Category Archives: Wildlife Watch

Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – June 2018

Tufted Titmouse by Doug Pederson

Are you a birder? If so, are you a contributor to eBird? This interactive birding website was developed by Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and launched in 2002. Anyone can join free of charge. The website describes the program this way: “eBird transforms a global birding community’s passion for birds into critical data for research, conservation, and education…..eBird gathers unprecedented volumes of information on where and when birds occur in the world. Half a billion bird observations have been contributed so far.”

Log on to eBird.org and you can explore the whole world or your own community. You can watch a real-time display of birders entering data. When I log on to Massachusetts, I see that 498 bird species were seen in the past year and 734,648 checklists were submitted. There were 8691 Massachusetts birders submitting these checklists. Top counties represented were Barnstable and Essex, with Middlesex County coming in seventh out of ten. Top birding hotspots were Plum Island and Salisbury Beach.

When entering species, one can also enter photos, audio recordings and comments. For instance on June 11th, a surprising report and photo of a snowy owl was entered from a yard in Edgartown. Maybe Westford can add some more species for Middlesex County.

You can research sightings for any time or place in the world. Most numerous are sightings for the United States, but there are sightings from South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa. And you can share your sightings with anyone else who is interested. The website also offers a “Be a Better Birder” course.

To get started, log on to eBird.org, watch the introductory two-minute movie, and explore the amazingly powerful tools on offer. Then you can join and start submitting data. You can also download the free eBird app for your phone, have all the data at your fingertips, and submit while you are in the field.

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of June. Please send reports by July 26 for inclusion in next month’s column. You can write me at 7A Old Colony Drive, call me at 692-3907, or e-mail me at mariancharman@gmail.com *(please note new e-mail address).


Late May Reports:

Sue Bonner, Plain Rd. May 8, beautiful male Baltimore oriole at our feeder. May 10, male rose-breasted grosbeak at feeders. Other birds we usually see: chickadees, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, starling, mourning doves, two cardinal pairs, blue jays, goldfinches, house finches, red-bellied, downy and hairy woodpeckers, robins, sparrows, titmice. Two bluebird houses seem to have sparrow nests. May 8, lone female turkey arrived, coming to eat under feeders several times a day. We found a big (turkey?) egg in the soil around our lamppost in front yard. “When the turkey arrives at the bird feeders, she always looks toward our house and seems to wait for Bruce to come out with seed. When we see her, Bruce goes out with seed, she walks away a few feet; she watches and waits as he dumps seed under the feeders, and them immediately comes to eat the seed as he walks away.” May 24, big opossum eating birdseed off our wall and drinking water from container. Most days there are nine squirrels on the stonewall under feeders and hanging from our mixed seed and sunflower feeders, despite the squirrel baffle on the pole. Two squirrels are tan, and one has a rat tail with no fur. We have so many chipmunks we can’t count. Many holes in yard. A water container on the deck keeps our two cats amused as they watch the chipmunks and others.  May 29, resident woodchuck appeared early May.

Esther Donlon, Providence Rd. May 16, raccoon walked the length of our yard and on to Providence.

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. May 26, eastern phoebe repeating his song on a lovely spring morning. May 29, happy little red-eyed vireo in back woods. May 31, in front woods, a pine warbler and red-eyed vireo trying to compete with three energetic titmice.

Doug Pederson, Woodland Dr. May 28, opossum in my yard today.

Dave Earle, Old Colony Dr. May 31, snapping turtle laying eggs in garden by our deck.

June Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr., June 2, a great blue heron flew low over the back woods, probably headed for the beaver pond and a nest. June 6, red-bellied woodpecker on feeder, pair of cardinals and two chipping sparrows in and out. June 7, big hungry red-tailed hawk scared numerous birds when he landed in tree by feeder, and they are all scolding him, and attracting more birds to join in. June 8, going down Beaver Brook Road, a great blue heron lifted up out of water and flew over road to land in water on pond side, not far from a pair of graceful swans. June 10, lots of white blossoms on multi-flora rose along edge of lawn, among the sumacs. Beautiful buff-colored squirrel under feeder along with the grey ones. June 11, while sitting on deck I watched a young redtail perched on roof corner just a few feet away from us. June 12, adult redtail flew low over front walk, and not long after a young redtail did the same. It must be very difficult for a young bird of prey to actually learn how to hunt. June 13, one bunny nibbling greens along edge of back lawn. White-breasted nuthatch at feeder, scurrying down side of large trees in woods. I often hear their quiet chuckling sounds as they move. During the day I saw and heard, two chipping sparrows, three doves, four tree swallows, one blue jay, one flicker, two cardinals, two goldfinches, one red-bellied woodpecker, one white-breasted nuthatch, one titmouse, two house sparrows, one grackle, one robin, five turkeys, one rose-breasted grosbeak, two house finches, two orioles, two red-tailed hawks, one red-eyed vireo. June 14, yellow evening primrose blooming on Flagg Rd., daisies and white yarrow in bloom. June 15, several people have seen the young redtail perched on a condo roof, not very afraid of people. June 18, catalpa tree in back woods now covered with white blossoms. June 20, downy woodpecker visiting suet, two noisy nuthatches begging parent for something tasty–Happy June!

