Staying Put: Barred Owls at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post Nov. 4-10, 2017

Some humans and birds at Lathrop depart for warmer climes for the winter.  But not our barred owls (Stix varia). They are staying put.

All winter along, you’ll be able to hear them in or near our forests, often at dusk or at night, calling “Who cooks for you?  Who cooks for you-all?”   Hear it at

Barred owls find their prey by staying put: they perch silently on a dead branch over land or water, then swoop  down to catch squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, rabbits, birds (up to the size of a Continue reading Staying Put: Barred Owls at Lathrop


Successful “Free Fifty” Celebration

by Barbara Walvoord

First appeared in Lathrop Lamp Post Oct. 21-27, 2017

More than 80 residents, Valley conservationists, and members of the public gathered on Oct. 21 to celebrate Lathrop’s removal of invasive plants from the “Free Fifty” acres of forest on both campuses–a unique accomplishment that science suggests will increase the wildlife on our land.  A program in the Inn was followed by guided walks on both campuses. The audience included many of those who helped us: consultants from 7 prominent conservation organizations, 28 resident volunteers who removed invasives, scores of residents who donated funds, and  3 granting agencies (Kendal Charitable Funds, Community Foundation of Western Mass., and the Northampton Community Preservation Committee).

Guided walk participants expressed their delight in walking through woods that are not choked with invasive plants, and said over and over how amazed they are at our accomplishment.  Lathrop is a visible participant in the Valley community of those who care about nature, conservation, and wildlife. A collage of photos is at Free 50 collage LampPostFree50 em.  Copies of the handout materials are at

Late Blooming Flower Seeks Strong, Hungry Bumblebee

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post Oct. 14-20, 2017

On Oct. 6, believe it or not, I found these native closed  bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) blooming along the eastern edge of the wide woods meadow on the east campus.  They look like buds, but they are in full flower; they won’t open more than this.

Gentians are pollinated almost exclusively by bumblebees, because those are the only pollinators strong enough to pry open the petals and get inside for the nectar.  Our meadows now are full of bumblebees, busy getting ready for winter.  “Aha!  A beautiful blue flower.  Hmm.  It’s petals are closed.  Well, there aren’t very many Continue reading Late Blooming Flower Seeks Strong, Hungry Bumblebee

Berries at Lathrop: Good and Bad

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post Oct. 7 – 13, 2017

Imagine you’re a bluebird, say, or a chickadee. You’ve lived happily at Lathrop all summer long, eating lots of insects and feeding them to your nestlings.

Unfortunately, with cold weather, insects are getting scarcer.  But nature has provided lots of nutritious berries on shrubs and trees, hanging conveniently above the snow cover, out of the reach of bobcats and housecats.

As a bird, at Lathrop you’ll find good berries and bad berries.  The good berries hang on native plants.  You’ve co-evolved with these Continue reading Berries at Lathrop: Good and Bad

More Dwellings and a Marvelous Banquet Hall at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post of Sept. 30-Oct.  6, 2017

We’re thinking of increasing the number of dwellings we have for humans at Lathrop.  But dwellings for some of our wild critters are increasing as well–the holes in our trees.  Once a farm, Lathrop’s undeveloped lands have grown up in trees, and, as our forests age, we have more tree holes made by rot and by woodpeckers, especially pileated woodpeckers, who attack a tree with their hammer-heads and their big bills, creating a big hole and a veritable storm of wood chips below them, as they dig for carpenter ants.

One of the many creatures that use tree holes is the Eastern screech owl, whose eery, whinnying cry you can hear at night (hear the cry at The screech owl is about the size of a pint jar. It sleeps in its hole during the day, and emerges at night to perch in open woodlands six to ten feet off the ground, waiting for its dinner.  Our land provides a Continue reading More Dwellings and a Marvelous Banquet Hall at Lathrop

Superbutterfly is Born!

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post of Sept. 23-29, 2017

This photo by Adele Dowell shows the next stage of the story of Mona the butterfly, which I’ve been tracking through this column.  The story began when Adele Dowell planted native orange butterfly weed in her cottage garden.  It’s a member of the milkweed family–the only plant family that monarch butterfly larvae can eat.

Mona’s mother laid her eggs on Adele’s butterfly weed and then died.  Mona the caterpillar (I’ll call her a female) emerged from her egg and ate holes in some of the butterfly weed leaves, shedding her skin several times to accommodate her growing girth.  She escaped being snatched by a mama or papa bird and becoming part of the several thousand caterpillars it takes to raise a nest of bluebirds or Continue reading Superbutterfly is Born!

Roses Out, Roses In

By Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for Sept. 16-22, 2017

In the past three years, we’ve removed literally thousands of invasive multiflora roses from our land–roses that crowd out native plants but fail to support wildlife as fully as our native plants do.

Join us October 21 at 1 p.m. in the Inn to celebrate the demise of these roses and other invasive plants on our “Free Fifty” acres of land, on both campuses.  The program is also open to the public.  Pre-registration is required  because space is limited.  Residents will receive invitations in their mailboxes soon.

We’re also adding roses–native ones in the native plant landscaping area near the Inn.  On Sept. 18, at 10:30, residents may gather there for a short celebration, including an explanation by our landscape Continue reading Roses Out, Roses In