Bird Language Connects Citizens to Their Habitat

Bird Language Connects Citizens to Their Habitat

Why do birds vocalize simple chirps sometimes while at other times they emit elaborate, melodious songs? “Bird language” is a term referring to the combined chirps, songs, and behaviors which allow birds to communicate with each other. Humans can study the sounds and behaviors of birds in order to gain an understanding of what they are communicating.

The following video gives examples of bird sounds and their meanings:

Why study bird sounds? The study of bird language intersects with the broader topics of animal studies and biology, and can connect people to their local habitat through a greater level of awareness of animal interaction. Learning about bird language, and identifying birds by sound, requires concentration and careful listening skills. An interest in ornithology can thus improve our listening skills in general. Quieting the mind and tuning in to particular sounds and sensations is a skill which can be applied to mindfulness, and even music studies. Bird songs have in fact had a great impact on human music, and as a result, culture. Read the rest of this entry »

Community Resources Support Interests in Animals, Insects, Fish and More!

Support an Interest in Zoology with Community-Based Resources

Seeking out animals in farms, shelters, zoos, museums, libraries, and your own backyard opens up a world of learning

Directly engaging with animals provide direct ways of learning about biology, habitat, ecology, and other scientific disciplines. Reading or hearing about animals is useful, but actually seeing them upclose is invaluable. Many kids are fascinated by animals- their appearance, their behavior, the way they interact.

For parents of animal lovers, this interest is a ripe opportunity for education via community-base resources and events. Taxonomy, the scientific grouping of biological organisms, is complex. Classes of animal species often encompass their own branch of biology. Kids who collect bugs are budding entomologists, while bird watchers are junior ornithologists. And the great thing about animal studies is that it also strengthens a sense of place, connecting us with animals and habitat that surround us everyday.

Here are a few community-based resources to support an interest and education in zoology, biology and entomology:  Read the rest of this entry »

Interconnections Between the Birds & the Bees

Studies of Birds and Insects Illuminate Interconnectedness in Nature

While they seem to fill very separate niches within the environment, birds and insects share some important symbiotic relationships. Both birds and insects play vital roles in the places and spaces that they inhabit (nearly everywhere), and though their roles are not shared, they are sometimes dependent upon one another. Exploring the relationship between the two can illuminate interconnections found within nature, and highlights the ways in which life forms develop relationships based on one another roles in a landscape.

Though most bird-insect relationships are simply predator-prey relationships, there are ways in which the two types of creatures exist in symbiosis – though the insects serving as meals might beg to differ about the extent to which such a relationship is truly symbiotic. Though bird-insect relationships generally result in someone getting eaten, they’re still important and essential to the survival of not only birds, but some plants as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Canines Breed Community-Based Service Learning and Citizen Science Opportunities

Canines Breed Community-Based Service Learning and Citizen Science Opportunities

Affectionately dubbed man’s best friend, dogs have a special place in human society. Through museum exhibits, opportunities for service-based learning, and psychology-centric citizen science, families can engage in meaningful studies of all things dog!

Lovingly known as man’s best friend, dogs have lots to offer to humans. Not only are they great companions, but they’re fascinating subjects of study, and can teach us a lot about ourselves – despite differences in genetics. By utilizing a range of resources, families can use dogs as a lens through which to explore service learning, citizen science, and the evolution of human society.

Currently, the Springfield Museums are hosting a special dog-centric exhibit. Titled, “Wolf to Woof: The Story of Dogs, the exhibit chronicles canine history all the way from its lupine forefathers to its close connections with modern humans.  Read the rest of this entry »

Fostering Service Dogs: Service-Based Learning for Animal Lovers!

Fostering Service Dogs: Service-Based Learning for Animal Lovers!

Helping to provide much needed support for humans, service dogs are truly some of man’s best friends. Local families can engage in service-based learning by fostering future service dogs, giving them a loving home while helping to support their training. Information sessions are held weekly for interested local families!

We’ve touted the benefits of engaging in service-based learning by fostering pets from a local shelter – families get to enjoy the benefits of having pets at home through a short-term commitment, and can engage in meaningful learning about the value of their service while caring for animals in need. Now, there’s another way to engage in service-based learning with animals: fostering service-dogs-in-training! Requiring a longer commitment than fostering shelter animals, helping to raise a future service dog not only helps the dog, but will help a human in need as well! Service dogs, once trained, offer a canine lifetime’s worth of help and support to humans with a wide variety of unique needs – and local foster families are in high demand! Read the rest of this entry »

Acts of Kindness: Adopt a Black Cat!

Defy Superstition and Practice Kindness: Adopt a Black Cat!

