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 mariancharman@verizon.net


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.