All posts by Diane

CPC funded Stone Wall Restoration at Pageant Field

The Community Preservation Committee (CPC) funded ​stone wall restoration project at Pageant Field on Hildreth Street is underway.  Dave Tibbetts, of New England Landscape Design, is a stone mason who is doing the work. Dave is on the left in the picture. For this WCT project, several hundred feet of the wall is scheduled to be repaired ​and rebuilt to look as it did historically at the time of the Westford 200th Anniversary Pageant there in 1929​.  The trust mission to preserve and protect open space and natural resources also includes historic sites.

​The photos are an example of what has been accomplished so far this year. A double treatment for poison ivy control and brush  trimming was necessary last fall before the actual wall restoration effort could start.​

 

Bluebird Houses at Prospect Hill Conservation Land – Pageant Field

Thanks to trust board member Dave Ebitson, six bird boxes have been installed at Pageant Field on the Westford Conservation Trust property at Prospect Hill (off of Hildreth St). The boxes built by Dave are designed to attract Bluebirds and Tree Swallows.

This field is also noted as a pollinator habitat per Xerces Society Bring Back the Pollinators  campaign.

Dave Ebitson installing his bluebird boxes at Pageant field

Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – Feb 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 read more….

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.