Category Archives: Wildlife Watch

Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – July 2018

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Doug Pederson

Do you enjoy feeding and watching our most beautiful birds the ruby-throated hummingbird? I have been reading a book with my book club titled The Fastest Things on Wings by Terry Masear. She is a Hollywood-based wildlife rehabilitator who works only with hummingbirds. In her fifteen-year career as a hummingbird rehabber, rescuing thousands of hummingbirds, she has learned much about these fascinating birds, but admits that she will probably never learn all they have to teach her. Maseur weaves the book around the remarkable story of Gabriel, a male Anna’s hummingbird. She explains, “Gabriel’s rehabilitation during the long summer of 2008 offered a powerful lesson on the trials and triumphs of rescuing hummingbirds in a bustling urban environment”.

It is remarkable to know that of the sixteen species of hummingbirds breeding in North America, eight species are found in the Hollywood and Los Angeles area. They are a relatively new phenomenon there. When my husband and I lived in the Los Angeles suburbs in 1968-70, we saw no hummingbirds at all. Rehabbers started receiving rescued hummingbirds in the early 1970’s. The birds have been encouraged and supported by the gardens of residents who are growing pollinator friendly plants. Most California hummingbirds winter in Mexico, but with warming temperatures, some are beginning to winter in southern California.

Hummingbirds have to eat every thirty minutes during the day in order to support their high metabolism. When hovering, hummingbirds beat their wings more than fifty times per second. They cannot survive on sugar water or nectar alone, but need to eat insects as well. Breeding males only stay around for a day or two and move on to breed again. The female does all of the nest building, brooding and feeding of the young. The tiny nest is placed on a tree branch and made of stretchy spider silk and other soft materials. It is camouflaged by the placing of lichens all over the outside of the nest. The nest stretches as the young birds grow.

On the east coast we have only one species of hummingbird, the ruby-throated. The ruby-throated hummingbird has an extensive breeding range encompassing the mid-west all the way to the eastern seaboard, and as far north as southern Canada; they are not seen in California. The ruby-throated is the northernmost breeding hummingbird, and winters in Central America. In late August or early September, ruby throats start their five hundred mile nonstop migration, often choosing the shortest route over the Gulf of Mexico, a dangerous overnight flight over open ocean. If the weather is fine most make it, but if a storm or a headwind blows up, many succumb to the ocean water. In the first week of May, ruby-throated hummingbirds arrive back north and show remarkable fidelity to their previous nesting site. They can easily find the feeder at your house where they ate last year.

If you haven’t fed ruby-throated hummingbirds before, you will enjoy it. Mix up some sugar water with the following recipe: One part sugar to four parts water. Bring it to a boil to kill any bacteria or mold present. Cool and fill feeder. Extra sugar water may be stored in a refrigerator. Do not add red food coloring; its not good for any of us. Put the sugar water in a hummingbird feeder, hang it on your deck or other location you can easily watch and enjoy. Change the water at least once a week, cleaning out the feeder thoroughly each time. In hot weather, you will need to change the sugar water more frequently as it can ferment or develop mold that is unhealthy for the birds.

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 call me at 692-3907, e-mail me at mariancharman@gmail.com, or write me at 7A Old Colony Drive, Westford.


Late June Reports:

Miller School Bird Feeder Program, spring 2018. Species seen (highest number at any one time): black-capped chickadee (1), blue jay (2), northern cardinal (2), Carolina wren (1), common grackle (1), American crow (1), dark-eyed junco (1), northern flicker (1), American goldfinch (8), hairy woodpecker (2), house finch (4), house wren (4), mourning dove (3), white-breasted nuthatch (1), American robin (2), tufted titmouse (1). [Thank you very much, Miller School students, librarian Lori Miller and statistician Mau Fernandes!-MH]

Ginger Dries, Sherwood Drive. June 5, doe and fawn crossing Tadmuck Rd. June 22, two baby raccoons on Stony Brook Rd., no sign of parents. June 25-26, mama turkey around. We are overrun with blackbirds eating the suet I put out every day. Too many gray squirrels getting over the baffles. Family of groundhogs, three babies and parents, and rabbits have eaten the garden. Hot sauce spray doesn’t deter them. Two families of house wrens in boxes, and all the regulars at the feeders.

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. June 25, lovely day. Along back lawn daisies, daisy fleabane and fragrant common milkweed in bloom Early evening, a titmouse took an extended bath in deck bird bath, thoroughly enjoying himself. June 26, at Howard Rd. wetland, heard common yellowthroat, warbling vireo and several red-winged blackbirds, several large bullfrogs, numerous large and small blue dragonflies darting above water. Blooming nearby, blue toadflax, white yarrow, purple bittersweet nightshade and common St. Johnswort. Branches of white swamp azalea hung over the road, and their pungent scent was amazing. Along roadsides, birdsfoot trefoil in bloom. June 27, sat on the front step to watch feeder for awhile. Chipping sparrow, female red-bellied woodpecker. House sparrow, white-breasted nuthatch joined them, upside down. Chickadee, then a flashy male rose-breasted grosbeak with a male house finch joining him, then a male red-bellied woodpecker. Our resident tom turkey came along, scaring a dove away. The buff-colored squirrel in and out. A lovely color but still a pesty squirrel, blue jay having a snack, very quiet. Several birds and one squirrel making warning calls. Hawk around? I looked all around and there, sitting on the edge of a garage roof is the young red-tailed hawk. A beautiful young bird.

