WESTBOROUGH – For 18 years, Annie Reid and Garry Kessler have covered Westborough’s flora and fauna in their column “Nature Notes” on behalf of the Westborough Community Land Trust.
The couple first started the column in 2004 for the Westborough News, which then became the Village News. After the Village News closed earlier this year, they have since been published by the Community Advocate.
“Everything in nature is more interesting if you know something about it,” Reid said. “That’s really what I like to do for people in Westborough and the wider local area, is just get them interested in nature.”
Nature Notes inspired by national parks
Reid and Kessler are from the same hometown of Ridgefield, Conn., although they did not meet until college.
The pair moved to Westborough in 1978, and in the 1990s, they began taking trips to national parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite and Glacier.
Reid said they enjoyed these trips and reading guides about the wildlife at the parks.
Eventually, they decided to replicate these experiences in Westborough by proactively identifying and learning about the wildflowers they encountered.
“It was really the realization that you don’t have to go to a national park to have a lot of fun in nature,” Reid said. “It’s right in our own backyard.”
Plus with the advent of digital photography, Kessler was able to take photos of nature more regularly, and they began posting photos of wildflowers on their website.
They joined the newly-formed Westborough Community Land Trust in the early 2000s. One of the members suggested they start regularly contributing to a local newspaper.
Even after nearly two decades of columns, Reid said it’s not hard to find new ideas for columns, although capturing the subject on camera can be trickier.
“They just don’t seem to get the memo the night before that they’re supposed to come out and pose,” Kessler said.
Reid highlighted some of the memorable columns from over the years.
One of the columns came about after neighbors noticed large blobs in a nearby pond. They contacted a biologist and fellow Land Trust member, Scott Shumway, who helped identify them as colonies produced by tiny animals.
In a recent column about local snakes in the area, Reid emphasized the harmlessness of the garter and water snakes in Westborough.
“One of the points I made is that you’re not going to be afraid of snakes if you know something about them,” Reid said.
Changes in Westborough’s nature
Having lived in Westborough for more than 40 years, Reid and Kessler said that the nature in town has changed significantly due to human activity and climate change.
While some species have benefited from environmental changes over this time, many more have declined, Kessler said.
“If you have a long view of a few decades of experience in a place, it’s actually quite shocking the rate of change,” Kessler said. “Particularly in the last few years, things have really begun to decline at an increasing rate.”
Monarch butterflies are one species that have declined. When they first moved into Westborough, they would see butterflies in their yard and carpeting meadows in Bowman.
“That’s all gone, there’s none of that anymore,” Kessler said. “We’re lucky if we get a butterfly in our yard.”
Mosquitoes, he said, are also much rarer now as a result of mosquito prevention programs. While effective, he said that mosquitoes are at the bottom of the food chain. Their absence causes ripple effects, Kessler said.
Reid and Kessler also noted the impact of development. According to Reid, when the Land Trust first acquired Gilmore Pond, one member conducted a survey and found around 50 bird species in the area, which was surrounded by fields.
“Since then, all of the field area which was not owned by the Land Trust has been developed into housing,” Reid said. “You’re not going to find 50 species in that area anymore.”
Reid hopes people get out and enjoy nature with their families.
“Observing nature is often for kids a pathway to interesting science,” Reid said.