Well I may be spending my summer here in the Valley but its been non-stop wildlife. I went with my friend Tom Gagnon, butterfly and birder extraordinaire, to search out some butterflies, but first he had a treat for me. He led me to a secret spot in Northampton where The Ragged Fringed Orchid grows. At first it looked like any other summer “weed” until I looked more closely, really a very stunning structure! Then off to look for summer butterflies. Lots going on including dun skippers, a couple mourning cloaks, and a very rare hickory hairstreak! Great day out!
Well, a little while ago, I went with my friends Ann and David to track down the illusive sandhill cranes in the hill towns of Western Massachusetts. Well, they weren’t so illusive this time (this was my third try this summer!). Ah what a beautiful pair. Gorgeous because we found them close by the Chesterfield Gorge! My friend who lives nearby said that she has seen a third crane as well. So stay tuned for the Sandhill Soap Opera, “Cranes of our Lives…”
The Cornell Ornithology app does not have their range extending into the Massachusetts but this is the third year the pair has been here and rumor has it there is a breeding pair in the eastern part of the state. The app says that they have beautiful courtship displays to form mating pairs (they mate for life), and other displays to maintain the pair bond. Also, a crane fossil about 10 million years old was found in Nebraska that is structurally identical to the modern Sandhill Crane, “making it the oldest known bird species still surviving” Oh Baby! Remember back in October, Ann and I had incredibly luck (due to Ann’s eagle eyes) finding them before they headed south. They were white with the beautiful red crown. As you can see, they are a brownish color now. Actually, their real color in the summer is gray but they preen with mud and vegetation containing iron oxide which colors them the reddish brown. Even with the brown coloring, they continue to sport that very eye-catching crimson crown! Take a look:
Here are some other pictures. You can click on any pic to enlarge:
While out walking Touro, we chanced upon a family of bears (a mother and her two cubs) sleeping in a tree near the center of Florence! It was 9 am and they were still sleeping. Until one of the cubs decided he was hungry enough to wake everyone up! He tried to wake up its sibling but nothing doing, so he went down the tree to Mom. I love how she cuddles but doesn’t want to get up yet. He even takes a little nibble of Mom’s arm to emphasize the point! After lots of yawning, they finally all stirred and headed down the tree to get some milk from mom. Susan Morse, the incredible naturalist from Keeping Track, found that mother bears will send their cubs up specific trees, to wait all day sometimes, while mom goes out foraging for food. Susan called these trees “babysitting” trees! Since male bears may kill cubs, these trees, usually very tall white pines, are essential to the cubs’ survival! Click on the pictures to enlarge.
Well, I’m staying in the Valley for the summer, instead of running dune tours on the Cape. If this is what summer will be like in the Valley, bring it on. I knew it was going to be a great hike with my friend Ann when I got this shot of the “Owl Property”, a field across from the UMass stables that Valley Land Fund preserved and then transferred over to Kestrel in the merger. Click on pics to enlarge.
We then went to a Leverett Conservation Area in which Kestrel Land Trust was instrumental in preserving, in hopes to see some wood ducks. It seemed like the water was too low for them? We did get a wonderful show of small (about the size of a nickle) butterflies that Ann later identified as European Skippers. A type of butterfly accidentally brought to North America from Europe in 1910. I like their European name better, The Essex Skipper. It makes them sound more special, less common. We also got a great look at a flicker, a family of tree swallows, and a brown creeper! If that wasn’t enough, on the way home I got this beautiful shot the first hay harvest on a field in Hadley. All in all, a great way to celebrate the coming of summer!
Well, its more like a sweet sound from Mexico because that’s where this Louisiana Water Thrush probably winters. Ah, but this summer we probably have a couple pairs nesting on the brook feeding into Puffers Pond in Amherst. My good friend Ann and I just stood on the bridge and called him in using my ebird app. What a beauty. The eye bar is so striking and its thrush like stripped chest is so natty! We did learn that the LWT is actually not a thrush but rather a warbler…who knew, he sure looks like a thrush! Some shots I got showed a bit of yellow in his breast feathers. Maybe that’s the hint. He was a bit agitated by the calls from my app but when he settled down, he was a real poser. We just loved his tail flick. And his call, sweet and very loud. My friend Ann learned that the call of the LWT has to be really loud to be heard above the girgle of the brook or creek. Take a listen:
Like I said, he loved to pose for us. At times it was hard to pick him out because his coloration blended so well with the brook, so I put in a couple of picture to see if you can find him. Remember to click on the photos to enlarge, it will help you find Waldo!
What a great afternoon at Fitzgerald Lake. Kestrel Land Trust and Broadbrook Coalition sponsored a Story Walk for Kids of all ages. Joan Robb, Ally Sullivan and Kari Blood planned a wonderful walk with stories from “Over in the Forest, Come take a Peek” a children’s book by Marianne Berkes and Jill Dubin (see below for some of the illustrations that were put on posts). There was face painting and then a wonderful storyteller, Rona Leventhal, entranced the kids with stories of wildlife. See below for her rousing story of the Wide Mouth Frog. Everyone had a wonderful time! The stories are available for viewing all this week at the entrance to Fitz Lake. Remember, click on pics to enlarge them!
And what a day it was! I along with a few other hardy souls braved a morning drizzle (maybe we weren’t all that hardy) at the old Bri Mar Stables on Moody Bridge Road in Hadley, now part of the Silvi0 O. Conte Fish and Wildlife Refuge. Kestrel Land Trust, along with Trust for Public Lands and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked tirelessly to preserve this land, which could have been a 140 house subdivision. Now it is a hot spot for migratory birds looking for food, mates, and a safe harbor on their journey north. As part of a Kestrel sponsored outing, we had the great opportunity to celebrate the day with one of the Valley’s best naturalists, Dave King. Amazing! We saw or heard almost 50 different species of birds including a brown thrasher, indigo bunting, baltimore and orchard orioles, rose breasted grosbeaks…the list goes on and on! Here’s some pictures from the day. Remember to click on them to enlarge:
So I tried all three entrances to get to the rookery at Ned’s Ditch but the Connecticut River is so high that they’re all flooded and inaccessible. But, my friend Maryjo came to the rescue and told me a secret way to get into the grassland island.
Well, the rookery is just teeming with life. The Great Blue Herons are slowly coming back to their rookery (they were the first inhabitants). Remember, they are not monogamous from season to season so they’re still flirting and trying to attract a mate. The eagles have laid their egg(s) and are patiently waiting for the arrival of their brood. And if that isn’t enough, a family of great horned owls moved into another of the heron nests and have chicks that are already growing flight feathers and flapping their wings! Just and incredible rookery! I could spend all day watching the goings on in the neighborhood:
Well, as quiet as they can be with the Umass Outing Club visiting the pools! I had the pleasure of taking a very enthusiastic group of students up into the Sawmill Hills Conservation Area to check on the highly productive ecosystems. It was a collaboration between the Umass Outing Club and Kestrel Land Trust. organized by Ally Sullivan, the Community Engagement Coordinator at Kestrel and an Americorp staff member. We found some spotted salamander eggs (having a gelantinous external membrane surrounding the whole group of eggs) but otherwise it has been just too cold. No fairy shrimp or wood frog eggs yet. Although a very good eye found the one and only wood frog hiding out.