Denali Delmar, at Lakeside Meadows. June 29, bluebird seen on the sidewalk.

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Dr. June 29, fireflies seen around condo.

Leslie Thomas, Old Colony Dr. June 27, female turkey seen, goldfinches and cardinal at feeder. Many very smart squirrels, and a woodchuck. June 29, beautiful big tan colored doe eating leaves right by the deck. I think she was pregnant.

July Reports:

Diane Duane, Howard Rd. July 6, our hummer babies have fledged. We no longer see mom or youngsters in the nest. At Grey Fox Lane, July 15, monarch butterfly and a banded longhorn beetle seen on yarrow during our invasives pull. Fish fly seen on our steps [Diane sent good photos of these insects-MH]

Leslie Thomas, Old Colony Dr. July 6, hummingbird at my million bells plant.

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Dr. July 8, two turkeys here, cardinal, jay, two grackles, red-winged blackbirds, titmouse family, crow family, cicadas heard, goldfinches, chickadee, pair of red-winged woodpeckers, downy woodpecker juvenile. July 11, young crow walking on lawn and trying things to eat. July 22, two female turkeys walking by. July 24, pileated woodpecker seen and heard at Randolph Circle. July 26, hummingbird at basil flowers and petunias. Two female turkeys in front.

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. July 9, red-bellied woodpecker fledgling on black oil feeder awkwardly but successfully getting the seeds. The baby has so little coloration on its head I could not tell if a boy or girl. Father joined baby and they flew off together. A chickadee in birdbath on front step. A very popular place, perhaps because it is surrounded by potted flowers, sort of private. The sumacs along back lawn are slowly changing color, the shades headed toward what will be rich red, becomes a very popular place for birds in winter.

Ginger Dries, Sherwood Dr. July 9, an adult raccoon with two babies came through the yard at 8:30 pm eating under the feeder and drinking from bird bath. The two babies scurried under the lilies and hostas when I came out. This is the first time I have seen them–really cute. One mama turkey visits every day. Wren babies have left the front house after their second nesting. It was fun to see them being fed daily. Too many blackbirds, jays and squirrels which get over the baffle and destroy the suet and seed in a minute. Hummers were here a lot then disappeared. I have changed the food three times, but they haven’t come back. Cardinals, finches, mourning doves, chickadees, titmice, three kinds of woodpeckers, nuthatches, sparrows and big rabbit families.

Margaret Wheeler, Depot St. July 19, heard a screechy whistling and noticed a young barred owl in a tree about 50 feet from the deck. Eventually a sibling joined the first owl. We believe we saw a third young owl fly into that area of the woods. “They made a few attempts to catch a couple of black squirrels in the woods…. Squirrels wandered off in search of cover….Later, it looked like one of the owls went after a gray squirrel and I think caught it “.[Margaret sent some good photos of these babies-MH]

Marilyn Day, Graniteville Rd. July 20, barred owl sitting across the road at dusk tonight. [Marilyn sent a photo-MH]

Mike Killoran, Pine Hill Rd. July 21, “I was startled today when a patch of straw we’re using to mulch the garden jumped up half a foot. I used a stick to move aside the straw to find a hairy-tailed mole roaming between the soil and earth. Isn’t bothering the plants so I let it be…. We also have been fortunate enough to have a nearly continuous parade of hummingbirds to our feeder. Lastly, had a skunk with a litter of five kits under our chicken coop. Mom brought them out for a walk one day near dusk.”

Doug Pederson, at Forge Pond. June 27, mallards, cross-breed ducks (mallards with white Pekin?), ten baby wood ducks with mom, three baby swans.

Roberta McGuire, Chamberlain Rd. June 27, I noticed a beetle feeding on the flowers of the butterfly weed….I think it is a milk weed leaf bug. Flower bloom seems accelerated this year.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. July report: Pair of cardinals, blue jays with young, grackles with young, many red-winged blackbirds with young, a few chickadees, tufted titmouse, nuthatch, rose-breasted grosbeak pair, house finch pairs, a few goldfinches, robin, hawk overhead, ruby-throated hummingbirds male and female, flicker, a few turkeys. A first for me– a yellow-belled sapsucker female. “During the very hot first week of July, we put out fresh water every day, sometimes twice, even put ice cubes in to keep it cooler for a longer period. Saw many birds drink and bathe in it. Squirrels and chipmunks also climbed up for a drink.” Also, gray squirrels, one red squirrel, many chipmunks making many holes in yard, several bunnies, butterflies and bees.

