In Honor of Dorothy Mooney 1944-2019
Westford has lost its most dedicated and observant naturalist. Dot Mooney was an accomplished birder, knew the names of many plants, and was happy to share that knowledge. She was a lifelong learner who always wanted to know more about our natural world. I know that those of you who have participated in Westford Wildlife Watch over the years will miss seeing her interesting and insightful posts.
Dot and I became friends when we met in the 1970’s. Dick and Dot Mooney’s three daughters Erin, Kelly and Kerry and their horses joined the Westford 4-H Stoneybrook Saddle Club that Ellen Kunkel and I founded with our children. We often met at the Mooney’s home on Hildreth St. When our children “graduated” from the club, Dick Mooney took over the leadership position.
Dot and I instantly bonded over birds and wildflowers. We were both self-taught naturalists, and loved to go birding or looking for new plants to increase our knowledge. It seemed that over the years, Dot saw and identified every species of bird that visited Westford even those just passing through. In 2001 she told me that she had identified 94 bird species in her yard alone. She could identify birds by song, which is a great help in doing any survey. Dot’s feeder was so well stocked that she would get huge numbers of birds. On one January day she had 86 mourning doves and 63 juncos all eating outside her window. Dot also had identified at least 178 species of plants in Westford. Dot kept a journal of her bird, mammal and plant sightings, and started sending reports to Westford Wildlife Watch in 1999. She was a close observer of animal behavior, especially when watching her feeders out her large kitchen window. The bird feeder had a light on it at night, so Dot could tell what was going on in the mammal world at any time day or night.
Dot was a beautiful and poetic writer. She sat quietly and took the time to identify individual animals, watch animal interactions, and carefully write what she saw. She was truly Westford’s Thoreau. It is evident in her writing that nature gave her solace, hope and optimism. Her observations are so beautiful and interesting, I have been transcribing some of my favorites. I already have sixteen pages of my favorite quotes and haven’t finished yet. Here are a few examples:
10/13- “Very few flowers left, but the glorious foliage makes up for the loss of wildflowers. Beautiful golden days like today are the reason that October is one of New England’s treasures
1/20: “The bright, fall Hunger Moon shines in my window early every morning for several days now. So cold! I often see small flocks of blue jays, tree sparrows and juncos sitting in the highest branches of trees waiting for the sun to come up and warm them. What remarkable little survivors they all are!”
12/25- “There are so many interesting things going on outside our doors and fortunately so many people who delight in observing and sharing with others. One of the many reasons why Westford is a nice place to live.”
4/18- “Indian poke and skunk cabbage are coming up together near one of our brooks. This brook is in the woods and flows through numerous dark boulders, most of which are evenly covered with soft, bright green moss, very lovely.”
5/16- “I was walking through oak woods looking for wildflowers and discovered a lovely little flower-a tiny fawn, as still as could be, curled up in the leaves. I backed off….I feel very lucky indeed.”
8/1-“Ducklings in the swamp are all doing a lot of wing-flapping now, running across the mudflat as they flap, trying to get the flying thing straight.”
5/19-“Under power lines at Hildreth Hills: Sharp-shinned hawk, chestnut sided warbler, blue-winged warbler, house wren, prairie warbler, towhee, common yellowthroat, pair of cardinals, pair of field sparrows- So much to see!”
6/21- “I love to sit outside early on a summer morning and listen to the amazing variety of birds all around me. Very relaxing, very pleasant.”
6/22- ” ‘Summertime’ has such a nice sound to it. Just the word alone makes you feel good. It’s full of birds and flowers and warm breezes”.
9/16- “With a cold front passing through, one to three migrating broad-winged hawks at a time overhead circling to catch the thermals in the morning. Later, one group of forty-six, then another of fifty-six, eighty and then thirty-one. Altogether, a minimum of two hundred and fifty-six. We are all going about our normal daily lives here, while high above us the important drama of migration goes on, mostly unnoticed.”
9/17- “Numerous monarchs around the yard flying in the same direction as the hawks. Must be the migrating brood…. What could be more beautiful than watching late summer pass into autumn in New England? And this lovely town wears the season so well.”
6/11- “Female downy trying to feed three confused babies on the suet tree…. Our yard serves as both kindergarten and cafeteria for all ages of birds, and they are always welcome.”
8/5- “We fed, observed and endlessly enjoyed 35 generations of birds and other wildlife at this house. Priceless memories, lovely photos, so many stories to tell.”
