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Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman

Marian’s Wildlife Watch Blog

Probably you are discouraged by the severe drought we are having in the northeast. It’s hard on our yards and gardens, and especia

Brown-fruited Rush_Marian Harman copy
Brown-fruited Rush

lly hard on wildlife, which need extra water put out at our bird feeders to survive. But there is one very big upside of the drought from my point of view. I have found two plants that I have been looking for since 1994. I have recently rediscovered two plants first described in 1911 by the highly respected Westford botanist, Miss Emily Fletcher. Emily Fletcher was known about town as the lady who hiked up her long skirts and tramped through the fields and wetlands in search of rare plants. Women were not at that time invited to be members of the New England Botanical Club, so when she had an identification question, she sent her plants to men who were members. Her letters were often published in the club’s publication, “Rhodora”. All of her 630 pressed specimens, most from Westford, were donated to the Gray Herbarium at Harvard University at her death in 1923.

Emily Fletcher reported in a 1911 entry to the “Rhodora” that she had found “a rare grass, Juncus pelocarpus, which occurs only on the bottom of the middle of Grassy Pond when it is dry”. She also reported Rhexia virginica also known as Virginia meadowbeauty. When I read this report in 1984, I hadn’t realized that Grassy Pond ever dried up. Since then, I have found that the pond does almost dry up occasionally, and therefore is classified as a vernal pool. In the 22 years in which I have been searching for this plant, however, Grassy Pond was never dry in the middle. This year, eureka! The pond is completely dry and one can walk right out to the middle. We walked out there recently and found a plant that looked a lot like Juncus pelocarpus as illustrated in my Gleason and Cronquist  Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. I took multiple photos and sent them to Arthur Haines of the New England Wildflower Society. Mr. Haines, who is the author of Flora Novae Angliae confirmed that the plant is, indeed, Juncus pelocarpus. He told me that it is actually a rush, not a grass, and that it is also known as Brown-fruited Rush. He said that it is not on the state list of rare plants, but is uncommon, due to the fact that it only grows in seasonal wetlands. The also uncommon Virginia Meadowbeauty is much easier to identify, and my Peterson’s Field Guide to Wildflowers was all I needed for that. Its a beautiful, startlingly bright pink mass of flowers blooming at Grassy Pond’s margin.

Emily Fletcher was an important contributor to the publication Flora of Middlesex County. At the time of her death at the age of 78, she was movingly recognized by members of the Botanical Club. You can find out more about Emily Fletcher by reading companion papers titled “Emily Frances Fletcher” written by Jean Downy and Marian Harman in 1994. It is available at the Fletcher Library.

After twenty-two years of searching, I am delighted to find that these plants have survived at least 105 years at Grassy Pond, and are now appearing again to have their day in the sun. I like to think that Emily Fletcher would be delighted to see that they are still flourishing. Go see them before the fall rains cover them again! read more…

August 2016 – Wildlife Watch

Brown-fruited Rush_Marian Harman copy
Brown-Fruited Rush by Marina Harman

Westford Wildlife by Marian Harman

Probably you are discouraged by the severe drought we are having in the northeast. It’s hard on our yards and gardens, and especially hard on wildlife, which need extra water put out at our bird feeders to survive. But there is one very big upside of the drought from my point of view. I have found two plants that I have been looking for since 1994. I have recently rediscovered two plants first described in 1911 by the highly respected Westford botanist, Miss Emily Fletcher. Emily Fletcher was known about town as the lady who hiked up her long skirts and tramped through the fields and wetlands in search of rare plants. Women were not at that time invited to be members of the New England Botanical Club, so when she had an identification question, she sent her plants to men who were members. Her letters were often published in the club’s publication, “Rhodora”. All of her 630 pressed specimens, most from Westford, were donated to the Gray Herbarium at Harvard University at her death in 1923.