According to Puritan superstition, black cats carry with them demons and sorcery. The notoriety black cats have gained through this superstition has landed their silhouette on many a Halloween decoration, but otherwise, it hasn’t worked out well for them. And according to the superstitions of other cultures, black cats actually bring much more good than harm! Scottish folklore tells of black cats bringing prosperity to homes they visit, and British and Japanese folks are quite fond of black cats as well!

Statistically speaking, black cats and kittens don’t fare well at shelters. Rather than bringing bad luck, they actually tend to have some bad luck of their own and are the least adopted cats in US shelters year-round. There’s no definitive reason for why this is, but animal rescue organizations believe a combination of superstition, dark kennels, and the brightly colored coats of other cats could all be partially to blame.

This Halloween season, practice kindness by adopting a black cat from a local shelter! Families who are considering adding a new furry friend to their household should consider seeking out a black cat – they’ll offer all of the snuggles and playtime that come with cats of any other color, and you’ll be ensuring that they don’t spend excess time in a shelter waiting for a family or, even worse, euthanized.  Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrate the Turtle on World Turtle Day!

Laughing Brook Hosts Family Friendly Nature Celebration

Fascinating creatures that they are, turtles have been given their very own holiday! Families can celebrate World Turtle Day with a visit to Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary to learn about local turtles, or can explore the wetlands of the Berkshire to look for these endangered bog turtles!

Unbeknownst to most of us, the nearby bogs of the Berkshires are the perfect habitat for a very precious and endangered species, the bog turtle! One of ten species of turtles found in Massachusetts, the perfect habitat for this tiny rare turtle can be found in the naturally alkaline wet patches of field and meadow across the westernmost portion of our region. Families can learn more about this and other species of testudines by engaging in community-based opportunities for hands-on learning about habitat conservation and species preservation.

Bog turtles are not exclusive to western Massachusetts. They can, in fact, be found as far south as Georgia, but local populations are nevertheless endangered. The closet turtle populations to those in the Berkshires are located 250 miles away, a separation that has been caused by land development. As a result, local bog turtles are genetically isolated – a fact that, when combined with habitat loss and other factors, puts them in danger. Luckily, researchers from The Nature Conservancy have worked to study and monitor bog turtle populations using turtle-mounted radio transmitters. Read the rest of this entry »

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Celebrating Local Culture Through Sheep & Wool

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: April Segment
Celebrating New England Culture Through Sheep & Wool

Hilltown Families and Mass Appeal (a weekday, hour-long lifestyle program on NBC) have teamed up to offer a live monthly segment on WWLP 22News!  Each month, Hilltown Families’ Founder & Executive Director, Sienna Wildfield,  joins Mass Appeal host, Ashley Kohl, to talk about ways to engage in your community while supporting the interests and education of your children (and yourselves!).

This monthly segment continued on Thursday, April 23, 2015, highlighting community-based resources and events that use sheep and wool as a lens for learning about our local culture and history.  Sienna and Ashley talk about events and activities families can access to support learning this time of year as it relates to our cultural heritage and learning connections with sheep and wool:

In the early spring, New England history and culture come alive with the arrival of newborn lambs and the shearing of sheep for the production of wool. The wool industry has strong ties to western Massachusetts, with annual events that celebrate our historical past and other events which showcase modern day shepherds and their flocks.  Discover local events and resources that make connects and support learning in our post, New England Culture & Learning Through the Lens of Sheep & Wool.

Mass Appeal is a live weekday program that airs at 11am on 22News (Springfield, MA).  Our next visit to the Mass Appeal studios will be Thursday, May 28!

New England Culture & Learning Through the Lens of Sheep & Wool

Sheep & Wool: Catalysts for Community-Based Education in Western MA

In the early spring, New England history and culture come alive with the arrival of newborn lambs and the shearing of sheep for the production of wool. The wool industry has strong ties to western Massachusetts, with annual events that celebrate our historical past and other events which showcase modern day shepherds and their flocks.

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Four community events take place this spring that are rich in learning opportunities! Baby animals, history, animal husbandry, and even fiber arts, are all great catalysts for learning through community engagement at these annual events: Read the rest of this entry »

The Birds are Back!

Help Out with Spotting Birds

Springtime brings many migratory bird species back to western Massachusetts and, as these feathered friends return, opportunities for citizen science centered around species preservation arise! Help Mass Audubon to monitor some species whose populations are in decline, and learn about three fascinating bird species in the process.