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Dr. June 2, a walk to the swamp: phoebe singing, two veeries singing, common yellowthroat, red-tailed hawk overhead. Later heard a juvenile red-tail calling. Lots of lady’s slippers and polygala blooming along the trail.  On our deck, six or more grackles are eating a full block of suet on our deck and a full feeder of sunflower hearts in half a day. Huge amounts of pine pollen outside and inside house. It goes right through screens. June 10, walk to swamp: female wood duck,

Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – April 2018

Bee on Purple Loosestrife by Marina Harman

Now that May has arrived and our spring trees, shrubs and wildflowers are blooming, we should give some thought to bees, our most important pollinators. Without them, we would have very few plants. Or as a recent USDA report states, “The world as we know it would not exist if there were no bees to pollinate the earth’s 250,000 flowering plant species.”

You have probably read about the dire plight of the honeybee, a species introduced here from Europe in colonial times. Honeybees are succumbing in large numbers to a mysterious complex of ills called “Colony Collapse Disorder”. But perhaps you have not given much thought to our native bees that may be even more essential for most of our pollination needs.

The United States Department of Agriculture reports that there are approximately 4,000 species of bees native to North America. These bees do a much better job at pollinating some plants than do honeybees. Native bees are especially effective at pollinating tomatoes, eggplants, pumpkins and other squashes, cherries, blueberries and cranberries. They also pollinate 80% of our flowering plants, trees, shrubs and wildflowers. Azaleas, for instance cannot be pollinated by honeybees, because of their long calyx. Native bumblebees pollinate azaleas by using an ingenious method called buzz pollination. They clasp the blossom and vibrate their abdomen to shake loose the pollen. Bees also use buzz pollination on tomato and blueberry flowers. Bees eat both pollen and nectar.

Our native bees may either be colonial nesters (bumblebees) or solitary nesters (most other types). They may nest in holes in wood or underground. One type of native bee, the cuckoo bee, is even a parasitic nester, laying its eggs in another bees nest. There are fifty species of bumblebees native to North America.  Underground nests of the bumblebee species may be as long as a foot long with several nesting chambers branching off the main tunnel. Native bees come in all sizes and colors. Sweat bees are metallic green and blue or copper or gold. The tiny blue orchard bee pollinates fruit trees. Yellow-masked bees are black and yellow and resemble wasps. All bees, unlike wasps, have at least a little hair on them, and have two fused pairs of wings. Wasps have only one pair of wings.

The honeybees’ plight seems to be caused by a combination of disease, nutrition and pesticides. Our native bees, being mostly non-colonial nesters are a bit less affected by disease. But, native bees are also declining, and that decline seems to be related to habitat loss and pesticide and herbicide use.

Here are some things we can all do to encourage our pollinators. First, we can plant a pollinator garden. To avoid pesticides, adopt non-chemical solutions to insect problems. You can control aphids, for instance, by spraying them with water from a hose. In your yard, you should provide a source of water and a little bare ground and mud for nest building. Reduce the size of your lawn by planting a native plant garden from your eco-region. Mowing your lawn every other week is a good way to provide the clover, plantago and veronicas that bees thrive on. Standing dead trees also provide homes for many bees and birds. A fun project to do with kids is to make a bee-nesting house out of hollow twigs or reeds bunched together and packed into a container such as a small milk carton. The nesting twigs will be closed at one end and hung horizontal to the ground facing south. Bees will come into it to lay one or more eggs that they then seal up with mud. If you are lucky you may see the juvenile bees hatching in a few days.

New England Wildflower Society website is a good source of information. Go to their website www.newenglandwild.org. As part of their new “Pollinate New England” effort, NEWFS is offering a free online pollinator garden course this spring and summer. You can take this course on your own computer and at your own speed. They are also offering free hands-on pollinator gardening workshops at various locations in New England. One of these is offered on June 26 in Wellesley, MA. You can buy native plants at The Garden in the Woods in Framingham, and at some other nurseries. For more information on how to help pollinators, go to the Pollinator Partnership website at www.pollinator.org. At that site you can see all the Pollinator Partner gardens in the country and register your own pollinator-friendly garden.

