Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – April 2023


Pine warbler by Doug Pederson

Spring Migration

For ardent birdwatchers, nothing can be more exciting than seeing the first spring migrants. First to come in February are the blackbirds, red-winged blackbirds, grackles and cowbirds. Next the phoebes arrive in March, first seen here on March 29. In April we say good-by to the northbound juncos, last seen here on April 21. Many beautiful ducks such as wood ducks, hooded and common mergansers, ring-necked ducks and others are seen for a short time on our ponds and rivers, as they rest. Most proceed further north, but some will stay. In April too, beautiful, sapphire-backed tree swallows swoop overhead for early insects.

Most eagerly anticipated are the warblers, orioles and other neo-tropical migrants. This year, many of these birds arrived early. Pine warblers were heard here as early as April 17. Palm warblers, yellow-rumped warblers, and ruby-crowned kinglets arrived here on April 21. Yellow warblers arrived on April 24, with their lovely song, “sweet, sweet, little more sweet”. Chipping sparrows were first heard here on April 25. We await the Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, vireos, thrushes, hummingbirds and many other species of warblers. These usually arrive in the first few weeks of May.

This is definitely the time to get outside with your binoculars, and perhaps the  Sibley field guide and Merlin app on your cell phone, to help identify these beautiful birds. I can assure you that for awhile you will forget all about your worries at home.

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of April. Please send reports by May 30 for inclusion in next month’s column. You can e-mail me at mariancharman@gmail.com.


April Reports

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. April 1- Juncos still here (no fooling!). April 2, 40’s, sunny. A walk on the beaver dam trail: two red-breasted nuthatches together on a tree, one white-breasted nuthatch, cardinal, blackbirds, several wood frogs and peepers in the wetlands, goldfinches, chickadees. April 10, 60 degrees, sunny. Juncos singing a lot.

An Easter Haiku

Joyous Easter time

Family and Friends together.

Warm sun and warm smiles.

April 11, 72 degrees, sunny, glorious! A walk on the beaver dam trail: male wood duck patrolling in a small circle at the pond’s edge. Mrs. must be sitting on eggs in a nearby tree cavity. Hooded merganser pair on Snake Meadow Brook. Many basking painted turtles in the pond and on the banks of Snake Meadow Brook. The wind is sighing in the tops of the pines. One of our pines is estimated by Bill to be 170 years old (judging from circumference and height). Wood frog eggs seen in the wetlands of the brook, near the shore. A cute phoebe perched on our deck fence. At 5 p.m., all three woodpeckers are at the feeder (red-bellied, hairy, downy). Song sparrow, three dover, many tree swallows overhead. April 13, 85 degrees and sunny! April 17, 60’s, sunny (this is better). Seven mourning doves feeding under the feeders. Some spread their wings out and lie on the warm ground. One blue jay, lots of grackles and red-wings, one hairy woodpecker. At 5 p.m., a cooper’s hawk made a stealth bomber attack on a bird in the yard (dove?). The panicked bird flew into our front window, but seemed to survive and fly away. A walk on Pilgrim Drive: black flies have arrived, goldfinch, pine warbler, robins (in pairs and singing), cardinal, titmice, blue jays, red-tailed hawk, cowbird, mourning dove, red-bellied woodpecker, lots of tree swallows overhead. April 20,  60’s, beautiful blue sky and sun. A walk on the Frances Hill Wildlife Sanctuary: leaves are beginning to unfurl, especially on the blueberry bushes. Star magnolias are blooming beautifully in the wetter areas. I noticed for the first time that white oaks seem to like to live in the uplands, and red oaks seem to like the lowlands (more wet?). Pileated woodpecker heard, titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, brown creeper, downy woodpecker, gloriously singing cardinals. Skunk cabbage and hellebore are up in the wetlands. Many wild lily of the valley (Canada mayflower) leaves are up. At the feeder: grackles and other blackbirds are eating all the seed and suet each day. The smaller birds have a hard time timing a quick dash to the sunflower seed between the grackles. Lots of goldfinches at the thistle seed (nobody else likes it). Pine warblers heard. April 21, from the deck: Merlin heard a palm warbler, pine warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet, song sparrow, white-throated sparrow, all three blackbirds, goldfinches and juncos (last time juncos seen or heard—they’ve headed north). April 24-25. A beautiful walk on the beaver dam trail with a friend: At least ten yellow-rumped warblers hawking insects from a branch over the pond, and also gleaning from the oak tree blossoms. Three or four yellow warblers, both male and female, tree swallows flying over the pond. Shadbush is blooming at edge of pond, starflower plants are up, low-bush blueberries are blooming. A wood duck took off from Snake Meadow Brook, pileated woodpecker heard, red-bellied woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, virtuoso cardinals, red-winged blackbirds are on territory in the cattails on the brook. One male has two females in his territory. One was gathering cattail fluff, one was slowly  moving undercover of the cattails to her nest site, lots of goldfinches singing like canaries, titmice, chickadees, red-breasted nuthatch heard, white-breasted nuthatch, ruby-crowned kinglets, mockingbird, grackles, robin, Baltimore oriole heard, blue jay (one came very close and gave an alarm call to tell the others about a “stranger”(my friend) on the trail (they identify individuals very well). She seemed harmless to birds, so he quickly left. Also heard, American crow, fish crow, mourning doves, chipping sparrow (my first this year). Twenty-seven species in all—a record for me! April 26- 50’s, sunny, windy. Two yellow-rumped warblers at the suet feeder (I haven’t seen them do this before), goldfinches, chickadee. April 30, a walk to the meadow: a loud hawk heard, sounded like a red-shouldered hawk. As soon as I got Merlin running to check, it stopped calling, of course. The birds are so observant. They notice if you have anything in your hand, and often go silent. Bluets and violets blooming in the meadow—lovely.

A Haiku for April

Birds easily seen

No flies mosquitos to bite

My favorite month!


Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. April report: last junco seen on April 24. At the feeder have had doves, blue jays, grackles, red-winged blackbirds, a cardinal pair, brilliant yellow goldfinches, house finch, purple finch, chickadees, titmice, red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, and a big surprise, a pileated woodpecker! Also have seen white-throated sparrows, chipping sparrow, robin, chipmunks, a  pair of bunnies eating my hosta, grey squirrels. Via the backyard trail camera: fox, deer. April 28, first bumblebee seen. The plants are early this year: skunk cabbage at the creek, mints.


 Marian Harman is a member of the Westford Conservation Trust, a non-profit conservation organization, whose purpose is the protection of Westford’s open spaces and trails. Check out the Trust’s website at westfordconservationtrust.org, and visit us on Facebook.