NatureWatch: Spring is just around the corner


I understand that after a winter like this, some believe it will never end. Wrong! Before we know it, temperatures will be on the upswing and if March doesn’t "go out like a lamb," it will surely bow to all those things we love best about spring, coltsfoot, bloodroot and hepatica, violets and trillium.

Phoebes will return to sing alongside robins and bluebirds, and as the season progresses, waves of brightly colored warblers will pass through our beloved Berkshires. And I suspect, as many of us become more active and spend more time outside, more of us will resume hiking along local trails that will be wetter and muddier than following dry(er) winters.

While reading through the Berkshire Natural Resources Council March News and Events on the internet (, I came across a valuable reminder, "News You Can Use -- Even the best trails get muddy when the snow melts. Did you know it’s better to walk through the mud than around it? Walking around the mud widens the trail and increases the impact on the surrounding area."

The BNCR offers a variety of hikes and programs through year, and one upcoming trip I plan to join is a visit to Stevens Glen straddling Richmond and West Stockbridge. On my last visit, while writing a Berkshires Week waterfall feature, it was a dry year and the falls, while still beautiful, were not as thrilling as they promise to be on Wednesday, March 19 at 10 a.m.

Information: events and click on the March 19 space, or (413) 499-0596, or email Also, ask about becoming a member.


Q: Just this past week I have seen just one bluebird in our yard, the previous month I saw flocks. Is this good or bad?

-- Jonathon, Pittsfield

A: Harsh winters were often a deciding factor in bluebird numbers, but with the increase in bluebird houses providing warm nighttime roosting, and more available winter food supplies through extensive planting of ornamental trees and shrubs less birds die (my opinion). Flocks of bluebirds indicate wintering birds, while a single bird or pair indicate the bird’s return to nest.


I recently read a comment on the local Hoffmann Bird Club hotline regarding a male and female finch (I presume house finch) "with puffy eyes at a feeder recently." The feeder, rightly so, was taken down and cleaned with bleach. The writer’s question was, Anyone else sighting finches’ eye infection this season?

The "puffy eyes" infection is caused by a strain of bacterium called Mycoplasma gallisepticum, a common problem among domestic fowl. It poses no threat to humans (us). It is a strain of conjunctivitis, and among birds, at its worse, eyes become so crusted over that the birds are blind, and while they don’t die of the pathogen, they starve to death or are taken by a predator.

It was first seen in house finches during the winter of 1993-94 in Virginia. Primarily affecting house finches, there are some reports of other finch species contracting the disease.

Information, and how to take part in the house finch disease survey:

Disease, and its rapid spread among bird populations is but one of the negatives associated with bird feeders. One suggestion offered by and nearly disregarded by all who feed wild birds is to clean them frequently: Clean your feeders about once every two weeks, more often during times of heavy use. For best results, wash your feeder thoroughly in soapy water, then soak or rinse it in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Dry the feeder thoroughly before refilling.

Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email


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