Countin Residents at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

At Lathrop, we count  not only our human residents, but also our avian residents, through bird walks throughout the year and through the annual Northampton Christmas Bird Count. On Dec. 17, more than 150 birders in teams will go walking and driving, rain, shine, sleet, or snow, for 24 hours, covering an area that includes both our campuses.

The Northampton group is among tens of thousands of bird watchers in the national annual event, sponsored by the Audubon Society, and also locally by the Hampshire Bird Club and the Hitchcock Center for the Environment

 In the 1800s there was something called a Christmas side hunt where people would choose sides and go out during the holiday and hunt. Whoever brought in the biggest pile of dead birds and other animals won.  In 1900, as the Audubon movement was increasing awareness for conservation, ornithologist Frank Chapman proposed a Christmas bird census rather than a bird kill. Continue reading Countin Residents at Lathrop


Staying Put at Lathrop: Great Blue Herons

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post, Dec.  8-14, 2017

Along Bassett Brook the other day, Sharon and I surprised a great blue heron. Though more northerly blue herons migrate, Massachusetts herons stay put.  Their secret is flexibility.

Great blue herons eat mostly fish.  They stand or stroll along the shore or in shallow water, watching for movement, and then spearing the fish with their beaks and swallowing it whole.  They may choke on a too-big fish.

When shallow ponds freeze, a great blue will move to flowing water in Bassett Brook or Pine Brook, and if those freeze, then Continue reading Staying Put at Lathrop: Great Blue Herons

Staying Put at Lathrop: Red Tailed Hawks

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post, Dec. 2-8, 2017

A few weeks, ago, I wrote about barred owls, who stay put here in winter, rather than migrating.  Another bird that stays put in our neck of the woods is the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). It can stay put because it eats mammals who also stay put during winter, like chipmunks, rabbits, mice, voles, snakes, and birds. But even with the abundance of prey that Lathrop land offers, a red-tail has many problems to solve, and more than half of healthy fledglings fail to reach adulthood.

First problem: FIND the prey.  Red-tails hunt by perching and pouncing.  A hawk has to know that a perch on a pole over a parking lot is less productive than an open field.  A bird feeder is a wonderful Continue reading Staying Put at Lathrop: Red Tailed Hawks

Giving Thanks at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post Nov. 24 – Dec. 1, 2017

At Thanksgiving feasts, family members sometimes take turns saying what they’re thankful for.  So I asked our Lathrop family of creatures:

A chickadee:  Thanks for putting in native plants near the Inn and in some cottage gardens.   I need about 6,000 insects, mostly caterpillars, to raise my brood next spring. I expect you’ve read the scientific findings that I know from experience: the native plants in your gardens will provide many more caterpillars than the old alien plants did.

A hawk:  Thanks for not mowing our Lathrop meadows until late autumn.  When you used to mow in mid-summer, you destroyed the cover for mice, voles, and other creatures that I needed to build up Continue reading Giving Thanks at Lathrop

Lathrop’s Quiet Vernal Pools

by Barbara Walvoord

First Printed in Lathrop Lamp Post, Nov.  18-24, 2017

Last spring, our vernal pools were jumping with visible life.  Mating wood frogs quacked in a loud chorus.   On rainy nights, salamanders paraded en masse to the pools from their woodland borrows and rockpiles. New-hatched fairy shrimp darted about in the water. Later, tadpoles and baby salamanders popped out feet and developed lungs. Predators circled–turtles, snakes, owls.

All that springtime life and movement is a race against time, because, at least every few years, vernal pools, by definition, dry up in summer, creating an environment free of the fish that would otherwise eat the eggs of vernal pool creatures.  Fish-free is good, BUT–the creatures have to adapt to the summertime drying and wintertime freezing of the pool.  Fairy shrimp lay eggs that stay in Continue reading Lathrop’s Quiet Vernal Pools

Reports from the Front Lines

by Barbara Walvoord

First printed in Lathrop Lamp Post Nov. 11-17, 2017

This photo was taken on the east campus along Bassett Brook Road at the corner of Huckleberry Lane–a visible “front line” on our property.

Three years ago, on this corner, there was a dense hedge of burning bush (Euonymus alatus), so dangerously invasive it is now illegal to propagate or sell in Massachusetts.  At Lathrop, birds are carrying it into our woods, where it is crowding out native plants without providing as richly for our wildlife as native plants do, and costing Continue reading Reports from the Front Lines

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

Nurturing Lathrop’s native plants and wildlife.