Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – February 2019

Hill Orchard by Marian Harman

Farmland is disappearing in Massachusetts. We are losing agricultural lands and farming opportunities at an alarming rate. To try to stem the tide of farmland loss, the Mass Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) established the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) program in 1979. It was a first-in-the-nation model for many other states. The MDAR website states, “the primary purpose of the APR program is to preserve and protect agricultural land, including designated farmland soils, which are a finite natural resource, from being built upon for non-agricultural purposes or used for any activity detrimental to agriculture, and to maintain APR land values at a level that can be supported by the land’s agricultural uses and potential.”

The APR program works by paying farmers the difference between the full market value of their land and the agricultural value of the land. In that way, the landowner retains ownership of the land, but cannot sell the land for anything but agriculture. The program has worked well. It has protected 800 farms and 68,000 acres in Massachusetts.

Westford has followed the State trend. The 2006 Master Plan states, “From 1985 to 1999, Westford experienced the second greatest loss of agricultural land of any town in Massachusetts.” The 2006 Westford Reconnaissance Inventory completed through the Massachusetts Heritage Landscape Inventory Program cited the loss of active farming and the development of agricultural land as “one of Westford’s key planning issues.” In looking at our Open Space Plans, it is evident that since 1957 we have lost over 90% of our farmland. We have only six protected farms left. These farms are protected by Agricultural Preservation Restrictions or Conservation Restrictions. Westford’s Comprehensive Master Plan of 2009 supports residents’ desire to protect agricultural land. On the second page of this 237-page document, the Master Plan sets out its primary objectives under the heading, Community Vision:

-“Westford wants to be a community that appreciates its natural resources and open space. Open space acquisition and land use regulation that guide development to areas designated for growth will be Westford’s primary tool for protecting open space and natural resources.”

-“Westford wants to be a community that celebrates and preserves its heritage. Westford’s agricultural and historic industrial landscapes and its villages will be cherished and protected as irreplaceable public assets.

Under the heading Cultural and Historic Resources, the 2009 Master Plan states, “The loss of active farming and the development of agricultural land were cited as the most important landscape issues raised by Westford residents during the planning process for the Heritage Landscape Inventory Program in 2006.

In 1999, the purchase for $525,000 by the Town of an APR on the Drew Parcel on Boston Rd. was completed. Here is what is written in the 1999 Town Report regarding the purchase: “This will assure the preservation of a critical part of the landscape important for maintaining the character of the Town which has been identified by the citizens of the Town as a high priority during the Master Plan update process.” The 2010 Open Space Plan states, “Westford residents place great value on retaining the town’s farming heritage in addition to protecting open space, and the town has successfully preserved several working farms and orchards through agricultural preservation restrictions and municipal purchase.”

Now, a citizens’ petition to be voted on at our March 23 Annual Town Meeting, asks that we give the Selectmen the authority to negotiate with a developer to build a large restaurant, parking lot and septic system on one of our protected agricultural parcels. Such a development would clearly violate the terms of the perpetual protection for that agricultural land. I urge you to attend Town Meeting at Abbot School on March 23 and vote “No” on Article 16. We must stay vigilant in our determination to protect Westford’s farmland. Its the only farmland we will ever have.

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of February. Please send reports by March 26 for inclusion 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

Late January Flora and Fauna Reports

Esther Donlon, Providence Rd. January 27, I am having fun with my wildlife camera, seeing lots of deer and a small bobcat running.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. January 27, two pairs of blue jays, one pair of cardinals, several chickadees, tufted titmouse, nuthatch, purple finches, house finches and goldfinches. Ten juncos at a time and a few white-throated sparrows, doves, red-bellied male woodpecker, female downy woodpecker, a hawk flying overhead, four gray squirrels, bunny tracks, five to eight turkeys occasionally. January 30, back of our house and in various wooded areas around town, I notice the trees all leaning in one direction. Could it have something to do with all the rain we had in the fall and the ground is saturated?

Barbara Theriault, Tadmuck Lane. January 27, red-bellied woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, mourning doves, juncos, Carolina wren, tufted titmice, male and female cardinals, two deer lying down munching on twigs.

Beth Bonner, Plain Rd. January 27, we have seen our fourteen turkeys almost every day this month. Not seen on January 4 and 20, the snowy days. Sometimes they come twice a day. “Some days they spend quite a bit of time in our yard, gathering in the woods, a few coming up on the deck, or even a couple flying up to the trees behind us or to our barn roof.”

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. January 31, the “Polar Vortex” is upon us. Five degrees this morning. At feeders, Carolina wren, pair of downy woodpeckers, two chickadees two goldfinches, one junco, four blue jays, four gray squirrels, fisher tracks in the snow.

