Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – March 2024


Wood frog by Diane Duane

Spring has come early this year, at least if you watch and listen for emerging amphibians. Many amphibians usually emerge from their winter hibernation in late March or early April. They wait for very specific conditions: a rainy night after the ground has thawed and the temperature is at least 40 degrees. Amphibians migrate from their hibernation sites to the vernal pool where they were hatched, in order to breed.  This year, those conditions occurred in some places in New England in early March. In the Monadnock region, amphibians emerged on February 29. This was the earliest emergence local watchers had seen in their fifteen years of keeping track. When amphibians travel to their natal pools, they may have to cross roads. In the Acton and Littleton area, the “Amphibian Crossing Brigades” go out on amphibian “Big Night” to help salamanders, wood frogs and other frogs cross roads. “Big Night” is often actually a series of nights, depending on the temperature. If the temps go too low, migration stops, and the animals wait for the proper conditions. Some areas where there has been a particularly high road kill on migration nights in the past, roads are closed temporarily.  Acton reports “Big Night” dates of March 29 in 2019, March 3-10 in 2020, March 18-28 in 2021, March 7-24 in 2022, and March 22-30 in 2023.

In Westford this year, salamanders and wood frogs on the move were reported from the Howard Rd. area on March 6, and March 8th. The weather at night was 41 degrees and rainy. On March 12, a resident on Pleasant St. reported wood frogs calling from the vernal pool behind her house. In the Groton Rd. area, wood frogs were first heard on March 18. This turned out to be a series of big nights, during the first two to three weeks of March. We

can conclude, however, that amphibian migration has been very early this year—climate change?

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for March. Please report April sightings by April 30th for inclusion in next month’s column. You can report by sending an email to mariancharman@gmail.com.


March Reports:

Tom Ennis, Almeria Drive. March 2, “I was out before dawn yesterday and heard that familiar rite of spring, woodcocks buzzing away, hope in their hearts” [lovely poetry, Tom. MH] March 13, 42degrees, sunny. Found a black walnut on the De Silva land.

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. March 3, a walk in the neighborhood: four fish crows, one American crow, one red-bellied woodpecker, one downy woodpecker, one Carolina wren, a white-breasted nuthatch. March 6, 50 degrees, cloudy. A walk in RT. 110 office park, many blackbirds, grackles, red-wings, starling, and a rusty blackbird (rare and exciting!). Also saw blue jays, chickadees, four crows, a song sparrow and pussy willows. March 8, mid-40’s, light, cold wind, sunny—Yay. A joy to see the sun! A walk on the Beaver Dam Trail: seven common mergansers (5 male, 2 female) swimming on the pond—not feeding, just resting, probably on migration. Hear what the Merlin app. Id.’d as a red-shouldered hawk—quite loud. Saw cardinal, titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, red-bellied woodpecker, grackles and red-wings in the swamps and on the trees, not setting up territories yet. A brown creeper singing a lovely song. There is new growth on the blueberry bushes, which is quite reddish, or sometimes light green. March 9, 36 degrees, cloudy. At feeders: pair of downy woodpeckers, four goldfinches, one Northern cardinal. An American tree sparrow and three juncos are still here. March 13, 40’s a lovely day. A walk to the beaver dam: seven ring-necked ducks are swimming on Keyes Pond. Also a pair of mallards and a Canada goose are with them. Heard or seen: brown creeper, titmice, chickadees, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, red-bellied woodpecker, cardinal, song sparrow. Another pair of mallards are on Snake Meadow brook, and a single male mallard is patrolling an area of the bank on the brook. Three juncos seen.  March 14, 60’s, sunny. March 17, thirty to forth robins on the meadow. March 18, 40’s, sunny, windy. To the Meadow: heard brown creeper, juncos singing, wood frogs quacking in the swamp by the pond, and also in a swampy area in the meadow. At the feeder: one goldfinch, a cowbird (first one), three juncos, downy woodpecker, two chickadees, three titmice. The andromeda bushes are blooming, skunk cabbage leaves are up in the swamp. March 20, 40’s partly sunny. A walk on the trolley line on Water Dept. land along Stony Brook. It is quiet and the vernal pools are silent. On the brook, mallards, Canada geese, heard a kingfisher. Also saw or heard, cardinal, blackbirds, chickadee, titmice, red-bellied woodpecker. Saw four crows flying over, one carrying nesting material in its beak. A pair of ravens flew into the open door of the salt storage shed at the old highway dept, and stayed there—nesting for sure! These are probably the same pair that I call “Ravenhurst and Ravena” from years past. Over Rt. 110, a pair of red-tailed hawks, flying together in a beautiful duet of circling and changing direction—courtship flight. March 23, 34 degrees. A little snow, then rain all day. At the feeders: eight grackles, five red-winged blackbirds, five juncos, a chickadee, two titmice, a red-bellied woodpecker, five cardinals (3 males, 2 females), two mourning doves. March 25, 35 degrees, sunny windy. At the feeder: juncos, an American tree sparrow. March 26, 36 degrees, windy. At the feeders: four juncos, one goldfinch, a turkey vulture overhead. March 27, 50’s, cloudy. Near Rt. 110, two ravens overhead, a mockingbird singing, a song sparrow singing, house finches singing, robins, Carolina wren.

March 29, 50 degrees, rainy, windy. At the feeder: three juncos, a hairy woodpecker, three chickadees, a downy woodpecker, 50 or more grackles and red-wings, two fish crows, a turkey vulture overhead. March 30, 40’s, sunny, windy. A brisk, cold northwest wind. A walk on the beaver dam trail: chickadees, titmice, cardinal pair, three ring-necked ducks preening and swimming on Keyes Pond (2 males, one female). Pileated woodpecker heard.

Emily Teller, Texas Rd. March 6, “the salamanders have moved!”

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. March 6, In yard: two pileated woodpeckers chasing each other in the neighbor’s yard. Two deer eating directly from our bird feeder. Two wrens checking out our window flower box. March 8, a pileated woodpecker has made ten holes in a dying tree. One is 7 inches long, four feet above the ground, the others are farther up.

Michael Berry, March 8. A chickadee morph is at our feeder. Its head is almost all white with just a few dark spots [Mike sent a photo and a movie-MH]

Diane Duane, Howard Rd. March 6 and 8, 41 degrees and raining. An early salamander migration is going at the nearby vernal pools. Saw spotted salamanders, Jefferson/blue-spot complex salamanders and wood frogs.

Marcella Pixley, Pleasant St. March 12, the wood frogs are calling in the vernal pool behind our house.


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