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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

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

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.

October 2016 – Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman

As fall and winter approach, birders are thinking about keeping our birds fed in the cold weather. Many bird lovers in Westford note down the different species and numbers we see, and many of you report your findings to Westford Wildlife Watch, so that we can all read and enjoy them. An additional way to do feeder watching systematically is to join the Project Feeder Watch program sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The Lab compiles all reports and comes out with a yearly summary. This just released 2016 summary, named “Winter Bird Highlights”, reports on how our birds fared last winter.

In the northeast region, of which Westford is a part, Cornell lists the top twenty-five feeder birds reported by 6,498 reporters, during the winter of 2016. The top bird reported was the black-capped chickadee with 97% of all sites reporting an average flock size of three birds. For many years, the top bird reported was dark-eyed junco. Last winter, juncos were still plentiful and achieved second place status of 94% of sites reporting average flocks of four. Following these top two birds, were downy woodpecker, mourning dove, blue jay, northern cardinal, American goldfinch, white-breasted nuthatch, house finch and American robin, in the top ten spots. Northern cardinal, white-breasted nuthatch, red-bellied woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, white-throated sparrow, Carolina wren and cooper’s hawk numbers are on the rise, while common grackle numbers are on the decline.

The rise in American robin numbers is interesting. It appears that many robins are choosing to remain in the northeast during the winter. This is probably due to the climate’s warming trend. Some of the most northerly robins from Canada may come to Westford for their winter vacation, while some of “our” summer robins may travel a bit further south. But robins are no longer the migrators and harbingers of spring they used to be. Robins are able to adapt to our winters because their digestive systems can adapt to changing food sources. Though we often see robins on our lawns in summer, actually their primary diet is insects. Only about 15-20% of the robin’s diet is earthworms. In winter, fruit makes up 90% of their diet. They particularly prize crabapples and berries. Though they don’t often feed at our bird feeders, they do use birdbaths. If the weather is particularly tough, they will eat at or below feeders, particularly enjoying hulled sunflower, fruit (such as raisins) and suet.

If you would like to record your birds on a regular basis, log on to and join Project Feeder Watch. Your observations will add to national citizen science data. I guarantee that such careful watching will bring you surprises; perhaps birds passing through that you wouldn’t have otherwise noticed.  Enjoy feeding the birds this winter, and don’t forget about the winter robins.

Many thanks to all flora/fauna reporters for the month of September. Please send reports by November 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

Late September Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. September 21, a bear took my shepherd’s hook and feeder down and trashed the feeder. Now I bring feeder and suet inside at night, but out early morning. September 23, hung new feeder. It took three titmice ten minutes to arrive. September 24, jays and smaller birds love seed feeder, and two downy woodpeckers spend a lot of time at the suet basket. Many little birds are facing their first migration south. I wish them well. Beaver Brook and Howard Road wetland, little or no water, no wildlife. At power lines in Hildreth Hills, heard several catbirds and blue jays. Pokeweed berries mostly all eaten. Lots of red winterberries, and the wild grapes near edge of road are small, but smell so good. September 25, I had set out two small pumpkins and three colorful squash on front step. It took critters no time to reduce them to chewed-on little heaps. I have settled on a large potted plant to be my fall decoration.

Carol Engel, Lowell Rd. September 22, a flock of crows at the bird feeder. Crows and the resident red-tailed hawk chased each other–so funny to watch.

Marian/Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. September 29, about fifty grackles here under birdfeeder.

October Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. October 3, sat on front step awhile, head a red-bellied woodpecker in distance. Chickadees, titmice, white-breasted nuthatches and goldfinches visiting feeder regularly. Group of goldfinches chattering with each other in a nearby tree. So many beautiful shades of color emerging in sumacs along back lawn. Red-tailed hawk cruising over woods. October 4, five doves under feeder, looking for spills. Four house finches bathing in bird bath on front step at the same time. Early evening a cooper’s hawk swept across front lawn, looking for dinner. Chipping sparrow and several chickadees grabbing some late day seeds. Two blue jays boldly announced their arrival. October 5, stopped by water on Beaver Brook Rd., watched a belted kingfisher perched in a tree. Watched a pair of mallards land in water, saw numerous turtles sunbathing in mud along water edges. Water very low. Stopped at wetland on Howard Rd., found only mud again. Lots of tracks in mud, including deer. Red-bellied woodpecker calling, some plump, reddish-orange bittersweet nightshade berries along edge. October 6, large flock of grackles over the woods. October 7, at Howard Rd., large flock of robins in trees and shrubs. Two crows at top of tallest dead tree, a male cardinal eating nutritious seeds of a ragweed plant. Moved to Beaver Brook Rd. and watched two cormorants swimming close together, a pair of mallards and a great blue heron. Pretty purple-blue New England asters in bloom. October 10, twelve doves under feeder. Saw first junco of this season under feeder with doves. Pair of purple finches on feeder, male beautiful, female distinctive. October 13, two tom turkeys under feeder. Two vocal red-tailed hawks drifting overhead. October 15, three juncos around front shrubs, one bunny nibbling grass, two chickadees bathing at same time. October 19, two white-throated sparrows eating seed, the first I’ve seen this fall. October 22, lots of acorns dropping from nearby oaks, but they are very small–wildlife will have to work hard for a meal. October 23, three downies coming to suet together.  October 26, a nice surprise on this bright fall day–a handsome male oriole on my suet for a while, then left briefly and returned for more. He ate a good amount…maybe passing through from the north. “The sunshine seems more golden in October and everything just looks prettier. Westford is fortunate to have numerous wetlands and these are at their best right now. I always take the long way home just so I can enjoy it all while it lasts.”

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. October 1, Canada geese. October 2, immature great blue heron. I was thrilled until I saw him eat a chipmunk. October 13, first juncos. October 18, bluebirds eating pokeweed berries.

Doug Pederson, at Beaver Brook. October 11, I am still seeing two cormorants at the bridge. Yesterday, one of them came up on the bank and sat for quite a while, then went to the other bank and dried off. Two red-tailed hawks flew into a tree.

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. October 11, just saw my first junco of the season and a small flock of sparrows. Watched a pair of purple finches–female quite distinctive. I cannot help being delighted by the color of the male. Twelve doves on the ground at the same time.

Richard Bowes, October 13, at Long Sought for Pond. Bald eagle at the pond [Richard took a very nice video and stills of the eagle-MH]

Carol Engel, Lowell Rd. October 17, pileated woodpecker in neighbor’s butternut tree two days in a row.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. October 20, a bear visited next door neighbor, neighbor looked at him through the window and the bear walked away. “Pack of coyotes heard in back woods–some distraction during the debate!” Rabbit, gray squirrels chasing each other, chipmunks galore. My usual pair of cardinals and a juvenile, several blue jays, doves, a few grackles, a few chickadees, tufted titmouse, nuthatch, house and purple finches, sparrows (still using bird bath as a bath and drinking fountain).

Gerry DiBello, Court Rd. October 20, bear visited our feeders a few days ago.

Marian/Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. October 21, ten female turkeys in the yard, one very lame on her right foot.

Marilyn Day, Graniteville Rd. October 23, thirty-three turkeys in the yard, one standing in the birdbath, 9:38 a.m.

Sue Thomas, Old Homestead Rd. October 27, eastern screech owl on our pool deck fence this morning–first time I have ever seen one. “I like knowing that our ecosystem is healthy enough to support the top predators even with development and drought encroaching. Four families of turkeys coming through this summer, nine adolescents and three adult hens as of their latest visit, an additional five hens and one adolescent in another group. Giant and fearless coyote often seen in the neighborhood. A mink passed through the woods behind the house this spring. “Much to our delight our organic practices, early bedtimes, minimal lighting, and lack of pets continue to  make our yard a relatively safe place for all sorts of critters, resident and roaming.”

Wildlife Watch, September 2016 by Marian Harman

Marian’s Wildlife Watch Blog

Farmland is disappearing in Massachusetts. In response to open hill-orchard_marian-harmanspace loss, about ten years ago, the Mass Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, developed a continually updated document titled the Smart Growth Tool Kit. The Tool Kit website states, “We are losing agricultural lands and farming opportunities at an alarming rate….over 16,000 acres of open space is developed and lost in Massachusetts each year.” 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.  read more

Westford Wildlife Watch, September 2016 – Marian Harman

Hill Orchard in Westford

Farmland is disappearing in Massachusetts. In response to open space loss, about ten years ago, the Mass Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, developed a continually updated document titled the Smart Growth Tool Kit. The Tool Kit website states, “We are losing agricultural lands and farming opportunities at an alarming rate….over 16,000 acres of open space is developed and lost in Massachusetts each year.” 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.”