Many thanks to all the flora and fauna reporters for the month of April. Please send reports by May 26 for next month’s column. You can call me at 692-3907, write me at 7A Old Colony Drive, Westford, or e-mail me at MarianCHarman@verizon.net.


Late March Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Drive. March 3, ten juncos, two house sparrows on deck, a downy woodpecker on the suet.

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. March 27, eight deer.

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. March 28, grackles have arrived. March 30, three pairs of common mergansers on the pond. Wood frogs are going strong in the Main St. vernal pool.

Doug Pederson, at Forge Pond. March 29, seven red-tailed hawks soaring and circling together, a few grackles in the tall tree in the middle of the pond and several red-winged blackbirds. A beaver was making his trip across the pond and didn’t notice being photographed.

Brian Day, Coldspring Rd. March 29, heard peepers at night.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. Heard peepers last night for first time–happy to hear them. Two geese making a racket.

April Reports:

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. April 1, five common mergansers, four females and one male, resting on the pond. cardinal, white-breasted nuthatch, eight goldfinches, blue jay, red-bellied woodpecker, titmouse, four juncos.  April 5, blue jay with a new call, sounding like a loud woodpecker, red-winged blackbird. April 7, song sparrow, mourning dove. At Chamberlain Rd, red-tailed hawk, two barred owls calling, wild turkeys, three crows, a pair of pileated woodpeckers. April 9, grey squirrel eating a downy woodpecker that had hit our slider window. Squirrel quickly ate the whole thing, leaving only a few feathers. Male cardinal feeding a female. April 9, four juncos, red-winged blackbirds, three mallards, first phoebe heard here, house finch. April 14, hail storm. Juncos, cardinals nuthatches, goldfinches, grackles, mourning dove, heard peepers and wood frogs in a vernal pool we have discovered on the Pilgrim Village common land. April 17, three juncos. April 23, a few juncos still here.

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Drive. April 3, turkey vulture soaring low over the back woods. Three robins and a flock of juncos searching for a snack. Small flock of grackles near the edge of the woods. April 8, forsythia beginning to wake up, showing a hint of yellow. Male house finch pecks in small crabapple tree by the front walk, his colors adding a bright spot to the drab winter branches. April 10, hung feeder out front for first time this spring. Several birds quickly arrived and a blue jay loudly announced to everyone that they should come over. Two pairs of doves, a tom turkey, pair of cardinals, too many house sparrows arrived. These sparrows gradually go to other places later in the spring. Two goldfinches checking out the feeder. April 11, two white-breasted nuthatches visiting feeder, a group of cowbirds and grackles around. Heard a newly returned red-winged blackbird’s call– a familiar sign of spring. Four chickadees busy near front door. April 12 around noon, male and female red-bellied woodpecker hanging out together in the front woods, a handsome couple. Heard a flicker calling from a distance. Very vocal male cardinal arrived. A turkey vulture flew low over the treetops. Eight doves under feeder. Chickadees, titmice and juncos visit all day. Male house finch perches in crabapple tree. April 13, a chipping sparrow under the feeder–first of the spring. One of my favorite birds. And now I can hear his song in nearby trees when he’s not here. Early afternoon, lots of activity in the front woods. Two downies, both on same tree branch, staying near each other. A red-bellied woodpecker flew away, several chickadees singing their spring “fee-bee” song. The colorful male house finch has a girlfriend; they visit feeder together and stay near each other on trees. Lots of chipmunks out and about, busy as can be. After dark, I opened a window and just listened, enjoying the chorus of lots of spring peepers. It’s something I’ve waited for every spring, and its such a pleasure to hear. April 15, small group of female red-winged blackbirds has joined the males. Juncos still here. red-tailed hawk perched in aspen tree for awhile, then cruised over long lawn and into woods. I’ve heard that some residents of Hildreth St. have been seeing a black bear in their yards looking for seed. I bring my feeder in every night. “Seeing a few summer birds returning is encouraging, but some sort of wintry mix has just begun on this cold April day and we are all reminded that we are just going to have to be more patient.”

Diane Duane, at Boston Rd. April 4, saw our first great blue heron of the season at around 11:40 a .m. flying south over Minot’s corner.

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. April 4, Canada geese, mallards, skunk, raccoon. April 5, robin, black duck. April 9, mockingbird and bluebird fighting over suet. April 22, fifty robins on Audubon field. April 12, flicker. April 18, only two juncos still around. April 21, five fish crows. April 24, white-throated sparrows, house finches.

Vanessa Banyas, Main St. April 6, two pileated woodpeckers seen at Chamberlain Rd.

