Friday July 13, 2012

Q: We have a nesting pair of American redstarts in our berry bush in Pittsfield. I have lived in this house for 59 years and never seen a redstart, a fascinating, hovering creature.

Online, I read that they are fairly common nationwide, but are they unusual for the Berkshires? Just wondering.

BOB, Pittsfield

A: This is another new one for me. I have always thought that the American redstart, a 4 1/2 to 5 1/2-inch long warbler, and one of the more striking small songbirds that nests here was more of a forest dweller.

The more eye-catching male is glossy black with white belly, with showy patches of orange on wings, sides, and tail, and is common in second growth moist deciduous forest, with shrubs.

It feeds primarily on forest tree insects and builds its nest (usually) in a tree or a shrub commonly 10 to 20 feet above ground, but sometimes as low as 4 feet or as high as 70 feet.

Had I checked the status of this species in Bart Hendricks' "Birds of Berkshire County" sooner, I would have read "These conspicuous warblers are common in second growth woods and about homes that have trees and shrubs."

The nest a tightly woven open cup built in a fork, and made of grasses, leaves, bark strips, hair, twigs, sometimes mosses, and glued together with spider silk.

Nesting is between May and July, with usually four eggs. Incubation is 12 days and the young birds take flight eight or nine days after hatching.


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Its season with us is May through early October, although there are some November records and even a December record (Pittsfield 1979).

Q: Recently I was coming down my walkway at 8 p.m. and on the lawn, eating, was a hare. It looked at me and continued eating.

I stopped to watch. It again looked up but this time focusing beyond me. Slowly the hare strolled by me and into a nearby lawn. No fear at all as I watched the long ears, muscular body and long legs go slowly by.

I've had pet rabbits in the past. This body was too muscular. I googled hares and it was definitely a hare. What do you make of this?

DIANA, Dalton

A: I am almost positive that what you saw was a large pet rabbit, first because it was so tame and second because it was so large, third because I always believed that the varying hare, snowshoe hare or rabbit to be an upland animal, It is more apt to be found in Peru or Washington and the hilltowns, than in downtown Dalton.

In winter, it is nearly all white, except for dark ear tips, but at this season is mostly brown.

I asked Ron Baker (who pen's The Homesteader in Berkshires Week) for idea on this one. Before hunting with a camera, he hunted with a gun, and as I recall, hunting snowshoes on his list of fall and early winter activities. He now lives in the same neighborhood as the writer and replied to my query,

"Yes, I've seen him, or his relative since living here. Ears laying more or less flat, and body having a more upright stance than a cottontail."

Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email Naturewatch@live.com