Emily Fletcher reported in a 1911 entry to the “Rhodora” that she had found “a rare grass, Juncus pelocarpus, which occurs only on the bottom of the middle of Grassy Pond when it is dry”. She also reported Rhexia virginica also known as Virginia meadowbeauty. When I read this report in 1984, I hadn’t realized that Grassy Pond ever dried up. Since then, I have found that the pond does almost dry up occasionally, and therefore is classified as a vernal pool. In the 22 years in which I have been searching for this plant, however, Grassy Pond was never dry in the middle. This year, eureka! The pond is completely dry and one can walk right out to the middle. We walked out there recently and found a plant that looked a lot like Juncus pelocarpus as illustrated in my Gleason and Cronquist  Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. I took multiple photos and sent them to Arthur Haines of the New England Wildflower Society. Mr. Haines, who is the author of Flora Novae Angliae confirmed that the plant is, indeed, Juncus pelocarpus. He told me that it is actually a rush, not a grass, and that it is also known as Brown-fruited Rush. He said that it is not on the state list of rare plants, but is uncommon, due to the fact that it only grows in seasonal wetlands. The also uncommon Virginia Meadowbeauty is much easier to identify, and my Peterson’s Field Guide to Wildflowers was all I needed for that. Its a beautiful, startlingly bright pink mass of flowers blooming at Grassy Pond’s margin.

Emily Fletcher was an important contributor to the publication Flora of Middlesex County. At the time of her death at the age of 78, she was movingly recognized by members of the Botanical Club. You can find out more about Emily Fletcher by reading companion papers titled “Emily Frances Fletcher” written by Jean Downy and Marian Harman in 1994. It is available at the Fletcher Library.

After twenty-two years of searching, I am delighted to find that these plants have survived at least 105 years at Grassy Pond, and are now appearing again to have their day in the sun. I like to think that Emily Fletcher would be delighted to see that they are still flourishing. Go to see them before the fall rains cover them again!

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Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of August. Please send reports by August 26 for publication 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.

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Late July Reports:

Dot Mooney, at Howard Rd. July 21, so many very small painted turtles in water, hugging the arrowhead leaves. Small water snake, about 15 inches long. They get to be about 30 inches long, quite sturdy and grow darker with age. They look scary but are non-venomous and should not be harmed. A second snake soon appeared near the first one. This water is going down fast, more mud stretches. Monadnock Dr., July 22, three tom turkeys poking around. July 23, female red-bellied woodpecker visiting empty feeder by woods. I filled it and it was instantly visited by a goldfinch, chickadee, titmouse and house finch. They are a bit like us. We all have our own regular food, but its fun to go out to dinner. A pair of blue jays teaching three noisy youngsters how to use the feeder. July 24, rabbit scampering along edge of grass, red-eyed vireo singing in woods, several house finches on bird bath. Red-bellied, hairy and downy woodpeckers often on suet. July 25, bird bath getting busier, just saw a downy there. I rarely see a woodpecker in for a drink. July 26, at Howard Rd. wetland, numerous really small painted turtles. I noticed an animal moving through the dense foliage, a mink. A nice surprise. Many white water lilies blooming. At Monadnock Dr. July 29, small cooper’s hawk on back lawn. He lifted something up and took it into the woods. July 31, three blue jays on bird bath at once. A downy quickly hopped on after them. Two white-breasted nuthatches on deck together, busy checking tiny spaces between boards. Goldfinches regularly visit my pots of zinnias and coneflowers, nipping seed heads apart. Some scattered dove feathers on the ground out front suggest a sad end.

Sue Bonner, Plain Rd. July 25, a bobcat seen in the conservation land between our house and Almeria Circle.  A coyote appeared across street, headed onto our property. Two coyotes seen on Plain Rd. earlier. Two yearlings and one adult ground hog frequent our deck to prune my hibiscus and giant zinnias in a pot. Chipmunks and squirrels also eating hibiscus leaves and blooms. “It is a tough summer for all of us.” We feed birds with mixed seed, black oil sunflower seed and suet and enjoy watching the mom sparrows feed the fledglings as they perch on the shepherd’s crook. We also provide a large saucer of water on the deck for birds, squirrels and chipmunks, and another larger container of water on our stone wall. We have cardinals, blue jays, goldfinches, red-winged blackbird, mourning doves, starlings and grackles.

Marian and Bill Harman, at Grassy Pond, July 25, plants seen: Virginia meadowbeauty, Carex scoparia (a sedge), lance-leaved goldenrod, toad rush, a bulrush, twig rush, Juncus pelocarpus.

August Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. August 1, a male goldfinch spent an extended time splashing, fluttering and drinking in the birdbath. House finches and chipping sparrows are often on the feeder by the woods. August 4, a young hairy woodpecker likes to stay on the suet a long time. Little downies get very annoyed with him hogging the suet. Perky little red squirrel by front woods. Little hummer on the porch, not interested in my flowers. August 6, I’m seeing more birds arrive for little sips of water and then quickly leave. This drought is getting worse. I set out a second dish of water. August 7, the pair of cardinals has become a family and are in and out of the feeder. Various bees also drink at the bird bath. Beautiful red-tailed hawk over the back woods. August 11, being an early riser, I can listen to the summer night insect sounds briefly before they begin to fade. Before the sun rose today, a robin was very loudly annoyed at something out in the woods. I guess we all have some drama in our lives. Chickadee and titmouse visiting suet, along with various woodpeckers. August 20, my feeder was empty for a few days but a friend filled it for me. There were many little birds sitting in the bushes nearby and could not wait to get to the seed, making noise as they waited. “When I rose very early this pleasant morning the night insects could still be heard. These familiar soft sounds usher in the late summer season, just as the peepers usher in spring”.

Marian/Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. August 1 at Grassy Pond, cowwheat, a magnolia turning bright orange already, marsh St. Johnswort, yellow-eyed grass, Canadian St. Johnswort. August 4. A mockingbird doing a long imitation of a whippoorwill. I wonder where he picked that up? “Our red squirrel has a clever way of getting seed from our “squirrel proof” feeder. He puts both back feet on the side of the feeder, then leans most of his weight on his left arm which pushes the bar down and closes the feeder. Then he does a little hop up and down which releases a few seeds. These he scoops up with his right paw and puts in his mouth. Such a clever animal, we can’t be angry with him. August 24, screech owl calling from our woods tonight.

Kate Phaneuf, Drawbridge Rd. August 6, one lone turkey pecking at a shiny black car on Providence Rd. Dead water snake on Drawbridge Rd. and a dead garter snake in the woods. The beaver pond is pretty much gone now. The beavers were trapped and moved.

Carol Engel, Lowell Rd. August 7, large baby cowbird being fed by a tiny adult sparrow.

Kate Hollister/Peter Mahler, Vinebrook Rd. August 7, snowshoe hare seen between Trailside Way and the pond, also saw barred owl. August 10, garter snakes, water snakes, green frog, catbirds at Kennedy Pond. Female whiteface dragonfly (Leucorrhinia sp) near Vine Brook. “The new growth on all the small pines trees on the Emmet Conservation land is dying. Many of them won’t survive the drought.”

Ginger Dries, Sherwood Dr. August 9, Mama turkey here every morning for last three days. August 15, rose-breasted grosbeak. Our hummingbird feeders are very busy, and the woodpeckers and a chickadee are using it now too. Two rabbits come every morning and evening. A cooper’s hawk visits and sits on birdbath, porch or feeder. Three to four pair of cardinals here with jays, finches, doves, titmice, chickadees, sparrows.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. August 14, twenty-three visiting wild turkeys. Saw a bobcat across the street last night, chasing something. August 16, purple, house and goldfinches, two pairs of cardinals with one juvenile, house sparrows, doves, two blue jays, up to six grackles. The grackles toss out the seeds they don’t like, which brings the squirrels and chipmunks to clean it up. Downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker at feeder with a juvenile. A young pileated woodpecker here for a few days, chickadees, tufted titmouse, nuthatch, one lone male red-winged blackbird, hawk flying overhead. About three hummingbirds, very territorial. “One night they were almost battling in the air.” During the hot weather I had to fill the feeder almost every day. Birds, squirrels turkeys all drink from the bird bath. I put another dish on the ground. Coyotes calling to each other one night. Many chipmunks. They come on the deck and try to get our tomatoes, also eating my hostas. Many gray squirrels chasing each other, one red squirrel. Two hen turkeys with little ones (about 12 at first, now down to four). Hungry bunny ate all my hibiscus plant flowers and buds and tops of other blooming annuals. Garter snake by rock wall, wasp nest in gutter. Little black ants, a few bees. Squirrels climb our two very small mountain ash trees and nibble on the last set of leaves. Chunks of oak leaves on the lawn as well. My tall Rose of Sharon bush has many buds missing. Tops of smaller trees are dry, some turning color and dropping leaves already, brook almost completely dry. Bittersweet is still growing and encircling bushes and trees. If people would only check their areas and cut it down. It is so destructive.

