Rene Wendell has collected thousands of insects during his forays into the Berkshire woods and meadows.
SHEFFIELD, Mass. — Rene Wendell has been around the woods more than a few times. The 94-year-old Pittsfield native and former tracker and taxidermist is an avid collector of all things wild including flies and beetles and, of course, several decades of memories.
"I grew up around Burbank Park," he said in a phone interview. "As a kid, the woods were my playground and I was obsessive about animals. That was 70 or 80 years ago, can you imagine? It's been very interesting, I've seen a lot of changes here over the years."
These changes aren't all good. Wendell said that in his many outdoor adventures he has noticed a significant drop in the amount of birds and butterflies that used to fly in abundance in the Berkshires.
"I know it's because of the environment," he said. "A lot of the birds and butterflies are gone. Some of them left because of the environment. This place has changed from open fields to forest, the whole landscape is different."
Fortunately, Wendell has collected thousands of butterflies and insects over the years and he wants to share his collection with others. On Thursday, Feb. 17, at 6 p.m. at Bartholomew's Cobble, Wendell will present his impressive, well-preserved collection of flies, wasps, beetles, butterflies and moths — all of which he has found on his many forays into the Berkshire meadows and forests.
Strangely enough, Wendell said his favorite specimens have always been the long-horned beetle, an insect many gardeners brush off as destructive pests. It's not the habits of the beetle that concern him.
"I've always loved the way they're shaped and the different colors they have," he said. "That and moths. Moths are beautiful. The ratio of moths to butterflies in the area is 14 to one."
For the most part, Wendell is done adding to his collection. However, there is one insect that has eluded him for years and he hopes that this year he will finally find it.
"There's one more butterfly that I want for my collection," he said. "It's a giant swallowtail butterfly. I've seen them in Sheffield and I keep going back to find them but so far no luck."
For more information about Wendell's presentation call 413-229-8600. Registration is strongly suggested.
The snow geese spotted in South County during last year's CBC.
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Saturday morning, while many of us are still plastered to the bed (or plastered, period), a hardy troupe of South County folks will be up with the sun to brave the elements.
Their mission: counting birds.
These dedicated bird watchers and citizen scientists are doing their part for the National Audobon Society’s 111th annual Christmas Bird Count, which began on Dec. 14, 2010, and will continue through Jan. 5, 2011. The purpose of the count is to help researchers and conservation biologists study the status of bird populations in North America and in so doing develop strategies to protect bird species and habitats.
Ironically, the count originated when ornithologist Frank Chapman, founder of Audubon magazine, proposed doing a "Christmas Bird Census" as opposed to killing them in a Christmas "side hunt," a popular pastime before the turn of the 19th century. Today, the CBC spans from the tip of South America to the Yukon territory, and requires the help of thousands of volunteers.
According to last year's CBC summary, 2,914 volunteers and observers counted 214 species in New England. In South County alone, 20 volunteer observers were able to identify more than 60 species (including two snow geese, a great horned owl and a blue heron, to name a few).
Certainly collecting data is not for the faint of heart. Saturday morning observers will gather at 7 a.m. in the parking lot of Monument Mountain Regional High School. From there they will head out to different observation outposts throughout the area in search of the rare, the common and the beautiful birds of the area. Who knows, maybe there is a new species lurking in your yard.
The Central Berkshire bird count, organized by the Hoffman Bird Club, was held the weekend before Christmas. The South County count will run all day Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Volunteers are strongly encouraged to wear several layers of warm clothing and to bring binoculars or a scope if possible … as well as thermos of hot soup for lunch.
Not all the Berkshire County bird watchers are in the Berkshires. Among the not-so-rare snowbirds is well-known bird authority Dick Ferren of Lenox, who was interviewed for a story about the count on a cold (!) day in Bradenton, Fla.
The retired Berkshire Community College professor told Bradenton.com, "Some people are on chemical drugs, some are on electric drugs like TV and video games, and other people are drunk on nature. Some of us are addicted to birds."
Bird addicts can find out more information on the South County count by calling Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary at 413-637-0320, or just show up at the high school Saturday morning ready to search.
More information on what's been seen so far across the state and Western Mass. can be found here.
The screech owl is the smallest (and clumsiest) of Northeastern owls. (These stuffed fellows at the cobble were easier to get close to.)
SHEFFIELD, Mass. — The Friday after Thanksgiving was not a day marked by a manic shopping frenzy and a food hangover; at least not for me. I did some of my shopping on Wednesday; enjoyed a late lunch, navigated the packed aisles of the grocery store for pecans and corn syrup. I had other plans, more adventurous plans for Friday (night): owl hunting.
Mind you, I did not literally go hunting for owls with a rifle. I’m pretty sure that’s very illegal and very not in keeping with my preservationist, nature-is-god sort of approach to life. The “Owl Prowl,” which is an annual, nocturnal event held at Bartholomew's Cobble in Ashley Falls, is a two-hour excursion into the fields and woods of the cobble in search of the regions known owl species, namely the great horned, the bard and the screech.
For starters, and I did know this going in, it was darn cold without the sun on my back. Even the moon was shy as we (a group of about 10) wandered through the dark with only our dim flashlights to part the way through the dark woods.
And very quiet excluding the irritating swishing noise of Nylon pants and the one guy with very loud, owl-unfriendly gas.
Rene, our guide, brought along his tape deck (yes, they still exist) and at specific locations he would stop the group and play the different calls of each owl. He was careful not to play all three calls in the same location, the fear being that if a screech owl (the smallest of the three) decided to investigate our group that there would be the possibility of the great horned swooping in and eating the little guy. I giggled uncontrollably at the thought of this. Apparently no one else found it funny.
The bard owl is the most common around Bart's Cobble.
So we first tried to lure the screech owl in for a quick look, to no avail. Next came the bard owl, which apparently is the most commonly seen owl in the area. Again, nothing. We did, however, hear the eerie call of a lone coyote and then the irritated chatter of geese in the distance. I assume the coyote was directly related to the geese upset.
The prowl was yielding very little except cold fingers and cold toes and some irritated sighs from the three kids whose parents seemingly dragged them there from their warm homes. At the last stop on the unprotected windy plain of Hurlburt's Hill, after several replays of the bard owl call and several long, frosty pauses of human movement, we heard it — the low, mysterious call of the great horned owl.
Twice he called out and twice we answered him. And that was it. Somewhere in the pine grove surrounding the Ashley House, the great silent bird must’ve felt bad for us and decided to give us some hope.
Or he was laughing at how ridiculous it was that we thought we could “lure” him in with a tape recorder, all reeking of turkey and humanness.
The great horned owl finally gave us a break by calling out twice.
Something new has hit the real estate market and I'm not sure whether to be excited or alarmed. The austere 1860 (although the original house may have been built in the 1700s) farmhouse that is home to the Nature Conservancy and the Sheffield Land Trust is being sold through Berkshire Property Agents for $525,000. The three-bedroom, 4,600 square foot house is also attached to nearly 27 acres of protected land on Legeyt Road, prime farm country, and on this November morning the land and the lifestock (mostly dairy cows) was shrouded in mist.
The house itself has three bedrooms and there are also several offices located downstairs, as the whole place was renovated in 2006. The house will remain home to the Nature Conservancy and the Sheffield Land Trust until it is sold, although I couldn’t get a real person on the phone to see where, if anywhere, both organizations will move to once the farmhouse is sold.
I wish I could buy it. I've been thinking about what I'd do with a property like that and farming is definitely on the list (beef, lamb, maybe some horses), gardens and, of course, a swinging bench on the front porch ‘cause I’m that kind of girl.