Peggy Bennett, Nabnasset St. End of January, a great horned owl perched on the peak of our barn at dusk, hooted a few times before flying off. Also in the yard, house sparrows, song sparrows, four juncos, three crows, four blue jays, two nuthatches, two downy woodpeckers, one house wren, one mockingbird, cardinal pair, one or two phoebes, four chickadees, four tufted titmice, one red-tailed hawk, two mourning doves, cooper’s hawk perched in yard watching me shovel the driveway. At Northhill Rd., eight mourning doves. Large flock of robins and starlings at Nabnasset Country Club every day for about a week, and several Canada geese and mallards on golf course as well. At Tyngsboro Rd., saw my first bobcat, walking toward the woods behind the houses, but stopped to glance over his shoulder at me. Very healthy looking and beautiful. At Mill Pond, male and female hooded mergansers, two common mergansers. At Russell’s Way, a barred owl flew close to my windshield as I drove by, then perched on a branch looking at me.

February Reports

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. Feb. 1, Canada geese, starlings. Feb. 3, ten robins. Feb. 5, a red-tailed hawk pounced on something on the ground and three turkeys immediately ran over to investigate. Feb. 10, bluebirds eating suet. Feb. 11, coyote with injured leg out in the daytime. February 17, red-winged blackbird. Feb. 19, sharp-shinned hawk, rusty blackbirds. Feb. 21, opossum.

Peggy Bennett, Nabnasset St. fourteen cedar waxwings, one barred owl. At Stone Arch Bridge, two hooded mergansers. At Winding Way, six bluebirds. February 15, male and two female common merganers on Mill Pond. At Forrest Rd. two deer crossing.

Gerry DiBello, Court Rd.  Feb. 2, four red-winged blackbirds at our sunflower seed feeder–early migrants? [Yes, the earliest I have heard of-MH]

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. February 2, barred owl sat in backyard watching bird feeders for two hours. February 20, pileated woodpecker pecking away at an old pine tree in back yard. February 21, first juvenile male red-winged blackbird. Feb. 23, saw four more males and two females. Also, red-bellied, and downy woodpeckers, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatch, titmouse, starling, doves, two pairs of cardinals, several blue jays, juncos, white-throated sparrows, house sparrow, purple and house finches. At Westford nursing home, numerous robins snacking on a crabapple tree. Deer seen in front yard by outdoor camera, coyote howling one night. Several nights heard a group of coyotes.

John Piekos, Dunstable Rd. Feb.3, fisher caught on trail cam.

Marilyn Day, Graniteville Rd. Feb. 5, a flock of ten to twelve robins showed up this afternoon.

Cailin Graeber, Lowell Rd. Feb.5, saw a bobcat yesterday morning around 7 a.m. on Lowell Rd. between Stonybrook Rd. and Chamberlain Rd. It was in no hurry to cross the road.

Michael McPartland, Danley Drive. February 5, a very causal stroll by a fearless bobcat across our yard.

Barbara Theriault, Tadmuck Lane. February 5, a coyote speed walking through the woods about ten feet from our backyard. February 6, six lovely robins in the back yard today.

Marian/Bill Harman, At Forge Pond. February 8, twenty-four mallards, two black ducks, female goldeneye.  At Old Colony Drive. February 10, great horned owl heard. February 12, chickadee singing a first attempt at a spring song, red-bellied woodpecker, three juncos, two crows, two Canada geese overhead, five blue jays, a mourning dove. At noon, an adult bald eagle flew into a pine close to us–first we’ve seen here! It perched there in the sun resting, preening, and overlooking the frozen Keyes Pond for many hours. February 17, a bird that looked like a migrating chipping sparrow getting in its new feathers, ate at our feeder for about an hour, then moved on. February 17, at Tadmuck Rd., a pileated woodpecker. February 18, snowing all day, lots of birds feeding frantically: four chickadees, two titmice, two goldfinches, five juncos, a white-breasted nuthatch, two downy woodpeckers, a blue jay, two Carolina wrens, pair of cardinals. February 19, cardinal singing his spring song. At Forge Pond, pair of hooded mergansers, about thirty-five mallards. Feb. 20, coyote tracks in woods.

Beth Bonner, Plain Rd. February 15, the turkeys seem to have moved on. The last time we saw them was February 7. We continue to feed our other birds and squirrels.

Diane Duane, Howard Rd. February 10, great horned owl calling at about 4 p.m.   Elaine Donaghey, Dana Drive. February 17, pileated woodpecker working diligently in the yard.

Mary Lyman, in Town Center. February 17, two red-tailed hawks in a tree together in the center of town.

Sunny/Mike Killoran, Pine Ridge Rd. February 24, bluebirds at the feeder again this winter.


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