I miss Dot very much, and it makes me feel closer to her to reread her writings. As she was ailing these past months, we talked about what birds would soon be returning to Westford. Whenever I walk on a trail now, I think of how much Dot would enjoy seeing the spring this year; the returning migrant birds, and the emergence of spring wildflowers. I feel that she is walking with me.
A Tribute to Dot Mooney by Doug Pederson
A blend of song and joy
Birds like to perch upon a limb to sing
but today the gathering is silent and sad
Unknown to them my breath drew last
my morning whistle call was not heard
One bird summoned the others to comfort him
Softly he spoke to the other birds that huddled close
They also were taken from their connection and joy
In distress one by one they began to call out
One bird said he knew of the whistler’s demise
They all flew off to sing and say goodbye
I am now resting under those solemn trees
where birds mourn for their whistlers that passed
If you hear them sing, please whistle back for me
The compassion was equal with unconditional love
Filling my heart with melodies only birds can sing
photography (palm warbler) and poem by Doug Pederson
Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of April. Please send reports by May 26 to appear in next month’s column. You can call me at 978-692-3907, write to me at 7A Old Colony Drive, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Late February and March Reports:
Bob Oliphant, Robinson Rd. February 2, two turkeys at the back of our yard. One appeared to be lying down, the other standing. Later, saw just the one turkey that was lying down. I walked right up to him and he barely lifted his head to look at me. Looking out the kitchen window, the next morning, it looked like the turkey had expired. Later that day, Bonnie noticed the entire flock of twelve turkeys gathered around the dead turkey….a turkey funeral of sorts. The next day, I looked out the kitchen window and there was a single turkey standing over the dead turkey and it looked like he was pecking the dead turkey’s head. Then I realized that he wasn’t pecking the dead bird but rather was lifting his head and dropping it over and over again, while gobbling softly. I took a video of it…Being even more anthropomorphic, it appeared to me that he was both mourning his or her dead mate and trying to revive her or him….A day or two later I saw a large red-tailed hawk feeding on the carcass. [This was an extraordinary video, and certainly seemed to demonstrate that one turkey was trying the revive the other–wonderful observation, Bob! MH]
Marian Harman, Old Colony Drive. March 25, skunk cabbage flowers blooming in and around the swamp, sphagnum moss. March 27, a large bobcat crossing Rt. 40 by Flushing Pond Road, about 10 a.m.–first one I’ve seen in the wild–very exciting! March 28, flicker heard in the swamp, cardinal chickadee, red-winged blackbirds and grackles, three mallards by the beaver dam, four Canada geese, beautiful pair of wood ducks. March 29, at the Cameron Senior Center, four juvenile ravens calling in a tree by parking lot. At Forge Pond, two male wood ducks. At Old Colony Drive, four turkeys flying up into the pines by our back yard and roosting for the night. March 30, cooper’s hawk perched in tree in front of deck. Great blue heron in the swamp. Wood duck pair, two Canada geese, mallards. Heard a flicker, red-bellied woodpecker, brown creeper. On the pond, four ring-necked ducks, peepers calling.
Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. March 27, the grackles are back making a racket, also male and female red-winged blackbirds, tufted titmice, chickadees and nuthatches, doves, two pairs of blue jays, cardinals, juncos still here, house finches, robins, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, hawk soaring overhead.
Kate Olson at Forge Pond. March 30, Saw this beautiful heron while kayaking on Forge Pond [Kate sent a photo of a great blue heron-MH]
John Piekos, Dunstable Rd. March 30, trail camera got shots of a porcupine, coyote and woodchuck, red fox and opossum this month.
Debi Prato, Hayrick Lane. April 1, Canada geese, mallards. April 10, cowbirds. April 12, seven fish crows. April 15, seven turkeys. April 22, crow snatched a piece of suet away from a squirrel. I helped a box turtle cross Texas Rd. April 23, juncos still present. April 25, six fish crows harassing turkeys.