Elaine D’Alessandro, at Stone Arch Bridge. Mallard pairs seen on Stony Brook.

Emily Teller, Texas Rd. April 8, first phoebe heard.

Dave Coleman, Chestnut Rd. April 13, ‘Possums seem to enjoy getting up on my deck and looking at me through the patio door. I frequently see a red fox jogging up and down the road early in the morning. Beautiful animal, and I imagine there is a den nearby. Usual cast of characters in the bird world this winter at the feeder.

Ginger Dries, Sherwood Dr. April 18, beautiful fox trotting by. Robins, goldfinches, chickadees checking out birdhouse, cardinals, a cowbird, jays, doves, titmice, nuthatches, red-bellied woodpecker, lots of sparrows, groundhog, grey and red squirrels, rabbits. April 25, juncos are gone.

Mark Champion, West St. April 21, we spotted a black bear in our back yard after we noticed the motion-sensing light was on. We’ve been seeing bears, or evidence of them, here for the past few years [Mark sent a good trail camera photo–MH].

Doug Pederson, Woodland Drive. April 22, saw a robin and a pair of house finches today–good sign!

Mark Childs at Greystone Pond. April 23, a beaver family is making a home in the pond. My son, Kevin took a photo [Mark sent Kevin’s excellent photo-MH]

Angela Harkness, Castle Rd. April 25, “porcupine feasting in our willow tree for the past few days. It sways in the branches way at the top picking off and eating the new leaves like ears of corn.” [Angela sent a great photo-MH]

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. April 26, nuthatch, chickadee, house finch, many goldfinches, pair of cardinals, four blue jays, red-winged blackbirds, cowbird, hawks, sparrows, ducks and geese in nearby marsh. A leucistic dove–partially white, seen with a partner. Last junco seen on April 10. Mother deer and young one, turkeys, busy squirrels, chipmunks, periwinkle blooming, hyacinths blooming.

Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – March 2018

Blue Jay perching by Doug Pederson

Who’s top bird at your feeder? An interesting thing to observe while you are identifying birds is who is displacing whom at the bird feeder. This displacement behavior in birds is called a “dominance hierarchy”. For instance, we think of doves as peaceful and jays as aggressive. Cornell Lab of Ornithology set out to study displacement behavior at feeders, to see who comes out on top in bird interactions. Project Feeder Watch participants have been gathering the displacement data.

Eliot Miller at Cornell Lab correlated 7,685 observations sent in by Feeder Watchers. In general, he found what one would expect, bigger is better. Blue Jays displace mourning doves and downy woodpeckers displace tufted titmice. But there were also some surprises.

The Project Feeder Watch Blog of October 9, 2017 reports on Miller’s study of 136 species of birds observed interacting at Feeder Watch sites in North America. Miller ranked each species based on how often it displaced other species, and how often it got displaced. Then he arranged all those species in their order of dominance. The highest- ranking species, the toughest bird, was the Wild Turkey. At the bottom of the list was the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Eurasian Tree Sparrows, an introduced species which lives in parts of the mid-west, is closely related to our much more aggressive House Sparrows.

Miller found that although in most cases bigger birds are more aggressive than smaller ones, “it turns out that doves, buntings and grosbeaks are less dominant than we would expect based on their body size, whereas crows, jays, woodpeckers and blackbirds are more dominant than we would expect based on their size….doves really are peaceful and jays really are feisty.” But these patterns can be complicated and circular. “Some species appear to co-exist in a rock-paper-scissors arrangement. European Starlings are dominant to Red-headed Woodpeckers, Red-headed Woodpeckers are dominant to Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers are dominant to European Starlings….This rare non-linear hierarchy may help balance continental patterns of abundance. Each species competes with another for nest cavities, but no species is always the winner.”

This study is ongoing at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Project Feeder Watch is in need of more feeder watchers to join the effort to document displacement behavior. Go to feederwatch.org to read the blog and Miller articles including his fascinating graphs of displacement, predation and mobbing behaviors. Join Project Feeder Watch in order to add your observations to this interesting citizen science effort.

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of March. Please send reports by April 26 for inclusion in next month’s article. You can call me at 692-3907, write me at 7A Old Colony Drive, or e-mail me at mariancharman@verizon.net.


Late February Reports:

Tom Ennis, Almeria Drive. February 25, first heard the woodcocks, “nearly to the day as last year, and slightly ahead of other years I have reported: 2015 no record, 2014, March 25, 2013, March 5, 2012, March 2.”

Marian/Bill Harman, 7A Old Colony Drive. February 28, two juncos, first chipmunk seen, red-tailed hawk soaring over the meadow.

