Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area

Tips for Birding

When submitting eBird observations at Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA), it is most helpful to start a new checklist for each hotspot within the WMA. Use the general hotspot when you have a checklist that includes multiple locations or if no other hotspot or personal location is appropriate for your sightings.

Birdwatching in Vermont, pp. 65-69.

Dead Creek, a designated Important Bird Area, is the premier birding spot in Addison County due to its varied habitats and excellent access. The wildlife management area offers a mixture of marshes, deciduous forests, open fields, and pine plantations. The best access to walking trails and the marshes can be gained south off of VT-17 along a dirt road on the west side of the creek. The road travels between the creek and agricultural fields before going through a deciduous forest and crossing the creek and some impoundments. In some years water in the impoundments is drawn down and a bonanza of shorebirds and waders are drawn to this area during late summer and early fall. Foot trails leave from parking areas along the road. Agricultural fields along VT-17 offer opportunities to see snow geese in the late fall and short-eared owls through the winter. Nortontown Rd. traverses the southern end of the creek. Marshes further north along the creek can be viewed from West Road (Stone Dam) on the east and off of Jersey Street/Goodrich Corners Road on the west. Dead Creek flows under Panton Road and then enters Otter Creek along Basin Harbor Road in Ferrisburgh.

Dead Creek Wildlife Management area is the crown jewel of birding in Vermont, with a new visitor center that opened in 2017/ There are trails and lookout platforms, and on high-water years a canoe or kayak is also a great way to see birds. A whopping 200 species can be found at Dead Creek, particularly ducks, shorebirds such as sandpipers, as well as hawks, falcons, and thousands of snow geese during the spring and fall migration.

Birds of Interest

In winter Dead Creek hosts resident and northern raptors including Snowy and Short-eared Owls, Peregrine and Gyrfalcon, Bald Eagles, Northern Harriers, Rough-legged Hawks, and mixed flocks of Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, and Lapland Longspurs. In summer the marsh supports populations of waterfowl, rails, waders, and representative songbirds. The grasslands support Grasshopper Sparrows and Upland Sandpipers. During periods where the state draws down the impoundments, large numbers of shorebirds can be found on the exposed mudflats.

Dead Creek WMA also hosts Snow and Canada geese which number as high as 20,000 during fall migration and several state and federally threatened and endangered avian species. Some of these include Bald Eagle, Osprey, Sedge Wren, and Black Tern.

Over 200 species of birds have been sighted on Dead Creek WMA. A bird list is available for this excellent birding site. Marsh-dwelling birds such as marsh wrens, soras, common moorhens, pied-billed grebes, American and least bitterns, and black terns may be seen or heard. Great, snowy, and cattle egrets have been sighted here. Many species of ducks occur, both during breeding season and migration. There are resident breeding Canada geese, as well as huge flocks of migrating Canada and snow geese. Shorebirds stop here during their migration. Other birds include many species of songbirds, woodpeckers, and raptors, including ospreys, bald eagles, northern harriers, and short-eared owls. Upland game species are American woodcock, ruffed grouse, and wild turkey. One may possibly observe the grasshopper sparrow, a State-threatened songbird. It is against the law to disturb endangered species, nest boxes, or nest platforms. Please bring binoculars and keep your distance from wildlife.

About this Location

Flowing north through the Champlain Valley, Dead Creek empties into Otter Creek near its mouth on Lake Champlain. The Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is composed of cultivated farmland, wetlands, grasslands, and early and late-successional hardwood forest. Several dams were constructed to greatly increase open water and permanently flood wetland areas. Vermont Natural Community types include Cattail Marsh, Deep Bulrush Marsh, and Valley Clayplain Forest.

This site is managed and protected by the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. A large portion of the area is a refuge and is off-limits to the public. Marshbird populations are monitored through the Vermont Marshbird Monitoring Program. Threats include invasive species, agricultural run-off, and intensification of agriculture around the property.

Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area is a 2,858-acre tract in the towns of Addison, Panton, and Bridport. A public viewing area is located along the south side of VT-17, one mile west of VT-22A, that provides excellent viewing of the huge fall concentrations of Canada and snow geese. There is also small boat access on VT-17 as it crosses the Creek.

This WMA has seven impoundments that create cattail-dominated wetlands. Water levels are actively managed. Surrounding uplands are a mix of active agricultural lands, old fields, and clay-plain oak-hickory forests. Hunting, fishing, and trapping are allowed in portions. Access to sections of the WMA is regulated because the area is primarily a waterfowl refuge. Dead Creek WMA is owned by the State of Vermont and managed by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

Dead Creek originally flowed north sluggishly to Otter Creek through a fairly flat valley. The construction of dams has created impoundments and added much more open water and cattail marsh.

The soils in the area are mostly fine clays that inhibit drainage. The oak-hickory clay plain forest community is adapted to such poorly drained soils. This was a widespread community in the Champlain Valley before European settlement. Dominant tree species are shagbark hickory, white oak, swamp white oak, red oak, burr oak, and white pine. Hophornbeam is the most abundant subdominant tree.

Besides open water, there is extensive emergent cattail marsh in Dead Creek WMA. There is also broad-leaved emergent marsh, deep bulrush marsh, and buttonbush swamp. Pondweeds, broad-leaved arrowhead, arum-leaved arrowhead, waterweed. swamp-milkweed, bristly sedge, big-headed bulrush, wool-grass, and water-dock are some of the aquatic plants that occur. One may find a flowering rush, which is naturalized from Europe. Parasitic dodder, jewelweed, and sweet joe-pye weed grow on the banks.

Some areas are managed for moist soil. They are flooded for brief periods and then drained, and support plant species which enhance waterfowl habitat in the fall. Drawdowns benefit migrating shorebirds which are attracted to mudflats and shallow water held for them until late summer. The uplands are a mixture of farmland, old fields, and clay plain forest. The farmland and old fields are managed to improve wildlife habitat. In many areas, there is a dense line of shrubs ringing the marshes, which provides wildlife cover and food. These shrubs include chokecherry, meadow-sweet, downy arrowwood, gray dogwood, round-leaved dogwood, and prickly ash.

Content from Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area (Audubon IBA) webpage, Otter Creek Audubon Society, Vermont’s Best Birding Hotspots by Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, and Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area guide and map

Last updated October 8, 2023