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February 2017 – Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman

Hill Orchard by Marian Harman

Farmland is disappearing in Massachusetts. We are losing agricultural lands and farming opportunities at an alarming rate. To try to stem the tide of farmland loss, the Mass Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) established the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) program in 1979. It was a first-in-the-nation model for many other states. The MDAR website states, “the primary purpose of the APR program is to preserve and protect agricultural land, including designated farmland soils, which are a finite natural resource, from being built upon for non-agricultural purposes or used for any activity detrimental to agriculture, and to maintain APR land values at a level that can be supported by the land’s agricultural uses and potential.”

The APR program works by paying farmers the difference between the full market value of their land and the agricultural value of the land. In that way, the landowner retains ownership of the land, but cannot sell the land for anything but agriculture. The program has worked well. It has protected 800 farms and 68,000 acres in Massachusetts.

Westford has followed the State trend. The 2006 Master Plan states, “From 1985 and 1999, Westford experienced the second greatest loss of agricultural land of any town in Massachusetts.” The recent 2006 Westford Reconnaissance Inventory (2006) completed through the Massachusetts Heritage Landscape Inventory Program cited the loss of active farming and the development of agricultural land as “one of Westford’s key planning issues.” In looking at our Open Space Plans, it is evident that since 1957 we have lost over 90% of our farmland. We have only three protected farms left, totaling 64 acres. These farms are protected by Agricultural Preservation Restrictions and conservation restrictions.

In 1999, the purchase for $525,000 by the Town of an APR on the Drew Parcel on Boston Rd. was completed. Here is what is written in the 1999 Town Report regarding the purchase: “This will assure the preservation of a critical part of the landscape important for maintaining the character of the Town which has been identified by the citizens of the Town as a high priority during the Master Plan update process.” The 2010 Open Space Plan states, “Westford residents place great value on retaining the town’s farming heritage in addition to protecting open space, and the town has successfully preserved several working farms and orchards through agricultural preservation restrictions and municipal purchase.”

Now, a citizens’ petition to be voted on at our March 25 Annual Town Meeting, asks that we give the Selectmen the authority to negotiate with a developer to build a large restaurant, parking lot and septic system on one of our protected agricultural parcels. Such a development would clearly violate the terms of the perpetual protection for that agricultural land. I urge you to attend Town Meeting at Abbot School on March 25 and vote “no” on Article 19. We must stay vigilant in our determination to protect Westford’s farmland. Its the only farmland we will ever have.

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 write me at 10 Chamberlain Rd., call me at 692-3907, or e-mail me at mariancharman@verizon.net.


Flora/Fauna Reports for February 2017

Late January Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. January 25. Just noticed a fawn coming in from the woods. January 26, thirty doves in yard. Two crows around a lot today. January 27, downies happy on their suet holder, titmice and chickadees eating sunflower, juncos in and out. Eventually a pair of house finches, then three blue jays, a house sparrow, a white-breast nuthatch and two tree sparrows. January 28, eastern sky hinting at coming sunrise. One bunny checking out something of interest in snow, then dashing into nearby shrub. A few doves eating seed on ground. Small flock of house finches on deck. Some of the males so brightly colored. Females very distinctive. January 29, one female cowbird, which seemed a bit early for those birds. Later, eight female cowbirds arrived, did not stay long. Early afternoon, hairy woodpecker arrived looking for suet.

February Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. February 1, six blue jays in and out. A dove just hit glass on porch door, fell over railing and landed with his head literally buried in the soft snow, legs slightly moving. I brought out an empty basket out to place him in until he could clear his head. But, just as I reached for him, he saw me and suddenly burst out of the snow and flew away over the woods. Immediately there was a small coopers’s hawk in hot pursuit, chasing him far over the woods. This hawk was probably the reason he flew into the door, tying to escape…. One of them probably had a good day. February 5, hairy woodpecker on suet, downy waiting his turn. February 7, a tree sparrow on deck, looking for seed in the falling snow. Snow also brought twelve juncos. At 2 p.m., five titmice arrived, and a pair of cardinals bringing their bright color to the white background. One junco visiting a hanging feeder, which I don’t often see. February 8, birds are singing their spring songs, very cheerful tunes. February 14, barely dawn, sun touching treetops on a cold winter morning. Birds arrive early for seed, needing some quick energy to deal with the cold. Several fresh deer tracks leading to seed in yard. February 15, a flock of female cowbirds, and eventually the males, busy on deck. Now and then I see a red-tailed hawk cruising over the woods or power lines. “Watching bird activity around here helps me pass the long winter. Feeding them helps me think I’m doing some good–works for me!”

Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. February 6, three deer in the woods. They saw me but didn’t run away. “I told them not to worry”.  February 11, red-winged blackbirds arrived at our feeder.

Ginger Dries, Sherwood Drive. The birds were singing their spring songs while we all shoveled snow. February 8, it had been snowing and fifteen gray squirrels were on all the feeders. Also, red squirrels on feeders and drinking from the water. February 11, twenty-five or more juncos, and some sparrows and doves on ground. Two pairs of cardinals. February 24, three deer on the hill. One is dragging its right back leg–sad. Occasional red-bellied woodpecker and Carolina wren here along with the other woodpeckers. The chickadees are always waiting in the late afternoon for me to fill the feeders.

Doug Pederson, at Forge Pond. February 10, two pairs of hooded mergansers.

February 23, river otter seen at the beach on ice eating a fish, then would go back down to find some more [Doug sent some great photos-MH]. February 24, first red-winged blackbird seen today. Red-tailed hawk and otter back today.

Margaret Wheeler, Depot St. February 14, groups of turkeys visit yard. One group has three members, another has five. Four deer waded out of the snow-filled woods today and walked up the driveway. One was a doe we have seen for years who has an issue with her left foreleg. It slows her down when she walks but she is able to bound ahead of the others when she wants to. They stopped to look at me up on the deck.

Bob Price, Stratton Hill Rd. February 18, bluebirds at the feeder for the past three days.

Mau and Thuy Fernandes, Vineyard Rd. three deer in front of house. I am glad they have appeared again.

Carol Gumbart, at East Boston Camps. February 21, heard two red-winged blackbirds calling “conk-la-ree”.

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. February 22, Canada geese, bluebirds, one red-winged blackbird, one grackle, red-bellied woodpeckers.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. February report: four blue jays, one pair of cardinals, purple and house finches, house sparrows, chipping sparrows, American tree sparrows, white-throated sparrows, doves, chickadees, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, juncos, red-bellied, downy, and hairy woodpeckers. A hawk sits in the sun in the morning, close to the marsh and watches. Great horned owl heard late at night. First red-winged blackbird seen week of February 19. Neighbors report blue jays. Also have seen gray squirrels, one rabbit, a deer eating bush in front of house.

 

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. Check out the Trust’s website at westfordconservationtrust.org. The Trust welcomes new members and volunteers.

Westford Conservation Trust Chosen for Charitable Donation Program

WORCESTER, Mass., Jan. 10, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — The Westford Conservation Trust has been selected as the first beneficiary of the new Coghlin Companies Caring Corporate Citizen (“5C”) program. The program was formally launched in 2016 to further demonstrate Coghlin Companies’ commitment toward encouraging volunteerism and providing financial support to community service and philanthropic organizations that are important to its loyal team of Caring Associates  read more……

December 2016 – Westford Wildlife by Marian Harman

Tufted Titmouse by Doug Pederson

Happy New Year!