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

Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – June 2018

Tufted Titmouse by Doug Pederson

Are you a birder? If so, are you a contributor to eBird? This interactive birding website was developed by Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and launched in 2002. Anyone can join free of charge. The website describes the program this way: “eBird transforms a global birding community’s passion for birds into critical data for research, conservation, and education…..eBird gathers unprecedented volumes of information on where and when birds occur in the world. Half a billion bird observations have been contributed so far.”

Log on to eBird.org and you can explore the whole world or your own community. You can watch a real-time display of birders entering data. When I log on to Massachusetts, I see that 498 bird species were seen in the past year and 734,648 checklists were submitted. There were 8691 Massachusetts birders submitting these checklists. Top counties represented were Barnstable and Essex, with Middlesex County coming in seventh out of ten. Top birding hotspots were Plum Island and Salisbury Beach.

When entering species, one can also enter photos, audio recordings and comments. For instance on June 11th, a surprising report and photo of a snowy owl was entered from a yard in Edgartown. Maybe Westford can add some more species for Middlesex County.

You can research sightings for any time or place in the world. Most numerous are sightings for the United States, but there are sightings from South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa. And you can share your sightings with anyone else who is interested. The website also offers a “Be a Better Birder” course.

To get started, log on to eBird.org, watch the introductory two-minute movie, and explore the amazingly powerful tools on offer. Then you can join and start submitting data. You can also download the free eBird app for your phone, have all the data at your fingertips, and submit while you are in the field.

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 7A Old Colony Drive, call me at 692-3907, or e-mail me at mariancharman@gmail.com *(please note new e-mail address).


Late May Reports:

Sue Bonner, Plain Rd. May 8, beautiful male Baltimore oriole at our feeder. May 10, male rose-breasted grosbeak at feeders. Other birds we usually see: chickadees, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, starling, mourning doves, two cardinal pairs, blue jays, goldfinches, house finches, red-bellied, downy and hairy woodpeckers, robins, sparrows, titmice. Two bluebird houses seem to have sparrow nests. May 8, lone female turkey arrived, coming to eat under feeders several times a day. We found a big (turkey?) egg in the soil around our lamppost in front yard. “When the turkey arrives at the bird feeders, she always looks toward our house and seems to wait for Bruce to come out with seed. When we see her, Bruce goes out with seed, she walks away a few feet; she watches and waits as he dumps seed under the feeders, and them immediately comes to eat the seed as he walks away.” May 24, big opossum eating birdseed off our wall and drinking water from container. Most days there are nine squirrels on the stonewall under feeders and hanging from our mixed seed and sunflower feeders, despite the squirrel baffle on the pole. Two squirrels are tan, and one has a rat tail with no fur. We have so many chipmunks we can’t count. Many holes in yard. A water container on the deck keeps our two cats amused as they watch the chipmunks and others.  May 29, resident woodchuck appeared early May.

Esther Donlon, Providence Rd. May 16, raccoon walked the length of our yard and on to Providence.

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. May 26, eastern phoebe repeating his song on a lovely spring morning. May 29, happy little red-eyed vireo in back woods. May 31, in front woods, a pine warbler and red-eyed vireo trying to compete with three energetic titmice.

Doug Pederson, Woodland Dr. May 28, opossum in my yard today.

Dave Earle, Old Colony Dr. May 31, snapping turtle laying eggs in garden by our deck.

June Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr., June 2, a great blue heron flew low over the back woods, probably headed for the beaver pond and a nest. June 6, red-bellied woodpecker on feeder, pair of cardinals and two chipping sparrows in and out. June 7, big hungry red-tailed hawk scared numerous birds when he landed in tree by feeder, and they are all scolding him, and attracting more birds to join in. June 8, going down Beaver Brook Road, a great blue heron lifted up out of water and flew over road to land in water on pond side, not far from a pair of graceful swans. June 10, lots of white blossoms on multi-flora rose along edge of lawn, among the sumacs. Beautiful buff-colored squirrel under feeder along with the grey ones. June 11, while sitting on deck I watched a young redtail perched on roof corner just a few feet away from us. June 12, adult redtail flew low over front walk, and not long after a young redtail did the same. It must be very difficult for a young bird of prey to actually learn how to hunt. June 13, one bunny nibbling greens along edge of back lawn. White-breasted nuthatch at feeder, scurrying down side of large trees in woods. I often hear their quiet chuckling sounds as they move. During the day I saw and heard, two chipping sparrows, three doves, four tree swallows, one blue jay, one flicker, two cardinals, two goldfinches, one red-bellied woodpecker, one white-breasted nuthatch, one titmouse, two house sparrows, one grackle, one robin, five turkeys, one rose-breasted grosbeak, two house finches, two orioles, two red-tailed hawks, one red-eyed vireo. June 14, yellow evening primrose blooming on Flagg Rd., daisies and white yarrow in bloom. June 15, several people have seen the young redtail perched on a condo roof, not very afraid of people. June 18, catalpa tree in back woods now covered with white blossoms. June 20, downy woodpecker visiting suet, two noisy nuthatches begging parent for something tasty–Happy June!

