Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – March 2020


Monarch on Goldenrod by Marian Harman

This is certainly an unusual time in our history. A pandemic is sweeping the world and we are told to “shelter in place”. For the first time any of us can remember, gatherings of all kinds are cancelled and most institutions, including schools and the library, are closed or running on a virtual basis. Fortunately, it is spring and we can relieve our cabin fever by walking outdoors. Walking alone or in family groups is best to prevent the spread of the corona virus, and is also best for observation of wildlife. Our beautiful birds and butterflies are winging their ways north. Walking on Westford’s 60 miles of trails is an ideal way to learn more about our native wildlife and plants, and a great way to home school your kids. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them, or download a bird identification app. on your phone.

Monarch Butterflies have left their wintering hibernation area in  the mountains of central Mexico, and have begun to migrate north to the United States. You can watch their progress at the Journey North website. This website shows real time maps of migrating monarchs, migrating birds, singing frogs and plant leaf-out times. You are encouraged to become citizen scientists and report your spring observations on the site.

Mary Holland at the “Naturally Curious” website, tells us that we are not the only ones experiencing high temperatures this spring. Mexico has also experienced record high temperatures and that has sent the monarchs northward early on their 2000 mile journey to New England.  Holland states, “This overwintering generation of monarchs lays eggs in northern Mexico and southern U.S. and then dies. When their eggs hatch and develop into adults, usually by late April to early June, they continue the journey north that their parents began, laying eggs along the way.” By the fourth generation, they will arrive here, probably some time in May.

As of this writing, March 26, monarchs have arrived in Texas, Florida and southern California. A new map, posted each week, shows where they are. So go to journeynorth.org to see how the monarchs are progressing and where various migrating songbirds are. You can also enter your own observations. This period of “social distancing” isn’t fun, but we don’t have to be cooped up in the house. We can learn some new trails. For printable trail maps, go to westfordconservationtrust.org, and click on “Find a Trail”. And please send me reports of what you see on the trail or at the bird feeder!

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of March. Please send reports by April 26 to be included in next month’s column. The column appears in the Westford Eagle-Independent, and on the Westford Conservation Trust website. You can call me at 692-3907, write me at 7A Old Colony Drive, or e-mail me at mariancharman@gmail.com.

Late Reports:

Esther and Frank Donlon, Providence Rd. July, a bobcat ran out of the woods and sat down on the lawn. Frank got a video. “The bobcat ran across our yard and driveway and then like a kitten rolled on his back. He then sat up and ran back into the woods”. (Esther sent a great video of the bobcat playing-MH]

Bob Price, Stratton Hill Rd. January 6, great horned owl calling

Diane Duane, Howard Rd. January 10, 18 & 30 – great horned owl early morning calls. January 10, male red bellied woodpecker at suet.

Leslie Thomas, Old Colony Drive, January 16, bobcat seen behind condo in the woods.

February Reports:

Diane Duane, Howard Rd. February 15 – great horned owl calls near beaver brook, 1:34 am

John Piekos, Dunstable Rd. February 29, this week, the trail camera got a photo of a fisher ( big, with a very bushy tail) chipmunks, squirrels, skunk, possum, bobcat, coyote, four does, and rabbit. “Nine different animals–maybe a record for me in terms of variety.”

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Dr., February 29, first red-winged blackbirds arrived at the feeder.

March Reports:

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. March 3, “Maybe spring has come. We have another bear in the area.”

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. March 3, a walk on the Pilgrim Village trails: red-wings and grackles are calling from the swamp on both sides of the beaver dam. A flock of wood ducks took off from Snake Meadow Brook, as soon as they saw me. Otter scat and scent mound found on our “beach” at Keyes Pond. Got my first tick bite! March 15, the “Ides of March”. A walk on the PV trails: a lovely spring day, cardinal, chickadees and titmice singing in the meadow. The meadow swamp is full of blooming skunk cabbage. Along Snake Meadow Brook, duck weed is green, three mallards with one male wood duck took off. The Wood duck circled back over very high and very fast. Another group of 4-6 wood ducks took off at my arrival. One turtle basking on the bank. Lots of grackles around the condos, but not in the swamp. On the pond, one lovely female or juvenile male goldeneye, swimming and resting (on migration, probably).

