Do you have dandelions in your yard? Dandelions are despised by some and celebrated by others. I’m in the celebration camp. I consider dandelions to be beautiful, sunny and cheerful flowers, which are of great value to wildlife. I have a little book by Hilary Hopkins of Mass Audubon, titled Never Say It’s Just A Dandelion. In this handy little book, Hopkins has written descriptions, folklore and uses of our most common native wildflowers, shrubs and trees, devoting one page to each in alphabetical format. There are no photos or drawings of the plants, so I recommend taking the book on your walks, along with your field guide, or the iNaturalist app. When you identify a plant, look up what Hopkins has to say about it.
Dandelions, Taraxacum offiniale, are a good example. Hopkins explains the Latin name.; Taraxacum means “disturber”, a name for a bitter herb, and officinale means “of apothecaries”, for its medicinal uses. The flower’s common name, dandelion, is from the French dent de lion, for its sharply toothed leaves. Rabbits and people like to eat these plants when the leaves are young and sweet. One reason that you are lucky to have dandelions in your yard is that they are a valuable source of pollen and nectar for pollinators such as butterflies. The flower head consists of many individual ray flowers. Looked at closely with a magnifier, one can see that each ray flower has a male and a female part. Count how many ray flowers are in a dandelion flower head. This is a fun project to do with children. Dandelions are fun all summer. Children know that the seeds of dandelions have parachutes attached and are fun to blow into the air.
Dandelions have long been used for food and medicine by humans too. Early spring greens, that boast a high content of vitamin A, are used in salads, cooked, or dried as a coffee substitute. Dandelion flowers can be fermented into wine. Dandelion is a diuretic and has been used for kidney ailments and against yeast infections. Boiling the flowers yields a yellow dye, and boiling the roots yields a magenta dye. I suggest you forgo herbicides, that kill dandelions, butterflies and bees (these aren’t healthy for you or your children either), and enjoy one of nature’s most cheerful and useful gifts.
Many thanks for all flora and fauna reports for the month of July. Please send reports for next month’s column by August 26. You can call me at 692-3907, e-mail me at email@example.com, or write to me at 7A Old Colony Drive.
Late April- June Reports:
Rick and Anita Pollak, Oak Hill Rd. Barred owl in yard, mid-April to late May. I took a video of it, added music and posted the results on YouTube. I layered piano, electric piano, and strings together for the background music. Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/w8t-xKrsZuY [beautiful, Rick!-MH]
Elona and Mike Hart, at Greystone Pond. June 13, early morning. “Dozens of Painted turtles, small and larger, basking in the morning sun. Rowdy Killdeer are announcing our arrival with their scolding cries to the entire ‘neighborhood’. A group of 7 Canada geese, are slowly taking off. A pair of flamboyant Eastern kingbirds are masterly snatching insects in flight and before returning on top of the deadwood towering over the shallow waters. A Belted kingfisher is flying briskly overhead. A Spotted sandpiper is busy foraging in the muddy pond waters. June 20th, early morning. Greystone pond, is getting increasingly drier than earlier that month. A Killdeer and a couple of Spotted sandpipers are walking along the shore. A few Common grackles and a female Mallard duck with 6 tiny hatchlings are making their way through the new vegetation on the bottom of the dry parts of the pond. As we started walking deeper in the woods, we kept hearing Eastern Wood-Pewee, White-breasted nuthatches, Tufted Titmouse, and airy croaking calls of Common Ravens. Their quarrelsome antics in a tall tree by a marsh might have had something to do with the presence of the resident Great horned Owl (which we also spotted in this area earlier this year). This time, it kept calling periodically in a low voice. The deeper and more permanent part of the pond covered by reeds and cattails is now dotted with hundreds of White water lilies. This is the territory of a resident Great blue heron, Red-winged blackbirds and Song Sparrows. We also hear pips and zaps of numerous Tree swallows racing overhead. As we were turning the corner of the pond, we heard the elaborate song of Warbling Vireo and the two repetitive phrases of the Red-eyed Vireo from the tree canopy. We encountered omnipresent American Robins along the final section of the trail leading to the parking lot. A lonely female Wild turkey was spotted grazing on the lawn on the way out of the conservation land area.
Scott Harkness, Castle Rd. June 30, heard a racket from outside, went out and saw a turkey hen and a coyote. “The coyote backed away a little after spotting me and the hen chased it into the woods, squawking away. On the ground was a maimed poult that didn’t survive. The hen came back and was making the booping noise they make to gather their young. Attached is a photo of two hens that have been herding a slightly older group of poults. The single hens seem to lose their young fairly often.” [The Harkness yard is often the site for dramatic turkey events! MH]
Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. July 1, our damaged deck was removed by the condo association today. We relocated the bird feeders to the woodsy area of our back yard. The birds seem fine with the move. Mourning cloak butterfly seen today. July 8, juvenile blue jays, looking just like the parents, begging for food and fluttering wings at the feeder. We put up ultraviolet bird decals on all the windows today, per suggestion by Rosemarie Koester. July 15, bunny in yard pair of hummingbirds, three goldfinches, young downy woodpecker trying to figure out how to get to the feeder. It lands on the slippery pole and slides down repeatedly–very cute. Red-winged blackbird feeding young. July 16, lone female turkey strolled through, sometimes picking under the bird feeder. The female red-bellied woodpecker loves to drink copiously from the hummingbird feeder. July 20, very hot lately–into the 90’s. At least ten juvenile grackles at the feeder. July 22, five goldfinches, one eating seeds from the catnip plant. Three chipmunks chasing each other all over, almost over my feet, as I sat out in the yard. Heard by the pond: kingfisher, juvenile red-tailed hawk, mallards, Carolina wren. Chipping sparrow on the ground, lemon cuckoo bumblebees on the catnip. A female hummingbird hovered near the kitchen window, maybe seeing the red top of a spray bottle inside, or looking at the ultraviolet decals. She didn’t fly into the window–hooray! July 23, 80’s very humid–feels like the South American rainforest. Cardinal pair, the male singing beautifully. American copper butterfly nectaring on the catnip. Spicebush swallowtail butterfly nectaring on the day lilies. Catbird at suet feeder, mullein plants blooming. We are still without a deck, which we miss mightily. The Association is vague as to when it will be replaced.