Doug Pederson, at Beaver Brook Rd. February 27, saw several red-winged blackbirds yesterday at Forge Pond.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. February Report: tufted titmouse, chickadees, nuthatch, two pairs of cardinals, four blue jays, house finches, goldfinches, white-throated sparrow, chipping sparrow, juncos, heard a Carolina wren, heard an owl. February 20, immature male red-winged blackbird, more a few days later. Red-tailed hawk on Tadmuck Rd. Large hawk flew through the back yard. Heard a pack of coyotes late at night, several squirrels chasing each other. “One squirrel spotted with a big batch of leaves in its mouth. It proceeded to climb up a tree where it appeared to have a nest forming, and added these leaves. Chipmunks have come out. “Had a pair in the garage this morning, making a racket.”

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. February 28, twenty turkeys and male house finch.

March Reports

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane March 2, Canada geese. March 3, had a hermit thrush the other day. “I was so happy”. March 9, robin, red-tailed hawk, lots of starlings. March 15, male and female bluebird eating suet today and a big, fat robin. “I gave him some raisins.” March 16, seven deer. March 23, skunk and raccoon. March 25, grackles, pair of house finches, cowbirds.

Doug Pederson, Woodland Drive. March 4, saw a goldfinch and house finch. March 19, Forge Pond, thirty hooded mergansers [Doug sent great photos-MH].  At Woodland Dr.,March 24, house finches and goldfinches at my feeder today. Also saw a flock of red-winged blackbirds.

Denali Delmar, Dunstable Rd. March 4, a pair of bluebirds at the suet–“How exciting!”

Marian/Bill Harman, 7A Old Colony Drive. March 7, snow on the ground, windy, 37 degrees. At feeder, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, eight juncos, pair of cardinals. American crow on deck for stale chips–a first for us. Also, goldfinches, two titmice, a chickadee. March 8, 34 degrees, clear. Big snowstorm last night 8-10 inches, very heavy. Power is out and will be for several days they say. A new bird is at the suet, a male hairy woodpecker. Also, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, three juncos, one chickadee, one titmouse, one white-breasted nuthatch, one blue jay, three goldfinches, one cardinal. March 9, 32 degrees, clear, no power. A lovely male cardinal in the pine tree, set against a snowy backdrop. March 10, clear, 35 degrees. Put out a new shelled sunflower feeder. Nine goldfinches flocked to it immediately, abandoning the thistle seed.  A new bird showed up on the deck, a song sparrow. Power came on late today–Yay. March 13, 30 degrees, snowing, windy another foot of snow–third nor’easter this month. Mourning dove, ten goldfinches, twenty juncos, two white-breasted nuthatches, two chickadees, two cardinals, crows heard, two titmice, one house finch. Power stayed on! March 18, new bird on the deck, an American tree sparrow-very cute. Also juncos, goldfinches, two chickadees. March 23, eleven juncos, three goldfinches, one white-breasted nuthatch, two chickadees, two red-bellied woodpeckers, a pair of downy woodpeckers, American tree sparrow, heard crow and red-winged blackbird. In the afternoon, took a walk on the trail to the swamp. Saw four ducks flying overhead, quacking, probably mallards, lots of red-winged blackbirds on territory, crows heard, what looked like a fresh hairy woodpecker hole in a living pine, lots of deer prints. March 24, a cooper’s hawk watching our feeders from a nearby pine. All feeder birds vanished, and he gave up. March 25, 34 degrees, snow showers. A pair of red-belled woodpeckers came into the suet, male cardinal, six juncos, one white-breasted nuthatch, five goldfinches, one titmouse, two doves (at last our lonely dove brought a friend).

Debbie Gustafson, Mark Vincent Drive. March 11, a very light bird, hanging around with the juncos. [Debbie sent a photo, which I sent on to Dave Larson of Mass Audubon. He identified the bird as a leucistic junco–pretty unusual-MH]

Flavio Fernandes, Vineyard Rd. March 15, saw some robins at Miller school today.

Molly Miller-White, Forge Village. March 16, about ten bluebirds seen

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. March report, several doves, one partially white. Two pairs of blue jays, red-winged blackbirds male and female, tufted titmouse, nuthatches, chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches (one bright yellow), red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, field sparrow, white-throated sparrow, chipping sparrow, juncos lots, grackles, crow, two great horned owls calling to each other late at night, two hawks, one watching bird feeder, two deer in backyard, one smaller than the other, squirrels chasing each other, chipmunks who like to hide in our garage.

Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – February 2018

Snowy Owl at Salisbury Beach by George & MJ

Of all the winter birds, seeing a snowy owl is the most exciting to me. We don’t see them in Westford; the habitat just isn’t right for them here, they are tundra dwellers. But, I have been lucky enough to see them on Plum Island and at Salisbury Beach most winters. Some years are better for seeing snowy owls than others. This winter is shaping up to be good snowy owl viewing, and I encourage you to make the short trek to the coast to see them. Seven snowy owls have been reported at Plum Island this January and February.

Snowy owls are one of our largest owls and are fierce predators with large strong talons. They weigh about 3.5 pounds, and have a wingspan of 4.5-5.5 feet. As in most raptors, females are larger than males. They eat mostly rodents, but have been known to successfully take down prey as large as geese and great blue herons. Snowy owls are predominately white, but females and juveniles may have black streaking on body, belly, wings and head. Their eyes are golden. In their summer habitat on the artic tundra they hunt lemmings and other small rodents. Snowy owls are active during the day and thus are much easier for us to see than other owls which are nocturnal. Snowy owls are ground nesters. When juveniles reach their first winter, they tend to disburse and may fly far south to find suitable hunting grounds. They favor dunes and coastal areas that are much like their summer homes on the artic tundra. Snowy owls are nomadic. When birds migrate south in unpredictable numbers, this is known as an “irruption”. The winter of 2017-18 is said to be the largest irruption of snowy owls since 2013. It is not known exactly why the birds migrate south more in some years than in others. One theory is that they migrate south in search of food in years when the lemming population up north is low. Mass Audubon thinks that the migration may be caused by plentiful food at their nesting grounds in the summer, and a consequently larger than normal number of young being hatched. Some of these juveniles may then begin exploring new territory in the winter.

Since 1997, Norm Smith of Mass Audubon has been catching and relocating owls found to have taken up residence at Logan Airport. Owls at the airport can cause a hazard for the planes. Smith releases the captured owls at Plum Island, Duxbury and Salisbury Beach. He attaches tiny transmitters to the feathers of some of those he releases, and then he is able to track them for a few months. When the animal molts, the transmitter falls off. For instance, Owl # 134376 was tracked from March 9, 2014-April 11, 2015. In March the animal was released on the north shore of Massachusetts. In April it traveled to southern Canada. In April and May it moved far north and summered in the upper Hudson Bay area where it presumably nested. It returned south again in November and December to southern Canada. You can see these fascinating migration maps; just Google Mass Audubon Snowy Owl Project.

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of February. Please send reports by March 26 for inclusion in next month’s column. You can call me at 978-692-3907, write me at our new address 7A Old Colony Drive, Westford, or e-mail me at mariancharman@verizon.net.


Late January Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. January 24, At least sixteen juncos in for seed early evening, three male and two female cardinals. January 26, beautiful male flicker on deck with doves and blue jays. Flicker came to the shelled sunflower feeder for some quick energy. January 29, seventeen doves, joined by seven blue jays. January 31, a dozen juncos with a pair of cardinals and a few blue jays on deck.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. January report: two pairs of blue jays, five cardinals, goldfinch, house finch, titmouse, chickadees, nuthatches, doves, lots of juncos, red-bellied woodpecker, white-throated sparrow, house sparrow, red-tailed hawk. Hearing coyotes again, sometimes one sometimes more, four gray squirrels, one lone chipmunk during warmer weather, deer racks in snow.

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. January 29, flicker, cottontail rabbit.

Barbara Theriault, Tadmuck Lane. January 30, four adult and two young deer at edge of woods, cardinals, titmice, chickadees, juncos, woodpeckers at feeders.

February Reports:

Kate Hollister, Vine Brook Rd. February 2, we enjoy watching a red and grey squirrel chase one another away form the feeder. Not seeing many birds. We mostly see juncos and titmice at feeder, an occasional chickadee, house sparrow and hairy woodpecker.

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. February 2, Canada geese, six mourning doves. February 4, six turkeys. February 7, first chipmunk. February 11, song sparrow. February 14, first red-winged blackbird. February 22, many robins, grackles and cowbirds. February 24, lots of cardinals and red-winged blackbirds, hawk with very dark head.

Phil Day, Graniteville Rd. February 10, heard a whole family of coyotes howling and yipping at about 10:30 at night.

