Posted July 6, 2020
Written by Mike Perrin
Douglas S. Westgate Conservation Area
Summertime Wildlife Highlights
While stewarding and scouting the trails at Douglas S. Westgate Conservation Area, I came across three wonderful yet different animals: Veery, Gray Hairstreak, and the beloved Eastern Box Turtle. I will be leading a trail work day at Westgate Conservation Area TOMORROW MORNING at 10:00am, so if this blog fascinates you, please consider coming to work on the trails and learn about the natural world.
As I approached the bog cells, I heard a duet of my favorite bird song, the flute-like downward spiral of the Veery. Veery are a thrush species, like Hermit Thrush or the American Robin, that occupy dense deciduous forests with developed understory. Veery are a uniform light brown on the back and wings and show bright white undersides with brown polka-dots that fade in boldness from the chest to the mid-belly. Some thrush songs are difficult to tell apart by species due to their similarity in flute-like sounds, but the Veery has a distinct song that spirals downward; some people say it sounds like Pac-Man meeting his demise. Through my observations, I have noticed that Veery breed in contiguous stretches of dense and damp forest, so Westgate is a perfect breeding location in Wareham. The singing was coming from Mary’s Trail, but once I continued down the trail, the birds stopped. I believe that the birds stopped singing to not advertise their location to me, a perceived predator, in order to protect their nest or babies.
Before heading down Mary’s Trail, I was exploring the bog cells filled with dragonflies and butterflies. Though I have not yet begun to tackle the identification of “odes,” or dragonflies, I have been honing my identification skills for “leps,” or butterflies. “Ode” refers to the order Odonata including dragonflies and damselflies and “leps” refers to order Lepidoptera including butterflies and moths. A bright bluish-gray spot in some long grasses grabbed my attention. As I approached, I saw a small lep with two strands trailing off the hind-wing. This field mark is only seen in hairstreak species, the name coming from the strands mentioned above. This hairstreak had an orange, black, and white median, or dots moving up the hind wing. This median is the distinguishing feature for the Gray Hairstreak. This lep is found nationwide, but Mass Audubon describes this species as “widely distributed but never abundant” in Massachusetts. Though there were more odes than leps, I had never seen this species before, so I was thankful to have explored the bog cells.
Lastly, and most excitingly, I experienced my best-ever look at one of the South Coast’s most popular species, the Eastern Box Turtle. While walking Mary’s Trail by the river, I nearly stepped on this terrestrial turtle sunning in the trail. The Eastern Box Turtle is a species of special concern in Massachusetts, threatened by habitat destruction, development, road mortality, and unnaturally high rates of predation in suburban areas. These threats paired with the longevity to reach sexual maturity at age 13 adds even more concern. The shell is a high-domed structure and has orange-ish blotchy patches on a dark brown shell. The colors and marks are highly variable, but the appearance is unmistakable. The box turtle can be found in many towns in eastern Massachusetts, but there are especially high numbers on the South Coast, making it a pseudo-mascot of our region. These turtles get their name from their ability to enclose head, legs, and tail in the shell, appearing almost like a square box. This individual had dark reddish-tan eyes, leading me to believe she was a female. After a few photos, I left the turtle to continue on my hike.
Douglas S. Westgate Conservation Area provides opportunities to encounter beautiful and uncommon species of wildlife in Wareham in an awesome forest habitat. These experiences and landscapes are crucial for public connection to the natural world and the continued presence of native biodiversity in the South Coast. To continue to allow safe access, please consider joining the trail work day tomorrow morning or email Stewardship@WarehamLandTrust.org to learn more about volunteering on the trails.