the trustees of reservations
On The Land
The Trustees of Reservations

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Wildlife Camera update - When "Mooses" Come Walking!

A handsome bull moose with velvety new antlers visited our camera!
An iconic creature of the north - New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Canada, Alaska - moose are not the animal many think of when they picture our Commonwealth.  More and more, however, moose are calling Massachusetts home!  One of our ultimate goals when we acquired several wildlife cameras a year ago was to photograph one of these elusive ungulates.  And it has taken an entire year of placing these cameras on properties near the places where we saw their tracks, scat, and signs of browse (feeding) on favored trees like striped maple.  I'm pretty certain one even made fun of our attempts a few months ago by leaving a pile of scat BEHIND one of our cameras at the vernal pool of bobcat and bear fame, then purposely not walking in front of it.  Another even showed up by our office at the Doyle Community Park and Center to snack on wetland vegetation in the pond last fall, but quickly found his way out of busy Leominster back up to the nearby state forests.  A lucky neighbor shot the photo below.  Last week, we finally captured one on a wildlife camera in the southwestern-most town in the state, Mount Washington, MA (a real town not to be confused with the famous NH mountain, or with plain old Washington, MA), bordering both Connecticut and New York. 

A moose stops by the Doyle Community Park and Center, September 2013.

Many are surprised to learn that moose are here at all, as they luckily don't show up to cause confusion and environmental police roadblocks in greater Boston very often, but prefer the forests of Central and Western Mass.  If you want to see one, your best bet is heading to northern Worcester County, and a little further west in the deep forest surrounding the Quabbin Reservoir.  A population also inhabits the Hilltowns and Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.  Moose crossing signs installed in recent years on Route 2 through Central MA warning drivers of the rare but real risk of hitting one in a car in that region!  Over the last few decades, headlines have been made when one wanders in to large Central Mass cities and towns like Fitchburg, Worcester, and one even was sighted in Wellesley in 2012 (click for story).  My high school cross country team once surprised a trio of moose (a bull and two females) on a run in Ashburnham - actually they surprised us, we turned and ran the other way, they didn't seem to care - my most memorable encounter with these giants of the wilderness besides the frightening night-time experience of nearly colliding with one when driving in the Berkshires. 

An alarming moose population decline has emerged in recent years, on which wildlife biologists are hard at work.  Moose populations in New England have recently declined, precipitously, even in New Hampshire and Vermont - nearly half the population has been lost over the last two decades.  The Massachusetts population, growing over the past several decades, has not been as heavily affected and has stabilized at around 1,000 animals.  Some have even wandered south into Connecticut, currently the southern extreme of their range, and there's a good chance our handsome bull made his way down across the border through the deep forests and high ridgelines of the Taconic Range.  Perhaps he even dipped down the mountain to visit Rene at Bartholomew's Cobble along the way. 

An irony of potential changes in climate is that moose are now returning to the great habitats that our heavy forests and wetlands provide, only to be faced with rising temperatures.  Even when the temperature rises merely into the high 60s or into the 70s, moose begin to get hot!  They tend to seek wetlands to feed in and cool off in on summer days.  Like a lot of us, they get overheated and grumpy and just want to lay down in the shade or go swimming when the mercury reaches the 90s and humid.  They already think it's a little too hot down here, so if average temperatures keep rising, they may return to points farther north, making their southern incursion to Massachusetts and Connecticut just a short cameo appearance!  Let's hope they stick around at least a little bit longer so more of us get to see them!   

Moose profile with Dewlap!  What's a Dewlap you ask?  (Click to read up on it!)

Want to look for signs of moose on Trustees' reservations?  Some decent bets are Notchview in Windsor, Tully Lake and a hike on the Tully Trail in Royalston, Bear Swamp in Ashfield, or Brooks Woodland Preserve or Swift River Reservation in Petersham!  Places to look?  They're known to enjoy feeding on wetland shrubs on summer days, and also enjoy the young growth in early successional (recently logged and regenerating) forest habitat.  Then there's the fall mating season, where the bulls begin to roam and may show up where you least expect them!  Boston Common in the near future?  I wouldn't rule it out!  MassWildlife has plenty of information and advice on co-existing peacefully with the majestic moose, so read up, and put on your high beams when possible if traveling Route 2 through Worcester County at night! 