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. February 3, neighbor reported a blond colored squirrel. February 4, twenty-one juncos early morning. February 8, two crows perched in aspen trees. February 10, fourteen doves and at least ten blue jays. February 12, fourteen doves, a white-breasted nuthatch, two titmice on deck in the rain. Seventeen doves around. February 13 clear cold morning 5:45 a.m., a slender slice of moon over the back woods–beautiful. Later afternoon two white-breasted nuthatches scurrying around on deck with juncos. Three crows briefly perched in woods, always communicating with each other. February 16, twenty-two doves in aspen trees, waiting to drop down to eat. A colorful male house finch landed on deck. Lots of chatter from him lately. The goldfinches always have a lot to say. Two crows in aspens.         February 18, at least fifteen blue jays, and twenty doves. Beautiful red-tailed hawk cruised over the length of lawn. February 19, early afternoon one goldfinch on deck. February 20, snow melting on this lovely warm day. Chickadee calling “fee-bee” several times, two others in the distance doing the same. Three noisy titmice in small crabapple tree, they call “tee-you” over and over. Nuthatch joined the others. In the afternoon, doves, pair of cardinals and juncos scattered all around out back. February 21 bright male cardinal calling boldly from a perch in sumac by woods. Sitting outside I can hear what sounds like a flock of blackbirds, the true harbingers of spring….”We’re getting there!” February 22, early morning one red-winged blackbird on deck for seed, ten minutes later two grackles there. “When large blackbird flocks arrive and eat everything in sight including older seed that other birds have left uneaten, that is a good thing. Mostly, just knowing they are here can lift your spirits.”

Leslie Thomas, Old Colony Drive, February 9, coyotes howling near Chamberlain Rd.

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. February 26, barred owl heard, crows, titmice, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, cardinal pair, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker pair, at least six goldfinches, six juncos, flicker heard, crows heard, red-tailed hawk seen in meadow, two white-tailed deer bounding away, one red squirrel, two gray squirrels.

 

January 2018 Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman

White-throated Sparrow by Doug Pederson

On those frigid days of winter when the wind is high and the temperatures plunge below zero on some nights, I’m sure you feel as sorry for the birds as I do. How do they stay warm in winter? It seems something of a miracle when we see them at our feeders in the morning. The simple answer is that its not at all easy for them, and not every bird will survive sub-zero nighttime temperatures. But, birds do have a range of adaptations and strategies to help them.

Most important to warmth is feathers, which are specially adapted to trap warm air. On cold days, we see birds that look as fluffy and round as a little kid dressed up in a down jacket. When fluffed up, those feathers trap a lot of warm air between them. And by regularly preening and applying oil from the oil gland at the top of their tail, they can keep those feathers completely waterproof.

Another physiological adaptation is that birds can keep their core temperatures up by circulating warm blood around internal organs, while diverting it from less important peripheral areas. Legs have insulating scales covering them, and if the legs get too cold, birds can tuck one leg up at a time into their feathers and stand on only one leg. Waterfowl have a  special type of circulation in their legs in feet. Veins and arteries are located very close to each other in the leg, so warm blood heats up colder blood.

Many birds will shiver throughout a cold night. Physiologist David Swanson of the University of South Dakota points out that chickadees may be the toughest of winter survivors. They can’t put on too much weight because they need to be able to fly, but are experts in shivering. These involuntary contractions of opposing muscle groups are very efficient at generating heat. But shivering is costly in terms of calories, so birds need to have had a good feed just before going to sleep. Some birds can even lower their body temperatures significantly on cold nights to conserve calories. This is known as torpor. In extreme conditions chickadees, for example, whose normal body temperature is about 105 degrees, can lower their temperature in torpor by up to fifty degrees. Torpor is risky however, because if faced with a predator, a bird in torpor may have a very slow reaction time .

Other strategies to keep warm are behavioral. If they can find a patch of sun, cold birds will turn their back to the sun and raise their feathers so that the sun can heat the skin. At night, many birds huddle with others in shrubs, old nesting holes and nest boxes. Bluebirds, chickadees and others engage in this behavior. Alexander Skutch, in his book Birds Asleep, studied winter wrens’ huddling behavior on cold winter nights. Skutch counted nine wrens in an old thrush nest, ten in a coconut shell and forty-six huddling into a nesting box. One very cold morning, I flushed two mourning doves that were huddling under a drift of snow next to our house foundation.

What can we do to help? If you are reading this article, you are probably already doing the most important thing, feeding birds. In winter, it is important to provide high calorie and fat laden foods such as suet, black oil sunflower seed and nuts. A heated birdbath is very much appreciated too. Birds can eat snow for water, but the cold robs their bodies of heat and much needed calories. Remember to fill your feeders before you go to bed so that the birds will have food at first light after the long winter night. That can make all the difference in “your” birds’ survival. It will make for a lovely sight and the satisfying feeling when you are having your breakfast, that you have helped your birds survive the night.

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for January. Please send your reports by February 26 to be included in next month’s column. You can call me at 692-3907, write to me at our new address, 7A Old Colony Dr., or e-mail me at mariancharman@verizon.net.