At this time of year I like to review the reports to Westford Wildlife Watch from the past year. In 2016, fifty-three residents and one elementary school from all over town sent in flora and fauna reports, some monthly, and others only once or twice. Altogether, there were 2123 different reports. That’s a lot of reports from a few dedicated reporters! We now have data going back to 1996, and there have been many changes in that twenty-year time frame. I enter all your data on Excel spreadsheets each month; the reporter’s name, where the animal was seen, how many animals were seen, category of animal (bird, mammal, amphibian, etc.) and whether the animal was an adult or a juvenile. At the end of each year, the data is analyzed and graphed by Westford residents Mau and Maurilio Fernandes, a labor of love for which I am very grateful. It allows us to see population changes for each species over time.  Read more…..


December 2016 – Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman

Tufted Titmouse by Doug Pederson

Happy New Year!

At this time of year I like to review the reports to Westford Wildlife Watch from the past year. In 2016, fifty-three residents and one elementary school from all over town sent in flora and fauna reports, some monthly, and others only once or twice. Altogether, there were 2123 different reports. That’s a lot of reports from a few dedicated reporters! We now have data going back to 1996, and there have been many changes in that twenty-year time frame. I enter all your data on Excel spreadsheets each month; the reporter’s name, where the animal was seen, how many animals were seen, category of animal (bird, mammal, amphibian, etc.) and whether the animal was an adult or a juvenile. At the end of each year, the data is analyzed and graphed by Westford residents Mau and Maurilio Fernandes, a labor of love for which I am very grateful. It allows us to see population changes for each species over time.

We love to get reports of common animals and plants to add to our database. These animals or plants might not have been common in the past (think wild turkeys), or may be becoming less common (think most migrating birds). Some reports are of somewhat uncommon animals and plants, or of animals engaged in uncommon behaviors.  Here are some interesting reports from each month.

In January, a bald eagle was reported at Forge Pond. A red-shouldered hawk was reported from Hildreth St. Red-polls were reported at Hayrick Lane. A bobcat was reported on Sherwood Dr. Grebes and a pair of greater scaup were on Beaver Brook. Ruddy ducks and three greater scaup were on Forge Pond. A bobcat was seen on Frances Hill Rd.

In February, a greater white-fronted goose, and pine siskins were at a feeder on Hayrick Lane. Pine A porcupine was seen at Monadnock Dr. and a bobcat was seen on Parkhurst Dr. Seventy robins collected at Sherwood Dr. A flicker was seen on Rush Rd. Wood ducks were on Beaver Brook. A bald eagle and a white-fronted/Canada goose hybrid were at Forge Pond. Cedar waxwings visited Stratton Hill Rd. A mink was seen on Concord Rd. Early woodcocks started displaying on Feb. 24 on Almeria Circle.

In March, turkey vultures arrived on March 6 at Monadnock Drive. March 10 was “Big Night” for salamanders and wood frogs–the earliest date for their mating migration that has been recorded here. Eight ravens were seen on Depot St. Phoebes arrived March 22.

In April, A sharp-shinned hawk was reported at Hayrick Lane. The migratory wave started on April 1, with pine warblers and hermit thrushes showing up. Orioles arrived on April 25. An otter was seen on Concord Rd. A bobcat was reported from Tadmuck Lane.

May 1, a woodcock was still displaying on Chamberlain Rd. Orioles, thrushes warblers, grosbeaks, vireos and thrushes were reported all over town on the second week of May. A survey done at O’Brien Farm on Vose Rd. counted forty-six species of birds and fifty plant species. On May 16, a bald eagle was photographed eating an opossum on a Drawbridge Rd. lawn.

In June, a black bear was reported on Sherwood Drive, and bobcats were reported on Dunstable Rd., Chamberlain Rd. and Tadmuck Lane. A spotted turtle was seen on Providence Rd. A broad-winged hawk was reported on Monadnock Drive. Wood ducks with young were seen on Forge Pond.

In July, one bat was seen on Monadnock Dr. (this was the only report for this rapidly declining animal this year).  A scarlet tanager and a wood thrush were seen at Rome Dr. Grassy Pond was completely dry after the long drought we have had. Some unusual plants were seen on the dry bottom: Virginia meadow beauty, and brown-fruited rush (Juncus pelocarpus). Their identity was confirmed by the New England Wildflower Society. These plants were last noted in this location by Emily Fletcher in 1911.