Elona and Mike Hart, at Emmet Conservation Land. July 2, late afternoon, July 2, late afternoon. A couple of Eastern Towhee nesting along the sandy clearing surrounded by young birch and aspen trees. As I walk into the hilly area, dominated by tall pines and oak trees, I keep hearing the alarm calls of Tufted Titmouse and Black-capped Chickadees. I make few more steps, before seeing a large bird flying off a nearby tree and perching on a lower dead branch nearby. It was a juvenile Barred Owl making its way through the understory thickets of the old-growth forest. It made a few unnerving hissing screeches reminding me, about the approaching sunset. As I was headed out of the woods in the dusk, I noticed another juvenile Barred Owl sitting on a broken tree nearby. From the Old R/R Bed road, where Nonset Brook joins the Nashoba Brook, I could hear the ethereal flute-like sound of Veery and more familiar voices of Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Yellowthroat and Gray Catbird in the marsh.
Next morning (July 3rd), we went back to the area and, sure enough, there was a Barred Owl observing us through the edge of the forest. Birds are creatures of habit too! July 11, seven wood ducks, a female with an ‘eclipse’ male and another female with four ducklings. July 15, from the Chelmsford/Westford border. Since the onset of lockdown, we spent a lot of time walking in the neighborhood, observing bird behavior, and learning their language. On July 15, I suddenly heard long and loud “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” calls in our backyard. Intrigued, I walk outside the sun porch to check out the source of the chickadees’ irritation and discovered a Barred owl chasing a Cooper’s hawk from one treetop to the next. The power struggle continued for good half an hour with the owl getting the upper hand and the hawk timidly responding by occasional loud squawking. It appeared that the Owl was fearlessly protecting its feeding grounds from the intruder, who was also known for making a living by surprising its pray (usually small birds) from densely vegetated hiding places. Later the same day, we endured agitated screams of Blue Jays, and alarm cacophony of two Red-bellied Woodpeckers, a Hairy woodpecker, a White-breasted Nuthatch, a couple of Northern Cardinals and House finches, all joining their forces in mobbing the owl was conspicuously perched on a jack pine branch. What a show! July 16, we observed an adult owl swooping down in the garden as it pursued a meadow vole on the ground. After masterly grabbing the pray with its talons, it swiftly brought it over to a juvenile who was waiting impatiently in a pine tree nearby.
On July 17, both owls were still around, but relocated to the opposite side of the house. Under the tree with their most recent roosting site, we found two “fresh” pallets containing bony remains of a vole and a shrew wrapped into gray wooly balls. It was such a fun “dissecting” and analyzing their content. On July 20, we spotted two Cooper’s Hawks (one of them was clearly a juvenile with bold streaks across its chest) on the intersection of Prancing Rd. and Hitchinpost Rd. They were sitting on lower tree branches exchanging occasional high-pitch squeaky calls [Elona and Mike sent beautiful photos of many of the birds they saw in June and July-MH]
Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. July 3, I tried these. Hardly noticeable, very few bird strikes: Window Alert Leaf Medley Anti-Collision Decals- UV reflective decals to protect wild birds from glass collisions [Thank you Rosemarie. I bought them for all my windows. Seems to be helping!-MH] July Report: Many red-winged blackbirds, two pairs of blue jays and a juvenile, one pair of cardinals and a juvenile, grackles feeding juveniles, many goldfinches, house finch, purple finch, one catbird, several sightings of the rose-breasted grosbeaks, male and two females, morning doves, chickadee, tufted titmouse, red-bellied woodpecker pair, downy woodpecker pair, three turkeys come daily, hawks flying overhead. Also, pair of bunnies and young, eating my flowers and hostas, numerous chipmunks–they come on the deck and dig in my flowers, squirrels, one deer, a bear took down next door neighbor’s feeder on July 4–didn’t touch ours. Mosquitos are out in force.
Tom Lumenello, Old Colony Drive. July 7, the young wrens fledged yesterday–very busy and exciting. All quiet today.
John Piekos, Dunstable Rd. July 14, the trail cam caught a weasel on the stone wall– measured the apparent length and think it is a Stoat (female ermine).
Tom Ennis, Almeria Drive. July 20, ” I am pretty sure I saw a mink last week, gracefully loping on the back hill, chestnut brown, long, lithe body moving almost snakelike….the only pic I got was when it was turning around so I did not get a profile shot, just a brown blob. Being home all day now I get to see more of what’s doing around here.”
Rick Bowes, at Grassy Pond. July 25, “I’m not sure what this monster is emerging from his old skin….It may be a 17 year cicada judging from its size.” [Rick sent a great close-up of this newly emerging cicada-MH]
Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. July 25, turkeys following a young woodchuck and pulling on its tail, chipping sparrow feeding a baby four times its size, ten fledgling tree swallows were in the street; when I approached them, they flew away. A chipmunk found our Market Basket order before we did and helped himself to some peanuts. Saw a mother raccoon with three babies.
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 encourages new members and volunteers. Check us out at our web page, westfordconservation.trust.org, or visit us on Facebook.