All posts by Diane

Marian’s Wildlife Blog for 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. read more….

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,

Marian’s Wildlife Blog for April 2018

Bee on Purple Loosestrife by Marian 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)  read more….

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.

Marian’s Wildlife Blog for 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.  read more…