Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – December 2021


Yellow-rumped Warbler by Diane Duane

Do we still wish everyone a Happy New Year when Omicron is raging? Yes, I think we do, because 2022 has got to be better than 2021. Despite the fact that 2021 was  the second year of Covid, and was all about getting vaccinated and wearing masks, our walks in nature and the beauty at our bird feeders still kept us sane. Birds at our feeders and wildlife in our yards and on trails took on special meaning and Grace this year. Dag Williamson, wildlife reporter, put it beautifully: “I’ve noticed that every kind of bird does seem to have a distinctive characteristic way of flying. Our cardinals, for instance, seem to have an undulating, dipping/gliding way of flying. Just as pleasant to the eye as their melodic singing.” The animals kept going about their lives, which is a challenge for them at all times. And the fact that they stoically keep working to find food and stay warm, cheers us and puts our lives in perspective.

Many of you took the time to send in your wildlife reports for us all to enjoy. Thirty-eight Westford residents sent in reports this year, and you sent in 960 reports and photos. These reports are entered into the Westford Wildlife spreadsheet I have been keeping since 1990. This spreadsheet (and accompanying graphs) is compiled yearly by our statistician friends Maurilio and Mau Fernandes. All reports are also published in this Westford Wildlife Watch column, which is published in the Westford Eagle-Independent and on the Westford Conservation Trust website. Some highlights of the past year are noted below.

In January, several residents noted flocks of “irruptive” species of birds. These species come south to our area in winters when cones are scarce up north. A flock of pine grosbeaks was feeding on spruce cones on Graniteville Rd. Red-breasted nuthatches were seen in several locations in town.

Bobcats were seen on Providence Rd. and Tenney Rd. On Almeria, an adult and two juvenile bobcats were seen playing in the grass.

In February, a pair of bluebirds, with three juveniles was seen at a feeder on Woodbury Rd. Laurel Martin said, “Today, with the gentle snow falling, all four of them spent the entire afternoon perching and feeding and keeping me entertained….Thank God for birds. They have really kept me cheered during the pandemic!” Otter signs were noted along Stony Brook.

In March, bluebirds were seen at several feeders, red-breasted nuthatches were on Vine Brook Rd. Wood ducks arrived on Snake Meadow Brook. Hooded mergansers were reported from Stony Brook. March 25 was “Big Night” for wood frogs and salamanders, which make their way to the vernal pools of their birth for breeding. They were reported from Texas Rd., and Main St. Also on March 25, a phoebe, a harbinger of spring, was seen and heard on Texas Rd. Black ducks and a pair of ravens were seen near the old highway garage.

In April,  Ring-necked ducks were seen on Keyes Pond. Spring peepers and wood frogs were heard on Snake Meadow Brook. A palm warbler, an evening grosbeak, Nashville and pine warblers were feeding near Old Colony Drive. On April 5, the first black bear of the spring was reported at a feeder, and juncos migrated north the same day. A bald eagle was seen at Keyes Pond and at a Concord Rd. Pond, also on Depot St. On April 25, the first Eastern towhee was reported.

In May, the orioles arrived, a little early. On May 2, two different orioles were heard singing at Old Colony Drive. On May 8,  at the Westford Conservation Trust bird walk, thirty-one species of birds were identified in the Nashoba Pond area, including at least four ovenbirds, a parula warbler, a yellow-rumped warbler and a magnolia warbler. A bobcat with three young were seen on Old Homestead Rd. A long-tailed weasel was seen on Pine Ridge Rd.

In June, two ravens, several fish crows, a hermit thrush, a wood thrush and a veery were all seen at Old Colony Drive. A very exciting and rare bird, a King Rail, was seen and heard at Old Homestead Rd.

In July, we were notified by Mass Audubon, about a mystery neurological disease in birds, that was moving north from the mid-Atlantic states. We were all urged to take down our feeders until further notice. This was tough for us, but most of us did that, in order to try to protect our birds from contagion. Still we had many reports from people who were seeing birds on their trail walks.

In August, we were notified of the “all clear’ by Mass Audubon on August 26. We could put our feeders up again. The mystery disease never got further north than New Jersey, then disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared. One notable thing about this time period is that we could often see and smell the smoke from the huge western wildfires that were going on due to very hot and dry conditions.

In September, butterflies, which are getting quite rare, were seen in several areas: monarchs on Vine Brook Rd., and an American Lady butterfly on Howard Rd. A spotted turtle was seen on Vine brook Rd., a spotted sandpiper was seen on Stony Brook. September 17, the last ruby-throated hummingbird was reported.

In October, The fall was very warm. A monarch butterfly was reported on Howard Rd. A very exciting rare bird, a Sora Rail, was reported on Wing Rd. October 31, the first dark-eyed junco (very late for this species) was  reported at Old Colony Drive.

In November, the fall continued to be very warm. A double-crested cormorant and a belted kingfisher were reported on Keyes Rd. Spring plants were blooming in various places. November 18, the first white-throated sparrow arrived at Old Colony Drive. A leucistic (white) turkey was reported on Providence Rd.

In December the fall still quite warm, rarely dipping below freezing, often in the 40’s and 50’s, occasional light snow, but no accumulation.  An unusual species, a fox sparrow was seen at a feeder on Old Colony Drive. At the end of the month, meteorologists announced that 2021 was the hottest year on record for Boston. Normal average temperature for the past years is 52.3F. The 2021average temp was 54.8F.

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of December. Please send reports for January by January 26, to be included in next month’s column. You can call me at 692-3907, send a note to 7A Old Colony Drive, or e-mail me at mariancharman@gmail.com.


Late November Report:

Leslie Thomas, Old Colony Drive. November 25, “I went to friends for Thanksgiving yesterday about 3:30 and came home about 9:00 to find this bird flying around the kitchen and family room.” [Leslie sent a good photo of a Carolina Wren in her condo-MH] The Animal Control Officer suggested that I let it alone and go to bed…. Then in the morning when it was just daylight, I opened all three doors and it flew out….Such drama!”


December Reports:

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. December 1, 40 degrees and overcast. Eight blue jays at the feeder, a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers, two house sparrows, a white-throated sparrow, a fox sparrow, a downy woodpecker, a chickadee, a titmouse, a white-breasted nuthatch. December 8, a little snow–the first to stick. Dec. 11,

temp went up to 60’s, very rainy. Dec. 12, two ravens overhead. Dec. 16, temp in 60’s. Otter scats full of fish scales seen next to Keyes Pond. Dec. 19, 30 degrees, a dusting of snow and ice on ground. Dec. 20, walk near Littleton Rd. wetlands: American tree sparrows, juncos, chickadees, a robin, a flock of starlings, downy woodpecker, raven overhead.

Roy Perry, a muticolored duck on Stony Brook. [Roy sent photos and we identified it as a Muscovy Duck–an escaped domestic species. Hopefully it makes it through the winter-MH]