This Thing Called Courage

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Happy Land News

The story belowed appeared in the Boston Globe on December 27. It's an article on the Bird Meadow Restoration Project now going on in a far-off corner of Happy Land (aka the Middlesex Fells). As it turns out, this is the sacred place where I see the male American Woodcock perform his amazing spring mating dance.

The photo of the dear is taken from the website of the Friends of the Middlesex Fells, and was taken on Christmas Day, somewhere inside the Fells. I too have seen deer in the Fells, on three occasions, the most recent last spring (at the American Woodcock place) with my friend Chris. They are beautiful creatures.

A clear-cut solution
To restore wildlife habitat, environmentalists are felling trees
Kytja Weir; Globe Correspondent / December 27, 2007
MEDFORD - With a single snip of a pair of long-handled clippers, Peter Luongo ended
the life of a spindly sapling poking up through the snow at the Middlesex Fells
Killing trees isn't among the obvious duties of a park ranger. But Luongo and a group of
volunteers are clearing saplings and brush once a month this winter in a small section of
this more than 2,000-acre nature preserve that straddles the borders of Medford,
Winchester, Stoneham, Melrose, and Malden.
"What we're trying to do artificially here is turn back the clock," Luongo said. "With
global warming, you hate to cut down trees. But I don't really feel bad here because this
historically was a meadow."
Their efforts are a solution to a somewhat counterintuitive problem in many parts of New
England: Woods have replaced open pastures and farmland to such an extent that some
wildlife dependent on such areas no longer have a habitat to call home.
Bobolinks are songbirds that require open pastures for their ground-level nests. Sharpshinned
hawks and foxes eat voles that burrow under meadow grasses. Even deer prefer
forest edges, savoring the tender green shoots of young trees and the open horizon for
spotting predators.
"Since New England went from forest to farmland, we lost a lot of forest wildlife," said
Michael Arnott, who helps coordinate the meadow clearing workdays for the nonprofit
Friends of the Middlesex Fells. "And now we've almost gone too far in the opposite
In the mid-19th century, two-thirds of southern New England land was clear, opened for
the pastures and crops needed in the agricultural-based society, said John O'Keefe,
coordinator of the Fisher Museum at Harvard Forest in Petersham, where the museum's
dioramas depict more than 300 years of the area's changing landscape.
Then, the industrial age shifted jobs away from farms. Woods returned. By the 1970s,
forests covered two-thirds of the land again. "It had completely flipped," O'Keefe said.
Now environmentalists, birders, and hunters are looking for more mixed habitats in the
areas that haven't already been developed. For at least 10 years, governmental and
nonprofit groups have been trying to encourage the preservation - or, in some cases,
restoration – of grasslands around New England to recreate some of the habitat needed
for birds, butterflies, and native plants.
This summer a 10-year program began in Belmont, where a federal grant is helping to
restore about 30 acres at Rock Meadow conservation area.
And at the Fells, volunteer crews are clearing the brush from a less than 20-acre
overgrown field that was an antiaircraft military site in the 1950s near the
Winchester/Medford line. Some locals call the area the Nike missile site because it was
short-listed as a potential site for the Cold War weapons, after the 90mm antiaircraft
battery that was housed there became obsolete. Even after the Nike ended up at another
locale and the battery was abandoned, the area remained an open field.
For years, the former Metropolitan District Commission mowed it, keeping sprouts from
growing into saplings, then into trees. It became an area rich in butterflies, with 67
species recorded there between the late 1960s and early 1980s, including the rare oak
hairstreak, also known as the northern hairstreak.
But the mowing stopped. Since then, trees and vines – especially invasive species such as
Asiatic bittersweet - have taken hold.
The clearing project began last year on winter weekends. The cold and snow means no
ticks, Arnott said. Poison ivy lies leafless and tamed under the snow.
With the help of some Boy Scouts, they managed to clear about three acres of the field.
This year they hope to clear more so the open space will encourage rare warblers and
butterflies to return to the Fells this spring.
Eventually, they hope to make it clear enough so a mower could trim the area each year
after all the nesting birds have migrated.
On a recent Saturday, Wade Sapp, 68, a physicist who lives in Melrose, joined the effort.
Luongo explained which trees to keep (native cherries should stay) and which could go
(most everything else). Sapp grabbed a pair of loppers, the long-handled clippers, and got
to work.
The sounds of the men's loppers and handsaws melded with the distant sounds of traffic
and a wailing siren from the towns nearby.
Despite the cold, Arnott quickly doffed his windbreaker, hanging it on a nearby branch
because all the work had warmed his blood. He clipped, he sawed, and he stacked the
branches near a roadway.
About 15 feet away, a small black and white downy woodpecker started tapping at a
tree's trunk. It's an abundant bird, not one of the endangered birds especially drawn to
But Arnott stopped to take a picture to document the close-up sighting. He's hoping his
work will someday lead other birds such as the endangered golden-winged warbler to
come to the field to pose for a picture, too.
Kytja Weir can be reached at
The next Friends of the Middlesex Fells meadow restoration workday will be 10 a.m. to 2
p.m., Jan. 26. Volunteers must preregister by calling or e-mailing the Friends office at
781-662-2340 or
(c) Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.


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