eNews | March 2020
Striped Skunk / © Nick Tepper
A Field Guide to March
On Thursday, March 19th at 11:50 PM EST, spring arrives in the north. Spring equinox marks the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator – an imaginary line in the sky above Earth’s equator – from south to north. It also marks one of the two days that people all over the world can see the sun rise exactly due east and set exactly due west (the other day being the autumnal equinox). While the sun may be predictable, March weather is not. March is a month of battles between warm and cold, between winter’s refusal to leave and spring’s insistence on arriving.

We point out a few sure signs of spring to watch for this month in our Field Guide to March . Get outside for some fresh air and see how many you can find!
Narrowing Down the Whereabouts of
Bicknell’s Thrush in Cuba
Alan Mendez hikes through a patch of dense, wet pluvisilva forest on the El Toldo plateau of
Parque Nacional Humboldt. / © Chris Rimmer.
El Toldo, Cuba: 28 January, 2:50 am. Five of us—two Cuban biologists, a field technician, a park guide, and I—guzzle highly sweetened coffee, bolt a few soda crackers, and shoulder day packs in the chilly, damp air. We set off in a silent procession under fiercely starry skies, headlamps our only illumination, plodding boot steps and “ tinking ” tree frogs the only sounds. We need to cover 12 kilometers before dawn, the witching hour of Bicknell’s Thrush...

And so began VCE's 2020 field trip to eastern Cuba in search of wintering Bicknell's Thrush. While our expedition yielded many avian treasures, no new Bicknell's Thrush records were in the cards. Visit the VCE Blog for details.
Spring into Action: Volunteer for Vernal Pools
Left: Searching for amphibian egg masses in a vernal pool / © Kate Buckman; Right: Yellow Spotted Salamander / © Amanda Curtis
Does the thought of leaving the beaten path in search of vernal pools and the critters that call them home make your heart sing? Do you think collecting data is fun? If you answered "Yes!" to these questions, we have a (volunteer) job for you!

VCE’s Vernal Pool Monitoring Project (VPMon) is looking for citizen scientist volunteers to monitor pools throughout Vermont for the upcoming spring (and beyond), with an emphasis on finding monitors in Essex, Caledonia, Orleans, Lamoille, and Franklin counties. Monitors make four visits to a single vernal pool throughout the year. No prior experience is needed.

Visit our interactive story map report from last year's VPMon season to find maps, photos, graphs, and even audio recordings from a few pools. Ready to sign up? Have questions? Email VCE's VPMon Coordinator, Kevin Tolan, at vpmon@vtecostudies.org .
VCE Colleague Yolanda León Receives Prestigious Conservation Award
Dr. Yolanda León in the field. / © Chris Rimmer
Long-time VCE partner and Advisory Council member Yolanda (Yoli) León is a true conservation champion—and warrior (in the best sense of that term). Her efforts to achieve science-based habitat conservation in her native Dominican Republic have more often than not gone against the grain of political realities, economic pressures, and social norms. They have also raised tremendous public awareness, enriched local communities, and brought about hard-won change.

