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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…

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.

Annual Town Meeting on MARCH 24th – Conservation Funding Requests

President’s Message

Important Land Conservation CPC funding requests at Annual Town Meeting
Abbot Elementary School Gym
Saturday, March 24th, 2018 starting at 10 am

A request to fund the conservation of two historic, beautifully diverse and undeveloped properties are on the warrant at this Saturday’s Town Meeting.

CPA Funds are being requested to:

  • Secure a permanent Conservation Restriction for 45 acres of the existing Salt Box Farm property at 1 Wright Lane along Hildreth Street.
  • Purchase of the Adams property, approximately 50 acres of open space property between the Cider Mill Conservation Land and Laughton Farm open space off Lowell Rd which would connect with approximately 56 acres of already conserved property. This is an important addition to the protection of part of the Stony Brook watershed which can impact our groundwater aquifers (used for our drinking water wells)

The trust urges you to support the preservation of these very important properties, which will contribute to maintaining open space critical to the natural character of Westford. Please attend Town Meeting and vote to support the protection of these two properties as part of the CPA funding request on Article 13.

The Board of Directors for the Trust has voted unanimously to support both these CPA funding requests.

Thank you,
Ron Gemma
President
Westford Conservation Trust

Adams Property
Salt Box Farm property