Rick Ferry, Tenney Rd. August 10, I video’d a downy woodpecker sharing a hummingbird feeder with a hummingbird [Rick sent a great video of this unusual behavior-MH]. Our pond is very dry. All the birds are thirsty and looking to wash. Our birdbath which Sue fills daily gets a lot of action.

Peggy Bennett at Lake Nabnasset. August 10, while in a kayak, I saw a bald eagle flying past Edwards Beach going to Shipley Swamp and landing. At Nabnasset St., a raccoon comes to the bird feeder regularly.

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. August 26, Canada geese, two female turkeys with ten poults, chipping sparrows, two blue herons flying over yard (to the great excitement of the turkeys), woodchuck, skunks, bats, walking stick on the screen.

 

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

 

Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman

Marian’s Wildlife Watch Blog

Grey Catbird_Doug Pederson
Grey Catbird – Doug Pederson

How are the birds doing in North America?

To answer that question, the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, a consortium of forty conservation organizations and government agencies has just published an important new document titled “The State of North America’s Birds”. More than 350 species of our migratory birds, such as the gray catbird, Baltimore oriole, and the wood thrush pass between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. The report combined citizen science bird data, collected on platforms such as e-Bird, to come up with the 2016 status report on the birds of all three countries, a total of 1,154 species.

The reports’ findings are alarming. It placed 37% of North American birds on a Watch List for Species in Urgent Need of Conservation. For some habitats birds are even more imperiled.  For instance, 57% of ocean birds are on the Watch List. Birds of tropical forests, coasts, arid lands and grasslands are also in steep decline. For these habitats, up to 56% of bird species are in decline. In other habitats, such as temperate forests, tundra, wetlands, and boreal forests, up to 27% of bird species are on the Watch List. Westford is a temperate forest habitat, but our migratory birds spend the winter in the tropical forest.  read more….

July 2016 – Wildlife Watch

Grey Catbird_Doug Pederson
Grey Catbird – Doug Pederson

How are the birds doing in North America?

To answer that question, the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, a consortium of forty conservation organizations and government agencies has just published an important new document titled “The State of North America’s Birds”. More than 350 species of our migratory birds, such as the gray catbird, Baltimore oriole, and the wood thrush pass between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. The report combined citizen science bird data, collected on platforms such as e-Bird, to come up with the 2016 status report on the birds of all three countries, a total of 1,154 species.

The reports’ findings are alarming. It placed 37% of North American birds on a Watch List for Species in Urgent Need of Conservation. For some habitats birds are even more imperiled.  For instance, 57% of ocean birds are on the Watch List. Birds of tropical forests, coasts, arid lands and grasslands are also in steep decline. For these habitats, up to 56% of bird species are in decline. In other habitats, such as temperate forests, tundra, wetlands, and boreal forests, up to 27% of bird species are on the Watch List. Westford is a temperate forest habitat, but our migratory birds spend the winter in the tropical forest.

One hundred years ago, Canada, Mexico and the US signed the Migratory Bird Treaty in order to protect our shared heritage in birds. Now on the centennial of this treaty, we need to step up our cooperation to protect bird habitat. Keeping oceans clean and free of plastic waste, doing what we can to slow and stop global warming, and especially protecting breeding and wintering habitat for birds, will all be required. As consumers, we can add to citizen science data by watching birds and logging our bird sightings in on e-Bird. We can stop using plastic bags, buy bird-friendly shade-grown coffee, and vote to protect open space. What’s good for birds is also good for our own survival.

David Moon, Sanctuary Director of Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center, puts it this way, ” It might be good to reflect on why it is important to go out to see birds. It’s a matter of paying attention and spending time on something of great value. Your attention and your time are valuable…. you spend the hours and the perception you can afford, to the beautiful and important creatures that arose from the dinosaurs to grace our world. If they thrive we will thrive, and because as an entire population we don’t know well enough how to live with the earth, some of us must invest part of our lives watching the creatures that tell us how the world is faring and reminding us how precious it is. Watch birds as much as you can, whether alone, with your dog, with others who share your love of them, or best of all with others who will learn to love them. Our attention and the actions it engenders have saved, protected and restored so many acres, so many lives. ”

To see the full State of the Birds report, go to www.stateofthebirds.org.

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of July. Please send reports by August 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.

