Norcross Wildlife Foundation Fri, 22 Sep 2017 19:34:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 From Harvard Forest Thu, 21 Sep 2017 13:44:54 +0000 Here is an announcement from our friends at Harvard Forest:

New Harvard Forest Report: Wildlands and Woodlands, Farmlands and Communities

The Harvard Forest, Highstead Foundation and co-authors from around New England released a new report called “Wildlands and Woodlands, Farmlands and Communities” on September 19. The report articulates a broad view of conservation that fully embraces farmlands and the built environment and recognizes the region’s diverse conservation needs and challenges. The report shows that New England lost an average of 24,000 acres of forest and farmland per year between 1990 and 2010. It reports that public funding for conservation dropped by 50% from the peak in 2008 to 2010 and is now slightly below 2004 levels. The authors also calculate that, at the 2010 rate, we would lose another 1.2 million acres of forest and farmland over the next 50 years. With that in mind, they argue that the threat of land use to forests is greater than the threat of climate change to forests.

On a positive note, the report shows that the original Wildlands and Woodlands vision is still achievable and calls for tripling of the current pace of conservation, reversing public funding trends, and putting more land to work for sustainable forestry and farming. The original vision called for the permanent protection of existing farmland and 30 million acres of forest (70% of the region’s land area), with most of the forestland managed for wood products and other benefits (27 million acres) and 10 percent set aside as wildland reserves (3 million acres). The authors point to hopeful signs such as the long-standing public support for land protection, the growing network of community based regional conservation partnerships, the distinct flavor of conservation in New England that explicitly recognizes the value of working lands, and highlight policy and finance opportunities including state-level infrastructure and climate action plans and the upcoming reauthorization of conservation funding programs in the federal Farm Bill. The new report, a video about the report, and supporting material can be viewed or downloaded free at

Motor Tours Fri, 15 Sep 2017 14:15:29 +0000 We are currently putting together a few fall programs, including autumn motor tours of Tupper Hill.  Guests board our 15 passenger van and are treated to a naturalist-guided tour through the heart of our 2,200 acre Core Sanctuary.    This is an opportunity to see the private side of the Norcross Sanctuary, as the area open to the public is the Pocket Sanctuary  is the 75 acres surrounding our visitors’ center.  There will be four dates in October that are open (I will post them ASAP) and you are also welcome to make a reservation for your group by email or calling Jennifer 413-267-9654


Purple Love Grass Wed, 23 Aug 2017 13:15:27 +0000 When I am out and about, periodically a plant will catch my eye while driving down the road.   Not that I would advocate looking at plants while you drive – because plant ID at 60 mph can be dangerous.   However, some plants not only catch your eye, but seemingly appear throughout the landscape at certain times of the year.   If the plant is interesting enough I might even stop and see what the heck I am looking at.

Purple love grass is visible now. For me, it is one of those roadside plants that grabs your attention and it is one of my favorite late summer plants.   It is commonly found along roadsides and it prefers to grow  in poor soils.   Those mounds of purple haze that “bloom” now are this native grass, Eragrostis spectabilis. Some other common names that it is known as include tumble grass and petticoat climber.   I just love the name purple love grass.  It does not grow very tall, reaching a height of about six inches in full bloom.   The leaves are grassy and not particularly noticeable versus the other roadside grasses during the rest of the year.  When it blooms during August we start to see it. The “flowers” are deep purple and borne on purple stalks which give it that “hazy” look.

Grass flowers are not like a showy plant with big blossoms. Grasses have a different kind of flower composed of small, discreet parts.   If the average person looked at it closely, they would not necessarily identify it as a “flower”.  Yet, that is what it is.  So the next time you see that purplish haze along the side of the road, growing in a clump and not very tall it is purple love grass.

Come Visit! Tue, 08 Aug 2017 19:16:15 +0000 Last Saturday, I set up a table at the Show Up Brimfield, Holland, Wales event.  The goal of the event was to bring folks in these three small towns together and strengthen community organizations that provide important services for all.  There were a number of different nonprofits there ranging from the arts council to the food pantry.