Late November and December Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. November 26-30, three male cardinals, six blue jays, cooper’s hawk.  December 1, cooper’s hawk, sixteen doves, seven blue jays. Dec. 2, ten blue jays, twenty doves. December 4, four titmice and a few chickadees, gray squirrels. December 10, now 6-7″ of snow and ten juncos, Carolina wren, twenty-four doves. December 12, twelve turkeys, eleven blue jays, thirty-seven doves perched in aspen trees. December 13, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker. December 14, forty-nine doves in yard and aspens. December 15, twelve juncos, twenty house sparrows, thirteen blue jays, forty-seven doves. December 16, a flock of twelve cowbirds eating seed. Never seen them at this time of year. December 19, twenty-five doves, twelve blue jays, sixteen juncos, flock of turkeys. December 21, “Winter solstice ushering in our shortest day of the year….I’m already thinking about Spring!” December 22, a light coating of snow. Saw a cooper’s hawk land in aspen tree. Early evening, at least eighteen juncos and a pair of house sparrows under feeder, at least one tree sparrow with the juncos–first of the season. December 23, a flock of male and female cowbirds eating seed, joined by a few starlings. A number of doves and a few blue jays edged out the blackbirds. Three male cardinals arrived. December 24, cooper’s hawk returned. December 25, thirteen blue jays eating seed with twenty juncos on the ground. December 26, at least seventeen blue jays sitting in trees or on deck for seed–amazing. December 27, flock of turkeys near woods. December 28, three crows in trees, one starling visited suet, a male hairy woodpecker puffed up against the cold. December 29, hairy woodpecker returned for suet. One grackle here later. Three male cardinals joined by two females. Titmouse and white-breasted nuthatch arrived. December 31, eighteen to twenty blue jays on deck, eating sunflower seed–never saw so many. A beautiful full moon rising over back woods.

Kathy Cordeiro, Forrest Rd. Pert-looking red fox trotted through the woods behind the house–a first for us. In the past we have seen a bobcat as we were sitting on the deck having dinner.

January Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. January 4, the hard cold continues. Outside my window the rhododendron leaves are pulled in tightly. Cooper’s hawk tried to catch a bird on the deck, but quickly gave up. January 5, storm left us so much snow… Just after sunrise, I watched a porcupine moving slowly and steadily through deep snow in the woods. January 6, sad looking tom turkey around a lot. January 10, little group of five turkey hens eating seed. January 11, lots of deer tracks and piles of droppings in the snow in the back yard. Nice to know they are stopping by. Some of the tracks are of a doe and smaller tracks of her fawn. January 15, immature red-tailed hawk perched in the aspen tree, warming up in the sunlight. Three deer headed into woods on Parkhurst. January 16, three titmice visiting. January 20, one male red-winged blackbird in a flock of cowbirds eating seed. January 21, six cardinals on deck–three male, three female. January 23, ice building up on everything.

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. January 1, lots of Canada geese, downy woodpeckers, cardinals. January 5, red-bellied and hairy woodpeckers. January 13, pair of mallards at feeder. January 15, red-tailed hawk and sharp-shinned hawk. January 20, deer eating crabapples off tree. January 24, twenty-five blue jays in maple tree, fifteen juncos. Thirty to forty cowbirds, both male and female. Never have had cowbirds in the winter before.

Leslie Thomas, Old Colony Dr. January 6, a red-bellied woodpecker on my deck, right near the slider, pecking at spilled birdseed.

Gerry DiBello, Court Rd.  January 6, bluebirds showed up today looking very fluffed up and eating both the seeds off the ground and from the feeder. We have been putting sunflower seeds on the ground and making sure heated water is fresh every day.

Mike Killoran, Pine Hill Rd. January 9, flying squirrel at the feeder. “I have a microphone out near the feeder with a speaker in the house so we can hear the bird sounds. Tonight after dark I heard the familiar sound of the squirrel baffle clanging….I went downstairs and got a flashlight to point out the window. I could see the loose skin between front and back legs and an obvious change of color between top and bottom of the fur.”

Doug Pederson, Woodland Dr. January 14, one day that was warm this week, I went to the town beach and along the way in were more than fifty mallards all gathered together.

Marian and Bill Harman, Old Colony Dr. We put up a thistle seed feeder and the juncos like it–a surprise. Also have titmice, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatch, goldfinch, cardinals, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, around six juncos. Hearing crows calling in the woods.

            Marian Harman is a member of the Westford Conservation Trust, a non-profit conservation organization whose purpose is the preservation of Westford’s open spaces and trails. The Trust welcomes new members and volunteers. Check out our website at westfordconservationtrust.org, or visit us on Facebook.