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 September. Please send reports by October 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


September Reports:

Marian/Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. September 2, our crabapple tree is drought stressed. It has dropped most of its leaves already and hasn’t produced any apples. September 6, a red squirrel has learned to squeeze through the tiny space between the baffle and the pole at the bird feeder. We have put up a tighter baffle. So far, so good…There was a stand-off between a female house sparrow and a male downy at the suet. They fought for a few minutes and the downy won. September 4, hummingbirds here, but by September 11 they had left. September 21, phoebes still here. September 26, a lovely doe and fawn crossed over Chamberlain Rd. in front of me and into the woods at Francis Hill Rd. The juncos are back! Black walnut tree on Francis Hill Rd. is fruiting. A beautiful big sulphur bracket fungus is on a stump on Francis Hill Rd. We hear a barred owl hooting most days and evenings.

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. September 5, various goldenrods along edge of lawn are struggling to bloom in this long drought. September 6, chickadee and titmouse bathing happily at same time. I have never seen two different species bathing together. Hummingbird feeder has a lot of activity all day. September 9, Howard Rd. wetland dry, just a mud flat now with a scattering of tracks. September 10, three tom turkeys around, doves under feeder. September 11, At Howard Rd., an alder flycatcher in shrubs beside the mudflat. Several chickadees and a red-tailed hawk around. Monadnock Dr., in the evening, chickadees, titmice, chipping sparrow and house finches at bird bath for a few sips. At least six birds, after drinking had a quick bath. They looked like a little assembly line. September 13, by water on Beaver Brook Rd., Doug Pederson and I watched a great blue heron and he photographed a red-tailed hawk. Large family of turkeys on Flagg Rd., youngsters nearly the size of mother. September 18, the large wild honeysuckle thicket at the edge of back lawn is completely covered with grape vine now, a haven for birds. September 20, rhododendron in front still very wet from rain. Watched a chickadee repeatedly and deliberately brushing against the wet leave, then fluttering feathers, taking a bath –clever. Under power lines on Parkhurst Dr., a few talkative catbirds in shrubs and nearby blue jays. Bittersweet vine leaves and berries both yellow now. The many ferns are beautiful gold and rust. Winterberry bush full of red berries. A chipmunk chased another, fiercely defending his little territory. The last remnants of Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod and spotted knapweed still in bloom. The first plants to change color that I notice are poison ivy vines, then more vines and various shrubs begin their beautiful transition, and when they are finished changing, the trees will begin. “Nature just keeps on giving.”

Diane Duane, Howard Rd. September 7, “a yellow sac spider on deck–very cool!” [Diane sent good photo-MH]

Bruce Haraty at Hildreth Heights. September 9, both an adult and an immature coopers hawk hunting behind us, in trees behind feeders, looking to prey on birds.

Kate Phaneuf, at Providence Rd. September 11, two adult female turkeys crossing road, accompanying ten poults of two different ages. One of the females was the white turkey I’ve reported before. Drawbridge Rd., September 22. I think I have had another bear visit. A suet cake, which is hot-pepper flavored was not touched. But a finch sock with niger seed in it was hanging on a branch. The branch was cracked and bent to the ground, and the sock was slit. All seed was gone.

Doug Pederson, on Tyngsboro Rd. near Butterfly Place, September 19, a great egret, and a great blue heron feeding in the water. [Doug sent a photo. We don’t see many great egrets here-MH] September 21, at the town beach, Forge Pond, September 21, cormorant in water. At Beaver Brook bridge, a bald eagle soaring around. September 24, kingfisher, tree sparrow and great blue heron in pond at Tyngsboro Rd. At Forge Pond, an osprey catching fish. At Flushing Pond, three wood ducks perched on a low branch over the pond.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. September 26, we see a small number of goldfinches, many house and purple finches with many young. One or two pairs of cardinals. Blue jays, about two at a time, chickadees, tufted titmouse, nuthatches, grackles, doves, chipping sparrow. Hummingbirds seem to have left in the past two weeks. A hawk flew to a low branch on a pine tree then fluttered towards the bushes. Also, about ten squirrels, numerous chipmunks, bees around the blossoms–happy to see that. Young turkeys which have grown a lot are out by the street where the big oak tree has dropped many acorns. When cars go by and crush them, they are snacking on that. Friends report a red squirrel in a feeder eating a small bird. Coyote howling last night. A blackish colored butterfly on a hanging flower basket in front- Spice bush swallowtail? no camera handy!

Kate Hollister/Peter Mahler, Vinebrook Rd. September 26, muskrat, two young raccoons, ruffed grouse, great blue heron, Canada geese.

Kate Phaneuf, Drawbridge Rd. September 26, a large oak tree that leans towards Tadmuck Brook behind my house is dropping the ends of its many branches all over, clusters of 5-6 leaves with some nuts. The tree must be so dry that its tips aren’t quite getting enough water.