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.
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.