In August, a mockingbird at Grassy Pond was heard doing a long imitation of a Whippoorwill (as the Whippoorwill is a bird we don’t often see in Westford, where did he learn it?). A downy woodpecker was seen sharing a hummingbird feeder on Tenney Rd. A bald eagle was spotted at Lake Nabnasset.

In September, an alder flycatcher was seen on Howard Rd. A yellow-sac spider was identified on Howard Rd. The first returning dark-eyed junco was reported on October 16 at Monadnock drive. White-throated sparrows were seen on Monadnock Drive on October 19.

In October, purple finches were reported on Monadnock Drive. On October 28, a late Baltimore oriole was seen feeding with juncos on Monadnock Drive. A black bear was reported on Providence Rd.

In November, at Howard Rd. a spring peeper was calling on November 2. A sharp-shinned hawk was reported on Howard Rd. on November 2. A black bear was seen on Providence Rd., November 25.

A black bear took down feeders on Castle Rd. on December 4. The weather has been unusually warm. Two red foxes were caught on trail cam on Dunstable Rd.

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of December. I encourage more of you to report! Please send reports by January 26 for inclusion in next month’s column. You can write me at 10 Chamberlain Rd., call me at 978-692-3907, or e-mail me at MarianCHarman@verizon.net


Late November Reports:

Joy Calla, Tyngsboro Rd. November 6, a bobcat walked through yard. November 30, video cam movies showed a black bear walking through the yard in the driving rain.

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. November 24, four downies in and out for suet. November 25, small flock of goldfinches on shelled sunflower feeder. November 27, chickadees and nuthatches after suet, titmice pop in now and then. Two titmice vigorously bathing in bird bath. November 29, two chickadees bathing with lots of enthusiasm quite late in evening.

Doug Pederson, at Beaver Brook. November 27, saw three swans, one a nearly grown juvenile, mallards, and a pair of hooded mergansers.

December Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. December 2, three blue jays at feeder. Late morning, a little sharp-shinned hawk perched in tree–beautiful bird. December 12, five deer in back woods, one small, watching me. They must remember they will find seed thrown on the ground in bad weather. December 13, blue jays downies and a few juncos on deck looking for seed and suet. Handsome male cardinal at shelled sunflower feeder, later joined by a female. December 14, five Canada geese low over back woods, one goldfinch on feeder. One nuthatch spent time pecking at suet; downy scooped up pieces he left on deck. December 16, pair of house finches and a goldfinch on feeders this bitter cold day, eventually joined by titmice, nuthatches, chickadees and blue jays. December 20, three puffed out nuthatches on feeder and three titmice. A straight line of small tracks in the snow out front, probably left by a fox headed for woods and power lines. These power lines are the main highway for wildlife on the move. December 21, watching another stunning sunrise beyond the big woods. Flock of juncos and a few doves perched in sumacs enjoying the early sun.” Winter solstice is here, longest night of the year. The words form thoughts of cold and deep snow and bitter winds. But now that we have this, we can look forward to the next celebration, the vernal equinox when everything feels soft again. Always something to look forward to.”

Scott and Angela Harkness, Castle Rd. December 4, a bear took down the feeders.

Doug Pederson, at Forge Pond. December 3, a kingfisher chased ring-billed gulls. December 16, temperature was 1.5 degrees F, with wind. Six inches of new snow. Took photos of three swans and two chilly ring-billed gulls at Forge Pond.

Bob Oliphant, Robinson Rd. December 9, in the morning, a bobcat walked around the house, across the road, and into the back yard of a Flagg Rd. house.

