Hope Flies on Heron Wings: The Birds of the White Pond Water Resource Protection Area
There is an expanse of wetland adjacent to White Pond where I watched a great blue heron fly into the trees on a nearby hill, like a majestic dinosaur from another epoch. This wetland and the hill beyond where it landed is part of the Town of Concord Water Resource Protection Area as well as a Groundwater Conservancy District, an important groundwater resource and recharge area for our drinking water. Groundwater Conservancy Districts protect our water from adverse development, land use practices or depletion.
As I watched the heron fly into the trees on the small hill, admiring the majesty and grace of this enormous bird, I thought about the diversity of life in this wetland and on the hillside beyond. Until recently, this wetland was home to a great blue heron nesting colony, with remnants of large woody nests in the tops of the towering old trees. Herons can abandon nesting colonies due to several factors, including habitat disturbance and destruction, but have also returned to abandoned nesting sites after several years. I wondered if these herons would return.
As I sat on a nearby log overlooking the wetland, I hoped to see and hear other animal inhabitants in the cattails and trees. I was not disappointed. First a winter wren popped up out of the cattails, singing its complex, beautiful song while clinging to the side of the cattail. I watched American goldfinches fly overhead and land in the trees in the hill, and heard downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, swamp sparrow, Carolina wren, tufted titmouse and northern flicker singing from different parts of the wetland. The more common blue jay, northern cardinal, and American robin showed up as well, with the black-capped chickadee, dark-eyed junco and white breasted nuthatch making themselves heard from the trees. Even another remnant dinosaur, the magnificent pileated woodpecker, made itself heard in the forest on the hillside. Over only ten-minutes, I watched and heard fifteen species of birds in and around the wetland and uplands. As I was getting ready to leave, a red-tailed hawk soared overhead making its way to the hillside following the route of the great blue heron.
Thirty-four trees of eight different New England forest species are to be removed on the hillside across from the wetland, with 24 more outside of the wetland buffer zone, for the development of four houses and one duplex in this Groundwater Conservancy District. These are the trees used by the red-tail hawk, the pileated woodpecker, the great blue heron, and many of the other birds. The hillside is an important upland habitat for many amphibian species who need both wetland and upland habitats for different times in their life history. These trees also reduce erosion and pollutants in the aquifer and act as natural climate mitigation “technology” by sequestering carbon. The roots of these trees, many of which are over two feet in diameter, exist deep in the soil, with communities that have been created underground over time, an ebb and flow of mutualistic relationships.
Ironically, as areas like this wetland and heron rookery get developed, companies will often use the names of trees or birds that were once found there: Live Oak Lane, Willow Creek Crossing, Sycamore Village, Meadowlark Farm Lane. This development is to be called Rookery Lane. I hope that the birds and other creatures continue to use these woods and wetlands, and the restored areas the developers are promising. I hope that they, and we continue to steward these spaces for the birds and other wildlife, as well as for the many other benefits that the trees provide for our water, air, and well-being. I hope.
Pileated woodpecker excavating a hole at the great blue heron rookery
Photo credit: Mark Rosenstein