Springtime is filled with sightings of all kinds of exciting natural wonders, and the season’s outdoor appeal makes it a perfect time of year not only for enjoying our natural surroundings, but for learning about conservation and species preservation, too! In particular, springtime ’tis the season for exciting bird sightings, as well as the discovery of new nests and treasure troves of beautiful and tiny eggs. As western Massachusetts becomes filled with northward-moving migratory feathered friends, families can learn to identify these warm weather visitors and, using resources offered by Mass Audubon, learn about and perhaps participate in efforts to support declining populations of a few key species.

Species to keep an eye out for this season include orioles, Eastern whip-poor-wills, and American kestrels. While all three of these birds can be found locally, their populations are in decline and preservation of each species depends on close monitoring by both ornithologists and citizen scientists. Read the rest of this entry »

Mixing Conservation with Art Releases Creativity

Junior Duck Program Motivates Kids to Study Nature with an Artistic Eye

Combining artistic expression and conservation, the annual Junior Duck Stamp Program gives children the opportunity to study local waterfowl and practice using their artistic skills to portray them in their native habitat. The competition even provides curriculum materials to support families and educators in expanding children’s learning as they participate!

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the commonwealth of Massachusetts has been a leader in the study of waterfowl species and their habitat. In keeping with this scientific tradition and commitment, children of almost any age are invited to participate in this year’s Massachusetts Junior Duck Stamp Program! An annual art contest that pairs the study of waterfowl with artistic expression, the Junior Duck Stamp Program provides a platform for learning about conservation, the environment, species identification, and artistic expression!

Open to children in grades K-12 (or of the age equivalent to grades K-12), participation in the Junior Duck Stamp Program requires young scientists and artists to create original pieces of artwork that showcase a species of waterfowl native to Massachusetts. Children may use visual aids in order to create their pieces, so as to ensure that the shape, size, coloration, and surroundings that they create are accurate, but all works of art should be entirely original, rather than drawn or painted as a copy of a photograph, drawing, or other representation of a bird. Read the rest of this entry »

Engage in Community-Based Learning & Service: Become a Pet Foster Family

Pet Fostering Helps Animal Welfare Organizations While Allowing Families an Opportunity for a Short Term Commitment to Care for Animals

There are many local community organizations through which families can foster pets. While some organizations care only for dogs, others include cat care, and still others offer foster opportunities for small caged mammals and even birds! Whatever shape the pet-sized hole in your family’s heart takes, there’s likely an animal in a shelter waiting to fill it. Learn more about the humane societies and animal rescues below, fill out an application, and enjoy your fostering experience!

Have your children been begging for pets as presents? As the holiday season approaches, requests for living gifts can come in a deluge, and for kiddos who have yet to truly conceptualize the long-term commitment that pet parenting entails may not understand the true weight of the “forever” attached to the acquisition of a family pet. However, families can enjoy the adventure of having pets at home by participating in a local animal shelter’s foster family program!

In addition to allowing children experience pets without a permanent, years-long commitment, pet fostering is a meaningful and exciting way to participate in community service. All across western Massachusetts, animal rescue organizations and humane societies work hard to provide food, warm homes, and companionship to animals who might otherwise go without these three basic needs. As any animal-loving child knows, a domestic animal without a home, proper food, or love from a human companion is neither a happy creature or a healthy creature. However, with the help of foster families, animal shelters are able to offer pets the comfort and care of a family and a true home environment while they wait for placement with a permanent family. Read the rest of this entry »

Diverse Range of Animals & Resources in Western Mass Support Community Based Education

Animal Friendly Western Mass Stimulates Learning in Children (and Adults!)

Animals are a common interest among children. Whether they’re in love with cats of all shapes and sizes or fascinated by the destructive power of a shark’s jaws, children can learn a lot through having an interest in creatures. In utilizing the numerous animal-related community-based learning resources available locally, families can support children of all ages in learning about everything from biological classification to compassion.

Gecko at the Berkshire Museum

As far as learning goes, children’s animal-related interests often have much to do with their age and the developmental stage that they’re in. Young children’s interest in animals is generally limited to a curiosity about where they live, what they eat, and what they do all day – similar to the curiosities that children have about the people around them. Elementary-aged children slowly develop the ability to understand animals as a complex topic, and begin to consider ideas like adaptations, predator-prey relationships, natural habitats, and extinction. Meanwhile, older learners (teens and tweens) can explore an interest in animals by learning about the biological complexities of species classification, the role of conservation in species preservation, and the diversity of animal species and habitats around the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Lifecycle Studies: Hatching Frog Eggs

Lifecycle Studies: Hatching Frog Eggs

Here in western Massachusetts, one of Mother Nature’s first ways of letting us know that spring has arrived is the chorus that comes during the evening. Peepers and wood frogs add natural music to the wet, muddy, spring landscape, letting everyone and everything within earshot know that winter is finally over. And soon after the evenings get noisy, amphibians get busy! Not long after emerging, ponds and vernal pools become home to hundreds of eggs.