Marian/Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. December 17, cold and snowing. Very hungry birds at the feeder: twelve mourning doves, a pair of downy woodpeckers, pair of hairy woodpeckers, pair of red-bellied woodpeckers, two blue jays, two chickadees, two tufted titmice, a white-breasted nuthatch, a pair of Carolina wrens. Two pairs of cardinals, a song sparrow, a white-throated sparrow, six juncos, four house finches, a goldfinch, about thirty house sparrows, four gray squirrels. The two Carolina wrens came onto the screen porch and hopped all around checking under tables and chairs and into corners, finding spider eggs to eat. Then they left through the open door from which they had entered. Clever little birds. December 24, doe and two juveniles trotted across back yard and leapt over stone wall. December 26, little adult sharp-shinned hawk landed on our front porch railing, looking around for a few minutes.

John Piekos, Dunstable Rd. December 27, two red foxes seen by trail camera crossing over stonewall in yard.

Crisafulli School, Robinson Rd. December report, number of birds seen at any one time: Four chickadees, seven blue jays, one cowbird, three cardinals, twenty-six juncos, five downy woodpeckers, one goldfinch, one house finch, one house sparrow, three wrens, eleven mourning doves, two nuthatches, one red-winged blackbird, two song sparrows, one white-throated sparrow, two gray squirrels.

November 2016 – Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman

At this season, our native trees are on full display. We notice some are still lovely in their fall foliage, especially the oaks which tend to hold on to their leaves long into winter. Other deciduous trees are now bare and displaying beautiful branching patterns we may not notice when they are covered in leaves. And of course, our evergreens now emerge as the primary green we see in the forest and along the roadsides. If you are interested in trees as many of us are, you may enjoy reading a recently published book titled, The Hidden Life of Trees, written by Peter Wohlleben, a German forester. The subtitle of the book is, “What they Feel, How they Communicate”. This contention that trees can feel and communicate is certainly controversial, but Wholleben makes a good case.

Wohlleben states that trees communicate within their own different parts and between each other. They are aware if an insect nibbles on their leaves, and are able to protect themselves by sending distasteful chemicals from their roots to their leaves, which will discourage the nibbling insects. Trees may also take care of their own offspring, such as when beech trees in a grove send nutrients by way of root connections to failing trees within the grove. Fungi are often the messengers that connect different trees and plants within a forest. Their mycorrhizal hyphae, long root-like strands, connect plants in an intricate system of nutrient dispersal. When we do patch cutting or even selective cutting within a forest, this dispersal system is disrupted, and affected trees may die. Wohlleben contends that most managed forests are not functioning forests, but monocultures. The forest needs to be seen as a whole community, which has its own ways of communicating and thriving if left alone by us. Forests manage their own habitat and climate requirements in intricate ways if left undisturbed. They keep the forest floor cool and damp, which encourages new growth of their own and other species.

At this particular time in our country’s political life, I find myself more and more drawn to the natural forest behind my house. Here I can sit on a log, breath in the cool damp air, gaze meditatively into the branches and feel at peace. When I sit very still for a time, birds, deer, foxes and others venture out to go about their feeding, and I am blessed. A few lines from Wendell Berry’s beautiful poem entitled “The Peace of Wild Things” come to mind. “I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water….I come into the peace of wild things….For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of November. Please send reports by December 24 for inclusion in next month’s column. You can write me at 10 Chamberlain Rd., call me at 692-3907 or e-mail me at MarianCHarman@verizon.net.


Late October Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. October 25, three downies sharing suet. Titmice and chickadees taking baths just as the sun goes down. October 26, three blue jays joining numerous little birds at feeder. Around noon a surprise, a male oriole made many vistis to the suet. October 28, a male oriole here many times for suet, yesterday and today. “It does not seem right to look on the deck and see a junco and an oriole a few inches apart. ” October 30, oriole is gone, finally headed south, I guess.

November Reports:

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. November 1, first junco. At Hildreth St. A bluebird nest box with four bluebirds in the same house. “What a treat!” November 25, chickadees, tufted titmouse, nuthatch, four blue jays, pair of cardinals, several juncos, white-throated sparrow, with a touch of yellow on the head, downy woodpecker, goldfinches, house finch, purple finches. Turkeys come around in small groups. A bear has been reported by neighbors in the last few weeks. Bird feeders have been removed and/or destroyed. We found a suet feeder in our back yard–not ours. Heard a coyote close in our back yard, others calling to each other in the woods. We have not heard many coyotes in the past years. We see four to six grey squirrels at a time, rabbit seen.

