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 feederwatch.org 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 MarianCHarman@verizon.net

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.”