Yoli’s tireless work was recently recognized via a prestigious 2019 Partners in Flight (PIF) Individual Leadership Award. PIF’s annual Leadership Award “honors an individual or group who demonstrates outstanding guidance and direction that contributes, or has contributed to, advancing PIF conservation efforts.” Yoli fulfills those criteria in spades. Read more about Yoli's accomplishments on the VCE Blog .
A Serendipitous Orchard Oriole Extravaganza
Orchard Orioles on their Latin American wintering grounds. From left: adult male (© Miguel Díaz), yearling male (© Karine Scott), female (© Carlos Alvarez N.).
A casual dusk bird walk during a layover in Panama City (en route to Vermont from his field season in Cuba-see story above) provided Chris Rimmer with an unforgettable birding experience, as he intercepted an unprecedented concentration of Orchard Orioles heading to a communal nighttime roost. Read all about it on the VCE Blog !
Mark Your Calendar for VCE March Events
Birders on a VCE-led outing. / © Gloria Towne
Join us at the Norwich Inn for Suds & Science! It's free and intended for all ages.  Check out the current schedule or watch past talks (recorded by our friends at CATV) on our website. Please note that Suds & Science is popular, and talks are often standing room only - come early to ensure a seat. Here's the spring lineup:
  • March 3, 7:00 - 8:00 PM: Spencer Hardy [VCE], "Vermont's First Wild Bee Survey (the Forgotten 99.7%)"
  • April 7, 7:00 - 8:00 PM: Lauren Culler [Dartmouth College]. "Mosquitoes in the cold and frozen North: what’s the buzz?"
  • May 5, 7:00 - 8:00 PM: Jordon Tourville [SUNY-ESF]. "Forests on the move: how fungi might help trees thrive in a warmer world"

From an app that can help you identify unknown organisms, to a website that uses bird observations to map migrations on a global scale, citizen science has boomed lately with recent advances in technology. Citizen science can now be as simple as snapping a photo with your phone and uploading it to iNaturalist. Here to help you navigate these new technologies and be the best citizen scientist you can be is VCE's Citizen Science Outreach Naturalist, Emily Anderson . Join Emily at one of several citizen science workshops she is offering this spring across Vermont and New Hampshire!
  • March 21: iNaturalist Tutorial - 9-11 AM, Working Woodlands Workshop at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park
  • March 24: iNaturalist Meetup - 5:30-6:30 PM, Milton Frye Nature Preserve, Norwich, VT

  • March 17: Talk/Discussion - 7-9 PM: Chris Rimmer [VCE], Brooks Memorial Library, Brattleboro, VT. "Bird population changes in Vermont: Why, how and what to do?"
Philanthropy Update: Tax-smart Ways to Give
Dark-eyed Juncos / © Michael Sargent
If you happen to be 70½ years young (or older), one tax-smart way to support VCE's work is by donating a tax-free distribution from your IRA. Whether you have a required minimum distribution or not, you can donate up to $100,000 from your IRA and bypass claiming it as income. You'll still get a tax benefit from charitable giving, even if you take the standard deduction on your federal income tax form.
A new law passed last December (the “SECURE Act”) changed several rules governing IRAs.

  • It raised the age for required minimum distributions to 72 (for anyone who wasn’t already at least 70 ½ by 12/31/19).
  • It became more expensive for heirs to inherit IRA funds, because they are required to drawn down the entire IRA within 10 years. Unlike life insurance, money inherited from an IRA is taxable income.
  • People of any age can now contribute tax-free dollars to their IRA. If you contributed to your IRA after age 70 ½, it will affect how you can give to charity from your IRA. Talk to your financial advisor about your specific situation.
You can save money on your taxes and have the satisfaction of knowing your gift will be put to immediate use to support wildlife research and conservation. We'd be happy to help -  contact Associate Director Susan Hindinger for more information . Thank you for choosing to help further VCE's mission!
Photo-observation of the Month
Common Raccoon
by killamfarm
Common Raccoon / © killamfarm
Congratulations to killamfarm  for winning the February 2020 Vermont Atlas of Life iNaturalist photo-observation of the month. The image of a Common Raccoon ( Procyon lotor ) sleeping soundly under a blue sky captured the most attention by voters. The photographer added that it “must have been chased up the tree the night before and spent the day resting before disappearing into the night.” Learn more about this nocturnal species and see the runners-up in last month's competition on our blog .

Visit the Vermont Atlas of Life on iNaturalist,  where you can vote for the winner this month by clicking 'fav' on your favorite photo-observation. Make sure you get outdoors and record the biodiversity around you, then submit your discoveries - and you could be a winner!
The Vermont Center for Ecostudies promotes wildlife conservation across the Americas using the combined strength of scientific research and citizen engagement. Find us online at:  vtecostudies.org