The Business of Bees

by Barbara Walvoord

“When a bumblebee is feeding at a flower, you can pet it,” said Tom Sullivan a pollinator expert who has consulted with us about our land. Unless directly threatened, bees are reluctant to sting. I did not try to pet this bee, but I did stick my camera practically in its face, and it just went about its business.

This looks like a honey bee to me, but it could be one of the other 4,000 species of bees in the U.S., some of whom are solitary, living in the ground, in tree holes, or in the soft pith of stems.

If this is a honey bee, it’s a forager, whose business is to bring nectar, pollen, and water back to the worker bees in the hive, who are busy making honey and tending the queen and the larvae. A single bee Continue reading The Business of Bees

Expecting at Lathrop, #5

by Barbara Walvoord

Sharon and I planted a native honeysuckle vine by our porch to encourage hummingbirds and other insects. The vine is as tall as the roof, and it’s producing lovely tubular red flowers where hummingbirds hover and sip, and chase each other for control of the territory. Because it’s a native plant that co-evolved with our hummingbirds, its flowers are the perfect shape for hummingbird beaks, and its nectar meets their tastes and their bodies’ needs.

AND, we got an unexpected bonus–a mama robin chose our vine for a nest. Our grand daughters Lauren and Liana Warner helped us examine the nest and take this photo of the four blue eggs.

It’s the mom who chooses the location. She also built the nest, starting from the inside. She pressed dead grass and twigs–perhaps Continue reading Expecting at Lathrop, #5

A Nursery at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

If you walk down to the community garden on the East campus, along the gravel path, on the right side, you will see the signs of a nursery. Not cribs and toys, but tools we need to restore native plants.

We needed a nursery because the strip between the gravel path and the wetland has been a mess of alien invasive plants–bittersweet vines choking the trees, honeysuckle and multiflora rose bushes forming impenetrable thickets, and buckthorn trees challenging the native maples and cherries. Since alien plants support far fewer insects than native plants, and since our birds need insects to raise their young, this ground was losing its ability to support the abundant wildlife we want at Lathrop.

So Sharon and I have been working for more than a year to clear out invasive plants. We’re not done, but new life is coming.

Look up to see dead bittersweet vines hanging from the trees they were smothering. Now the native maple and cherry Continue reading A Nursery at Lathrop

What’s the Gov’mint Doing on our Land?

by Barbara Walvoord

We 13 resident members of the Lathrop Land Conservation Committee remove invasive plants, establish native wildflower gardens, map trails, and bring speakers about nature. We don’t necessarily picture ourselves reading pages of government regulations, filling out complex forms, appearing before a government commission, or guiding commission members on an inspection of our land.

But recently, that’s exactly what we’ve done–once for each town. That’s because wetlands benefit everyone–preventing storm damage, providing wildlife habitat, and renewing the aquifer. So the state’s Wetlands Protection Act requires that, before we alter our wetlands, we get permission from a town “conservation commission” whose members are citizen volunteers.

We appeared before the town commissions around 6 p.m. The members had come from their regular jobs, perhaps eating a candy bar in the car or stopping for a burger, and then giving their time for the public good. So the real question is not “What is the gov’mint doing on our land?” but “What are these citizens doing on our land?”

It was citizens, in fact, who began the conservation commissions in Massachusetts. In 1956, a small group of Ipswich residents organized to oppose a housing developer’s proposal to drain and fill a marsh. Relying on a law about industrial development, they argued successfully for the public acquisition and protection of the marsh to enhance the community’s values. The next year, the state legislature gave communities the option to establish conservation commissions that would advocate for the natural environment, prepare conservation plans, manage conservation lands, and, later, enforce environmental protection laws. By now, every community in Massachusetts has a conservation commission. A common association serves more than 700 of them with training, instructional handbooks, and conferences (www.maccweb.org/about_us.html).

Our conservation commissioners have considerable expertise–for example, at the Northampton meeting about our proposal, there was a lively and informed debate about methods we should use to document the results of our treatment of invasives. Real scientists stretch lines across a terrain and identify every plant along the line. Moderating their scientific precision, the biology teachers on the commission agreed we could use photographs.

The Easthampton Commission did a site visit to our land one Monday night in the rain. They slogged through the tall, wet grasses to see how our contractor had blue-flagged the “jurisdictional wetlands.” They asked about the methods we would use in different areas.

What was common to both town commissions was their enthusiastic support for our project–proposing to restore the native habitat rather than pave it, drain it, or build on it.

And their visit helped to spread the word about Lathrop. “I never knew this was back here,” said one. Well, we are back here, and we are also out there, interacting with the dedicated and knowledgeable citizens who give up supper with their families to be stewards of the land–as are we. The gov’mint is us.

A Rabbit Story

by Chuck Gillies

People occasionally ask me if I have gotten any photographs of the bobcat or bear lately. I have to say, “no, not for two years.” But recently I did have an experience which I think is worth reporting.

For some reason in my wife’s family – and now in ours – on the first day of the month the first person to say “rabbit, rabbit” wins! I’m not sure what they win, or where this came from, but years ago I heard it used in a play we were attending so I know it has some legitimacy. Now, I am always aware of the rabbits populating Lathrop’s lands. Recently – May 24th, to be exact – while cleaning last year’s refuse around my “gladiola patch” (probably not, I admit, native) I first felt a handful of fur and then noticed a full nest. I thought they were mice, but quickly realized they were rabbits.

Not sure what would happen. Years ago when my children were young we had two kittens born and abandoned in our garage. Of Continue reading A Rabbit Story

Housing at Lathrop–Not Just for Humans

by Barbara Walvoord

At Lathrop, we build houses not only for humans, but also for bluebirds. Karen Clark took this picture of bluebird babies in her bluebird house on Mulberry Lane on the east campus.

Bluebirds once were as common as robins, but they declined, as development destroyed the hollow trees in which they nest, pesticides poisoned the bugs they like to eat, and alien house sparrows drove them out of their nests.

But in recent years, scientists say, the increase in bluebird houses has helped to raise bluebird numbers–one little way in which humans can help combat species extinction.

The competition with house sparrows has been played out on our own Lathrop land. Nancy and Herb Steeper have had bluebird Continue reading Housing at Lathrop–Not Just for Humans

Lathrop’s Quaker Battle Plan

Despite our Quaker anti-war heritage, we’re waging a battle–against alien invasive plants on our land. The battle is inspired, in fact, by Quaker values that call for us to nurture our precious environment.

Alien invasive plants pose a huge threat to wildlife across the world. Having left behind their natural enemies and competitors, they form monocultures, crowd out native plants, and change the chemistry of the soil. Here’s our killer statistic: 96% of birds need insects, not just seeds and nectar, to raise their young. 90% of insects eat only native plants (Douglas Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home) . Invasives are cited by government sources as the second most important cause of species extinction across the world (development is the first).

So we’re not talking merely a preference for native flowers, here; we’re talking the survival of many species, including, eventually–us.

So, under the tight scrutiny of the conservation commissions of both towns, and with the advice of experienced consultants, we have a battle plan.

We are taking a conservative approach, attacking only the most destructive invasive plants–the ones that even Ken Thompson, Continue reading Lathrop’s Quaker Battle Plan