Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – September 2019

Female Dark-eyed Junco – Dave Pederson

One of the fall events bird lovers look forward to is the return of the dark-eyed juncos to our feeders. Juncos are one of North America’s most common birds. Dark-eyed juncos are black and white or gray and white. Males are darker gray or even black on their head and back, white on their belly, while females are lighter gray and white They all sport bright white outer tail feathers that flash when the birds fly. Dark-eyed juncos are in the sparrow family, and have the typical small, pointed bill of the sparrows. True sparrows are distinguished from so-called house “sparrows”, which are actually finches, and have the thick finch bill. Juncos stay together in winter flocks of ten to thirty individuals. You will probably have only one flock at your feeder–they are quite territorial.

In the summer, juncos breed in northern New England, and Canada. In the fall they migrate south into most of North America.  Juncos are often called “snow birds” because they join us here in the fall and winter, migrating north again in April. They are so hardy that they seem to consider snowy New England to be a good winter vacation spot. Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website tells us that juncos mostly feed on the ground and are primarily seed eaters. They eat the seeds of chickweed, buckwheat, lamb’s quarters, sorrel and similar low plants. At the feeder, they prefer white millet (the small, round, white seeds in your seed mix). Most birds do not like red millet, so its best to get a seed mix that has no red millet in it. Unfortunately, inexpensive seed mixes and suet blocks contain mostly red millet.

If you haven’t seen a junco on your feeder, on the ground or in your bushes yet, you soon will. Looking at Westford resident Dot Mooney’s reports from 1975 to 1993, I see that the earliest date that juncos returned to her feeder was September 16, 1975. The latest first junco sighting she recorded was October 30, 1987. In 2018, Dot had a junco return to her feeder on October 20. There was one at my feeder the next day. Who will report the first junco this fall? We hope you will be on the lookout for these beautiful birds and report the first date you see them this fall.

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of September. You can write me at 7A Old Colony Drive, call me at 692-3907, or e-mail me at mariancharman@gmail.com.

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Late August Reports:

Nancy Eberiel, Depot St., August 25. “Looking out my window at 8 a.m., I was amazed to see a sharp-shinned or cooper’s hawk sitting on the pole that supports my birdfeeder.”

Bob Shaffer, Blake’s Hill Rd. August 26, spotted a bobcat crossing Blake’s Hill Rd. last evening at about 6:30pm. It appeared to be about 18 inches long and slender. “Sometime between 10 am Friday and 11 pm Saturday, we had a bear visit our backyard. I had a bird feeder suspended on a line bout 9-10 ft. above the ground and the bear was able to reach it and rip it down.”

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. August 29, two mother turkeys and about 12 grown poults in the side garden. Nine male turkeys in back yard, just starting to display to each other.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. August 27, hummingbirds still coming to feeder and bee balm, hosta and other plants. Many bees at hydrangea bush in front. “I have seen many bees and am happy about that.” At the feeders: using only safflower seeds, I have had a ton of goldfinches, house finches, sparrows and chickadees. A pair of cardinals with two young, a few doves, blue jays, which are not too fond of the safflower, tufted titmouse, some grackles. A sparrow on the feeder had eyes that were encrusted–sad. Heard a house wren, heard and saw hawks circling overhead. Neighbor saw a great blue heron next to the brook. A shallow, concrete birdbath has many birds drinking and bathing, and chipmunks and squirrel. The deeper birdbath is not so popular. Mid-August, a bear took away our finch feeder, took down the neighbor’s feeders and took off with them. Later, on our outdoor camera, a bear came about 8 pm and checked out the feeder pole, but our feeders were safe inside. Neighbor saw a female deer and fawn. Later I saw the fawn nibbling on the weeds out back. A family of bunnies live in front of the house–one is eating my flowers. An occasional turkey seen. They too do not like the safflower seeds, nor did the squirrels and chipmunks. Garter snake seen. A ton of bittersweet around town. “It looks like a blanket spread over bushes and trees. I wish we could tear  most of it down”. The Westford Garden Club has a flourishing and beautiful herb garden behind the PCA and in front of the Museum. A tall purple sage has many blossoms and I have seen many bees and butterflies there.

Sue Bonner, Plain Rd. August report: We saw “our” turkey twenty-one days out of thirty-one. Her time of visit was unpredictable. Several days she came twice. She acted as if she was very hungry, gobbling the food as if she hadn’t eaten in days. She eats and drinks water from the dish on the stone wall, wanders through our side yard stopping to eat some blueberries, then to the front yard, sometimes running. She safely crosses the street, usually walking but flying a few times especially when a car is approaching.

September Reports:

John Piekos, Dunstable Rd. September 1, a bear crossed our driveway at 7:45 in the morning. Neighbors have peach trees so likely it was foraging for the ripe fallen fruit [John sent a good trail cam photo-MH].

