February 2017 – Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman

Hill Orchard by Marian Harman

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

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

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

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

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

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of February. Please send reports by March 26 for inclusion in next month’s column. You can write me at 10 Chamberlain Rd., call me at 692-3907, or e-mail me at mariancharman@verizon.net.

Flora/Fauna Reports for February 2017

Late January Reports:

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

February Reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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