March 8, large group of grackles ate all our suet and seed within a few hours. March 8, first phoebe heard. March 10, first song sparrow heard. March 17, a light, wet snow. March 18, a walk on the PV trails: a beautiful barred owl took off and flew to another tree near me. I got good looks with the binoculars. Soon, crows started to mob it.  Large male hairy woodpecker pecking at oak tree. Three male and one female mallard on the pond. A nice hemlock grove is growing in the low, wet area near the pond. March 24, beautiful great blue heron in breeding plumage rose up out of the swamp along the pond–a gift from nature! March 25, 33 degrees. We thought it was spring, but we lost power for the first time this year last night. Walk along the Pilgrim Village trails: song sparrows singing, pair of wood ducks rose from the brook, fisher prints in the snow.

Tom Ennis, Almeria Drive. March 4, “Woodcocks arrived today, good to have them back.”

John Piekos, Dunstable Rd. March 5, bobcat caught on yard camera.

Laurel Martin, Woodbury Drive. “We keep bird feeders in the winter and I am continually cheered by the visitors we get, which include chickadees, nuthatches, juncos, tufted titmice, downy and hairy woodpeckers, cardinals, an occasional Carolina wren and red bellied woodpecker.” In December, our feeders were destroyed by a bear, so we waited until later in the month to replace them. “I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your Westford Wildlife Watch in the local paper….Many thanks for the work you do to connect wildlife enthusiasts in our community!” [Thank you for your kind words, Laurel, and for your observations. You’re right, this is one good way for us all to stay connected-MH]

Bill Harman, near Pilgrim Drive, March 8, heard red-bellied woodpecker clearly in the woods. Near Franklin Rd., lots of large wood chips under a tree.

Mike Killoran, Pine Hill Rd. March 10, “We had a bluebird couple checking out one of our wooden nest boxes in the back yard today….In and out lots of times. I’ve got a metal plate with a hole in it for the entryway, she seemed impressed at the squirrel protection and pecked at it a bit. I’m hoping they move in !”

Diane Duane, Howard Rd. March 10 – Woodcocks heard on both sides of road between schools on Robinson Rd – evening. March 7,14,15,20 – great horned owl calls near beaver brook – midnight – 2:30 am

Jackson Teller, Texas Road, age 9.  March 18, “Nineteen turkeys in the front and back yard! There were two males showing off, fluffing up their chest and tail feathers.” “I can talk to them and they answer. They can fly up to the trees at night.”

Tom Ennis, Almeria Drive. March 25, “I put a Blink camera on the edge of the lawn, near an opening in the brush. The coyote’s timing was a bit off, or the bunnies heard him coming.” [Tom sent two videos 15 minutes apart- first a bunny, then a coyote in same area-MH]

Tom and Carolyn Lumenello, Old Colony Drive. March 26, a pair of bluebirds have been checking out our two nesting boxes–eventually rejected them.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. March Report: a pair of wrens keep checking out our kitchen window nesting box. I would love to have their nest out there. At feeder: several pairs of cardinals, house finch, goldfinch–one was completely bright yellow. Also, chickadees, titmouse, several doves, groups of grackles, robin in yard. Juncos still here, several hawks soaring overhead. A nice surprise, a pileated woodpecker in the back. Poked around various trees for a while. Found a dead sparrow on the ground. Several turkeys stop by, squirrels chasing each other, chipmunks out and about. Skunk cabbage by the brook, several hyacinths are coming up, a blue blossom in the vinca ground cover, day lilies starting to emerge.


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