I am always surprised at how many people come up to me at events like this (and it happens at Tupper Hill, too) and say they didn’t know about The Sanctuary.  Even people who live adjacent to Norcross property have never stopped in to check out the museum or take a walk on the trails.  Some folks say they drive by every day, look at the sign and the beautiful planting, but didn’t know there was a museum, gardens and trails. My favorite is parents who say, “Oh, that’s where little Billy went on his school field trip!”

In the spirit of the Show Up event, I am inviting all of you to come and visit Norcross.  We do not charge an admission fee.  There are just under three miles of trails, a number of different habitat gardens planted with native species, two museums and knowledgeable staff that can help you identify that butterfly or wildflower.  Whether you’ve lived here all your life or just visiting, put us on your bucket list of wildlife sanctuaries to visit.

We are currently planning events for autumn and are seeking ideas for our winter lecture series.  Let us know what you’d like to see or hear or do during a visit here.  Perhaps you have a group who might be interested in a motor tour- give us a call and schedule one today!

Summer Flowers Wed, 19 Jul 2017 14:53:44 +0000 Spring is an exciting time in the woodlands, there are so many spring or ephemeral wildflowers blooming that it is it is hard to keep track of them all – each corner offers a new surprise if you look carefully.   Of course, many of these flowers are small, some are even insignificant (although still very cute).  Summer still holds many surprises and you should not feel like there is nothing new in the woods right now.

Summer wildflowers can be large and imposing and yes, some are still small.   The woodlands offers cool shade, drops in temperature as you want down a hill into a ravine.   Small breezes blow through the woodlands keeping you cool and comfortable in the summer.   The woodland wildflowers tend to be white rather than any other color.  Right now goats beard, black bugbane and tall meadow rue are blooming. Tall meadow rue is just that, tall.   It blooms at over 6 feet tall, it has lovely white, airy flowers.  I have seen a it as a common roadside plant along the wooded lanes.   Goats beard is often referred to as Astilbe on steroids.   It grows to over three feet tall and has foot-tall flowers that do look like Astilbe.   Black bugbane is just starting to bloom and is one of my favorites.   The full, bushy perennial sends up white spike flowers that are, again, over 6 feet tall.   My summer crew feels that its down-fall is the scent of the flowers.   It is kind of strange, something like faint moth-balls, but I don’t mind it considering the plants imposing structure and tall white flowers.  The goats beard and the black bugbane both make great border plants in shade conditions.  They also create something of a living fence if needed.  It is only fence-like in summer, however.

Summer wildflowers are not limited to shady locations.   The fields and meadows are filled with beautiful, very colorful plants in summer.  Black eyed susans, bee balms (we have 5 different species), milkweed and butterfly weed, daisies and Queen Anne’s lace are all found in sunny locations.   Butterflies are often found along with the field flowers adding to the color and interest in the gardens. Sometimes I like to take my butterfly guide with me out to the meadow to identify the insects flying around.   It is a great way to become familiar with the differences between some of our common butterflies.   Of course, Monarch butterflies are attracted to the various kinds of milkweed and I have seen a few in my gardens.  Meadows don’t have to be large expanses of old fields, you can plant meadow flowers in a border or a small, sunny section of your yard and still be successful in attracting butterflies as well.

Pareidolia Wed, 21 Jun 2017 17:09:20 +0000

The Old Man, before he fell.

Have you ever gazed up at the clouds and saw a whale, a ship, or maybe even a unicorn? What about faces staring at you from the old knotty pine in the cabin? Or a rock that really, really looks like a beagle? Have you seen the man in the moon? Were you lucky enough to meet the Old Man in the Mountain (Cannon Mountain, NH) before his demise on May 3, 2003?

Don’t be afraid to answer “yes” because you’re not crazy! You are experiencing pareidolia, a phenomenon caused by your brain doing its job. Before you are even aware of it, your brain is interpreting what you see, reviewing millions of bits of data that is has been collecting all of your life, and seeking a recognizable pattern. Once a match is made, viola! You see a stick in the pond that you would swear was a great blue heron.