Springtime outdoor exploration with kids is sure to lead to discoveries of egg masses if you live near still or slow-moving water. There’s a lot to be learned just from examining the egg masses themselves, but there’s even more to be learned by watching the eggs hatch, develop, and grow from a gelatinous cluster into full-sized frogs! Families can schedule regular visits to a pond or vernal pool to watch these future-frogs grow, but it’s much easier to see the small daily changes that occur if the eggs are right inside your home or classroom.

Before bringing home an egg mass, do some research and learn to identify the egg masses you’ve found. Read the rest of this entry »

Citizen Scientists in Action in the Hilltowns

Hilltown Families Participates in Smithsonian’s Neighborhood Nestwatch Citizen Scientists Program

Cick to hear their song.

Red-eyed Vireo’s were caught in our mist nests on Sunday morning in West Chesterfield, MA. (Photo credit: Sara Berk)

Every Autumn since 2010, Hilltown Families has participated in a yearly Citizen Scientist project with Biocitizen where families come together to conduct a Rapid Biotic Assessment of the Westfield River. This collection of data involves capturing and cataloging the bugs—benthic invertebrates —that live on the riverbed.  Certain bugs like stonefly-nymphs need lots of oxygen to survive, and when you find a bunch of them, it’s a sign that the river water is fresh and clean and that aquatic habitat is unimpaired.  If you find less, the data collected over a period of years will tell a different story.  In the end, contributions by citizen scientists help scientists in the collection of important data and in the preservation of our local watershed.

New this summer, Hilltown Families committed to another yearly Citizen Scientist project, Smithsonian’s Neighborhood Nestwatch.  Recently expanding from the Washington, D.C. area to the Pioneer Valley, participating youth and families learn about bird populations while helping scientists from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center answer critical questions regarding the survival of backyard bird populations.

Early this past Sunday morning, Sara Berk from Neighborhood Nestwatch, a recent graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, joined us near the banks of the Westfield River in West Chesterfield to erect three mist nests to catch and record eight Nestwatch focal species.  Out of the eight Nestwatch focal species we were able to catch and band three different species, including a female Song Sparrow, a juvenile Carolina Chickadee and a beautiful (albeit, angry) male Northern Cardinal:

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[Photo credits: Sienna Wildfield]

Read the rest of this entry »

WebCam Catches Peregrine Falcons Nesting Atop UMass Amherst

Peregrine Falcons Nesting Atop UMass Amherst

Peregrine Falcon Webcam at UMass Amherst

Did you know that UMass Amherst’s W.E.B. Du Bois Library is home to a pair of Peregrine falcons? You might think that’s an odd place to live, but Peregrines love to nest on tall buildings! The nest box was installed in 2003 on top of the Library and has drawn the once-federally endangered Peregrine falcons to the Library each year since then.

Thanks to MassWildlife, families can watch these birds of prey in action by viewing their twenty-four hour live webcam. Kids can learn about animal behavior by watching the chicks hatch, fledge and fly. Viewers may even get to see the eyases (that’s what they call a baby Peregrine falcon) take their first flight!

This exciting event lasts from March until June each year and is completely free to view from your home computer or mobile device. Live images of the falcons brooding their eggs and caring for their hatchlings can be viewed at (or by clicking on the Falcon Cam button on the Library’s web page: with support for both iOS and Android mobile devices.

Read the rest of this entry »

Federal Fish and Wildlife Services’ Junior Duck Stamp Program

Supplement Habitat Studies with the Junior Duck Stamp Program

The Junior Duck Stamp Program offers an educational arts and science curriculum which educators can use for incorporating science, art, math and technology into habitat conservation studies. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Western Massachusetts is home to a wide variety of duck species.  These beautiful birds make their homes in wetland areas, a habitat in need of conservation.  Students can learn about duck species and help to promote wetland conservation by participating in the Federal Fish and Wildlife Services’ Junior Duck Stamp Program!  This contest calls for students to create their own stamps, featuring a specific duck species portrayed in its habitat.  Students should learn about their species of choice, so as to make the best and most accurate depiction possible!  Their design should reflect the group’s goal in creating the stamp – to share the beauty and importance of the species of the duck depicted.

Students should learn to understand the relationship between the duck and its specific environment, and should understand why the duck has such specific habitat requirements.  Students can also study other stamp designs to learn what makes a good stamp!

