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The scientific data are not at our fingertips, but we can all recall an early December snowfall of 24 inches followed by very little snow for the rest of the winter. Overcast and gloomy gray days with warmer temperatures didn't always result in as much precipitation as we might have liked. Streams, ponds, and waterfalls seemed to be at highest levels in February, and mud season so far hasn't been as dramatic as in some years when oozing ground made hiking low areas impossible. Despite the often "open" season with passable trails and "balmy" temperatures in the thirties, most of this period's FROM THE FIELD contributors enjoyed nature in their backyards and at birdfeeders.
It seems appropriate to use Leap Day of the 2020 Leap Year to note some interesting nature sightings that preceded the early December 24-inch snowfall that took place before winter had actually arrived--an atypical calendar date to reflect the atypical course of our weather patterns. Heading into late autumn with a very wet October and some fine colors in the landscape, weather patterns overall continued to indicate that central Massachusetts is experiencing the same climate disruption as every other place on earth. In our neck of the woods that translated to overall warmer temperatures extending further into the autumn months. The impact on wildlife will become known over time. Meanwhile, here are sightings to add to the body of information.
THANK YOU to Ted Purcell and Drew Vitz for the photographs.
Central Massachusetts naturalists are far from lazy when summer arrives! Club members have been busy monitoring grassland birds, tracking down Lepidoptera species, watching and counting birds, setting up backyard wildlife cameras, hiking in our wonderful protected open spaces, photographing flora and fauna. . . in general, putting a lot of time and effort into enjoying and appreciating our local natural history.
Bill Platenik of Brimfield sent us the two images below that were captured by the wildlife camera in his yard on 29 August at 4:42 p.m.
The fate of the gray squirrel is unknown.
Rather disconcerting is this excellent photograph by Anne Greene portraying the result of brood parasitism by a Brown-headed Cowbird ( Molothrus ater). As Cornell's allaboutbirds,org website explains, "Female cowbirds forgo building nests and instead put all their energy into producing eggs, sometimes more than three dozen a summer. These they lay in the nests of other birds, abandoning their young to foster parents, usually at the expense of at least some of the host’s own chicks." Despite our distaste for this survival strategy, we have noticed that, in our region, cowbirds select the nests of some of our most abundant species in which to lay their eggs. The population of American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla)--the adult male is seen here--is fairly stable world-wide, so this incident of parasitism can be put in perspective. Warbler losses due to man-made hazards and causes are much more of threat.
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.