Dog Rock: See the beagle?

Dog Rock: See the beagle?

So now that we know what it is, why is pareidolia in the Naturalist’s Corner?

When I present a talk or walk on animal tracks and sign, I always include an aside on pareidolia. I do this for two reasons: A great book and personal experience. Tracking and the Art of Seeing (by Paul Rezendes) encourages the observer to take in the whole picture and truly see what you are looking at. Don’t assume you are right, look around. Don’t jump to conclusions. Question your observations and look for what you might be missing. My own personal experience is that people jump to conclusions and assume they are right.

This doesn’t only apply to tracking, but it sticks out in my mind because my cat can make a perfect deer print in the snow. My point is, when observing, take an extra moment and try to see what is really there. You might be surprised!

See the deer track? It's actually my cat sitting, with her belly warmth melting snow by her back feet

Happy Tree along the trail directs you back to the Visitors' Center.

Garden Visits Thu, 15 Jun 2017 16:53:13 +0000 My daughter is heading up to Maine this weekend to go camping with her roommates.   She texted me this morning and was asking about a garden we visited on a summer trip to Maine.   She was asking about the Asticou Azalea gardens that I visited while in college and then took her to visit in mid-summer quite a few years ago.   This is probably one of the best times to visit that garden as I am sure that all the azaleas are in full bloom, but it reminded me that now is the perfect time to go out and visit some gardens.

My garden chores are mostly done – all the gardens have been weeded and mulched.   The annuals went in a couple of weeks ago  and we have had plenty of rain to keep everything looking good.  There are a couple places that I, personally, like to go including Garden in the Woods in Framingham, Tower Hill in Boylston or Bartholomew’s Cobble in Sheffield.   The latter is great on a hot weekend as it is along the Housatonic River and tends to be cool.   I also love it for the unusual ferns that you can see growing there.

For you, my readers, that could also mean the Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary.   The gardens are in tip-top shape!  The yellow lady’s slippers are still in bloom (although not for long) along with many of the spring wildflowers.   The short trail garden is full of plants in bloom – they change a bit from week to week, but it is always interesting.  We are coming up on a time of change in the garden – switching from spring to summer flowers.  Our plants have held on longer and some things have bloomed a little later this year due to the cool temperatures and the rain.   However, the rose garden will be in full bloom later in June and some of the summer flowers will start to pop out in the meadow.  I love our gardens because there is always something new to see – even for me.   Each year brings something just a little bit different.

Most of our hard work is over in the garden for a few months.   Get out and enjoy!  Our area offers many natural areas, gardens – both formal and informal, and great hiking.   Take the time to enjoy it.

Birds! Thu, 01 Jun 2017 19:18:22 +0000 Migration may be over, but I had a whopper of a list after birding this morning. 60 species!   Most of these birds can be found along our walking trails (a few hints are below if you want to come and have a look).  I’ll admit the ducks were not on the Pond trail.  I’ll also admit that the Bobolink was at a large, grassy meadow owned by Norcross in Monson, where I went to see them and hoped to see an Eastern Meadowlark.  Unfortunately, there was no Meadowlark but I did learn a wonderful useless fact of the day: The latin for Eastern Meadowlark is Sturnella magna, which means “large little starling” and I hope that is on Jeopardy tonight!

Wood Duck
Wild Turkey
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture (look up)
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Woodcock (be observant in the Pine Barrens and also near the Visitors’ Center)
Mourning Dove
Black-billed Cuckoo*
Yellow-billed Cuckoo*
*A note on the Cuckoos this year…Cuckoos like caterpillars, and we have plenty of gypsy moth caterpillars for them to eat.  Cuckoos are also called “rain crows” by some, and are said to call before showers.  Between the gypsys and the weather, no wonder we’ve seen them both!
Barred Owl (listen, especially as the train goes through Monson.  We can hear the whistle it all the way up here and often it gets the owls  hooting)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-peewee
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe (over the front door)
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird (best spot for viewing is in front of the Trailside Museum)
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Parula (good luck)
Yellow Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart (everywhere)
Louisiana Waterthrush (lower trail)
Common Yellowthroat (Pine Barrens)
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting (Pine Barrens)
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow (sorry)

