Happy New Year! At this time of year, I like to review all the flora and fauna reports for the past year. In 2017, we had 32 reporters, who sent in 1294 reports on flora and fauna they had seen. This is a smaller number of reporters than in the past few years, but these few stalwart reporters reported a very large number of species. Reporters reported from all over different parts of Westford.
Some notable reports were received in every month. In January, some cowbirds were reported to have been in residence all winter along Hildreth St. Bluebirds were visiting feeders all over town. In February, two pairs of hooded mergansers were reported on Forge Pond. A river otter was also seen fishing at the Forge Pond beach. The first woodcocks arrived early at Almeria Dr. on February 24. In March, peepers were heard on March 1. A river otter was seen on Vine Brook. On March 6, a great blue heron visited a yard on Howard Rd read more…
Can there be any doubt now that climate change is affecting the United States dramatically? Its effects are felt strongly in the number and intensity of hurricanes forming in the Atlantic and hitting Texas, Florida, the Caribbean, and Puerto Rico. The number and severity of these hurricanes come about as a result of the warming of sea temperatures. Climate change is also seen in shifts in species populations seen right here in Westford.
There have been shifts in several bird species that are probably due to climate change. In the past fifty years, several species of “southern” birds have come north into New England. Among these are the Northern Cardinal, the Tufted Titmouse, Northern Mockingbird, and most recently, the Carolina Wren and the Red-bellied Woodpecker. All of these species are still seen in the south, but they have expanded their ranges into New England. This is probably in response to our less severe average winter temperatures. Some birds, such as the American Robin and the Eastern Bluebird, which used to be migratory, are now year-round residents. These species are able to shift their diet from insects and worms in the summer to berries in the winter. These are all native species that are welcome here.
But some effects of climate change on species are not so welcome….Continue reading
Now that fall is here, have you got your bird feeders up and running again? Or maybe you feed birds all summer long. In either case, its both personally gratifying and valuable to science to keep records of the birds you see at your feeders and in your yard. We hope you will send your records to Westford Wildlife Watch of course, and also you may enjoy joining Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Project Feeder Watch. If you join the approximately 300 Massachusetts residents who are already Project Feeder Watch reporters, you can send in your reports online, see what other reporters are observing, and help out the cause of citizen science.
Checking the Feeder Watch website, one can see the birds which were reported from all states and years. For the Massachusetts 2016-2017 season, we can see that 90 species of birds were reported. Most common birds reported were the usual suspects, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Blue Jay, Dark-eyed Junco, Downy Woodpecker, Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal and White-breasted Nuthatch. These resident birds were reported in 80-90% of sites during the entire season. Some of these birds, such as Blue Jay and Black-capped Chickadee represent a welcome come-back from West Nile virus which ravaged their populations a few years ago. American Crow, that was hit hardest by the virus, has had a much slower come-back, and is still only seen at about 25% of sites.
Some statistics are surprising. For instance, read more…
Do you have a large glass window or slider at your house? If so, chances are you have seen a bird strike that glass at some time. If the bird is lucky, it will just stun itself, perhaps need a few minutes to “come to” and then fly off. Sometimes, though, the bird is killed by the window strike. Living Bird, a publication of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, reported on this problem in an article titled “Glass Action for Birds”, in its winter 2014 edition. It has been estimated that up to a billion birds are killed each year by window collisions in the United States alone.
Scott Loss of Oklahoma State University has done bird strike research for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He found, surprisingly, that the majority of annual bird deaths occur at residential and low-rise structures. The average family residence kills one to three birds a year. Loss found that six species seem to die of glass strikes most commonly: Ruby-throated hummingbirds, brown creepers, ovenbirds, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, gray catbirds, and black and white warblers. It seems that these long-distance migrants may be less familiar with the structures in areas they pass through on migration. I notice that at my house, however, the birds mostly likely to strike the glass are mourning doves, downy woodpeckers, chickadees and titmice. It seems that they do this when they are flying in panic to avoid a hawk predator. read more….
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.” read more…