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Dr. June 2, a walk to the swamp: phoebe singing, two veeries singing, common yellowthroat, red-tailed hawk overhead. Later heard a juvenile red-tail calling. Lots of lady’s slippers and polygala blooming along the trail.  On our deck, six or more grackles are eating a full block of suet on our deck and a full feeder of sunflower hearts in half a day. Huge amounts of pine pollen outside and inside house. It goes right through screens. June 10, walk to swamp: female wood duck,

Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – April 2018

Bee on Purple Loosestrife by Marina Harman

Now that May has arrived and our spring trees, shrubs and wildflowers are blooming, we should give some thought to bees, our most important pollinators. Without them, we would have very few plants. Or as a recent USDA report states, “The world as we know it would not exist if there were no bees to pollinate the earth’s 250,000 flowering plant species.”

You have probably read about the dire plight of the honeybee, a species introduced here from Europe in colonial times. Honeybees are succumbing in large numbers to a mysterious complex of ills called “Colony Collapse Disorder”. But perhaps you have not given much thought to our native bees that may be even more essential for most of our pollination needs.

The United States Department of Agriculture reports that there are approximately 4,000 species of bees native to North America. These bees do a much better job at pollinating some plants than do honeybees. Native bees are especially effective at pollinating tomatoes, eggplants, pumpkins and other squashes, cherries, blueberries and cranberries. They also pollinate 80% of our flowering plants, trees, shrubs and wildflowers. Azaleas, for instance cannot be pollinated by honeybees, because of their long calyx. Native bumblebees pollinate azaleas by using an ingenious method called buzz pollination. They clasp the blossom and vibrate their abdomen to shake loose the pollen. Bees also use buzz pollination on tomato and blueberry flowers. Bees eat both pollen and nectar.

Our native bees may either be colonial nesters (bumblebees) or solitary nesters (most other types). They may nest in holes in wood or underground. One type of native bee, the cuckoo bee, is even a parasitic nester, laying its eggs in another bees nest. There are fifty species of bumblebees native to North America.  Underground nests of the bumblebee species may be as long as a foot long with several nesting chambers branching off the main tunnel. Native bees come in all sizes and colors. Sweat bees are metallic green and blue or copper or gold. The tiny blue orchard bee pollinates fruit trees. Yellow-masked bees are black and yellow and resemble wasps. All bees, unlike wasps, have at least a little hair on them, and have two fused pairs of wings. Wasps have only one pair of wings.

The honeybees’ plight seems to be caused by a combination of disease, nutrition and pesticides. Our native bees, being mostly non-colonial nesters are a bit less affected by disease. But, native bees are also declining, and that decline seems to be related to habitat loss and pesticide and herbicide use.

Here are some things we can all do to encourage our pollinators. First, we can plant a pollinator garden. To avoid pesticides, adopt non-chemical solutions to insect problems. You can control aphids, for instance, by spraying them with water from a hose. In your yard, you should provide a source of water and a little bare ground and mud for nest building. Reduce the size of your lawn by planting a native plant garden from your eco-region. Mowing your lawn every other week is a good way to provide the clover, plantago and veronicas that bees thrive on. Standing dead trees also provide homes for many bees and birds. A fun project to do with kids is to make a bee-nesting house out of hollow twigs or reeds bunched together and packed into a container such as a small milk carton. The nesting twigs will be closed at one end and hung horizontal to the ground facing south. Bees will come into it to lay one or more eggs that they then seal up with mud. If you are lucky you may see the juvenile bees hatching in a few days.

New England Wildflower Society website is a good source of information. Go to their website www.newenglandwild.org. As part of their new “Pollinate New England” effort, NEWFS is offering a free online pollinator garden course this spring and summer. You can take this course on your own computer and at your own speed. They are also offering free hands-on pollinator gardening workshops at various locations in New England. One of these is offered on June 26 in Wellesley, MA. You can buy native plants at The Garden in the Woods in Framingham, and at some other nurseries. For more information on how to help pollinators, go to the Pollinator Partnership website at www.pollinator.org. At that site you can see all the Pollinator Partner gardens in the country and register your own pollinator-friendly garden.

Many thanks to all the flora and fauna reporters for the month of April. Please send reports by May 26 for next month’s column. You can call me at 692-3907, write me at 7A Old Colony Drive, Westford, or e-mail me at MarianCHarman@verizon.net.


Late March Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Drive. March 3, ten juncos, two house sparrows on deck, a downy woodpecker on the suet.

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. March 27, eight deer.