Bluebirds Thu, 25 May 2017 14:33:35 +0000 When I was in grammar school I remember singing a song at recess, “Bluebird, bluebird through my window” and now that I think of it I never recall seeing a bluebird (let alone one flying into my house). Now I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to see bluebirds every single day at Tupper Hill. I have been maintaining a bluebird “trail” here for over fifteen years. It’s not actually a trail but approximately twenty sites of open, grassy habitat where nestboxes are placed for the birds.
The boxes are put up in pairs about 20 feet apart. The reasoning behind this is that the happy-go-lucky bluebirds will nest in one box and the more aggressive, nest defending tree swallows will move in next door. Sometimes a wren takes over, packing a box with twigs, and occasionally I see a chickadee move in. For the most part, along our trail, its bluebirds and tree swallows. This year I seem to have a house sparrow problem- more about them in the future- but for those of you who also have this issue remember to be persistent.
The boxes were cleaned out and replaced (I try and replace one box at each site, the bluebirds seem to prefer the newer boxes) in early March. The bluebirds are here year round so long as there is enough food, and they do start house-shopping early. The first completed nest was observed on April 13th, with other nests under construction. At the beginning of May, beautiful blue eggs were present.
It’s been a long, cool spring (no complaints here!) and everything from the blooms in the gardens to the arrival of our migrant birds has been late and drawn out. As for the bluebirds, they were not in a rush, either. They are doing quite well along our trail.
As of May 23rd, we have active nests at 13 sites. Combined, there are 20 eggs being incubated, 27 birds ranging from just hatched to about to fledge, and this morning I watched as one brave bird (from that early nest) made its first flight out of the box and into an old apple tree. Our numbers might actually be higher, as two boxes had hens on the nest that refused to budge!

A male eastern bluebird watches over his nestbox.

Bluebird nest with eggs


Lady’s Slippers! Sat, 20 May 2017 14:27:28 +0000 The number one plant that people call the Sanctuary about are the lady’s slippers. This is the week to come see the small yellow lady’s slippers in our gardens. There are beautiful clumps of these small yellow orchids in several of our gardens and they are about to be at peak bloom.

Lady’s slippers are a rare sight, and the small yellow one is quite beautiful and quite reliable in our gardens.   We used to say that they bloom around Memorial Day, but that date is moving closer to the middle of May in recent years.   Yellow lady’s slippers are found in neutral, or limestone soils – something we don’t often find in this part of the state.   If you are lucky, this plant can be seen in Berkshire county where the mountains are actually former sea bed that was heaved up due to plate tectonics around 480 million years ago.   Berkshire county is the place to find many of our lime-loving wildflowers (Bartholomew’s Cobble is a good example). Here at Norcross our plants are living in a limestone-spiked garden where the pH of the soils remains above 6.0 and they are truly a sight to see.

Pink lady’s slippers are more typically found in this part of the Massachusetts, where our soil pH hover around 4.5 -5.5.   Unfortunately, we do not have many pink flowers along our walking trails.   Pink lady’s slippers are plants of disturbance.   They like an area that has been logged or where the canopy has been disturbed.   Despite the damage that they cause and the nuisance that they are the Gypsy moths caterpillar causes the kind of disturbance these orchids prefer through defoliation of the canopy trees.   If you know of an area where there was severe defoliation last year, keep an eye out for more pink lady’s slippers in the next week or two. As rare species and orchids, do not dig or remove any of these plants from the wild.   Pink lady’s slippers grow in conjunction with mycorrhizae in the soil and although the plant moves easily, the fungus does not.  

Get out on the trails! Enjoy this beautiful weather.   We are coming into the peak bloom time for all wildflowers and even if you do not see the lady’s slippers, there are plenty of other wildflowers to see.   The gardens at Norcross will be at their spring peak from now through about mid-June.   Come visit us Tuesday through Saturday, 9am to 4pm.