Entries in the contest will be judged in four different age groups, and the winning entry will be made into a stamp and released in June.  The contest is an opportunity for students to learn about local biodiversity, and to work on their understanding of the interrelatedness of species and their habitat.  Students can also work on their art skills, working carefully to clearly portray their duck.  The contest deadline is March 15th. For more information visit

Online resources for educators:

Red Elephant Comes to Amherst

Mo Willems’ The Red Elephant

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA welcomed The Red Elephant by Western MA author/illustrator Mo Willems this past Saturday on the Museum’s terrace. More than 400 folks attended the installation of this 1,500 pound pachyderm sculpture.

“I began my career making small wire sculptures which somehow led to a life as a children’s book maker,” says Willems, “So the opportunity of combining my two passions and placing a large sculpture at a picture book museum is too awesome to pass up.”

Check out Mo’s digital journal of his progress from inception to installation of The Red Elephant.

This newest installation at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art can act as a fun catalyst for young students in their studies of art, reading and science. Mo has several teachers’ guides and event kits available on his website in pdf format.  His newest kit is Elephant & Piggie Event Kit is from his early reader series, Elephant and Piggie.  Other event kits offered on his web site include Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed and The Pigeon Wants a Puppy!

Looking for curriculum on elephants?  The Elephant Sanctuary has two units for grades K-3 and grades 4-8 which include integrated areas of study in each unit (social studies, literature, science and math).
Read the rest of this entry »

Mass Audubon’s Annual Bird-a-thon: Where the Wild Things Are

Mass Audubon’s Annual Bird-a-thon Blends Birding Fun and Funds: May 14th-15th, 2010

Create a team with family and friends and together count the bird species in your neighborhood. A fun way to raise money for Mass Audubon! (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

On May 14th and 15th go where the wild things are with Mass Audubon’s Bird-a-thon. This fun annual event, for people of all abilities and ages, offers birders and nature enthusiasts the opportunity to participate in friendly competition while raising funds for Mass Audubon’s wildlife sanctuaries and programs. In fact, the Bird-a-thon pledges that you earn through your birding, or collect from donors, directly benefit birds. So, flock together with your family, friends, and neighbors to create a team, or make a pledge to help Mass Audubon protect the nature of Massachusetts.

Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries in Western Mass include:

The statewide Bird-a-thon, now in its 27th year, has grown to 25 teams and nearly 700 staff and volunteers who help raise thousands of dollars to benefit Mass Audubon’s efforts to protect wildlife. The 24-hour competition starts at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 14, and runs through 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 15. But you don’t have to participate the entire time—rotating shifts among teammates is encouraged! The 24-hour timetable allows flexibility in schedules and the chance to locate nocturnal birds.

Read the rest of this entry »

Live Cam: Hummingbird Nest

Chicken Coop Tour 2010

3rd Annual Local Chicken Coop Tour

Has your family ever thought of keeping chickens but you’re just not sure where to begin?  A great place to start is the Pioneer Valley Backyard Chicken Association listserv, started in 2008 by Meg Taylor of Williamsburg, MA.  The listserv is an excellent place to bounce around questions and concerns, or to just lurk and glean information about keeping your own backyard flock.

If you want to get out and see how other families are housing their girls, the Pioneer Valley Backyard Chicken Association will be hosting their 3rd Annual Pioneer Valley Coop Tour on Sunday, April 11th, 2010. Coops of various sizes and designs and the feathered friends that inhabit them will be featured in Amherst, Sunderland, Montague, Whately, Haydenville, and Northampton from 12:30 to 6 pm. See how families in Western MA manage their flocks for fresh eggs, meat, garden compost, and entertainment. This is a FREE tour and a great way to learn about the art and science of keeping a backyard flock. Beginners and children welcome! (No dogs please.)