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Late June Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. June 21, two hairy woodpeckers, one downy on suet, blue jays, male rose-breasted grosbeak on feeder. June 22, hairy woodpecker feeding a youngster, two doves on deck, one a juvenile. June 23, at Howard Rd. wetland, purple loostrife blooming, warbling vireo, duckling, all alone, darted quickly into arrowhead. Other arrowheads being tugged down into water, and saw a six-inch painted turtle doing the tugging. At least three more turtles swimming in same area. June 27, eight doves eating seeds. June 29, three young downies at suet. June 30, little house wren chattering in back woods. At Beaver Brook Rd., one greyish baby swan with parents now. White water lilies, pickerelweed, swamp milkweed blooming, a buttonbush coming up. Heard a warbling vireo. By wetland on Howard Rd, at least five turtles popped heads up here and there, a great blue heron moving at far edge of cattails. Also saw chicken — someone’s hen out for a walk!

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. June 27, spotted turtle next to our garage and then on to lawn.

Marian/Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. At Grassy Pond, June 29, area around pond is a bog. It has sphagnum moss, sundews, common pipewort. At home, baby cardinal being fed by father. A walk at Grassy Pond: water almost all dried up- a lingering tiny pool with a great blue heron hunting in it, and white pond lillies wilting. About 2/3 from the edge the land turns boggy with sphagnum moss and many sundws Around the path the mountain laurel has just finished blooming, many grasses, sedges and rushes in the pond. Birds seen or heard: cardinal, mourning dove, chipping sparrow, crow family, catbird, chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, blue jay, downy woodpecker, titmouse. Also deer flies, grey and red squirrels, chipmunks.

July Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. July 1, “One bat fluttered by around dusk. A house wren had been chattering til’ sunset, then he turned it over to a robin. Soft breeze catching the aspen leaves, a lovely summer evening.” July 2, house finches trying to find some seed for begging babies. Handsome male grosbeak a frequent visitor. July 5, three turkey vultures overhead. fragrant common milkweed in bloom along back lawn. Red-tailed hawk over woods. July 9, visiting feeder by edge of woods, three titmice, chickadees, chipping sparrows, cardinals, blue jays, several dove on ground. Suet basket always popular with all woodpeckers, other small birds and blue jays. July 12, still dark at 4:45 a.m., cardinal and catbird already singing cheerfully in woods. At Howard Rd. wetlands, mid afternoon, lots of arrowhead bent over into water, and numerous little painted turtles sunning themselves on large arrowhead leaves. They were less than 4 inches long, and were everywhere. Purple loostrife in water, fragrant swamp honeysuckle blooming at water’s edge–no chicken today. July 13, A catbird’s random chatter became serous “mews” for awhile, then back to chatter. Poor Grassy Pond! Its so dry, its hard to picture myself walking around the pond and watching a cormorant sit on rocks in the center of the water. July 14, lovely doe walking in grass, 5:30 am. Family of blue jays around, several noisy youngsters pursuing parents. A squirrel shakes its fists at the feeder, then returns to try again. Five turkeys on ground under feeder. July 15, two deer in their soft, reddish-brown coats, one a doe, one a four-point buck in new antlers still velvet-covered. They seem shiny and healthy, sharing a pleasant moment in the wildflowers. July 16, one bat darting over lawn doing his job at 4:50 a.m. Two white-breasted nuthatches seem to be having a discussion. Feeder busy all day. July 17, back woods full of morning bird song. A wood thrush has added his voice for awhile. Evening, seven doves on ground. July 18, little family of chipping sparrows out front busy on ground, waiting to get on feeder. July 20, heads on sumac bushes showing more color….in the end they will all be beautiful. Chatty catbird nearby. “All of the birds sound as cheerful as can be on this lovely summer morning. I guess we all feel the same way.”

Doug Pederson, Woodland Dr. July 4, common yellowthroat warbler, cat bird, turkey vulture, black-billed cuckoo in Harvard at Oxbow refuge.  Lovely cooper’s hawk on tree in yard.

Kate Phaneuf, Drawbridge Rd. July 5, hawk (I think a broad-winged hawk) sitting on top of chimney cap, scanning. On Rt. 110 near post office, a killdeer running around in the grass. Possible raven soaring over Cornerstone Square area.  A little rabbit often visits in yard, nibbles at the moss.

