Interviewing the Leaders of “Teachings from the Trail” March 2021 Programs

Interviewing the Leaders of “Teachings from the Trail” March 2021 Programs

Posted May 1, 2021

Interviews conducted by Jenna Shea, WLT & MA TerraCorps LSC/CEC

This past March, the Wareham Land Trust hosted a four-part walking series called “Teachings from the Trail” led by volunteer naturalists who focused on their topic of interest. After their walks, I had a chance to ask these leaders a few questions about their views on the importance of open spaces, their favorite WLT-associated properties, and naturalist moments to be on the lookout for this spring.

At the beginning of March, birder and previous WLT TerraCorps Service Member, Mike Perrin, led a morning bird walk at Mass Audubon’s Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. Among many other exciting finds, the crew spotted a group of seven Black vultures flying high overhead, a rarity for Wareham, and heard a Red Crossbill, which is a bird that has migrated from Northern Canada in a sporadic mass movement known as an “irruption” in response to low numbers of masting conifers. Here are Mike’s answers to out interview questions:

Q: Why do you think it’s important to conserve open spaces?

Mike: There’s a number of different avenues that you can take to answer that question: you can take the intrinsic value route, saying that there’s a lot of value in just getting outdoors and connecting with the natural world; it’s peaceful, its relaxing, and it brings people away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Then there’s the traditional ecological knowledge gained through generations of people living on Earth that we need to protect and conserve. You can also look at the economic value side, where, through ecosystem services and ecotourism, protecting open spaces does bring in money.

Q: What birds should Wareham residents be on the lookout for as we head into spring?

Mike: Eastern Phoebes. Phoebes are really common flycatchers, so they’re one of the first species to start arriving in the spring, and the reason why I point them out as a good sign for spring is they’ll show up to your house. In the northeast, there’s not a lot of naturally occurring clearings, they are usually created by houses or farms, and that’s the habitat the Phoebes need. They’ll be one of the first additions to your house in the coming change of season, and they actually say their names, you’ll hear them sing “fee-bee, fee-bee”.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets are another sign of spring, they’ll flock up with Chickadees and Titmice. And this is also when warblers start to arrive. Most people think of this as prime time migration, the Warblers will be in their breeding plumage looking for territory and mates, so they’ll be singing extra loud, unlike the fall when they’re a little more drab and they’re not really singing.

Q: What are some good birding spots around Wareham that you would recommend?

Mike: There’s the spot behind the Wareham Land Trust Office (on Main Street, along the Wareham River). That spot is great for winter birding, with lots of ducks to see. Marks Cove is another great spot for winter birding. You can look in the cove and see ducks, but it’s also a habitat with low forest and good tangles of briar, and invasives, and all these other shrubby, woody nonsense that creates these impenetrable walls that birds love because it provides food and shelter. Last year I had my first of the year Ruby-crowned Kinglet there, and there were wintering Hermit Thrushes, and Golden-crowned Kinglets out there in huge numbers last winter. And in the summer, Marks Cove is fun because there is a little island out there, Cedar Island, and there’s usually nesting Oystercatchers, and there’s a famous osprey nest that sits on a big rock out there.

There’s also Agawam River Trail, which is really nice. There’s ducks and swans that you can see on the river, and it has lots of pitch pines. I imagine there’s Red Crossbills that hang out there in the morning. This was one of the first places that I had a couple warblers come in, so it can act as a migrant trap as well for birds passing through Wareham that are following that river corridor.

Westgate’s is a really good place to spot breeding birds in the summertime. I had a Nashville warbler yelling in the parking lot there last year, and there were Hermit Thrushes and Ovenbirds out there breeding. On top of all that, in the summer you’ll get a ton of really weird butterflies and dragonflies.

Q: How would you recommend someone get into birding?

Mike: Right now, with COVID, it’s a really amazing time to get into birds by just watching the birds in your backyard or at a local park. The best way that you’re going to begin your birding career is by starting with those common birds that are around you at all times. Just get really familiar with your common species. And then, once you’ve got those down, that’s when you’ll be able to pick out that there’s a bird you don’t know, you’ll recognize one’s making a sound you’re not familiar with and you can go chase it down. That’s how you’re going to pick up on the composition of birds that changes throughout the season. Definitely tune into bird clubs and visit bird stores near you, but also to just listen to what’s around you.

For our second “Teachings for the Trail” walk, Justin Cifello, a volunteer naturalist and farmer at Bay End Farm, led a walk on basic botany at Marks Cove Conservation Area. Attendees learned about the fascinating flora or Wareham, and were taught tips and tricks for IDing the plants that surround them. Here are Justin’s answers to our interview questions:

Q: Why do you think it’s important to conserve open spaces?

Justin: First off, for the sake of the land itself. These species have a right to exist on their own. Then there are so many benefits for people who go out and unwind in these places. Lots of people have small houses, and as we learned in the pandemic, we love our family, but sometimes we need space and these open spaces are a huge community resource. Not everybody wants to go to the library and unwind, and there are very few places where you don’t need to spend money or consume alcohol in a social environment, and our open spaces are some of the few free places where you  can just walk and enjoy it.

Q: What interesting plants should Wareham residents be on the lookout for this spring?

Justin: I would say the number one thing is the state flower, the creeping mayflower,  Epigaea repens, also called trailing arbutus, it’s a really low growing evergreen plant that has either yellow or slightly pink flowers, and they’re incredibly fragrant, and they’re worth getting on your hands and knees to see. I would also recommend going to wetlands for some of our earlier flowering Heaths that border the wetlands, Leatherleaf has pretty attractive flowers, and Cranberry flowers fairly early too.

Q: What was your favorite part about the walk that you led?