Most importantly, and also speaking of the Berkshires, Arlo Guthrie has made it okay to use "mooses" as the plural of moose, in his children's book "The Mooses Come Walking," so feel free to do that from now on, and he also advises what to do if you find a moose staring in your window at night.  (Psst, you should probably actually heed MassWildlife on this one, particularly if you live in a heavily populated area!)  We'll leave you with the twelve lines of his wise little book -

Mooses come walking up over the hill.
Mooses come walking. They rarely stand still
When mooses come walking, they walk where they will.
And mooses come walking up over the hill.
Mooses look into your window at night.
They look to the left and they look to the right.
The mooses are smiling; they think it’s a zoo.
That’s why the mooses like looking at you.
So, if you see mooses while lying in bed,
It’s best to just stay there, pretending you’re dead.
The mooses will leave, and you’ll get the thrill
Of seeing the mooses go over the hill.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

CATerwauling bobcats and "Extra-Vernal" pools!

Our favorite ridgetop vernal pool does not in fact remain "vernal" most years - it usually holds water year-round, serving as an important water source for resident and transient wildlife - it seems almost appropriate to rename it our "extra-vernal" pool since it doesn't typically go away after spring or even summer.  Although it is not a "certified" vernal pool by the state Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP), the obligate species' egg masses of wood frogs and salamanders that we observed during last year's exploration indicate that it is "certifiable", meeting other criteria too like having no flowing outlet and no fish population.  While winter is holding on tenaciously this year, soon it will melt down, the "quacks" of wood frogs will fill the warm spring air, and salamanders will congress soon to lay their eggs during a warm and rainy "Big Night!"

The pool is quite full in the springtime during our 2013 Vernal Pool Exploration workshop!
So what happens when you have an "extra-vernal" pool tucked into a low spot along the high ridge of a forested hill, rich with food sources too like mature mast-producing trees including beech and red oak?  Our wildlife cameras were set up to find out, and show many mammals of this forest predictably coming by for a drink and perhaps some beech nuts, but also for some unpredictable frolicking!  Our past post linked here will show you some videos of bears who came for a drink and stayed to play! 

Our vernal pool, quiet in winter except for a photo-bombing squirrel and some porcupine-chewed hemlock twigs!
Late winter is a quiet time at our pool - the surface is frozen solid, the highbush blueberry bushes stand bare and the winterberry holly shrubs are, too, stripped of their bright red late-fruiting berries by hungry birds.  At this time of year, the pool is not much of a water or a food source.  On an early February visit, we did not see signs of much action in the fresh coating of snow as we circled the pool.  One deer had ambled by and bedded just east of the pool for a cold night on the ridgetop.  We found a set of porcupine tracks coming up from the eastern face of the ridge, leading towards its favorite trees to climb - a couple hemlocks and a red maple surrounding the pond.  As we approached what appeared to be the porcupine's favored hemlock, tell-tale twigs littering the ground, another set of tracks intersected hers out of the mountain laurel - small and delicate, with clear indentations of four toe pads, a three-lobed plantar (heel) pad behind it, and no claw marks.  

Perfectly-defined bobcat tracks by the vernal pool!
Bill Lattrell was with us that day, a tracker and ecologist and friend of the CR Program (and fellow blogger! take a read by clicking!), who was helping us to scout the area for an upcoming wildlife tracking workshop, and to place a couple wildlife cameras in new places.  He confirmed that these were bobcat tracks, and some of the best he had ever seen!  If it excited Bill, we knew that we were witnessing something special.  We followed the tracks out of the mountain laurel thicket and over towards the pool - the set of tracks took a sudden bound, looking like the cat pounced toward a hemlock, perhaps after a mouse, pivoting itself back off the trunk in the direction it had come, and sliding to a stop!  Just past the tree, we realized something even more interesting was afoot- a second set of bobcat tracks joined the first!