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. November 1, Canada geese. November 5, crow playing with goose feather for 15 minutes. November 21, eleven turkeys. November 23, bluebirds checking out the birdhouses, which the sparrows always get away from them. “Are they looking for winter homes?” [Yes, bluebirds are known to pile together in birdhouses on cold winter nights-MH]

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. November 2, saw a few mallards and two blue jays at Beaver Brook. Water much higher now. At Howard Rd. wetland, a few chickadees. Under power lines in Hildreth Hills the winterberries are beautiful. November 4, sumac fruits deep red, two chickadees, two downies and a junco checking them out. Two red-tailed hawks over back woods. Birds still splash about in birdbath even on chilly evenings. Leaves so beautiful and most still on trees, but some gusts of wind today are tugging at these holdouts and sending them sailing away. November 6, one downy and one hairy taking turns on suet. Three chickadees bathing and drinking together. November 7, chickadees and a white-throated sparrow in my shrub. November 9, at the Howard Rd. wetland, a spring peeper made a few fall peeps. Two quiet crows nearby in a dead tree. November 11, a few tom turkeys poking around. The trees were bent over in the wind, waves of fallen leaves being driven across the road. November 18, by Beaver Brook three bright swans, one probably the single baby that survived. Many Canada geese and a few mallards. At Howard Rd. wetland, the usual blue jays and chatty chickadees, distant crows. A wood duck called from far side of water. The cattails fluffing out. The autumn air smells so good. Sat on front step to watch birds visiting feeder and suddenly a sharp-shinned hawk zipped through, scattering birds, but did not catch a meal. He perched on nearby tree awhile, giving me a nice long look at this very small, scary predator. November 19, under Parkhurst dr. power lines hard blue jays, chickadees, and white breasted nuthatches. Late afternoon, chickadees still bathe in bird bath quite late, even when the air is cool. November 20, early morning, at least fourteen doves under feeder, cleaning up. Ten juncos scattered around looking for seed. November 21, a light dusting of snow on a cold, windy day is teasing us, reminding us to get ready, the hard weather is on its way–bundle up!”

Marilyn Day, Graniteville Rd. November 3, a pair of flickers  come to the suet. November 5, first juncos arrived.

Doug Pederson, at Beaver Brook bridge, otter photographed. [Doug also sent a beautiful photo of the “Super Moon”-MH]

Marian/Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. November 4, pileated woodpecker seen off Groton Rd. November 5, six very large hen turkeys under feeder and on bird bath. November 18, first white-throated sparrow heard in yard. November 19, eight mourning doves, a downy woodpecker, a red-bellied woodpecker, three blue jays, two chickadees, one titmouse, one white-breasted nuthatch, a pair of cardinals, one white-throated sparrow, one junco, five house finches, two goldfinches, ten house sparrows, two grey squirrels. November 20, first snow tonight–yesterday it was 60 degrees!

Bob Price, Stratton Hill Rd. November 11, black fungus on all the maple leaves around the house.

Donna Cecere, Calista Terrace. November 20, pileated woodpecker flew up into an oak tree–such an amazing bird, lots of loud calls. All summer we have had a family of six turkeys in yard. Lots of nuthatches. I love watching the birds drinking from the birdbath and bathing. A birdhouse attracted a wren. Four birdhouses all had nests which delighted me every day. “Thanks for your writings in the Eagle” [Thank you, Donna-MH]

Ginger Dries, Sherwood Dr. November 21, there is snow on the ground, so all the feeders are very busy–too many jays! Lots of sparrows in the evenings. My squirrels are jumping from the ground over my baffle. Two to three pairs of cardinals and all the regulars are here.