Marian/Bill Harman, walk on Rome Drive. July 4, scarlet tanager singing, wood thrush singing. July 7, three great-spangled fritillaries on the bee balm. July 8, saint johnswort, milkweeds, walnut tree, norway maple, white pine, virginia creeper, grass pink, daisy fleabane. July 10, walk on trail near Blake’s Hill Rd., wood thrush, robins, chipping sparrow, Indian cucumber, common yellowthroat, song sparrow, red-winged blackbirds, chickadees, house finch, wild indigo, white-tailed deer, dogbane, parula warbler, mourning dove, chimney swift, tree swallows, pileated woodpecker, catbird, goldenrod, honeysuckle, bush honeysuckle, St. johnswort, sweet fern, pussy toes, red cover, four great blue herons in marsh, oriole family, red squirrel, scarlet tanager, great-crested flycatcher, sassafras trees, blue-headed vireo, seven heron nests, two have birds on them, two adult herons, one juvenile, kingfisher, cowbird, bracken fern, mosses, wild strawberry, red-eyed vireo, butte and eggs, two barn swallows. July 12, male rose-breasted grosbeak on the feeder.

Marilyn Day, Graniteville Rd. July 9, red squirrels cutting off tips of our spruce trees [to get the cones which were attached-MH]. Female and juvenile rose-breasted grosbeaks are constant visitors. I haven’t seen the male since June.

Flavio Fernandes, Vineyard Rd. July 13, two red-tailed hawks on deck railing, one drinking water from a container and calling parents.

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. July 24, my vegetable garden has been completely devoured. July sightings: mallards, turkey with no tail, woodchuck, Baltimore oriole, crow, yellow warbler, cottontails, turkey vultures, rose-breasted grosbeaks.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. July report: lots of fledglings–fun to watch them begging for food and trying to fly to feeders. Two pairs of cardinals, two juveniles. chickadee, tufted titmouse, two blue jays, female downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, one young pileated woodpecker pecking away at a hollow tree in the woods. July 3, my first Baltimore oriole at feeder, several cowbirds, six grackles, six doves, group of red-winged blackbirds, males, females, juveniles. Male and female hummingbirds at two feeders. They are territorial and will chase one another off. I have to fill feeders almost every day. When I took the feeder down to fill, two hummers were at the window, looking inside for food. Bird bath is constantly in use. I put an extra dish on the ground. The birds need the water. Two mama turkeys with 8 and 12 little ones. Six gray squirrels, one or two red squirrels, chipmunks, garter snake, several rabbits, heard group of coyotes howling one night, nest of wasps in gutter.

Marian Harman, director emeritus, is a member of the Westford Conservation Trust, a non-profit conservation organization, whose purpose is the protection of open spaces and trails.

 

June 2016 Wildlife Watch – Marian Harman

Chipmunk_Doug PedersonLast fall was a huge “mast” year in Westford. In other words, there were a lot of acorns on the ground. We predicted that there would be a lot of chipmunks this spring as a result of the abundant food source, and that prediction has certainly been realized. “Lots of chipmunks” would be an understatement. Lynn Warren writes about chipmunks in her article “More Than Cute” for the May-June, 2016 edition of National Wildlife magazine. Warren reports some new research on chipmunks done by Charline Couchoux at the University of Quebec. Couchoux wanted to know how chipmunks communicate with each other.

Couchoux captured and collared twenty-one chipmunks with tiny sound recorders. Each day she recaptured her subjects and downloaded their soundtracks. Using this method, she was able to record three times as many vocalizations as had been previously recorded. For instance, she learned that high-pitched chips signal predators approaching from the ground, while low-pitched chucks signal predators approaching from the air. She recorded vocalizations between neighbors and between mothers and young. Chipmunks live together in high-density family groupings of up to thirty individuals per acre, though each lives alone and doesn’t share his or her food supply.

Chipmunk burrows are excavations that extend 18 to 36 inches below the surface, and may reach 30 feet in length. Their digging habits are good for the environment as they aerate soil and distribute microorganisms. In winter they gather acorns, nuts and seeds to store in their burrows. They may stockpile up to eight pounds of food for one winter. In winter, they enter a state called “torpor” in which their metabolism slows. Torpor reduces their need for nutrition. They are not in true hibernation however, and do rouse themselves to eat periodically.