A second set of tracks (top right!) SLIDES in to ambush the first set!
Known as solitary animals, there were only a few things this could mean.  Bill quickly hazarded a guess, as the two sets of tracks went out on the ice, danced over a log in the middle of the pool, and slid playfully out toward the middle!  The tracks doubled back towards the log, and evidence of an animal laying down and depressing the snow was visible. His guess?  That we were probably seeing the courtship dance of two bobcats about to mate!   Known for pursuing and ambushing one another, and sometimes even becoming aggressive to each other before mating, the sliding and rolling of the two bobcats, observed on the frozen pond and by the log, suggested that this was the answer!  It was early in their breeding season (most common in February through March in southern New England), but not too early - plus we were near likely resident bobcat habitat with south-easterly facing slopes with steep rock ledges and overhangs.  We decided to put the camera facing right out towards the playful felines' spot, then waited patiently for a few weeks before returning to check.  Bill even recommended camping near the pool, to hear the unearthly "Caterwauling" yowls that bobcats make - we never got around to it, but sometimes it's just better to give the wild a break from our presence.

The kitties came back!  Click for the full-size photograph.

This one in a million photograph of two bobcats was the amazing result of our previous scouting!  

We plan to leave the bobcats alone for a couple more weeks, until Saturday April 12th.  We're guessing they've moved on anyways, expecting kittens!  Please join us that day (and on the evening of Thursday April 10 for an introductory presentation on vernal pools!) for our second annual CR Program vernal pool exploration in partnership with Hilltown Land Trust.  The pool will be (hopefully) thawed and the wood frogs and salamander eggs freshly laid.  We'll be joined by Bill Lattrell to guide us in what we find.  See flyer below, and you must RSVP to register.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Trustees of Reservations and Holliston Open Space Committee's conservation accomplishment - 86 Acres adds to Holliston's Adams Street Town Forest!

A quick exit off the frantic pace of Interstate 495 in Milford brings you to Route 16 - here you have a choice - turn in to that certain sign of Massachusetts civilization - Dunkin' Donuts - and the shopping plazas next door, or turn east toward Holliston.  Unless you need a bite to eat or some retail therapy, we are proponents of the second choice (or both!), which shortly leads you to a quick, indiscrete left onto Adams Street, into a block of deep and rocky, rolling forestland where the hum of the Interstate begins to seem like an illusion.  A thick canopy of trees envelops the narrow road, punctuated by pleasant homes and horse farms, and just a mile up the road you reach a sign inviting exploration - and also commemorating the Town of Holliston's conservation-minded foresight to secure an additional 86 acres of land for their Adams Street Town Forest! An important addition to the overall protected landscape in the Charles River headwaters area of Holliston, Milford, and the river's source at Echo Lake in Hopkinton.  The Charles River headwaters is one of the largest protected blocks of open space between MetroWest and Boston, ensuring the source water quality of Metro Boston's river jewel.  This community conservation accomplishment was achieved by the Holliston Open Space Committee working with multiple tools including Community Preservation Funds, working tirelessly to acquire a state Municipal Self-Help grant, and working with Community Conservation Specialists at The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) to ensure the land will be protected for public use and enjoyment for everyone, forever. A Conservation Restriction (CR) recently recorded on the land in September 2013 and held by The Trustees ensures just that. 

The protected land acquired from NSTAR sits in a much larger protected area of land around the Charles River headwaters. 
The Community Preservation Act (CPA) has provided Massachusetts municipalities with a unique funding source for community projects.  This Act allows towns to vote whether to opt in or not to the CPA, and if so the municipality institutes a nominal tax (1-3%) on real estate transactions, the funds from which are stored in a local Community Preservation Fund that opens eligibility to receive additional money from the state's Community Preservation Trust Fund.  Cities and towns may spend their CPA fund money in three areas - open space and recreation, historic preservation, or affordable housing projects to benefit their communities.  In 2001, Holliston voted to institute the CPA at Town Meeting, and so the town created its Community Preservation Committee to administer the local fund with autonomy.  Click here to learn more about the CPA, and whether your community has adopted it!

Wenakeening Woods, Protected in 1992, and a property under a Trustees conservation restriction!