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. March 28, grackles have arrived. March 30, three pairs of common mergansers on the pond. Wood frogs are going strong in the Main St. vernal pool.

Doug Pederson, at Forge Pond. March 29, seven red-tailed hawks soaring and circling together, a few grackles in the tall tree in the middle of the pond and several red-winged blackbirds. A beaver was making his trip across the pond and didn’t notice being photographed.

Brian Day, Coldspring Rd. March 29, heard peepers at night.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. Heard peepers last night for first time–happy to hear them. Two geese making a racket.

April Reports:

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. April 1, five common mergansers, four females and one male, resting on the pond. cardinal, white-breasted nuthatch, eight goldfinches, blue jay, red-bellied woodpecker, titmouse, four juncos.  April 5, blue jay with a new call, sounding like a loud woodpecker, red-winged blackbird. April 7, song sparrow, mourning dove. At Chamberlain Rd, red-tailed hawk, two barred owls calling, wild turkeys, three crows, a pair of pileated woodpeckers. April 9, grey squirrel eating a downy woodpecker that had hit our slider window. Squirrel quickly ate the whole thing, leaving only a few feathers. Male cardinal feeding a female. April 9, four juncos, red-winged blackbirds, three mallards, first phoebe heard here, house finch. April 14, hail storm. Juncos, cardinals nuthatches, goldfinches, grackles, mourning dove, heard peepers and wood frogs in a vernal pool we have discovered on the Pilgrim Village common land. April 17, three juncos. April 23, a few juncos still here.

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Drive. April 3, turkey vulture soaring low over the back woods. Three robins and a flock of juncos searching for a snack. Small flock of grackles near the edge of the woods. April 8, forsythia beginning to wake up, showing a hint of yellow. Male house finch pecks in small crabapple tree by the front walk, his colors adding a bright spot to the drab winter branches. April 10, hung feeder out front for first time this spring. Several birds quickly arrived and a blue jay loudly announced to everyone that they should come over. Two pairs of doves, a tom turkey, pair of cardinals, too many house sparrows arrived. These sparrows gradually go to other places later in the spring. Two goldfinches checking out the feeder. April 11, two white-breasted nuthatches visiting feeder, a group of cowbirds and grackles around. Heard a newly returned red-winged blackbird’s call– a familiar sign of spring. Four chickadees busy near front door. April 12 around noon, male and female red-bellied woodpecker hanging out together in the front woods, a handsome couple. Heard a flicker calling from a distance. Very vocal male cardinal arrived. A turkey vulture flew low over the treetops. Eight doves under feeder. Chickadees, titmice and juncos visit all day. Male house finch perches in crabapple tree. April 13, a chipping sparrow under the feeder–first of the spring. One of my favorite birds. And now I can hear his song in nearby trees when he’s not here. Early afternoon, lots of activity in the front woods. Two downies, both on same tree branch, staying near each other. A red-bellied woodpecker flew away, several chickadees singing their spring “fee-bee” song. The colorful male house finch has a girlfriend; they visit feeder together and stay near each other on trees. Lots of chipmunks out and about, busy as can be. After dark, I opened a window and just listened, enjoying the chorus of lots of spring peepers. It’s something I’ve waited for every spring, and its such a pleasure to hear. April 15, small group of female red-winged blackbirds has joined the males. Juncos still here. red-tailed hawk perched in aspen tree for awhile, then cruised over long lawn and into woods. I’ve heard that some residents of Hildreth St. have been seeing a black bear in their yards looking for seed. I bring my feeder in every night. “Seeing a few summer birds returning is encouraging, but some sort of wintry mix has just begun on this cold April day and we are all reminded that we are just going to have to be more patient.”

Diane Duane, at Boston Rd. April 4, saw our first great blue heron of the season at around 11:40 a .m. flying south over Minot’s corner.

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. April 4, Canada geese, mallards, skunk, raccoon. April 5, robin, black duck. April 9, mockingbird and bluebird fighting over suet. April 22, fifty robins on Audubon field. April 12, flicker. April 18, only two juncos still around. April 21, five fish crows. April 24, white-throated sparrows, house finches.

Vanessa Banyas, Main St. April 6, two pileated woodpeckers seen at Chamberlain Rd.

Elaine D’Alessandro, at Stone Arch Bridge. Mallard pairs seen on Stony Brook.

Emily Teller, Texas Rd. April 8, first phoebe heard.

Dave Coleman, Chestnut Rd. April 13, ‘Possums seem to enjoy getting up on my deck and looking at me through the patio door. I frequently see a red fox jogging up and down the road early in the morning. Beautiful animal, and I imagine there is a den nearby. Usual cast of characters in the bird world this winter at the feeder.

Ginger Dries, Sherwood Dr. April 18, beautiful fox trotting by. Robins, goldfinches, chickadees checking out birdhouse, cardinals, a cowbird, jays, doves, titmice, nuthatches, red-bellied woodpecker, lots of sparrows, groundhog, grey and red squirrels, rabbits. April 25, juncos are gone.

