Thom Smith | Naturewatch: Kimball Farms residents create wildlife waystation
Waystations for wildlife are hidden gems, some well-established and a few in their infancy. Many are overlooked because of their small size and lack of hype although they are none the less a respite from daily responsibilities and stressors and are an important haven for wildlife.
When most think of wildlife, I feel they visualize woodchuck and deer, turkey, foxes, bear and raccoon. The ecologist and nature-lover may not stop there, seeing honey bees, dragonflies, and butterflies; robins, chickadees, mice, voles and chipmunks. And some of these, maybe all of these, have a place in our world, even to the extent of insuring our continued food supply, and even sanity. Think of the pollinators, bees and butterflies; think of the sweet songs of native birds, the bluebird for instance and the happiness it brings us.
One such haven of grasses and flowers, a relatively small patch of former lawn, will look as if it was always there by next summer. This brainchild of a small group of seniors at Kimball Farms, a retirement community on Walker Street in Lenox, Mass., was begun this past spring and is returning to nature with more than a little encouragement. I was invited to view this part of meadow, once maintained as a well-kept lawn, that is now allowed to grow naturally. Two of the "movers and shakers" of this undertaking, are residents Gwen Sears and Jim McCarthy, who credited other committee members, Elske Smith, Pat Esterson, Ned Dana, Sandy and Jennie Fenn, and Heidi Stormer, and wished they could all have been present. Sharon Lazerson, director of community outreach for Kimball Farms, was a great resource throughout, especially by suggesting contacts to help with the planning. Pat Esterson headed up the small group that constructed the six nest boxes and is at the ready if additional boxes are wanted.
Showing off the bird and pollinator habitat to this writer were Gwen Sears, retired deacon of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Pittsfield, who I have known for many years and who first told me of the project, and with her, explaining the plantings, was resident Jim McCarthy, a Master Gardener. Both told me how inspired they were when Kimball Farms said yes to the proposal allowing a small plot of what was once a field with cows and horses to return to very manageable sanctuary. My hope is that it will grow in size as time passes.
In addition to letting grasses grow to maturity, producing seed, and wild flowers allowed the chance to mature and flower, six bird nesting boxes made by residents have been installed to the delight of two pairs of successful black-capped chickadee nestings, and one successful tree swallow nesting. A pair of bluebirds considered residence, but moved on. Various flowers especially attractive to pollinators, including bees butterflies and hummingbirds have also been planted.
As we walked, I was more than delighted to see milkweed growing in profusion along the back part of what some may think a degradation to an otherwise beautiful lawn. The milkweed will both provide nectar for a variety of insects, but is also the only food source for declining monarch butterfly. Professional advice was sought every step of the way with experts like Dale Abrams of The Audubon Society, Dick Farren of Berkshire Community College, Berkshire Botanical Garden, and our neighbor on this page, New England Newspaper columnist and Master Gardener Ron Kujawski. Greg Ward (Ward's Nursery in Great Barrington) spoke to the interested residents on the do's and don'ts of such a project, and I'm sure will be helpful when called upon.
A driver along Walker Street will notice two visitors checking out the progress of what some have dubbed the "Bird Habitat." One is about to raise his binoculars to look for bluebirds and his companion is taking a photograph. I didn't recognize them at first, and then said to myself, "Why should I," so I stopped to introduce myself to these straw people, creations of one of my favorite artists, Michael Melle of Plainfield. Melle uses hay, sticks, string, burlap and more to create the figures, and then dresses them appropriately. Looking closely, I see that they are even toting a Roger Tory Peterson bird book. What eye-catching signage, Mr. Melle!
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