Thom Smith | Naturewatch: Protecting our pollinators and their food supply

A local movement to help the bees, 1001 Pollinator Gardens is an initiative to encourage, support, and document the commitment of 1,001 people in Western Massachusetts to grow gardens that offer food and shelter to pollinators.

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Q: My wife and I were just returning home from a paddling outing on Lake Buel and saw something cross the road ahead of us. This was about 3 p.m. today on Route 41 in the Williamsville section of West Stockbridge. It crossed in front of us about 50 yards ahead. At first glance, my impression was coyote, but it was shorter legged, not loping, and had a long thick tail. The head was more round than elongated. It was tan to brown in color. We turned to each other and both said, "Could that have been a cougar?" We've heard rumors, mostly scoffed at, over our 25 years in the Berkshires that they exist here. I will say that we are both outdoors people, both trained in biology, so (dare I say) reliable observers. We've seen bobcat and lynx, but this was big and had a long tail. What do you think?

— Bob and Susan

A: Much has appeared in print concerning mountain lion sightings, and from time to time there even appears convincing photographs being passed around on social media, only to be debunked following careful scrutiny. Tracks have been validated by professional trackers and DNA has validated mountain lion presence. I conducted a survey a number of years ago and had reports from a number of reliable sources, but that is for another time, other than to add, all were anecdotal, other than one naturalist who gave me photographs of foot prints, and large cat scratches in trees.

The question we want an answer to should be, "Is there a resident (or breeding) population in the Berkshires?" You ask what I think. Well, transients have been seen. And yes, we sometimes see what we want to see, which may account for some reports, but not all. Finally, to quote Dr. Tom French, MassWildlife's assistant director responsible for the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program for over 30 years, "Mountain lions really are expanding east and, in time, they may once again be as common as the public is being led to believe they already are. However, for now, real mountain lions in Massachusetts are very rare, so we are very interested in examining any evidence of their presence that becomes available, as well as any learning of any sightings without evidence that can be investigated and perhaps validated."


Greylock Works in North Adams was the site of an exceptional craft fair last Saturday, with a wide variety of local potters, photographers, print makers, fabric and yarn crafters, wood workers, brewers, bakers, herbs and even our famous Lenox chocolatier. We attended a talk by Rosemary Gladstar and later found among the crafts, a satellite Storey Publishing outlet, where we found dozens of titles of interest, including books by Gladstar.

"Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America's Bees and Butterflies," was published in 2011 by Storey Publishing in North Adams. "Attracting Native Pollinators" is co-authored by four Xerces Society staff members Eric Mader, Matthew Shepherd, Mace Vaughan, and Scott Black, in collaboration with Gretchen LeBuhn, a San Francisco State University botanist.

One of the highlights of our visit was interaction with a local movement to help the bees, 1001 Pollinator Gardens is an initiative to encourage, support, and document the commitment of 1,001 people in Western Massachusetts to grow gardens that offer food and shelter to pollinators. (To be continued next week.)


While milkweed seed is readily available through mail order, it is preferable to obtain seed as native as possible, meaning gather seeds yourself if at all possible

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To paraphrase what I mentioned last week, a number of readers have written Naturewatch concerning acquiring and planting milkweed seed. Specifically, problematical has been germinating the seeds. I am not a Master Gardener and learn through trial and error. This past season, I had kept gathered opened seed pods since the previous September in our shed, where they experienced a good New England winter temperature-wise. (Some store seed in the freezer). I, too, had trouble germinating the seeds in the beginning, although in late February, I decided to try something different and placed the seeds between layers of moist paper towels and left them for a couple days, then carefully moved them to soil in a plastic tray and covered lightly with additional soil. All was kept moist, but not soaked. In mid-May, the young plants were transplanted to the garden. From there, I let Mother Nature take over. Gather seed yourself; it's more fun.

Even easier is to scratch the soil lightly and sprinkle seeds where they will get good sun exposure. Do this in the fall after a killing frost. If you wait to sow the seeds after a killing frost, the seeds will be ready to grow early in the spring. Mark the site well and be patient.                                        

From The Xerces Society: An ecologically responsible approach is to use seed that is sourced as locally to your property or project site as possible. Milkweed seed can be purchased on the internet from multiple vendors, but given some species' broad distribution across the United States, available seed may be of non-local origin. While some seed companies specialize in locally native seed, many do not advertise seed origin or ecotype, and it should not be assumed that seeds have been collected or produced in the region in which a vendor is located. To identify sources of regionally appropriate seed, ask prospective vendors for information about seed origin. If milkweed seed is completely unavailable within your region, yet milkweeds are integral to your planting plans, you could consider making arrangements to have seed wild-collected from local populations. [Gather your own seeds.]

The society is a non-profit environmental organization that focuses on the conservation of invertebrates (think moths, butterflies, bees, wasps, and the like) considered to be essential to biological diversity and ecosystem health. The name is in honor of the extinct California butterfly, the Xerces blue (Glaucopsyche xerces).


We can either develop food in pill form (another Petro-chemical product?) or protect our pollinators.

To learn more about pollinators, especially monarch butterflies and how you can participate in conservation efforts, visit the Xerces Society's Monarch Butterfly and pollinators webpage, go to

As part of its Project Milkweed, the Xerces Society has created this comprehensive national directory of milkweed seed vendors to help you find sources of seed. Go to