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Dave Brown Leads Alewife Walk
February 18, 2012
Article by Samantha J. Smith
FAR Lesley Intern

Ten hardy participants went on a two-hour walk on Saturday, led by tracker-naturalist David Brown, who conducted a pair of wildlife surveys in the park a decade ago. He pointed out the advantages to wildlife of the difference between the unkempt tangles of brush and thorns within the reservation compared to the manicured "city park" appearance of the restoration done by the developer in front of the new office park. The dense mix of prickly rubus and dense shrubbery along the walk provides concealment and food for many species of prey animals such as rabbits, mice and voles. As a result it is also a hunting place for their predators like foxes, coyotes, fishers, red-tailed hawks and owls, the sign of all of which has been found in the reservation. David also pointed out that this tangled “urban wild” also provides a refuge for larger mammals that can hide and rest here during the day before spreading out to feed in the surrounding greater Alewife ecosystem at nightfall.

A disturbing trend toward greater use of the trail on the north side of the Little River by dog-walkers and joggers as well as rising frost in the ground covered or distorted most of the tracks in the muddy trail on this particular morning, but numerous scats of coyote and fox were found along the trail. Most contained fur, showing that hunting is good in the vicinity. On a previous walk a mink scat was found near one of the wood bridges on the trail. Although there was no sign of this interesting wild animal on Saturday, a recent visitor reported seeing two of them cavorting in the same area where the scat was found. These mammals are mostly aquatic, feeding on fish, crayfish and even muskrats, all of which inhabit the Little River, its adjacent cattail marshes and tiny tributary brooks. The playfulness of the mink pair is probably courting behavior, since this is the beginning of their annual breeding period.

At Little Pond the group was treated to the sight of two hooded mergansers, a mated pair the male of which is a spectacular bird with a large black-bordered white crest and russet flanks. Also on the pond on Saturday morning were a herring gull, several Canada geese and a bufflehead. The last is a small, black-and white diving duck that usually spends the winter in the coastal estuaries but has moved inland to take advantage of open fresh water in this mild winter. Along with great blue herons, also seen on Saturday morning, this duck and the hooded mergansers live mostly on fish, tadpoles and aquatic insects, a good sign for the health of the pond and its adjacent watershed.

However, that watershed is under pressure from developers who intend to put a large apartment complex next to the boundary of the reservation. David pointed out that, not only will such development wipe out most of the much-admired silver maple forest that lies just outside the park, but the reduction in size of the greater ecosystem and the out-spread of human and pet activity from the living complex will spell the end of this area as an urban wild with diverse wildlife. Mostly what will be left, he said, will be squirrels, raccoons and skunks. The shyer species that currently use the area for feeding, hunting and resting will depart.