Vermont 4A. Seriously, Castleton is in the middle of nowhere. I was shocked, considering all the junk mail I've received from them making it sound like Castleton was a neat, hopping little college. I hit up campus around 11:15 AM, a time when I remembered that my old stomping grounds SUNY Oneonta would be chock-full of students. I think I saw maybe 7 walking around at Castleton, and only one was friendly. The campus is pretty, but rather small, and looked just like any SUNY campus, so I was not impressed as it held nothing new for a SUNY alum. I stopped into the Campus Center, and was mostly ignored by the two hipsters at the desk when asking for directions to a bathroom.

So why Castleton? Because it is the northern terminus for the Delaware & Hudson Rail Trail, which was recommended to me back in April by a coworker who lives near the southern terminus. The trailhead is clearly marked and you can see it from the road, but finding the actual trail took a bit of work till I saw a jogger make his way down. I actually started birding right on campus - Castleton strangely had a few ring-billed gulls flying around the parking lots, one individual sitting on top of a light to peer down at me for a bit.

To make a long story short, the D&H trail at the northern terminus was nothing exciting. In fact, I was really disappointed. It takes quite a bit to get off-campus, as the trail runs alongside the athletic fields. Then as soon as you get away from that, to your left instead of getting any forest, you get a large expansive grouping of farmhouses with mowed fields scattered with gathered hay (I like to call them "hayballs" and I'm not sure there's an actual word for them). At least in the fall season, this is horrid birding habitat, except that there was either a Sharpie or Cooper's that quickly flew over the farmlands, but didn't stick around for me to ID it. Along the rail trail, I did get some American crows, one blue jay, plenty of black-capped chickadees, one white-breasted nuthatch, a couple of tufted titmice, two American goldfinches, and a diligently foraging female hairy woodpecker. Not really all that much to write home about. I did note that there were absolutely no leaves on any deciduous trees, which I found impressive, because back here in Warren and Saratoga counties we still have had deciduous trees with green leaves or brilliant yellows and oranges. Autumn hit western Vermont before it hit us. Oh, I also spotted a hippy on a bicycle who was kind to me as he passed.

I hightailed it out of there, disappointed. I relaxed to some EQX while driving east on Vermont 4A to get to what seemed a much more promising spot, the West Rutland Marsh. I was expecting a tiny little thing surrounded by privately owned houses, considering that many wetlands are encroached upon just like I just mentioned. Oh how I was surprised when I drove up Marble Road/Street, a strange, wide backroad that is entirely white. It is quite secluded out there, and the marsh is enormous, a huge rectangle at the base of a grouping of mountains, chock-full of cattails and some phrag further north. The main entrance that includes a boardwalk was quite inviting to birders, with a tree full of homemade feeders, plenty of reading material posted, and a mailbox with a notebook to write who you were, where you came from, and any comments and sightings you had, which I enjoyed making my own entry in. The boardwalk in my eyes was a great idea - I got to stand in the middle of the cattail marsh and just listen and look. It was blustery at that point and looked like snow, so of course there were no birds in the marsh at the time, but it was no loss. I also did get to hear a common raven in the distance, and it's low harsh call being the only sound at the time gave me goosebumps. I later found out the area is a great spot to sight Virginia rails, soras, American bitterns, and least bitterns during the breeding season, and despite that my trip to Rutland was full of fail-birding, I will be back just for this place at some point.

However, my birding adventure there was soon to be interrupted by a young redneck with a rifle, who pulled his car up right at the boardwalk entrance. I got the creeps right off, but he got out of his car, kept his distance from this young lady from New York, and kindly asked if my car was mine and if I had seen anybody on the other side of the road. The other side of the road contained some odd trails and what looked to be an old fallen-apart building, none of which enticed me. I soon found out that area is frequently used for shooting practice, as this young man went off into the trees up there and started shooting away, which ruined my birding there. I was stunned and a little perturbed that an Audubon sanctuary would allow such activity right there. I again high-tailed it out of there, after taking a mile walk up Marble, only to find tons of litter of empty bullet boxes strewn by the marsh edge. Disgusting. I wondered why the local birders did not enforce rules there or even cleaned the area up there themselves.

I didn't expect my next birding stop to be very successful, as it is an area of short trails located behind the Diamond Run Mall, a new commercial craphole located in southern Rutland. Apparently this section of trails was made and is maintained by the mall itself, but Vermont Audubon lists it as part of it's site as well. All I can tell you is that it was the most awful spot for birding I have ever visited. No part of those trails is far enough out to not get the highway and mall traffic noise, and the forested area there is just devoid of life whatsoever. I couldn't figure out quite why it may be failing to sustain wildlife, but it definitely does. I was a little happy that I did see a pileated woodpecker near a tiny boardwalk that covered what the mall claims is a little wetland (more like a joke of one). It saddened me that this was all Rutland seemed to have to share with the public for birding (though I know there's some nearby state parks or forests that are currently used for hunting that may be better). I stood in the midst of these trails and closed my eyes and pictured Moreau Lake State Park and felt so incredibly thankful that I have had that all year to adventure in and see so many new things.

Drained, dehydrated, and disappointed, I decided it was just time for food and liquid instead of more birding. I was ready to get out of Rutland ASAP after filling my stomach. I parked, probably illegally, in a plaza lot so that I didn't have to pay to park downtown and walked into the downtown area to find that by 3 PM, many of the cafes were closed. I did find one that was still opened and seemed really inviting to the granola crowd even from it's outside decor, the Back Home Again cafe. In I walked to find a really strangely decorated place, as if it was trying to be a tropical rainforest while playing cutesy leprechaun-image-inducing Irish music. The women were dressed in a style similar to that of the Amish I've seen in PA, and were extremely timid and submissive. The cafe completely pimped out some Yerba Mate tea, which I thought odd. I ordered myself what would be the most expensive and absolutely awful turkey wrap I have ever had in my life, and again, high-tailed it out of there soon after wolfing down the waste. I would return to NY only to find out the cafe is run by the Twelve Tribes cult, potentially as a front to their real mission, to recruit unsuspecting idealistic young new members.

Rutland, why must you be so strange, with your cult-run cafe, economically-ruined downtown, crappy commercial areas, and the most horrible birding I've experienced in my life?

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