In the world of natural history, the term "ephemeral" is generally used in reference to spring wildflowers that bloom briefly. Although wild birds and animals have longer lifespans than the short-lived blossoms on many of our early-season plants, actual sightings of wildlife are often equally fleeting and transitory. The critters shown here appeared for an ephemeral moment to some quick and alert photographers.
Winter remained open throughout December and into January, so we scheduled an exploratory hike on January 19th to Rum Rock and Osgood Swamp, a section of Mass Audubon's Rutland Brook Sanctuary near the Barre/Petersham town line. Temperatures were in the brisk 20s F, and the woods were still and quiet. Nevertheless, signs of ongoing animal and bird activity were everywhere--fresh woodchips and exposed rotted tree cavities produced by woodpeckers, the pungent odor of a porcupine shelter in a small den under a rocky outcropping, coyote and deer scat, and--most dramatic--extensive evidence of high beaver activity. Beavers continued to practice their superior engineering skills as long as they could still move through the water. Remember that very wet fall? Plenty of pretty high water--becoming ice-- everywhere!
Besides the truly impressive glacial erratic known as Rum Rock, scenic interest was provided by granite ledges, caves, ice formations, lichens, and ferns, as well as views of the expansive wetland.
Many thanks to tracker-naturalist Nate Rosebrook for the photos.
Our Grassland Bird Initiative volunteer teams monitored several central MA locations this summer. Bill & Carol Platenik made dedicated weekly visits to Moore State Park in Paxton, where a bird-friendly mowing regime has been established. Todd& Alice Livdahl and Wendy Howes observed at Mt. Jefferson Conservation Area in Hubbardston which used to (and may still) designate one field for mowing after July 4th. At DCR Ware River Watershed Prison Camp fields in Rutland, with a current mowing contract stipulating mowing after August 1st, Doug Wipf and Linda Mueller made regular visits throughout the nesting season. We are still looking for volunteers to monitor High Ridge WMA in Gardner/Westminster. Bobolinks nested there successfully this year, but no one was able to formally monitor. The WMA has established late mowing--after August 1st--regimes for all the fields, so prospects for grassland bird species are very good there.
Volunteer Ted Purcell observed a town-owned field at Glenwood School in Rutland and found many Bobolinks early in the season, but the fields are part of the Town's mowing contract and are not currently being managed for wildlife and grassland birds.
Photographer Anne Greene of Rutland found Bobolinks at fields owned by Alta Vista Farm in Rutland and gave the owners information about grassland birds available through Mass Audubon: https://www.massaudubon.org/our-conservation-work/wildlife-research-conservation/grassland-bird-program
Overall it was a good year for Bobolinks in both protected and non-protected areas. High amount of rainfall caused some haying delays which benefited birds. Heat and humidity helped insect populations and therefore boosted Bobolinks' food supply. The highest number of Bobolinks were encountered at Moore State Park, where a huge flock of over 130 birds--including adults and this season's fledglings--was seen in mid-August.
Thanks to all who pitched in on behalf of grassland birds!
Summer of 2018 in central Massachusetts brought record high temperatures and rainfall, creating conditions that at times made us feel that we were living in the steamy tropics. It was often a challenge to get out in the field! A number of butterfly walks sponsored by the Massachusetts Butterfly Club took place, and it's hard to resist taking pictures of these pretty creatures.. Members who were outdoors enjoying butterflies, birds, and other critters in spite of the challenging weather shared some wonderful photographs.
While all are not representative of nature sightings in central Massachusetts, these photographs were taken by central MA residents and shown during our SHARING NATURE PHOTOS meeting on 28 March. There are some outstanding pictures here, and we think they deserve a wide audience.
Here in central Massachusetts, a mild fall was inevitably sidelined by the "real" winter that came in with the first significant snowfall on December 9th. Weeks of very slow-paced activity at birdfeeding stations gave way to a steady stream of visitors. Dark-eyed Junco numbers increased throughout December, and we were seeing them on roadsides, woods edges, and on the ground under birdfeeders. Christmas Bird Counts turned up many half-hardy species that either got caught off-guard or decided to stick it out. Temperatures plunged and fruit-eating birds descended on winterberry (IIlex verticillata), sumac, and poison ivy berries. Both Red and Gray Squirrels, in spite of winter food stashes, sought out feeders, too, joining the expected permanent resident birds and a few surprise species. Massachusetts made the national news when the very harsh "bomb cyclone" snowstorm followed by a frigid Arctic blast brought a deep freeze. Birds concentrated even more at feeders 4 January through 10 January. Heavy rains and unseasonably high temperatures up to the low 60s F. on 11-12 January created small ponds in fields and triggered some confusion in amphibians before giving way to returning "normal" winter conditions.
Hiker and wildlife photographer Jim Morelly sent this trail camera image of a Bobcat captured on 21 December. Jim writes: "I have been watching and exploring several central Massachusetts swamps since last winter. They certainly have shown promise [for capturing images of wildlife] . . .the variety of tracks and scat have been consistent throughout the year. The first snow on December 9th showed continued activity with predators skirting the swamp's edge."