Thom Smith: What about the birds?

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One of our favorite birds, the wood thrush is heard far less today than in the 1960s. I remember when Margaret French Cresson befriended me and I was invited to her home to walk through the woods her father had laid out through Chesterwood, their property in Stockbridge.

Her idea was to change these trails, especially a loop trail that began through the sculpture garden then went through a mostly hardwoods forest with a clearing overlooking the valley below. Somehow, she thought, inconspicuous signage placed close to the ground explaining a sapling, bush, perennial flowers, ferns, rock outcropping, even a bird or two singing nearby during the height of the path's use, would draw the attention of a different group of people. She understood that visitors to the Berkshires during the summer included the nature lover — and this would add to their enjoyment. It took us several jaunts through the property, which she and close neighbors and friends were so very familiar with, to choose what was important to point out. And then she and I would place a marker where I would compose a sentence or two and manufacture the signage.

One gentleman friend even offered the couplet, "Silent would you hear the thrush; Singing in the evening hush." I lost track of the author, but will never forget the words, nor the time spent with Mrs. Cresson, with her green cane, leading me along the paths laid out by her father, creator of "Seated Lincoln," "Minute Man," "George Washington," "Andromeda" and numerous other sculptures, Daniel Chester French (1850-1931).

How fitting I thought the above words and how today, it isn't us being silenced, but the wood thrush a species that along with countless other birds have or are on their way to being lost. And now, the present presidential administration is on the verge of threatening millions of birds with the drilling of oil and natural gas in the Arctic — despite the recent news that we have lost 3 billion birds in the last 50 years! Are we going to continue to let birds go extinct for fossil fuel when we have alternatives?


Q: I am wondering where the birds are. I had at least 25 sitting on my back porch roof two weeks ago. Even my cats wonder where did these small birds go?

— Barb T.

A: If I had a clue as to what kind of birds they were, I could give you a more precise answer. I have some ideas, though. This is migration time for many birds, and the birds you saw were moving through and stopped by for a rest. Another idea is a certain species gathered together to leave for the south together, or it is a couple of families gathering with young (less possible unless they were starlings).

Birds, in general, are not static; a number visit the Berkshires in the spring to nest and raise a family, and are called summer residents or breeding birds. They return south in late summer or early fall to spend the winter months; some species fly as far as South America. Other birds visit us for the winter, sometimes in large numbers and return to their more northern summer homes come spring. We often call these birds either winter residents or winter visitors. Yet others we refer to as permanent residents that stay with us throughout the year. And still, others nest north of us, and winter south of us, and are seen briefly as they migrate north in the spring and south in the fall. These are referred to as migrants. At least, those are the definitions I learned in the late 1950s.

Q: Enclosed is a photo of a really large spider. What is it?

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— Carol, Pittsfield

A: This spider is a female yellow garden spider. It is often three times the size of the male and builds intricate orb (circular) webs. With their bright yellow-and-black symmetrical patches, they easily startle someone coming across them. Females average 0.75 to 1.1 inches in body length. These arachnids produce venom that is harmless to us, but immobilizes insects, mostly the flying type that are caught in its sticky web.


One of the problems with computer mail is that sometimes, it simply disappears. Such is the case of a recent letter from a Pittsfield reader who was complaining about so few insects in her yard. She lives in an area that receives city treatment for mosquitoes. Her question was related to mosquito spraying and chemicals used.

Not knowing just what pesticides and other treatments might be used, I went to the person who would know: I emailed Chris Horton ( and asked, "Which chemicals are used for adult and larval control and in ditch maintenance?"

Her answer is: "When you ask which chemicals are used for mosquito control are you referring to Berkshire County? There are a number of active ingredients and formulations available to be used in different situations for different purposes. Locally, we use biological larvicides for larval control. For adult control, we use synthetic pyrethroids. We currently do not use pesticide in ditch maintenance. The role of pesticides in mosquito control is complex and variable. There are many modes of action and many application methods for various products. I would recommend the American Mosquito Control Association, Centers for Disease Control and Environmental Protection Agency websites for an overview of methods and materials."


Several readers have inquired where to buy native plants for pollinators locally:

Try Helia Native Nursery in Great Barrington. The nursery is part of the 109-acres of Sky Meadow Farm. A trail weaves a circle through the dynamic land: a restored fen, wildflower meadows, rich woodlands and old tree growth.

The nursery grows native perennials, trees and shrubs, preserving native genotypes through seed banking. Plants are available for the landscaping community, homeowners and nature enthusiasts.

The nursery is open 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Fridays through Nov. 27. For more information, contact HNN Manager Amillie Coster, 413-854-5611 or


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