Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – April 2020

Great Blue Heron by Doug Pederson

Brighter Outlook by Stepping Out

Westford has lost a talented photographer, poet and nature lover, and I have lost a friend. Doug Pederson sent me many of his lovely bird photos over the years I knew him, and gave me permission to use them for the Westford Wildlife Watch column. His family put together some of his photos and poems into a book entitled Brighter Outlook by Stepping Out. It was a surprise gift to Doug. I was honored to receive a copy of Doug’s book last year. The first poem in the book, of the same title, describes a walk to a lake. It ends with, “This moment of awe took away all my reflections of negativity….Never underestimate what may be until you change your attitude and step out.”

In Doug’s memory, I write this column about the brighter outlook we may all receive by walking outside. Due to the corona virus, most of us are supposed to be staying isolated alone or with family at home. For me, the only way to retain my sanity under this scheme, is to take a walk outside every day. Its really like a tranquilizer. We are so fortunate in Westford to have many beautiful trails. It can also become a family or individual education time. Before starting out, I protect myself from ticks. This is quite easy: wear light colored pants, and tuck your pant bottoms into your socks. Spray the pants, socks and shoes from the knee down with tick repellent. When you return, do a tick check. This method works extremely well. I have had no ticks since I started this regime last spring.

As you walk, you will notice many spring wildflowers blooming. If you want to learn their names, you could take along a field guide, such as Peterson’s Field Guide to Wildflowers, which is organized by flower color. When you see a flower you want to learn the name of, sit down near it and thumb through your guide until you find it. There are also wildflower identification apps for your phone. And this is a great time to learn birds–their field marks and their songs. You can use a field guide by David Sibley or Peterson, an excellent CD set called “Birding by Ear”, or a bird identification app. on your phone. When you do id. something, record the date and place.

Or, you can simply enjoy the walk. You don’t need to know the names of the plants and birds. You can suggest to your kids that they make up their own names for the things they see. You can play a game of “how many kinds of moss can we find?”  Encourage kids to explore: look for beetles on trees, acorn shells a chipmunk has peeled, new leaves that are just unfurling. Kids are very observant of small things. When I tire a bit on the walk, I like to find a comfortable rock to sit on, close my eyes and listen; to the wind in the trees, to the many bird songs and calls. I like to feel the sun or rain on my face, the wind in my hair. How many sounds, both natural and manmade can you hear? This “listening game” is a great way to quiet kids down. They can put up their fingers as they count how many different sounds they hear during their one or two minute sit. Then you can talk about what they and you heard. After you are sitting quietly like this for awhile, many animals have the courage to come out where you can see them. You’ll be surprised to see who was hiding when you were making noise by walking. Each walk, I look for the special “gift” nature is giving me that day. It may be a magnificent great blue heron rising up from the swamp, or a new plant just coming into bloom. Even walking on the same trail day after day, it never fails that I will see something entirely new.

If you want to explore more trails, log on to the Westford Conservation Trust website, and print out some of the trail maps you will find there. The Trust even has a badge it awards to people who walk every trail in Westford. You can do it in pieces, a little at a time, for the long trails. Keep track of trails you have walked, and receive a badge at the Trust’s Annual Meeting on November 5th.

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of April. You can send reports by May 26 to be included 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.

** See below for a gallery of some of Doug’s nature photo submissions

Late March Reports:

Heidi Hatke, Concord Rd. March 11, a bear visited and pulled my black oil seed hanging feeders down, “breaking one and absconding with one which I found a week later, bent but salvageable…I vowed to bring in the feeders each night but my resolve only lasted one day and luckily the bear hasn’t returned. Red-winged blackbirds have returned with the starlings and were noisily visiting the feeders”. March 23, ” after the snowstorm a coopers hawk startled and chased the birds congregating around the feeders. It was unsuccessful….It stayed for a bit and then flew off; a beautiful sight against the white backdrop.” “I too, appreciate your work at putting this column together and am thrilled that the editors of the new newspaper let you have the space to continue submitting and printing your column” [Thanks so much, Heidi-MH]

Mike Killoran, Pine Ridge Rd. March 27, I saw a bald eagle out my window at home. “It flew by close and the size was impressive. The white head against the dark body really stood out. A much smaller bird of prey was harassing it as it flew. Pretty brave I thought. ”

Bill Harman, at Kloppenburg Land. March 28, a pileated woodpecker heard clearly.

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. March, coyote on deck.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. March, white-throated sparrow.

