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You'll need a boat to navigate the flooded forest at this Vermont bird sanctuary


Across the U.S., the spring bird migration is underway as different species travel to nesting grounds in the north. NPR's Brian Mann took a paddling trip into a wildlife refuge in northern Vermont. It's a refuge that was created to shelter birds as they make their journey. And Brian shared some of the sounds from that trip.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: We set off at first light, paddling with the current down the Missisquoi River. And almost at once, we're in a different world.


MANN: It's not like there's a birdsong here and a birdsong there. It's just this kind of wash of sound.


MANN: My paddling partner today - my guide, really - is Catherine Seidenberg. She grew up here in Vermont. She's an experienced outdoors woman, a naturalist, and it's her canoe carrying us into the wildness.

CATHERINE SEIDENBERG: It's a little bit more magical being on the river. You see the world in a way that we just wouldn't naturally. I guess that's what it is.

MANN: Catherine moves us with small, skillful touches of her paddle through islands of grass and ostrich ferns. The Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge was created in the 1940s as a habitat for migratory birds, and there are birds everywhere. We see great blue herons stalking their prey.


MANN: A kingfisher flies a kind of curtsying path along the riverbank.


MANN: As the sun climbs, red-winged blackbirds move in the grass so close they could perch on the edge of our paddles.


MANN: The sun is shining right through these fresh leaves and ferns. There is a kind of stained-glass window light falling over us.

As the Missisquoi flows into Lake Champlain, it unravels into wetlands, swamps, veins of narrow water. It looks more like a bayou in Louisiana than a New England river.

The water is high enough that the forest is flooded here, and so we're paddling in among the trees.

This part of the trip is extraordinary. Catherine guides the canoe into the forest, into a shadowy maze of maple and oak. We're no longer looking at the wildness. We're in it. Under the tree canopy, the spring warmth fades, and you can feel the cold of the snowmelt river.


MANN: A big woodpecker sounds and then a flight of geese.


SEIDENBERG: It's a rare opportunity to be in a totally wild place like this. And also you have to brave water and cold and wind.

MANN: We turn back into the shelter of the marsh, and I ask Catherine why she comes to places like this.

SEIDENBERG: I guess the quiet and the solitude. It's open and peaceful, and mostly it's wild.

MANN: The sun is high overhead now and warm, almost like summer. Before heading for home, we just float a while, drifting and listening.

Brian Mann, NPR News, on the Missisquoi River in Vermont.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER BABBLING) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.