The winner of the November Photo Contest is Julie Filiberti’s post of the community of birders at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge in Vermont. The Friends of Missisquoi NWR hold monthly bird monitoring walks on four of the Refuge trails. As of Julie’s post they have had walks for a total of 151 months! They have tallied 162 different species and also as Julie wrote have “collected a wonderful group of people who come together to share the love of our avian friends.”
The Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1943 to provide habitat for migratory birds. It consists of 6,729 acres, mostly wetland habitats, which support a variety of migratory birds and other wildlife. The 900-acre Maquam bog is designated as a Research Natural Area and the Refuge was designated as an Important Bird Area in partnership with the Audubon Society. The Refuge in partnership with other publicly owned (State of Vermont) lands has been designated a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. A mosaic of wetland habitats offers opportunities to see and manage more than 200 species of birds. Fall migration features 20,000-25,000 migrating ducks. Nesting bald eagles, osprey and many other waterbirds are present on the refuge.
The Friends of Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge was established in 2002. The mission of the Friends is to promote a better awareness, appreciation, conservation and responsible utilization of the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge.
The majority of the Board members are birders, so a lot of their efforts tend to lean in that direction. Their aim is always to bring awareness to Missisquoi in new and creative ways. In addition, the Friends are the backbone for the Refuge in obtaining grant monies for invasive species control and natural science education. As with most refuges across the country, Missisquoi NWR does not have its operational needs met financially, so the Friends do what they can to help keep Missisquoi on its feet.
Julie said, “I have such appreciation for the group of birders that we’ve accumulated over the years. Many are regulars that make almost every walk we offer, and some are seasonal or join us occasionally. The Vermont birding community is very small and very friendly so it’s always exciting to have a new face appear and warmly welcome them into our birding group”.
Some other things to highlight about the Friends of Missisquoi:
The Friends offer a store at the Refuge headquarters, but with Covid and subsequent lack of volunteer staffing at the refuge, it has been closed down other than when there has been an event onsite.
The Friends publish a quarterly newsletter highlighting what they have, what they are planning, and any Refuge information that is timely. Their Refuge Manager and Biologist always contribute a column also. All members of the Friends receive a newsletter.
The Friends have been hosting a Big Sit in October at the Stephen Young Marsh at the Refuge for a number of years now. Because they stay stationary on the marsh’s platform, it’s a chance for the public to connect with the Friends to find out what they are doing and maybe share a bit of avian and refuge knowledge. This year they tallied 41 different species in 12 hours in the marsh.
The Friends have been hosting “An Evening of Bird Tales” once a year in February. It started out as a live event where 4-5 people tell stories about birds. It could be any encounter or experience they’ve had with the avian world. Since Covid, it has turned into a virtual event, which has really widened the audience. In 2023, for the 7th annual Bird Tales, the Friends are partnering with the Vermont Center for Ecostudies and having biologists on their staff tell some of the stories of their encounters. It promises to be a win-win for both the Friends and VCE by bringing a new audience to both groups.
Because Bird Tales via Zoom has proved to be such a big hit, the Friends have been trying to host other online events throughout the winter months. This winter the focus is going to be on invasive species. They are planning a series of presentations from experts on the threats to the Refuge that are out there, what dangers they pose, and to teach visitors what to look out for.
In the spring of 2022 the Friends of Missisquoi NWR applied for and were awarded the National Wildlife Refuge Association’s O’Brien Prize. Julie wrote: We have developed a land acknowledgement recognizing the Abenaki culture that called the lands and waters home before the creation of the Refuge and have began working with the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi on ways to bring awareness to their existence. As stated in our acknowledgement, “We, the Friends of Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, honor the Indigenous heritage of the region and welcome the opportunity to assist the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi in maintaining their close connection with their ancestral lands. Through education and partnership, we will work to bring awareness to their culture and existence. We invite our visitors to share in honoring this vision by engaging in mindfulness while enjoying the Refuge lands and waters and by holding the space with care and appreciation.”