Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – APRIL 2022


Chipping Sparrow by Doug Pederson

Spring migration–the most exciting time of the year! April and May see the influx of southern birds into our yards and open spaces. We hear bird song from our resident and from our migratory birds. I love hearing their songs and like to try it identify them. I have spent many years learning bird songs from the wonderful CD’s called Birding by Ear.  But how to identify songs that are confusing or new to you, and if the bird is high in the tree tops and can’t be seen, even with binoculars? Some spring migrants, like many of the warblers, pass through our area so briefly, I have trouble remembering their songs.

But now, I have a new app on my phone, called Merlin. This app was developed in 2021 by Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It can record the bird song you are hearing and accurately identify all the different birds singing at that period of time. It does this by recording a song and displaying it as a spectrogram. It compares that “picture” of the song with many others it has in its files and comes up with the definitive answer in seconds. For instance, I have always had a great deal of trouble distinguishing the pine warbler song from the chipping sparrow song. Both are spring migrants, fly into the tops of trees and sing their hearts out when they get here. But most times, they are virtually invisible, and due to the fact that each individual has its own version of the song–a high warble, I find the species indistinguishable. But Merlin can compare the spectrogram I record to those it has in its data base, and come up with the answer. It seems like a miracle. Some of our resident birds also have different songs. Tufted titmouse, for instance, which normally sings a sweet “peter-peter-peter” in the morning, has myriad other songs for different times of day and for different uses. Merlin will be able to tell you that they are all coming from one bird. Check out the YouTube video that explains the Merlin app.


Many thanks to all flora and fauna reports for the month of April. Please send May reports by the end of the month for inclusion in next month’s column.You can email me at mariancharman@gmail.com.

March Reports:

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd.  March Report: 2 pairs of cardinals, blue jays, many goldfinches, house finch, and purple finch. Saw a house finch male feeding the female..Chickadee, tufted titmouse, doves, many red winged blackbirds, many grackles – usually with the red wings. Juncos still here. And a new one:  Flicker… nice to see here. Downy and red bellied woodpeckers. Heard a pileated woodpecker (apparently lives in our area. Seen only twice).

Neighbors have blue birds. Squirrels in yard. Seen on camera during night:

Foxes, deer (once), bob cat. Canada Geese overhead.  Seen on a walk last week on the Peace Trail: many skunk cabbage plants.  Heard Peepers, red- winged black birds in the swampy areas.

Nancy Eberiel, Depot St. March 26, three bluebirds at my feeder this afternoon.

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. March 26, pair of common mergansers, pair of mallards and pair of Canada geese on Keyes Pond; grackles and red-wings setting up shop in Snake Meadow Brook reeds; first wood frogs heard in the swamp east of trail. March 29, two male turkeys displaying for three females in back yard.

April Reports:

Marian/Bill Harman, on the Peace Trail: April 5, 50 degrees and sunny–beautiful, healing, spring walk. Spring peepers heard, painted turtles sunning in the swamp, skunk cabbage leafing out, red maple and pussy willows blooming. Saw and heard: grackles, red-winged blackbirds, pair of wood ducks, pair of mallards, chickadees, titmice, robins, two red-bellied woodpeckers, blue jays, two brown creepers, pair of bald eagles soaring overhead close together, red-tailed hawk flying low over the swamp being chased by blackbirds, a few tree swallows, two song sparrows, many robins, many Canada geese, some house finches, coyote scat, owl pellet containing many large bones (squirrel?) April 9, six goldfinches at the feeder. April 10, on trail to beaver dam: peepers and wood frogs calling in the swamps, painted turtles on a log in Keyes Pond, pair of geese and a male mallard at their usual places in the brook. The male mallard seems to be patrolling. His mate is probably nesting there. Brown creeper, red-winged blackbirds and grackles, chickadees and titmice, pair of cardinals, downy woodpecker, crows, turkey vulture overhead. Also, skunk cabbage, rattlesnake plantain, wintergreen. April 15, a red-tailed hawk swooped into a pine tree very near us as we sat on our deck. It seemed completely undisturbed by us, and promptly fell asleep in the sun. With binoculars, I could see it had an extremely full crop and was sleeping off a big meal. April 16, at Frances Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, pine warbler, brown creeper, titmice, chickadees, robin. Plants: Canada mayflower coming up, false hellebore leafing out in swamp. April 19, I got the Merlin app. on my phone–its great–immediately identified three birds that were singing in the yard: white-throated sparrow, cardinal, pine warbler. Finally something that can tell the difference between pine warbler and chipping sparrow!

Clemens Anklin, at Stone Arch Bridge. April 9, bald eagle perched in a tree.

Joan Gehrig, Jester Rd. April 7, Yellow-headed blackbird under feeder with red-winged blackbirds [Joan took several photos–very unusual and exciting! [I reported it and sent photos to Bird Observer-MH].

Rick/Sue Ferry, Tenney Rd. Eastern towhee scratching under the feeder [first one reported this spring-MH]

Nancy Eberiel, at Grassy Pond. April 16, hooded merganser and wood duck.

Jodi Ross and sister, at Grassy Pond. April 16, 6 Wood Ducks, 4 Hooded Mergansers, 1 Mallard, 1 Brown-headed cowbird? Second stop, at Peace Trail, 2 Mallards, 1 Downy Woodpecker, 1White-breasted Nuthatch, 1 Eastern Bluebird, 2 American Robins, 12+ Red-winged Blackbirds, 2 Common Grackles, 2 Palm Warblers, 1 Blue Jay. At my house over the weekend: Tufted Titmouse (a few or the same one repeatedly), Black-capped Chickadees, American Goldfinches, Downy Woodpecker, Mallard (looking for his wife), Robins, Eastern Blue birds (male and female), Blue Jay, Cardinal. I believe I saw a catbird, but not positive.

Roy Perry, at Frances Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, April 25. Magnolias in bloom, barred owl seen.

            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 and visit us on Facebook.