Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – August 2022


Broad-winged hawk and chipmunk by Bill Duane

September is an exciting month for birders; its hawk migration time.  Broad-winged hawks head south to Central and South America between September 1 and September 30. None of these hawks stay north in the winter. Mid-month sees the majority of broad-wings circling and gliding their way south. Broad-winged hawks migrate over land, avoiding flying over the ocean. They take to the skies mid-day just after a cold front has passed, the land is heating up, and the weather is favorable. They fly to an altitude of 1,000 to 5,000 feet, circling upwards on a warm thermal air mass. These warm thermals are generally found over large hills and mountains  when the air has warmed sufficiently to create rising air shafts. Many hawks may circle upwards on the same thermal, a phenomenon known as “kettling”. At the top of the upward thermal, hawks peel off and stream south towards another thermal, where they will again kettle upwards. Using this method, broad-wings are able to accomplish their entire migration almost effortlessly, without flapping their wings. When observing these kettles, birders may also see other species of hawks which are migrating: red-tailed hawks, cooper’s hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, bald eagles, falcons, osprey and even turkey vultures. These other species may also fly over water or take other opportunities. But broad-wings always fly during the day, and over the land.

Eastern Massachusetts Hawk Watch posts reports in September, detailing where and how many hawks are seen each day. Dedicated volunteer hawk watchers set up at favorable spots. The best place to see hawks migrating near here, is at the top of Wachusett Mountain. One can drive to the top with binoculars in hand and see the show. On the best days, you may see thousands of hawks. The most likely days to see hawks migrating is September 7-15, from noon to dusk. Be ready anytime in September just after a cold front passes.

But you don’t need to drive to a mountain to see hawks migrating. If you sit in a spot where you have a good field of view, you are likely to be able to see migrating hawks above you most days in September.

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for August. Please send reports by September 30 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.


August Reports:

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. August 2, 80’s, hot, humid. A walk to the beaver dam: Only one square-stemmed monkey flower plant, lots of little oaks, maples, birches in the blow-down area, but disappointingly, also lots of buckthorn. Very fragrant sweet pepper bush blooming along the shore, catbird, a little toad. August 6, a walk to the Pickin’ Farm Meadow: goldfinches, white-breasted nuthatch, jays, Carolina wren, mourning dove. Saw a new plant to me: Indian hemp or hemp dogbane, in with the Joe-pye-weed, which is blooming beautifully. Also blooming were violets, small white aster, pink and white bindweed, lots of grape vines. A tiny toad was in the path, a tiger swallowtail was nectaring on the Joe-pye-weed. A pearly crescent butterfly was also on the JP weed.

August 14, 70-80 degrees, sunny. A beautiful day. In our woods a red-breasted nuthatch was heard over and over (id. by Merlin). Six goldfinches, loving the new thistle seed. A walk at Grassy Pond: the water is very low; lots of grass, sedges, growing on the pond bottom, making it live up to its name. Bullfrogs heard, green frog jumped away as I stepped near pond edge. A little green heron flew in with a croak, then chased something in the water and caught it. Many young American Chestnut trees are in the forest. They must have been a magnificent sight before the blight hit. Rocks in the middle of the pond: Arnold Wilder told us years ago that these were put on the ice to make a duck blind for hunters. When the ice melted, they fell in the pond, making the interesting causeway and circle shape they are in now. A little water plant is blooming in the pond–white 3-parted flowers, yellow in the center. This is probably grass-leaved arrowhead. Many white balls atop stems are likely the seed heads. A father cardinal was feeding his baby in a low bush near the trail. August 15, 70’s, sunny, beautiful. Field sparrow at the feeder all day–big surprise! Also chipping sparrow, white-breasted nuthatch, chickadee, blue jay, 6 goldfinches, two female hummingbirds, red-breasted nuthatch calling, downy woodpecker. A broad-winged hawk soaring overhead and calling. A hairy woodpecker, and eleven mourning doves. Cedar waxwings (Merlin id.) August 17, overcast, breezy. Two red-tailed hawks oaring low and calling–juveniles? A walk to the beaver dam: the day feels like fall, with the cool wind keeping the bugs away. A female blue-winged teal swimming on Keyes Pond, gleaning insects from surface plants in the swampy area. This is a first to see her here. She’s undoubtedly on migration. Chickadees, titmice, downy woodpecker, cardinal, catbird, blue jays. August 19- red-shouldered hawk calling. August 20, six goldfinches, four juvenile blue jays chasing and begging from their parents, red-bellied woodpecker. August 23, 80’s, grackle, noisy blue jay family of 6.

August 25, hummingbird, goldfinches, jays, chickadees. August 31, some welcome rain last night!  hairy woodpecker (female), jays, two female hummingbirds.

Gerry DiBello, Court Rd. August 5, bluebirds, both adult and juveniles, at the mealworm feeder. Catbirds and tufted titmice also like mealworms. Male and female hummingbirds are daily visitors to the sugar water feeder and to our fading bee balm. Goldfinches and other small birds drink water from the small dish that’s in the middle of the feeder (there to keep ants out of the sugar water)– have to refill the water twice a day. Goldfinches are eating the seeds on our black eyed susans.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. August 26 monthly report: red-winged blackbirds, a few grackles, chickadees, tufted titmouse, nuthatch, blue jays, two pairs of cardinals, and the first juvenile cardinal this year, doves, goldfinches, house finches, hummingbirds on deck flowers and on the feeder– have to fill the feeder every other day. At one point, had two on the feeder at one time–a first. Hawk flying overhead, upsetting local birds. Sparrows, very loud woodpecker in woods (pileated?). We are keeping the bird bath filled for bathing and drinking. Turkeys, a few at a time. Lately saw juvenile turkeys. Lots of bunnies, eating flowers and hostas, pack of coyotes a few nights back, all yapping loudly at one time. When they saw me through the door, they stopped. Deer and fawn eating grass in back yard, squirrels, chipmunks. A wasp nest is under the front window. Hajo was stung several times. He sprayed, but they only moved ten inches to the left. Bumble bees on tall glove thistle, all covered with pollen–happy to see. Also bees seen on lantana plant and million bells plants on deck. Many bees, wasps, etc. on the white healthy hydrangea, and on bee balm. We have twelve milkweed plants, but no monarch caterpillars. Small white moths among the plants, three little toads/frogs. Pond on Leland and brook on Providence almost dried up, lawn dormant. Smaller trees are showing signs of distress from excess heat and no rain.

Lisa Groves, on Leland Rd., August 31, Joel and I encountered three juvenile snakes on our walk on Leland, Court and Drawbridge roads. All were about the same size (very small–just a little thicker than a pencil and 7-10 inches long). They were at different locations on the roads. “It was like they were all in synch with some greater force calling them to travel.” Unfortunately, one was dead. One of the lives ones was a garter snake. We think the other two might be northern water snakes [I agree–very pretty! MH]


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