Mark Champion, West St. April 21, we spotted a black bear in our back yard after we noticed the motion-sensing light was on. We’ve been seeing bears, or evidence of them, here for the past few years [Mark sent a good trail camera photo–MH].

Doug Pederson, Woodland Drive. April 22, saw a robin and a pair of house finches today–good sign!

Mark Childs at Greystone Pond. April 23, a beaver family is making a home in the pond. My son, Kevin took a photo [Mark sent Kevin’s excellent photo-MH]

Angela Harkness, Castle Rd. April 25, “porcupine feasting in our willow tree for the past few days. It sways in the branches way at the top picking off and eating the new leaves like ears of corn.” [Angela sent a great photo-MH]

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. April 26, nuthatch, chickadee, house finch, many goldfinches, pair of cardinals, four blue jays, red-winged blackbirds, cowbird, hawks, sparrows, ducks and geese in nearby marsh. A leucistic dove–partially white, seen with a partner. Last junco seen on April 10. Mother deer and young one, turkeys, busy squirrels, chipmunks, periwinkle blooming, hyacinths blooming.

Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – March 2018

Blue Jay perching by Doug Pederson

Who’s top bird at your feeder? An interesting thing to observe while you are identifying birds is who is displacing whom at the bird feeder. This displacement behavior in birds is called a “dominance hierarchy”. For instance, we think of doves as peaceful and jays as aggressive. Cornell Lab of Ornithology set out to study displacement behavior at feeders, to see who comes out on top in bird interactions. Project Feeder Watch participants have been gathering the displacement data.

Eliot Miller at Cornell Lab correlated 7,685 observations sent in by Feeder Watchers. In general, he found what one would expect, bigger is better. Blue Jays displace mourning doves and downy woodpeckers displace tufted titmice. But there were also some surprises.

The Project Feeder Watch Blog of October 9, 2017 reports on Miller’s study of 136 species of birds observed interacting at Feeder Watch sites in North America. Miller ranked each species based on how often it displaced other species, and how often it got displaced. Then he arranged all those species in their order of dominance. The highest- ranking species, the toughest bird, was the Wild Turkey. At the bottom of the list was the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Eurasian Tree Sparrows, an introduced species which lives in parts of the mid-west, is closely related to our much more aggressive House Sparrows.

Miller found that although in most cases bigger birds are more aggressive than smaller ones, “it turns out that doves, buntings and grosbeaks are less dominant than we would expect based on their body size, whereas crows, jays, woodpeckers and blackbirds are more dominant than we would expect based on their size….doves really are peaceful and jays really are feisty.” But these patterns can be complicated and circular. “Some species appear to co-exist in a rock-paper-scissors arrangement. European Starlings are dominant to Red-headed Woodpeckers, Red-headed Woodpeckers are dominant to Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers are dominant to European Starlings….This rare non-linear hierarchy may help balance continental patterns of abundance. Each species competes with another for nest cavities, but no species is always the winner.”

This study is ongoing at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Project Feeder Watch is in need of more feeder watchers to join the effort to document displacement behavior. Go to feederwatch.org to read the blog and Miller articles including his fascinating graphs of displacement, predation and mobbing behaviors. Join Project Feeder Watch in order to add your observations to this interesting citizen science effort.

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of March. Please send reports by April 26 for inclusion in next month’s article. You can call me at 692-3907, write me at 7A Old Colony Drive, or e-mail me at mariancharman@verizon.net.


Late February Reports:

Tom Ennis, Almeria Drive. February 25, first heard the woodcocks, “nearly to the day as last year, and slightly ahead of other years I have reported: 2015 no record, 2014, March 25, 2013, March 5, 2012, March 2.”

Marian/Bill Harman, 7A Old Colony Drive. February 28, two juncos, first chipmunk seen, red-tailed hawk soaring over the meadow.

Doug Pederson, at Beaver Brook Rd. February 27, saw several red-winged blackbirds yesterday at Forge Pond.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. February Report: tufted titmouse, chickadees, nuthatch, two pairs of cardinals, four blue jays, house finches, goldfinches, white-throated sparrow, chipping sparrow, juncos, heard a Carolina wren, heard an owl. February 20, immature male red-winged blackbird, more a few days later. Red-tailed hawk on Tadmuck Rd. Large hawk flew through the back yard. Heard a pack of coyotes late at night, several squirrels chasing each other. “One squirrel spotted with a big batch of leaves in its mouth. It proceeded to climb up a tree where it appeared to have a nest forming, and added these leaves. Chipmunks have come out. “Had a pair in the garage this morning, making a racket.”

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. February 28, twenty turkeys and male house finch.