Holliston's relationship with The Trustees stretches back to 1992 and the protection of the 100+ acre Wenakeening Woods with its trails and wooded wetland habitats.  At that time, TTOR worked with the town, local citizens, and the Avery Dennison Corporation to accept the corporation's back land as a gift, a process that resulted in the founding of the Upper Charles Conservation Land Trust, a successful regional land trust created in that year, to be the owner and manager of Wenakeening Woods.  The Trustees holds a conservation restriction over Wenakeening Woods and it remains open today for public use and enjoyment.

The protection of the 210-acre David R. Fairbanks Property was the 2nd cooperative project in Holliston with TTOR.
In 2002, another opportunity presented itself in Holliston - 210 acres of land south of the town forest, long beloved by its owner, the now late David Fairbanks, was offered for sale to the town.  Holliston was now well-equipped to meet the purchase price through several mechanisms, including their newly-adopted Community Preservation Fund, a decade-long relationship with The Trustees, and a talented and proactive Open Space Committee.  The million-dollar purchase was accomplished with CPA funds (the town's first open space use of the fund!), state Self-Help grant funds for municipal conservation purposes, and a contribution by The Trustees.  The David Reed Fairbanks conservation area sits just south of the town forest, and is permanently protected by a CR held by The Trustees and the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). 

NSTAR Electric Company had owned these latest 86 acres in question as surplus land for decades, never having found a use for them.  In 2007, NSTAR offered the land for sale.  Like much of the recreational woodland that so many of us take for granted, no formal protection was in place at that time to prevent these lands from future development.  Furthermore, these 86 acres were directly next door to the town's existing Adams Street Town Forest, and already contained some trails enjoyed by public users, such as George Johnson, at that time the chair of the Holliston Open Space Committee, who felt "they were a natural fit for permanent protection."  Mr. Johnson and the Committee sprung into action to formulate a proposal for the town to purchase the land.  Community support for purchasing the land from NSTAR was accomplished through town meeting vote in 2007, a community vote of faith that the state Self-Help Grant (now known as LAND grant,) which the Open Space Committee applied for, would come through (it hadn't yet!) to fund it! The remainder of the $1 million-plus purchase price came from the town's Community Preservation Fund and Open Space Fund.  The Trustees came through once again to hold the CR on the 86 acres of land purchased from NSTAR, while the town owns it as an addition to their popular town forest.   

George Johnson (Holliston Open Space Committee) and Andrew Bentley (TTOR) exploring the land.
Today, hikers and nature lovers enjoy this natural area, co-existing peaceably with mountain bikers - who love this overall landscape too for its steep and challenging landscape.  In fact the New England Mountain Biking Association (NEMBA) actually owns 47 acres of protected land known as "Vietnam", adjacent to the Fairbanks land.  Hundreds of acres in the area are classified as Priority and Core Habitat by the state's Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, attesting to the habitat value of the area.  The area's natural bedrock bluffs and abrupt depressions makes it a landscape dotted with vernal pools, and a springtime visit might serenade you with choruses of wood frogs and spring peepers, and maybe even glimpses of the secretive salamanders that breed in these fascinating, fleeting pools, while you wonder - is that the hum of 495 in the distance?  It couldn't be!

Miles of trails traverse this area, and we recommend anyone newcomer to the land to take a map (click here!) - otherwise you probably WILL get lost!  Just look at that thing!  It's an absolute maze in there!  

This most recent successful project builds on The Trustees' long tradition of directly protecting or partnering with towns and other groups to protect threatened land in the Charles River Valley.  This began with our oldest reservation, Rocky Narrows, on the shores of the river in Sherborn, in 1897, and now includes 15 reservations and 2,300 acres of protected land throughout the Charles River watershed.   

The Trustees have fifteen reservations in the Charles River valley, and have protected much more than just those Special Places with land protection tools like Conservation Restrictions. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Boxborough Celebrates Steele Farm conservation success with Local Heroes, with Legislators, and The Trustees!

