Thom Smith | NatureWatch: Spring visitors are showing up in the region


Q: I live in Lanesborough, where we have a small pond. We are frequently visited by a kingfisher, coming to eat the crayfish and goldfish in the pond. Today, we were treated to two kingfishers, chasing each other and frequently interacting. I am wondering if this behavior is a mating ritual or could they merely be competing for the food? Looking forward to your opinion.

— Hank, Lanesborough

A: It could be one or the other, or both. And without having made a study of belted kingfishers, it is only a guess on my part.

They begin matting in April. Kingfishers are monogamous during the breeding season, but form new pairs every year. Look for the male feeding the female during courtship. That is a good indication. Both members of the pair vigorously defend their territory by chasing away intruders while giving loud rattle calls. So, it could be that one belongs to a mated pair and this is their territory, so the one being chased is an intruder. What you write looks more like one chasing the other away, not courting. Keep watching.

Q: My kitchen and bedroom are suddenly full of ladybugs, almost overnight. I don't understand, don't they go inside in the fall and not now? I have been squashing them and sweeping up.

— Mary, Pittsfield

A: You are correct, they do enter homes, sheds, garages, factories or anywhere that will be a good place to sleep the winter away — and these did enter your home, only it was last fall. Now that it is time to get on with their springtime activities, they are looking for the exit.

Q: Is it too early to put out the hummingbird feeder? What is the sugar amount to boiled water?

— Barbara, Pittsfield

A: Have the feeder or feeders out by the first of May. Or better yet, a few days earlier as it seems they are arriving earlier. To make the sugar water solution, add one-part granulated sugar to four parts (pre-boiled tap water). No food coloring needed. Good luck!


Don't miss the wildflower festival!

It's a rare chance to see a spectacular and diverse showing of spring ephemerals at Bartholomew's Cobble in Ashley Falls/Sheffield, Mass.

Come to the National Natural Landmark. any Saturday or Sunday through May 13 for guided tours of its Ledges Trail to learn about its amazing wildflowers. Participants will learn the different flowers that are blooming, the insects that pollinate them and what makes them so unique. Tours will leave from the Visitor's Center at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 and 3 p.m., and will last about 45 minutes.

About 800 species of wildflowers and other plants have been found on the Cobble's two rocky knolls, its floodplain, woods, hayfields, pastures and meadows, along more than 5 miles of trails on 329 acres. Beautiful vistas, the long list of plant life, rock outcrops with small kid-friendly caves are not the only draw, over 250 species of birds have also been identified since it came into the hands of The Trustees of Reservations in 1946.

Spring wildflowers have extremely short bloom times. Because of this, flowers that will be blooming at the beginning of the festival may not be in bloom by the end, and visitors are encouraged to visit the Cobble multiple times during the festival to see as much as possible. And while there, enjoy as many trails as you like. Bring binoculars; birds are plentiful now, with summer nesters arriving and migrants moving through.

The cost of the the tour is: Members, adults, $5, and children, free; nonmembers, adults, $10, and children, free. Private tours are available for groups of six or more during the week with preregistration. For more information during normal business hours, call 413-298-3239, ext. 3013; during the weekend, call 413-299-8600 or email

Bartholomew's Cobble is at 105 Weatogue Road, Sheffield, Mass. Take Route 7 south to Route 7A (Ashley Falls Road) and almost immediately turn right onto Rannapo Road, turning right onto Weatogue Road.

Thom Smith welcomes readers' questions and comments. Email him at or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.      


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