April Reports:

Len Palmer, Colonial Dr., April 1, ” My wife, dog and I have been going to a different conservation area every day….We have noticed that almost all of the trails in town we have done so far are in excellent shape and are being used much more than normal. We have seen lots of phoebes and hermit thrushes at several places, nesting blue birds in boxes at Pageant Field, four buffleheads resting on what little water is left at Greystone Pond. Almost every day something new shows up.”

Clemens Anklin, Chamberlain Rd. April 3, Working from home I now find time to take some quick walks around the neighborhood. Tuesday I saw a ring-necked duck on the pond, and heard a pileated woodpecker in the woods. Also, abundant robins, blackbirds ,grackles, cowbirds and starlings. The juncos are beginning to disappear and the bluebirds are here. We see downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers in our yard.

Bob Price, Stratton Hill Rd. April 3, a pair of cardinals, a pair of bluebirds in one of the three nesting boxes.

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Dr. April 4, took a walk on the Mass Electric line behind Stony Brook School–a magical place. On Keyes Brook, a pair of wood ducks, and a pair of hooded mergansers, a brown creeper and several phoebes. On Stony Brook, a mute swan and four geese, two nesting, song sparrows, cardinals, chickadees. I our lawn, small-flowered bitter cress blooming. April 10, a walk on Acker Land along Stony Brook, three wood ducks, pair of mallards, red-winged blackbirds, red-bellied woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, Carolina wren, song sparrows. April 10, on Pilgrim Village trails, a lovely little spring azure butterfly, a winter wren in the swamp singing a high-pitched, long and complicated song, a pile up of 6-8 painted turtles on one rock in Snake Meadow Brook. April 14, a walk at Frances Hill trails, a phoebe, magnolias blooming, Canada Mayflower and starflower coming up, Indian poke leaves up, first bumble bee, black flies, a pair of pileated woodpeckers, a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, goldfinches, mourning dove, deer prints and scat, a hermit thrush silently moving through the forest. April 15, Pilgrim Village trails, a kingfisher rattling, then flying by with a fish in its beak. Green frogs tuning up for the first time, chipping sparrows singing, star flower leaves up. April 16, we woke to a dusting of snow! Saw and heard fish crows under the neighbors feeder. April 17, a chickadee hit the glass slider, was unconscious upside down on deck. We kept it overnight in a cat cage in the bathroom. Good thing we closed the bathroom door this time because it was out and waiting on the curtain rod by morning. We let it out the window. April 18, snowing much of the day, but not much accumulation. April 20, pair of ring-necked ducks on Keyes Pond. The red-wings and grackles are finally on territory at Snake Meadow Brook. Pair of white-throated sparrows, two barred owls calling near each other. Raven heard.

Rose O’Donnell, Sassafras Road. April 6, A pair of bluebirds is nesting in one of my six boxes.

Tom Ennis, Almeria Drive. April 9, “I have to tell you my family in Portland and Windham Maine are constantly amazed at the multitudes, the menagerie of wildlife we are exposed to out here in the burbs. “Three turkeys sashayed through the yard yesterday…. Found a spotted salamander in a fence post hole; his flesh was so cold, he didn’t move a muscle until he warmed in my hand for a few minutes. A garter snake was under leaves and was very angry when I disturbed him. I apologized but he wouldn’t have any of it. [Tom sent great pictures of the salamander and of the snake-MH] “Here is a tiny video of creatures that passed by my Blink camera while it rested on my front walk for a few days, just an amazing amount of traffic for a square yard of lawn.” [Tom’s video showed a chickadee, cardinal, junco, robin, rabbit, mouse, house sparrow, song sparrow, Carolina wren, opossum, red fox, and a hawk taking off-MH]

Diane Duane, Howard Rd. April 14, heard two barred owls today at 7:13 p.m. Great to hear them!

Nancy Eberiel, Depot St. April 16, a raven eating under my bird feeder. A hooded merganser on Stony Brook near Stone Arch Bridge.

Joe Foti, Old Colony Drive. April 17, two large hawks in the trees in front of his condo the past two days–beautiful and graceful.

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. April 24, Canada geese, mallards, woodchuck under shed, flicker, white-throated sparrows, Eastern phoebe, chipping sparrows, lots of bluebirds, red-bellied woodpeckers, mockingbird.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. April report: Chickadees, tufted titmouse, house finches, purple finches, robins poking in yard for worms, doves, lots of grackles, red-winged blackbirds, lots of goldfinches in their summer bright coats, song sparrows, hawk circling overhead, two or three turkeys come daily, pair of mallards in neighbors driveway, many chipmunks and big holes in the yard, gray squirrels chasing each other, skunk cabbage emerging along the brook.

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Nature Photos (a small sampling) by Doug Pederson

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