2010 Coop Tour Schedule:

  • 12:30-1:15 pm in Amherst, MA at Old Friends Farm with Missy Bahret and Casey Steinberg (599 South Pleasant St.). Missy and Casey have been keeping chicken for three years and currently have 200 chickens. Breads include: Barred Rocks, Black Australorps and Auracanas and are incorporated into part of the farms fertility management system. They use a mobile coop on trailer running gear (extended) to manage their flock. 253-9182;
  • 1:45-2:15 pm in Montague, MA at the home of Chris and Greg Pellerin (482 Turners Falls Rd.). Enjoying fresh eggs and fertilzer, Chris and Greg (and their son) have just completed their first year raising 13 chickens in a 4’ x 10’ addition to their barn. Come see their set up and meet their chicken breeds: White Leghorn/Dominique mix, Dominique, Black Australorp, Ameraucana, and Golden Laced Wyandotte.
  • 2:30-3:00pm in Sunderland, MA at the home of Laura and David Grace (47 Howard Hepburn Dr.). Laura and David have five Rhode Island Red and Speckled Sussex’s and they too have just finished their first hear raising a backyard flock. The keep their girls in an Amish style free standing coop- home made with portable fencing, and enjoy the fresh eggs and fun of keeping hens.
  • 3:15-3:45pm in Whately, MA at the home of Cris Coffin and Yo Kinsman (34 Christian Lane). Cris and Yo keep their chickens in a retrofitted wooden playhouse and a run built around a former swing set. They have nine chickens of mixed breeds and have persuaded their daughter that chickens would be more fun and functional than a second dog! 665-9337;
  • 4:00-4:30pm in Whatley, MA at the home of Margaret Christie and Nicholas Jones (175 Chestnut Plain Rd.). Margaret and Nicholas have been keeping chickens for 20 years and have 12 birds they house in a coop/run or chicken tractor. The raise a batch of meat birds every year and will have their slaughter set-up available for people to see. Breeds include Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, and Black Australorps.
  • 4:45-5:15pm in Haydenville, MA at the home of Madge Evers (5 Cider Mill Road). Madge’s flock has been with her for just under a year. She has four hens (Barred Rock & Plymouth Rock) she houses in a 9′ A-frame movable ark for eggs, fertilizer and pure enjoyment. 268-2038;
  • 5:30-6:00pm in Northampton, MA at the home of Elissa Alford (50 Fairview Ave.). Elissa has also been keeping birds for just under a year. She has five chickens, including a Buff Orpington, Barred Rock and a few Easter Eggers
    she houses in a 5 x 4 “playhouse” coop. 587-9954

For more information, contact Meg at

Photo credits: (c) Sienna Wildfield

Western Mass Bird Club Forming in the Hilltowns

Owl recently spotted in Greenfield, MA. (Photo credit: Tony(a) Lemos)

Jamie Bishop of Plainfield, MA writes:

My son and I are Hoffmann Bird Club members, but we have also joined Allen Bird Club and Hampshire Bird Club. Because we live in Plainfield, we are twenty-five miles from all three clubs.

We want to provide area young people who are birders, or are interested in birds, a place to connect and communicate. We chose Facebook because I’ve been told (by my 20 year old) that everyone under the age of 21 is into social networking and has a Facebook page. So we’ve started a Facebook group called Western Massachusetts Young Birders. We have said that our target audience is young birders 18 and under who live in Western MA, and any adult birders who are interested in mentoring, supporting, and encouraging them. There is a lot of interest and support from the three major bird clubs in the area as well as a naturalist who works for the Audubon Society.

So… if you and your kids do use Facebook, or want to check out the group site, the address is:!/group.php?gid=338860028031&ref=mf

Naming of the Lambs & Kids: Hilltown Farm Hosts Naming Contest

Pick Your Favorite Posies &
Help Sangha Farm in Ashfield Name Their Baby Goats & Sheep

Help name the babies! Forward your favorite flower name to Sangha Farm in Ashfield, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Sangha Farm has nine pregnant goats and five pregnant sheep, which means at least 20 babies are on their way — and they really could use some help with naming all their babies!

They have decided on a flower theme this year.  Send them your favorite flower and if they choose it as one of their babies names, they’ll email you a picture of the lamb or kid along with a coupon for a free goat cheese truffle (locally made on their farm and are delicious!), redeemable at the Ashfield or Florence Farmers’ Markets beginning in May.

Babies will be born beginning the first week of March through June. Their ewe Cassie will be the first one to have babies the beginning of March. Being a Finn Sheep she’s probably going to have 4-5 babies, maybe even 6! Births will be announced through Hilltown Families (below in the comment box) and the Sangha Farm’s facebook page.

Keep in mind that they can come up with names like Rose, Petunia and Violet themselves. What they’re looking for are names of lesser known flowers.  So get creative and share your favorite exotic flower or rare New England species. Email your flower name to the Ritchie Family at


We’ll share photos and names here as they arrive: Read the rest of this entry »

100 Links (August/September 2009)

100 Links (August/September 2009)

Nearly every day I add recommended links to the Hilltown Families bank of on-line resources.  Some of you might find these links well suited for your family, others, maybe not so much.  But it’s a fun and useful list worth perusing!  If you have a link you’d like to share, post it in our comment box.