Beautiful autumn colors at Steele Farm in Boxborough.
Last week, Boxborough residents and a lineup of special guests came together at Boxborough Town Hall to celebrate the permanent protection of town-owned Steele Farm, through a Conservation Restriction (CR) to The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) and Historic Preservation Restriction (HPR) to The Boxborough Historical Society (BHSI), a project completed in close partnership with the Boxborough Conservation Trust (BCT) and the Town of Boxborough. This celebration was well-earned, to recognize the hard work of local heroes in Boxborough to complete a six-year cooperative conservation project that was twenty years in the making!  The 36 acres at Steele Farm protect beautiful meadows that host grass-nesting birds, three National Registry historic buildings that reflect the agricultural history of Boxborough including the Levi Wetherbee farmhouse dating to 1784, and offer hiking trails that meander through fields and woods on Steele Farm and connect to other conservation areas next door.  For our earlier exciting news and description of Steele Farm, see our August blog post by clicking here!

The Trustees provided a 'Protected Forever' sign which will be adapted to commemorate the collaboration that led to the property's permanent protection. 
From L, Bruce Hager (SFAC) & John Fallon (VP of BHSI & Town Moderator), Alan Rohwer (BHSI & Historical Commission), State Senator Jamie Eldridge, Representative Jen Benson, and Duncan Browne (BHSI). 

The guests of honor were the members of groups like the Steele Farm Advisory Committee (SFAC), the Boxborough Historical Society (BHSI), Boxborough Conservation Trust (BCT), the members of the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator, and so many supportive local citizens, who all came together to make this project possible.  These dedicated groups saw this project through years of complex negotiation at the town level, to muster support for the farm's permanent protection - a process driven by passionate local citizens like Alan Rohwer of the Boxborough Historical Society, whose patience and dedication have paid off, despite what he described as a process sometimes feeling like "dragging a battleship across the desert!" 

Alan Rohwer (L) & Bruce Hager (R) accept commemorative hiking sticks, awarded to commemorate their roles as two of the Steele Farm "SF 3"! (not present was Arden Veley) 

Boxborough acquired Steele Farm in 1994 - however, the land was not donated to the town as protected conservation land, as it would have been if it was donated to the town's Conservation Commission, and therefore qualify for the substantial protections of town-owned conservation land under Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution.  Municipal land in Massachusetts, even if it functions as conservation land, is not securely protected if it is not owned under the care of the Conservation Commission or other such protection-oriented municipal body such as a parks department, or unless there is a conservation restriction on the land - in other words, such surplus land can be converted to other uses.  The committee was faced with finding a solution to how the land would be conserved - and to muster local support!  The negotiated solution garnered citizens' and Board of Selectmen support through an annual town meeting vote, and the conservation solution was to donate a conservation restriction to The Trustees and HPR to the Historical Society that now ensures Steele Farm's permanent protection.  Such restrictions are permanent and this one ensures that the conservation and historic values of Steele Farm will not be lost to other uses of the land.  
At the celebration, Committee members were joined by TTOR CR Program staff, and even the talented former staff member, Chris Rodstrom, who drove the project forward for The Trustees from the beginning of TTOR's involvement in 2007 until his departure from TTOR in May of 2013.  State representatives attended as well - Jen Benson of the 37th Middlesex District, and State Senator Jamie Eldridge as well, to add congratulatory remarks.  Senator Eldridge had this to say about the success, "The conservation and historic preservation restrictions placed on Steele Farm represent a 20-year effort to protect this special property for Boxborough residents for generations to come. I congratulate all of the stakeholders involved."

Senator Jamie Eldridge and Representative Jen Benson came to praise the successful conservation project.

Boxborough was also host to a very special guest, Irene Del-Bono of the MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA), Division of Conservation Services, the governmental body which reviews and approves all conservation restrictions at the state level.  Ms. Del-Bono is the EOEEA staff member who conducts legal review of every single CR document from all corners of Massachusetts, and her reviews ensure a gold standard that each CR be legally sound to protect land forever.  Irene expressed her appreciation for the invitation to get out of her office and into a community to celebrate their conservation victory, and loved the opportunity to meet with some of the local heroes who make successful conservation efforts happen! 

Alan Rohwer poses with Irene Del-Bono, the EOEEA's Conservation Restriction reviewer.