March Reports

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane March 2, Canada geese. March 3, had a hermit thrush the other day. “I was so happy”. March 9, robin, red-tailed hawk, lots of starlings. March 15, male and female bluebird eating suet today and a big, fat robin. “I gave him some raisins.” March 16, seven deer. March 23, skunk and raccoon. March 25, grackles, pair of house finches, cowbirds.

Doug Pederson, Woodland Drive. March 4, saw a goldfinch and house finch. March 19, Forge Pond, thirty hooded mergansers [Doug sent great photos-MH].  At Woodland Dr.,March 24, house finches and goldfinches at my feeder today. Also saw a flock of red-winged blackbirds.

Denali Delmar, Dunstable Rd. March 4, a pair of bluebirds at the suet–“How exciting!”

Marian/Bill Harman, 7A Old Colony Drive. March 7, snow on the ground, windy, 37 degrees. At feeder, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, eight juncos, pair of cardinals. American crow on deck for stale chips–a first for us. Also, goldfinches, two titmice, a chickadee. March 8, 34 degrees, clear. Big snowstorm last night 8-10 inches, very heavy. Power is out and will be for several days they say. A new bird is at the suet, a male hairy woodpecker. Also, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, three juncos, one chickadee, one titmouse, one white-breasted nuthatch, one blue jay, three goldfinches, one cardinal. March 9, 32 degrees, clear, no power. A lovely male cardinal in the pine tree, set against a snowy backdrop. March 10, clear, 35 degrees. Put out a new shelled sunflower feeder. Nine goldfinches flocked to it immediately, abandoning the thistle seed.  A new bird showed up on the deck, a song sparrow. Power came on late today–Yay. March 13, 30 degrees, snowing, windy another foot of snow–third nor’easter this month. Mourning dove, ten goldfinches, twenty juncos, two white-breasted nuthatches, two chickadees, two cardinals, crows heard, two titmice, one house finch. Power stayed on! March 18, new bird on the deck, an American tree sparrow-very cute. Also juncos, goldfinches, two chickadees. March 23, eleven juncos, three goldfinches, one white-breasted nuthatch, two chickadees, two red-bellied woodpeckers, a pair of downy woodpeckers, American tree sparrow, heard crow and red-winged blackbird. In the afternoon, took a walk on the trail to the swamp. Saw four ducks flying overhead, quacking, probably mallards, lots of red-winged blackbirds on territory, crows heard, what looked like a fresh hairy woodpecker hole in a living pine, lots of deer prints. March 24, a cooper’s hawk watching our feeders from a nearby pine. All feeder birds vanished, and he gave up. March 25, 34 degrees, snow showers. A pair of red-belled woodpeckers came into the suet, male cardinal, six juncos, one white-breasted nuthatch, five goldfinches, one titmouse, two doves (at last our lonely dove brought a friend).

Debbie Gustafson, Mark Vincent Drive. March 11, a very light bird, hanging around with the juncos. [Debbie sent a photo, which I sent on to Dave Larson of Mass Audubon. He identified the bird as a leucistic junco–pretty unusual-MH]

Flavio Fernandes, Vineyard Rd. March 15, saw some robins at Miller school today.

Molly Miller-White, Forge Village. March 16, about ten bluebirds seen

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. March report, several doves, one partially white. Two pairs of blue jays, red-winged blackbirds male and female, tufted titmouse, nuthatches, chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches (one bright yellow), red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, field sparrow, white-throated sparrow, chipping sparrow, juncos lots, grackles, crow, two great horned owls calling to each other late at night, two hawks, one watching bird feeder, two deer in backyard, one smaller than the other, squirrels chasing each other, chipmunks who like to hide in our garage.

Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – February 2018

Snowy Owl at Salisbury Beach by George & MJ

Of all the winter birds, seeing a snowy owl is the most exciting to me. We don’t see them in Westford; the habitat just isn’t right for them here, they are tundra dwellers. But, I have been lucky enough to see them on Plum Island and at Salisbury Beach most winters. Some years are better for seeing snowy owls than others. This winter is shaping up to be good snowy owl viewing, and I encourage you to make the short trek to the coast to see them. Seven snowy owls have been reported at Plum Island this January and February.

Snowy owls are one of our largest owls and are fierce predators with large strong talons. They weigh about 3.5 pounds, and have a wingspan of 4.5-5.5 feet. As in most raptors, females are larger than males. They eat mostly rodents, but have been known to successfully take down prey as large as geese and great blue herons. Snowy owls are predominately white, but females and juveniles may have black streaking on body, belly, wings and head. Their eyes are golden. In their summer habitat on the artic tundra they hunt lemmings and other small rodents. Snowy owls are active during the day and thus are much easier for us to see than other owls which are nocturnal. Snowy owls are ground nesters. When juveniles reach their first winter, they tend to disburse and may fly far south to find suitable hunting grounds. They favor dunes and coastal areas that are much like their summer homes on the artic tundra. Snowy owls are nomadic. When birds migrate south in unpredictable numbers, this is known as an “irruption”. The winter of 2017-18 is said to be the largest irruption of snowy owls since 2013. It is not known exactly why the birds migrate south more in some years than in others. One theory is that they migrate south in search of food in years when the lemming population up north is low. Mass Audubon thinks that the migration may be caused by plentiful food at their nesting grounds in the summer, and a consequently larger than normal number of young being hatched. Some of these juveniles may then begin exploring new territory in the winter.