Chipmunks’ communications are essential for life and death decisions. Each chipmunk has a unique personality and may react differently when faced with the same situation. Some are easily startled and may not be deemed to be reliable communicators by the others. Others are calm and bold, and their communications are taken seriously by the others. Couchoux states, “Chipmunks are amazing….They’re not the simple animals people think they are.”

Of course, sometimes chipmunks may make holes in your garden where they are not wanted. Some hints for dissuading them from making homes where you don’t want them include, surrounding garden beds with edgings of paving stones or gravel, planting some unappetizing plants such as daffodils, grape hyacinth and fritillaria among your other garden plants, and installing noisy wind chimes or fluttering garden flags. You can also try cooking up a concoction of crushed garlic and chopped chili pepper steeped in hot water, straining the mixture and then adding a few drops of vegetable oil. This you can apply with a spray bottle to your plants. Chipmunks and other rodents don’t like it.

But if you can’t beat ’em, enjoy them. They’re smart and funny creatures, and if we don’t have another banner mast year this fall, there will be far fewer chipmunks next spring.

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

 

Late May Reports:

Rob Morrison, Kelly Rd. Bobcat seen from time to time.

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. May 22, wood thrush singing in back woods, hairy woodpecker on suet. May 23, red-eyed vireo singing, male bluebird on railing checking out an old nesting box under the deck. May 24, pair of bluebirds around deck. Red-tailed hawk scared a dove; she flew hard against the glass slider but was unhurt. May 26, wood thrush and red-eyed vireo both sing in woods every day. Heard several coyotes calling near back of building late at night. May 27, house wren chattering by edge of woods. May 30, six doves, pair of blue jays in and out, downies always regulars on suet.

Dick Coleman, at Powers Rd. May 25, small red fox walking in road, looked like a pup.  April and May, a great blue heron passes overhead early every evening, headed to the SE. “With amazing precision it relieves itself directly on my neighbor’s brand new Toyota Camry. Exactly the same flight path, same location, same time every day. This guy is good…”

 

June Reports:

Ginger Dries, Sherwood Dr. June report, family of wrens raised in nesting box. They seem to be starting a new brood in the second box. At the feeder, rose-breasted grosbeak, red-winged blackbirds. A pair of catbirds was building a nest in the azalea bush by house, and worked very hard on it. But, then they abandoned it, perhaps because squirrels and chipmunks were getting up there. June 24, a bear got my feeders. They were bent over, and one was apparently dragged into the woods. I’m back in business now, but I’ll try taking in the feeders at night.

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr.. June 1, under Parkhurst Dr. power lines, heard house wren, prairie warbler, blue jay, song sparrow and chestnut-sided warbler. June 2, pair of redtails and sometimes a broad-winged hawk often gliding over woods–impressive.  June 3, on Forge Pond side of Beaver Brook, a  pair of mute swans and their four fluffy babies, close to green plants in water. One great blue heron on other side of road. At Howard Rd. wetland, chipping sparrow, red-winged blackbirds and warbling vireo. Some yellow pond lilies popping up, blue toadflax near road. During the day, my suet visited by downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers. June 4, saw a little chipping sparrow moving slowly through wet grass in the morning. He was fluttering his feathers as he went, then shaking them, and repeating this for at least a minute. It became obvious that he was taking a bath–clever. Male rose-breasted grosbeak, male cardinal and a blue jay on the deck at the same time–beautiful colors. June 7, two chickadees busy in front shrubs, two downies squabbling over suet, as usual, pair of chipping sparrows busy by front walk, two titmice around, tree swallows overhead. June 11, robins singing at 4:30 a.m. Early afternoon, female hairy woodpecker feeding suet to her nervous male baby, whose white feathers are so bright and clean. Male downy showing his youngster how to eat suet, but not feeding him. This day I had seen 19 different kinds of birds, just looking out my windows: robin, tree swallow, great blue heron, red-eyed vireo, white-breasted nuthatch, chickadee, cardinal, house finch, blue jay, cowbird, dove, titmouse, goldfinch, chipping sparrow, red-tailed hawk, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, grackle, turkey. June 14, male and female rose-breasted grosbeaks on feeder together, catbird calling, family of house finches around. June 16, fish crows around store parking lots on Rt. 110. June 17, at wetlands on Howard Rd., red-winged blackbirds, chipping sparrow, warbling vireo, several bullfrogs calling. Growing nearby was common St. John’s-wort, evening primrose, blue toadflax and bittersweet nightshade. I noticed a hole in the ground surrounded by remains of turtle eggs. These were perhaps dug out by a predator. By the water on Beaver Brook Rd., heard catbird and warbling vireo. Swan family was on pond side, more turtle nests that had been dug out, eggshells scattered around. Under power lines on Parkhurst Rd., towhee, prairie warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, catbird, chipping sparrow and an extremely talented mockingbird. Saw English plantain, white yarrow, evening primrose and lots of multi-flora rose.  At home in the back woods, northern catalpa tree is covered with bright white blossoms. June 18, a downy and a hairy woodpecker right beside each other on railing, showing me that the little downy is only half the size of the hairy. Catbird calling from sumacs, daisy fleabane blooming near woods. June 20, three blue jays at feeders. These flashy birds provide an effective alarm system for other birds. Dove walking around in center of birdbath, then standing quietly in water for over a minute, enjoying the moment. Several grackles around the feeder. These birds’ tails have the same wedge shape as ravens. July 25, at Vose Rd., common St. Johnswort, spiderwort, white yarrow, spreading dogbane, brown-eyed susan, common milkweed, blue vetch, various goldenrods. A very chatty warbling vireo and common yellowthroat. “Summer is a splendid season.”