Special thanks is reserved for the local groups who worked together to make this happen!  Duncan Browne, John Fallon, and Alan Rohwer of the Boxborough Historical Society; Rita Gibes Grossman of the Boxborough Conservation Trust; Bruce Hager, Jeanne Steele Kangas, Judi Resnick, Ed Whitcomb, and among former members David Birt, Eric Tornstrom, and John Skinner of the Steele Farm Advisory Committee; and Town Administrator Selina Shaw, are among the local heroes who saw this project through to completion!  On The Trustees of Reservations's end, Chris Rodstrom negotiated the project, Andrew Bentley saw this project through to completion, and the CR Program staff will visit annually and advise Boxborough on protecting its conservation values - sealing TTOR's collaborative promise that Steele Farm will be protected for everyone, forever. 

Steele Farm Advisory Committee celebrates their conservation victory! 
From L, Jeanne Steele Kangas, Ed Whitcomb, Judi Resnick, Bruce Hager.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Wildlife Havens - on land protected by The Trustees of Reservations!

The latest pictures and videos from the Conservation Restriction Program's wildlife cameras are here!  We are pleased to share them with our blog readers and the broader group of Trustees of Reservations supporters (that's you!) who carry our work forward.

Eastern coy-wolf in the North Quabbin region: 

Fisher in action:

Bobcat along a stone wall in Central Massachusetts: 

Mama Bear is well aware that we are watching!


Mama Bear and Two cubs at play in the Western MA Hilltowns!!


And Climbing a Tree!


And rolling around!


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

New Videos from CR Program Wildlife Cameras!

The latest from our Conservation Restriction Program wildlife cameras are not just pictures but motion pictures!  Check out these videos to see what happens on irreplaceable wildlife habitat protected by The Trustees of Reservations across Massachusetts.  

Bobcat on a daytime prowl:


Heron on a stroll:


Curious young bucks pose for the camera:


We're watching her and she's watching us!



Monday, August 5, 2013

Conservation in Boxborough - Steele Farm CR and Historic Preservation Restriction protects a beloved landscape!

The hot month of July saw the closing of a new conservation restriction and historic preservation restriction held by The Trustees of Reservations that protects and increases access to a beautiful historic farm in an area of high development pressure!  

Steele Farm Conservation & Historic Preservation Restriction - Boxborough, MA

Beautiful open meadows at Steele Farm provide great bird habitat and quality hay.
The 1784 Levi Wetherbee House is listed in The National Register of Historic Places.
Steele Farm in Boxborough is a bucolic local treasure that will inspire nature and history lovers alike.  We are excited to announce that its 36 acres and historic buildings listed on The National Register of Historic Places are now protected forever through a partnership between The Trustees of Reservations and The Boxborough Historical Society, adding to Boxborough's network of conservation land.  The town still owns the property, purchasing it in 1994 to preserve one of its oldest and most historic farms, beloved as a former orchard and Christmas tree farm, and a reminder of the area's deep agricultural roots.  The house was built by Levi Wetherbee, a member of one of the town's founding families, and traces its origins to 1784.  Evidence of apple orchard and dairy farming can be found in the function of the beautiful 1940s barn.  A 1904 ice house was re-located to the property in the 1990s from another farm in town, preserving another kind of historic structure that you just don't see very much anymore!  A network of trails loops around the farm and connects to the adjacent Beaver Brook Meadows conservation land - and Steele Farm's protection brings this block of conservation land up to 100 acres! 

The ice house and barn hearken back to a different era.

A cacophony of grassland bird calls can be heard in spring when the bobolinks nest, and resident mammals seen peeking out of the woods or drinking from the streams on the property.  The Trustees will watch over the conservation values of the property, while Boxborough Historical Society will ensure that the historic features are preserved in perpetuity.  The Steele Farm Advisory Committee advises the town on land management and will be spearheading the property's long-term management planning process.  In the meantime, Steele Farm is a popular spot open for public use and recreation (for trail map, click here!) and local youth organizations are encouraged to organize camping trips (must be approved by the town first!) there too.  Find it at 484 Middle Road in Boxborough and unwind for a bit.

Many thanks to the tireless work of the Steele Farm Advisory Committee, Boxborough Historical Society, The Town of Boxborough, and the support of the citizens of Boxborough, the Boxborough Conservation Trust, and former TTOR CR Program Director Chris Rodstrom, to realize this community vision of conservation for public use and enjoyment!  

Steele Farm in high springtime.

Steele Farm as viewed from above!