Where are these links? You won’t find them on your blog reader nor via email if you subscribe to our newsfeed.  But if you visit the blog on-line and scroll half way down, on the left you will find the column, “Links We Recommend,” with a list of our most recent recommended links.  If you haven’t been visiting the site regularly to peruse these great resources, not to worry – below is the last 100 links we’ve posted in the past two months: (you will need to use the “back” button to return to this page).

Archived Lists of 100 Links: If you’d like to peruse our List of 100 Links from months past, click HERE and then scroll up or down.

Read the rest of this entry »

100 Links (June/July 2009)

100 Links (June/July 2009)

Nearly every day I add recommended links to the Hilltown Families bank of on-line resources.  Some of you might find these links well suited for your family, others, maybe not so much.  But it’s a fun and useful list worth perusing!  If you have a link you’d like to share, post it in our comment box.

Where are these links? You won’t find them on your blog reader nor via email if you subscribe to our newsfeed.  But if you visit the blog on-line and scroll half way down, on the left you will find the column, “Links We Recommend,” with a list of our most recent recommended links.  If you haven’t been visiting the site regularly to peruse these great resources, not to worry – below is the last 100 links we’ve posted in the past two months: (you will need to use the “back” button to return to this page).

Archived Lists of 100 Links: If you’d like to peruse our List of 100 Links from months past, click HERE and then scroll up or down.

Read the rest of this entry »

Painted Turtle Episode on the HFVS (07/11/09)

Listen LIVE 9-10am on Saturday via streaming audio

Painted Turtle Episode

Painted Turtle

Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield

WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio
Northampton, MA

07/11/09 PLAYLIST

listen LIVE via streaming audio | request a song | subscribe to free podcast
archived shows | contests | myspace | facebook

  • Lisa Loeb – “Wake Up Song” [Camp Lisa]
  • Justin Roberts – “Day Camp” [Way Out]
  • Lisa Loeb – “Going Away” [Camp Lisa]
  • The Not-Its – “I Love Camping” [We Are the Not-Its!] Music
  • Wee Hairy Beasties – “Lightnin’ the Turtle” [Animal Crackers]
  • Suzi Shelton – “The Turtle Song” [Simply Suzi]
  • A Curious Glimpse of Michigan – “Painted Turtle: State Reptile of Michigan” [A Curious Glimpse of Michigan]
  • Nicola Davies – “All About Loggerhead Turtles” [One Tiny Turtle]
  • Station Id: Steve Weeks []
  • Ernie & Neal – “Turtle” [Rock & Roll Band]
  • Tom Knight – “Invisible Girl” [The Library Boogie] Music
  • Rainbabies by Laura Krauss Melmed
  • Laura Freeman – “Flower Dance” [Somersault Season] Music
  • Mr. Leebot – “Green Family” [Robot Dance] Music

Guinea Pig Co-Op

Felice Wolfzahn of Shelburne Falls, MA writes:


We have two lovely female guinea pigs (mother and daughter): Peppermint and Sparkle. As with a lot of pets, the family members are excited and interested for a while, but often the interest fades and they become more of a chore than a fascination. BUT……….. there’s hope other than trying to get rid of these cute, cuddly creatures.

Here’s the idea:

  • We get a few families (maybe 6) together who are interested and willing to care for and enjoy the guinea pigs for maybe two months at a time.
  • Each family is responsible for the care and well being (and one way of the transportation) of the GP’s for their time and then they pass them on to the next family.
  • (We could establish a small contribution from each family in a pot somewhere, in case the G.P.’s need any medical care).

If you’re interested please e-mail me:

What Does a Trebuchet Have to Do with a Farm?

Farmyard Tails: Feche la Vache!
By Jennifer Bennett, HF Contributing Writer

New spring lambs at Red Gate Farm in Buckland, MA.

Little lambs at Red Gate Farm in Buckland, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

As I sit at my desk, I find myself looking outside at all of the beautiful flowers and buds. I can hear the birds singing and the peepers peeping. And yet, I am still having a hard time realizing that all of the snow is really gone. I know it is crazy, but it is true!

The Spring has been quite a whirlwind of activity here on the farm. Our little lambs are growing fast. All of the animals are out on the pasture, and they just can’t seem to get enough of the good stuff. Our first set of chicks who arrived all fluffy and tiny on April 13 have more than doubled their size and grown nearly all of their true feathers!

All this and a summer camp to plan! This year summer camp sessions here at Red Gate Farm are almost all full! It looks to be a wonderfully fun summer of camp.

And, let us not forget the garden! All of the potatoes and brassicas (brussel sprouts, kale, cabbage and broccoli) are in the ground. There are some greens coming right along as well. The beloved tomatoes are looking wonderful and vigorous in the greenhouse along with their buddies – peppers, eggplant, and basil! We could not have done it without our wonderfully hard working volunteers and the great kids from our Sprouts program and the Tree of Life.