Marian Harman, Old Colony Drive. April 1, heard a wood duck in the swamp at south end of the pond. Saw three mallards flying over. The vernal pool and the swamp are still frozen, just a few skunk cabbage flowers peeking through. It is wonderful and mesmerizing to watch the wind gusts sweeping across the pond water. Chickadees are singing their spring songs. There is no ice or snow in the woods anymore, but the lake has some beautiful glittering ice about 50 ft. out and to the western shore. April 2, a walk at the Frances Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, heard pileated woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, cardinal, titmice and chickadees. April 3, many grackles here. April 7, three or four juvenile ravens flying and calling around the condos, red-bellied woodpecker, chickadees, titmice, song sparrow, goldfinch, chipping sparrow or pine warbler singing from the top of the pines, pair of mallards on the lake, peepers and wood frogs in a shallow swampy area of Snake Meadow Brook–Nature never fails to surprise! Junco and cardinal pair at feeder. April 10, young raven in pine in front of deck, red-winged blackbirds and grackles in swamp, male wood duck seen, and heard female calling nearby, male mallard, peepers calling. April 13, lots of wood frogs “quacking” in the swamp by the lake, egg masses seen there also. Pair of Canada geese honking at me as I approached the southern part of the pond. They followed as I walked along the trail. Saw a barred owl flying into a hemlock. Three juvenile ravens yelling at him. Also, goldfinches, chickadees, titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, song sparrows or pine warblers singing from atop the pines, woodpecker drumming–everybody so busy. April 16, sharp-shinned hawk calling repeatedly and flying around in the pines. First time I’ve seen one here. I think I bothered it by my presence on the trail. A juvenile raven calling, great blue heron took off from the swamp, red-bellied woodpecker calling and drumming, goldfinches, titmice, chickadees, chipping sparrow. April is the best month for birding, no leaves, no bugs. Skunk cabbage leaves are coming up around the swamp, and the red maples are blooming–beautiful. April 17, Cute red squirrel, male wood duck patrolling in the swamp near the beaver dam. Canada goose resting near the dam. Bumble bees and spring azure butterflies are all over the blooming Andromeda bush. Two tom turkeys, one gobbling, and three hens moved off slowly as I approached on the trail. Tom turkeys still gobbling at 8 p.m. Dogs are barking at them, but they are not deterred. Woodcock displaying in the meadow tonight. Nearly a full moon. April 19, near the pond on a trail from the water, sixteen piles of otter scats–full of fish scales. We have seen them in the pond. Lovely skunk cabbage leaves and fiddleheads of ferns unfurling next to the swamp. A juvenile raven calling, pair of mallards on the pond. A few wood frogs are still “quacking” in the swamp on either side of the esker. Wood frogs are also in the swamp at the north end of the pond. April 27, our first tree swallow is swooping over the pond. The starflower leaves are up and some are budding. Canada mayflower leaves up with some flower buds too. Low bush blueberries are starting to bloom. On Snake Meadow Brook, two otters playing, diving and feeding. One Canada goose by the dam. Just a few red-winged blackbirds on territory, titmice, red-bellied woodpecker calling, flicker, many grackles. At feeder, pair of cardinals, goldfinches, chickadees.
Len Natoli, at Flushing Pond. First week of April, eight ring-necked ducks, two mallards, four wood ducks, two geese, two common mergansers, one bald eagle. At the feeder, male hairy woodpecker, male and female red-bellied woodpeckers, male and female goldfinches, house finches, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, male and female cardinals.
Michael McPartland, Danley Drive. April 17, we were happy to see our first eastern bluebird of the season. After leaving his perch, he flew off and entered one of our nearby birdhouses. I am pretty sure this is a return visitor.
Barbara Theriault, Tadmuck Lane. April 20, a lovely spring day. We saw two pileated woodpeckers pecking on a tree, a hawk, downy woodpecker, pair of cardinals, mourning doves and a chickadee.
Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. April 25, five deer just came in the yard at 1 p.m. They don’t look too good do they? [Debbie sent a photo. The deer were shedding out, so looked raggedly. They were also very thin-MH]
Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. April report, chickadees, titmouse, nuthatch, pair of cardinals, purple finch, house finch, blue jays, good flock of goldfinches, (a beautiful yellow color), large group of red-winged blackbirds, male and females, red bellied woodpeckers, male and female, male and female downy woodpeckers, cowbird seen one day, robins in yard, noisy grackles, field, house and swamp sparrows, turkeys in yard every day. A bear visited neighbors next door twice in early April, gray squirrels chasing each other, chipmunks, black flies, earthworms, many skunk cabbages and fern fiddleheads now appearing.
Marian Harman is a member of the Westford Conservation Trust, a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to the preservation of Westford’s open spaces and trails. The Trust welcomes new members and volunteers. Check out the Trust’s website at westfordconservationtrust.org, or visit us Facebook.