John Piekos, Dunstable Rd. June 3, “I decided to buy another trail camera with the goal of capturing a bobcat….the camera was only out one week and the very first photo on it was a bobcat, possibly pregnant.”

Doug Pederson, at Forge Pond. June 3, four baby swans with their parents, one getting a free ride on top. Also, three turkey vultures in an air show with an osprey and a red-tailed hawk, other birds chasing, and a mother mallard. June 6, at Forge Pond, June 6, red-winged blackbirds bothering a blue heron. Mother wood duck and babies, swans with only three babies left. Two blue herons flew towards me at the Forge Pond bridge.

______ Dave Coleman, at Tyngsboro Rd. June 6, pair of Canada geese with seven large goslings slowly crossing the road from Flushing Pond.

Andrew Bourget, Chamberlain Rd. June 6, bobcat at my neighbor’s house on Hunt Rd. (momma and two cubs). A few weeks ago, the bobcat strolled through our yard and crossed the road. Bald eagle on Drawbridge Rd. Barred owl on Lowell Rd. a few weeks ago, late morning.

Marian/Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. June 10, mom turkey and ten babies in yard. June 23, juvenile red-bellied woodpecker chased a catbird off the suet. Lots of baby birds about, especially house sparrows, and titmice and downy woodpeckers. A red-tailed hawk swooped under the feeder for something, but missed. Two red squirrels in the yard, very vocal, baby bunnies in the yard. June 25, mom turkey only has seven babies now.

Barbara Theriault, Tadmuck Lane. June 11, cowbird, red-bellied woodpecker, blue jays, titmice, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, cardinals, robins, house finch. June 13, bobcat sitting on the steps to the back yard between two planters, like a house cat! Also, chipmunks, hummingbird.

Kate Phaneuf, Drawbridge Rd. June 12, I am overrun by chipmunks, so have not been putting out any more seed. One great blue heron has been returning daily to the beaver pond. A very small rabbit hanging out in a small wild strawberry patch next to the house.  On Palace Rd. between Providence and Tadmuck, saw a white turkey out for a stroll with eight to ten poults. I heard that white turkeys are most often female.

Cori Ryan, Stony Brook Rd. June 17, Grassy Pond is almost a mudflat now. You may wish to look for the rare grass. There was a sad looking heron there this morning.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. June report: Two pairs of blue jays, four to six mourning doves, chickadees, tufted titmouse, nuthatch, six grackles, two pairs of cardinals, one has a bit of balding. Four to six goldfinches, purple finch, house finches, two robins, male, female and juvenile red-winged blackbirds. One has a good time splashing in the birdbath. Pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks. They seem to like the cardinal seeds, several types of sparrows, heard hawk overhead, two to four turkeys, one partially white. A pair of turkeys fighting, and one watching. Mama turkey with thirteen little ones following closely behind, another mama with only three little ones. Squirrels, chipmunks, two rabbits, about eight chipmunks, heard a coyote howling one night. Two garter snakes, one snakeskin.

Ginger Dries, Sherwood Dr. June 24,

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