All winter and into the spring, we have welcomed many children during our day programs. The Farm Leaders, a group that I now teach, comes once a week. They are a great group of kids with wild imaginations. We have taken on some very cool projects, as well as some very useful ones. One recent activity consisted of learning about levers and catapults and building a model trebuchet.

‘Fire in the hole!’ was heard echoing through Apple Valley here in Buckland, MA, as students tested out their trebuchet that they named (in the historical tradition) ‘The Tre-Bu-Z.’ The whole group worked hard over the weeks days to learn about the physics of trebuchets, they ultimately modeled their design after an old French plan they learned about from the television series Nova.

The trebuchet worked beautifully and was able to throw objects such as a golf ball, matchbox car, and, of course, a ‘diseased’ toy pony ala 12th century castle siege! To all you Monty Python fans, I say, “feche la vache!”

One parent asked me, “What exactly does a trebuchet have to do with a farm?” Great question! In learning about the physics of catapults and trebuchets, we also learned about the different types of levers. This knowledge helps us understand how the big barn was built and assists us when we have jobs to do around the farm, such as repairing rock walls, moving big logs, and other challenges that may arise. Farm Leaders will be ready for the challenge!

Every day is full of pleasant surprises here on the farm. The other day, on a hike with a group of students, one energetic and animated boy got to the top of the hill well ahead of the group. When we arrived he was quietly gazing out over Apple Valley. We all tumbled into the clearing and he exclaimed, “Oh, you ruined it!”. Unbeknownst to us, this boy, who is normally always on the go, had been basking in the silent beauty of the place. It seems that everyone who spends any time here, can find themselves a special little bit of peace and tranquility.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Bennett

Jennifer BennettJen is the Program Coordinator at Red Gate Farm in Buckland, MA. She lives in the woods with her husband, two teenage daughters, a trusty dog and a frisky cat. A gardener for much of her life, Jen enjoys cooking with her harvest, canning and preserving foods. She sees nature as her home and can be found outside during all manner of weather. A graduate of Goddard College (BA with an emphasis in Ecological Education), she is at her happiest when she is able to share her love of farming and nature with children and adults alike. Her column, Farmyard Tails, shares events and explorations that happen on the farm while educating children about farm life.

Hilltown Birdbrains: Local 4H Club Seeks New Members

Hilltown Birdbrains (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Hilltown Birdbrains (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Jennifer Bak of Chesterfield, MA writes:

The 4H club, Hilltown Birdbrains is always looking for new members. This 4H club is less than 1 year old and includes all feathered friends, including ducks, chickens and pigeons. Hilltown Birdbrains meets at the Burgy Bullets in Williamsburg, MA every other Tuesday and currently has 8 members (aged 8 to 12) who focus mostly on pigeons and chicken, but would love others to join. Please contact Jamie Bishop at 634-0324 or Jordan Bak at 296-4301 for more information

Chicken Coop Tour 2009


2nd Annual Local Chicken Coop Tour

Going into the hen house

Chicken coop at Red Gate Farm in Buckland, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

On Sunday, April 19th, 2009, spend an afternoon in the hilltowns and Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts visiting local coops and the chickens that lay in them. Learn from Pioneer Valley Backyard Chicken Association (PVBCA) hobbyists and farmers how they made their coops and chicken tractors, and how they keep them safe from predators.

General topics will be discussed, including:

  • nest boxes
  • egg production
  • perches
  • light
  • winter concerns
  • outdoor runs
  • breeds

Stops on the tour will include 7 different backyards and farms in Hatfield, Florence, Easthampton, and Chesterfield. Expect lots of useful ideas and even more inspiration. Children welcome. (But no dogs please.) Carpooling appreciated. FREE.

2009 Coop Tour Schedule: 12 pm to 5:30 pm (tour stop addresses can be found below):

  • 12:00-12:30 Pam (Hatfield, MA)
  • 12:45-1:15 Sarah & Tom (Hatfield, MA)
  • 1:30-2:00 Tracey (Florence, MA)
  • 2:15-2:45 Suna & Ben (Florence, MA/Bay State)
  • 3:00-3:30 Adele @ Rocky Hill Co-housing (Florence, MA)
  • 3:45-4:15 Jim @ Park Hill Orchard (Easthampton, MA)
  • 4:45-5:15 Crabapple Farm (Chesterfield, MA)

Sponsored by the Pioneer Valley Backyard Chicken Association.

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