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. September 1, a walk on Pilgrim Village trails: tan coral fungus, Compton’s tortoiseshell butterfly on roadside. About eight blue jays, hairy and downy woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, chickadees, goldfinches, mourning dove. All blueberries are eaten now. Joe-pye-weed still blooming in meadow, lots of white and purple asters. September 2, Labor Day, 60’s and overcast. Hurricane Dorian is in the Bahamas, category five! A walk on the Pilgrim village trails: two catbirds, calling from the shrubs along Keyes Pond, two cormorants sitting on a rock on the opposite shore, red squirrel scolding me, large green frog squeaked and jumped into the pond as I passed. Round bright red partridgeberries are on the plant now, among the dark shiny green leaves. A chipmunk sitting on a rock stuffing his already full cheek pouches. Not many chipmunks this summer, but there will be lots of chipmunks and squirrels next spring, due to the extremely heavy mast (acorn) year the oaks are having this fall. September 9, 60’s, sunny. A walk on the trolley line by Stony Brook school: a juvenile red-bellied woodpecker, geese flying overhead and landing in Stony Brook, jays, chickadees, nuthatch, song sparrow. September 10, cool, 60’s. Hummingbird is still here. September 14, female hummingbird at the feeder repeatedly, drinking a lot (preparing for migration?). Male cardinal, goldfinches at feeder. September 15, 60’s, sunny and breezy–a lovely early fall day. A walk on the Pilgrim Village trails: one cormorant swimming on Keyes Pond. A juvenile great blue heron flying over the pond and into the swamp. Heard: red-bellied woodpecker, chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, wood duck, many jays, titmice. A northern water snake curled up on the beaver pipe near the dam. At least six painted turtles, all sizes, basking on the sunny bank of Snake Meadow Brook. A few sulphur butterflies, a tiger swallowtail trying to warm up on the grass, a katydid sitting on a leaf, almost perfectly camouflaged, crickets and tree frogs calling, a few “spring” peepers calling too. Bees are all over the goldenrod, feeding in the meadow. Joe-pye-weed and white and purple asters blooming. Mushrooms: pink, red, yellow and tan. Several patches of Indian pipes up. Coral fungus along the trail. Some red maples are turning color. Some milkweed is ripening in the meadow. It has relatively narrow leaves, and I think it may be swamp milkweed. September 18, a bear hit the feeders last night–very polite, it just bent the pole, but didn’t damage or take away any feeder.

Nancy Eberiel, Depot St. September 4, a small bird was trapped in my garage overnight, got out the next day [Nancy sent photos of what Mass Audubon identified as a female common yellowthroat warbler-MH]. September 8, hummingbirds still here today.

Andrew Bourget, Chamberlain Rd. September 5, “this coyote doesn’t look well. He’s pretty scrawny and has been sitting in the grass on the edge of the dawn for a few days off and on….He’s not aggressive.” [Andy sent a photo of a very miserable coyote that probably had mange-MH] Same day, a tree frog was clinging to the screen.

Marge Barnett, Crusade Rd. September 8, “There were five monarchs on my butterfly bush today. Love it.”

Roy Perry at Frances Hill Rd. September 9, pileated woodpeckers at nest in woods.

Andrew Bourget, Chamberlain Rd. Mid-September, “a dozen nighthawks spent a half hour just playing over our house and orchard. A week later, about fifty of them passed over the house. They didn’t linger, but the stream of them just kept going and going….it was cool.” [Andy sent some lovely photos-MH]

Marilyn Day, Graniteville Rd. September 11, a pair of common nighthawks swirling around the property.

Sue Bonner, Plain Rd. September 11, female turkey, monarch butterfly and a squirrel in the barn, peeking out of the hole he made in the corner [Sue sent some very good photos-MH]. The female turkey has been here most days and its always the same routine. She arrives in the back yard alone and if we aren’t out, she looks toward the back of the house as if to say, “I am here…are you coming out to feed me?” She eats and then goes across Plain Road and up into the woods. The monarch butterflies have been frequenting our hanging lantana and tall pink sedum. “We seem to have two light tan squirrels with almost white tails. One is the Mom and one this year’s offspring.” A deer seems to empty out our hanging tube feeder, which is totally empty each morning. “We have a black walnut tree on our property and yesterday, Sept. 10, saw a gray squirrel with a big green shell in his mouth, having just climbed the tree, knocked down some leaves and harvested a prized walnut for himself….Industrious little guys!” September 22, four turkeys in the middle of Depot St. before 8 a.m. September 23, a bear visited last night. Both shepherds crooks bent, pulled out of the ground, all feeders on the ground.

Margaret Wheeler, Depot St. September 14. “We have set up our game camera in our woods….The most frequent sightings in the last week or so are of a red fox moving very fast. Twice she stopped to look around .”[Margaret sent some good trail camera photos of the fox-MH]

Doug Pederson, Woodland Drive. September 24, a woodchuck scampered across my yard. I was sitting there with my camera. [Doug sent beautiful photos-MH]

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. September 25, A blue heron landed in the yard and the Canada geese chased it away. A cooper’s hawk comes every day, saw a wooly bear caterpillar.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. September report: lots of goldfinches, house finches, purple finches, a pair of cardinals with a young one, blue jays, a few doves, grackles, chickadees, sparrows. Had hummingbirds the first part of September. Hawk circling overhead and twice landed in the yard, checking out the bird feeders. Heard a wren. The birds, chipmunks and squirrels use our two bird baths frequently. Hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers pecking at the house. Occasional rabbit, spiders around house and garage. A bear took down our goldfinch feeder and took two feeders from neighbors the same night. Our camera showed him returning a few nights later. He went directly to the feeders, which are now inside at night, and he left.” September 27, bear came to feeders at about 8 p.m. [Rosemarie sent an interesting video [MH].

            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. The Trust welcomes new members and volunteers. Check out our website at westfordconservationtrust.org, or visit us on Facebook.