Since 1997, Norm Smith of Mass Audubon has been catching and relocating owls found to have taken up residence at Logan Airport. Owls at the airport can cause a hazard for the planes. Smith releases the captured owls at Plum Island, Duxbury and Salisbury Beach. He attaches tiny transmitters to the feathers of some of those he releases, and then he is able to track them for a few months. When the animal molts, the transmitter falls off. For instance, Owl # 134376 was tracked from March 9, 2014-April 11, 2015. In March the animal was released on the north shore of Massachusetts. In April it traveled to southern Canada. In April and May it moved far north and summered in the upper Hudson Bay area where it presumably nested. It returned south again in November and December to southern Canada. You can see these fascinating migration maps; just Google Mass Audubon Snowy Owl Project.

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of February. Please send reports by March 26 for inclusion in next month’s column. You can call me at 978-692-3907, write me at our new address 7A Old Colony Drive, Westford, or e-mail me at mariancharman@verizon.net.


Late January Reports:

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. January 24, At least sixteen juncos in for seed early evening, three male and two female cardinals. January 26, beautiful male flicker on deck with doves and blue jays. Flicker came to the shelled sunflower feeder for some quick energy. January 29, seventeen doves, joined by seven blue jays. January 31, a dozen juncos with a pair of cardinals and a few blue jays on deck.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. January report: two pairs of blue jays, five cardinals, goldfinch, house finch, titmouse, chickadees, nuthatches, doves, lots of juncos, red-bellied woodpecker, white-throated sparrow, house sparrow, red-tailed hawk. Hearing coyotes again, sometimes one sometimes more, four gray squirrels, one lone chipmunk during warmer weather, deer racks in snow.

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. January 29, flicker, cottontail rabbit.

Barbara Theriault, Tadmuck Lane. January 30, four adult and two young deer at edge of woods, cardinals, titmice, chickadees, juncos, woodpeckers at feeders.

February Reports:

Kate Hollister, Vine Brook Rd. February 2, we enjoy watching a red and grey squirrel chase one another away form the feeder. Not seeing many birds. We mostly see juncos and titmice at feeder, an occasional chickadee, house sparrow and hairy woodpecker.

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. February 2, Canada geese, six mourning doves. February 4, six turkeys. February 7, first chipmunk. February 11, song sparrow. February 14, first red-winged blackbird. February 22, many robins, grackles and cowbirds. February 24, lots of cardinals and red-winged blackbirds, hawk with very dark head.

Phil Day, Graniteville Rd. February 10, heard a whole family of coyotes howling and yipping at about 10:30 at night.

Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. February 3, neighbor reported a blond colored squirrel. February 4, twenty-one juncos early morning. February 8, two crows perched in aspen trees. February 10, fourteen doves and at least ten blue jays. February 12, fourteen doves, a white-breasted nuthatch, two titmice on deck in the rain. Seventeen doves around. February 13 clear cold morning 5:45 a.m., a slender slice of moon over the back woods–beautiful. Later afternoon two white-breasted nuthatches scurrying around on deck with juncos. Three crows briefly perched in woods, always communicating with each other. February 16, twenty-two doves in aspen trees, waiting to drop down to eat. A colorful male house finch landed on deck. Lots of chatter from him lately. The goldfinches always have a lot to say. Two crows in aspens.         February 18, at least fifteen blue jays, and twenty doves. Beautiful red-tailed hawk cruised over the length of lawn. February 19, early afternoon one goldfinch on deck. February 20, snow melting on this lovely warm day. Chickadee calling “fee-bee” several times, two others in the distance doing the same. Three noisy titmice in small crabapple tree, they call “tee-you” over and over. Nuthatch joined the others. In the afternoon, doves, pair of cardinals and juncos scattered all around out back. February 21 bright male cardinal calling boldly from a perch in sumac by woods. Sitting outside I can hear what sounds like a flock of blackbirds, the true harbingers of spring….”We’re getting there!” February 22, early morning one red-winged blackbird on deck for seed, ten minutes later two grackles there. “When large blackbird flocks arrive and eat everything in sight including older seed that other birds have left uneaten, that is a good thing. Mostly, just knowing they are here can lift your spirits.”

Leslie Thomas, Old Colony Drive, February 9, coyotes howling near Chamberlain Rd.

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. February 26, barred owl heard, crows, titmice, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, cardinal pair, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker pair, at least six goldfinches, six juncos, flicker heard, crows heard, red-tailed hawk seen in meadow, two white-tailed deer bounding away, one red squirrel, two gray squirrels.