Rene Laubach is the author of several books on natural history and has been director of Mass Audubon's Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, located in Lenox, Massachusetts, since 1985. Recently he took some time to answer a few questions via email about the ecology of the Berkshires and what makes Pleasant Valley, and other Mass Audubon properties in the area, so special.
|Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary offers stunning views of a wide range of inter-connected ecosystems in the Berkshires. Image copyright Rene Laubach 2012.|
NENN: Pleasant Valley WLS has a range of different kinds of habitat, from forest to meadows to wetlands – what kinds of plant and animal life can visitors to the sanctuary expect to encounter ?
RL: There is so much to see at Pleasant Valley, it is difficult to know where to start. And it depends on when you come. Your chances of seeing wildlife are in general better in the early morning and late afternoon. Right now, many species of nesting birds are singing. Of course our beaver colony is very watchable. The right time for seeing them is near dusk when they become active.
NENN: What kinds of birds can visitors expect to see over the summer at the sanctuary ? Are there any particularly unusual or noteworthy species that have nested there before ?
RL: About 80 species nest at Pleasant Valley. Among them are a variety of colorful wood warblers, flycatchers, thrushes, as well as rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting, and Baltimore oriole. We have a free bird checklist available to visitors.
NENN: During a recent visit to Pleasant Valley I noticed that the wetlands there seem to support an abundance of life, including a Red Eft that I encountered on one of the trails, why are wetlands important to preserve and what role do they play in the overall ecosystem within the sanctuary ?
RL: Yes, wetlands are very wildlife rich. Beavers were reintroduced here in 1932 and over the years they have created a series of some 14 ponds along Yokun Brook. The ponds support not only beavers, but also wood ducks, hooded mergansers, muskrats, mink, river otter, turtles, frogs, red-spotted newts, fish, and a variety of aquatic insects and plants. These beaver wetlands also act as a water filtration system and as flood prevention structures.
NENN: What are some of the particular environmental challenges facing wildlife in the Berkshires today ?
RL: Habitat loss due to sprawl and the increasing prevalence of invasive exotic species (plants and insects) are probably the major two challenges. Habitat change is also a factor in that grassland and shrubland species are loosing habitat as these habitat types grow up to forest.
|Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary offers miles of hiking trails and a great view of the mountains. Image copyright Rene Laubach 2012.|
NENN: Can you tell us a little about your own background and how you came to be the director of Pleasant Valleys Wildlife Sanctuary ?
RL: My college training was in wildlife biology and museum science. I spent 14 years working in museum education prior to accepting the sanctuary director position of Berkshire Wildlife Sanctuaries in 1985.
NENN: What kinds of activities and programs does the sanctuary offer for visitors ? Is there a particular time of year or day that you would recommend people visit the sanctuary ?
RL: We have a wide variety of public programs for all ages…especially during the summer. That includes a nature camp for kids 5-14, and even a preschool program. A program catalog is available on our website (www.massaudubon.org) and from our office (413-637-0320). Any time of the year is a great time to visit Pleasant Valley, but spring, summer, and fall each offer their own highlights. We are open year-round.
NENN: Is there anything else you would like to add ?
RL: After visiting Pleasant Valley, visitors to the area might also wish to visit our Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Pittsfield, and our Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Sheffield. Both are unstaffed but offer well-marked trail systems. More information on these properties can be found on our website.
Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.