Justin: I think what folks got most excited about seeing the Osprey nest on a boulder, which is one of only two that I know of on the south coast.

Q: Do you have a favorite WLT-associated property? If you do, why is it your favorite?

Justin: I would say perhaps Westgate, because you get such a good view of the river, and the river there is pretty wide and dynamic and you can sit right up against it. And it also goes through some fairly deep damp forest that’s sort of unique for Wareham, it feels a bit more like a western or northern forest with some spring ephemerals and babbling brooks and a lot of yellow birch. And it also has the reclaimed cranberry bog that’s full of all sorts of interesting wildflowers in the summertime.

Q: How would you recommend someone break into the botany world?

Justin: It’s so limitless, where you could start that it becomes paralyzing. Start with what you know, start with what you like, with what’s in your yard, start with the strangest looking things, because they tend to be the easiest to identify. It’s definitely worth learning the common names for things because that’s what everybody uses, but to start breaking into the scientific names, I just wouldn’t worry about the species part. Start generally, learn what’s the difference between a pine and a spruce before you try to learn the difference between a white pine and a pitch pine. I’d say start wide and narrow your focus. Plant Guides are great but without somebody to work you through them they can be a little intimidating too. There are plenty of excellent plant ID groups on social media and a variety of helpful apps. One I would recommend is iNaturalist.

On the First Day of spring, a group joined Blake Dinius, an entomologist for Plymouth county, as he cast a dip net into the bogs and river at Douglas S. Westgate Conservation Area. Blake found and taught attendees about fascinating water critters, including a tiny crayfish, and a dragonfly nymph that moves though jet-like propulsion. Here are Blakes answers to our interview questions:

Q: Why do you think it’s important to conserve open spaces?

Blake: An estimated 30 million species of insects are still waiting to be discovered on this planet. With a few exceptions, insects are highly dependent upon their environment and habitat. Conserving the intricate webs that hold insects together may allow us to discover a portion of that 30 million before they fade away.

Q: What interesting or important bug-related things should people be on the lookout for this spring?

Blake: There is a shocking amount of biodiversity that can be found in your own backyard (or somewhere nearby). I challenge everyone to slow down their pace this spring. Take a second look at the world around them. Lift a rock. Turn over a log. It might shock them just how much life is out there waiting to be seen footsteps away.

Q: Do you have a favorite WLT-associated property? If you do, why is it your favorite?

Blake: Douglas S. Westgate property is a great property to find a whole range of species. It runs along many habitat types from running streams to standing bogs to shaded woods. No two trips there are ever the same.

Q: What was your favorite part about the “Bugs of Winter” walk you led at Westgate?

Blake: My favorite part of “Bugs of Winter” was the enthusiasm of the people. The people I have met through Wareham Land Trust all care fiercely about nature around them.

For our last “Teachings for the Trail” walk, Tree expert Chance Perks taught participants about the forest composition of  Tweedy and Barnes Conservation Area. As the group walked through the site, Chance walked them through the importance of trees to the landscape, and wove together a history of the land told through the trees that we passed.  Here are Chance’s answers to our interview questions:

Q: Why do you think it’s important to conserve open spaces?

Chance: To me, the importance of conserving open space is grounded in the belief that the quality of life for both humanity and the rest of creation is best maintained when we have wild places large enough for the interactions that comprise a localized ecology to take place. The ever changing interactions of living things between themselves and with their inanimate environment require ample space to ensure all needs and desires are met; try taking a nap in a crowded elevator! This topic can be viewed at many levels ranging from considering your backyard to the connectivity provided by a mountain pass, either way, if we humans continue to cut-off, compartmentalize, and concrete over wild places…we may continue to find we’ve ‘painted life itself into a corner’.

Q: What interesting or important tree-related things should people be on the lookout for this spring?

Chance: I’d like to share with my community neighbors the reminder that we are entering another summer season with below-average rainfall and we are on track to see more severe drought conditions. I myself am noticing the near sudden decline in our local pine and spruce populations that I’m attributing to the combined effects of decline potentially triggered by these drought conditions. Observe carefully the trees in your neighborhood, look for brown dry foliage from last year that doesn’t look normal. Promote more deep mulch ground covers opposed to lawns as they maintain soil moisture better. Conserve water as much as possible and begin thinking of planting and promoting vegetation that can tolerate the wet/ dry extremes that are expected to continue to increase in SE Massachusetts.

Q: Do you have a favorite WLT-associated property? If you do, why is it your favorite?

Chance: In truth I don’t have a favorite because depending on my mood, I require different habitats to satisfy my needs. Much like the question about the need to conserve open space, my biological, psychological, and emotional needs change daily/ seasonally and having the mosaic of forest cover types available to me thanks to the great work of the WLT, I can relax among the pines one day at the Agawam River Pine Barrens or go fly fishing on the bank of the Sippican River at the Tweedy and Barnes Conservation Area the next. All creatures need diversity of space, food, and seasonally dependent habitat. Together, the WLT properties provide the places and services that promote quality of life for me, my neighbors, and for local flora and fauna.

Q: What was your favorite part about the “Talking about Trees” walk you led at Tweedy and Barnes?

Chance: By far and away my favorite part of the walk was when members of the group began picking up on clues in the forest canopy that I was describing but had not yet pointed out. By them noticing that the details of patterns pertaining to past acute events that happened to the forest such as extreme weather events, or the variation in age classes of trees due to past land use management, they proved to me that not only was I articulating what I intended to well, but also that they now understood that seemingly small occurrences have decades long impacts on our forest cover. This lesson will surely reverberate throughout our community as they share their experience and this will promote the idea that we can and must take land stewardship seriously.


We would like to extend our appreciation to all of our amazing program leaders and thank the wonderful participants who joined us for this series of programs! Thank you!

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