March Surprise

Broadmoor is beautifully blanketed in 15 inches of snow.

Indian Brook from the main bridge

That large mound of snow in the marsh is a huge beaver lodge. Look downstream from the main bridge.

Beaver lodge in the distance covered by snow

Trails can be walked but snow shoes and skis are a fun way to explore as well.

If you gear up at REI in the next month, please vote for Mass Audubon. Broadmoor will receive a grant that will go directly to trail improvements to make your adventures at the sanctuary even better in the future.

Lots of Activity!

February School vacation week camp was just about perfect this year. Kids got to slide like otters in the snow, practice their aim with snowballs at the icicles below the waterfalls and track the behavior of coyote, raccoon, squirrel, and turkeys.

Another day, the campers placed taps and buckets on two of the sugar maple trees in the nature play area to collect sap for the Natick Community Organic Farm. We’ll see that sap again on May 5 when it returns in the form of maple syrup for our annual Birds and Breakfast pancake breakfast and birding walks.

Maple buckets and fun in the snow

If you missed February vacation week, April will be just as much fun with birds and mammals more active, early flowers in bloom and spring peepers and woodfrogs calling.Visitors have been reporting river otter in the Wildlife Pond and this afternoon I got lucky and saw this large otter on an ice flow munching on a fish. While not a great photo, look for the very dark shape in the water on the upper right, and borrow a pair of binoculars at the visitor desk to look for yourself.

Hooded mergansers, mallards, house sparrows, cardinals, black-capped chckadees, tufted titmice and red-tailed hawks are also getting active.

January Thaw? Oops, it’s already February

After temperature extremes in January as low as minus 17 windchill, Broadmoor is having a brief thaw. Trails are mostly free of ice and ponds have some open water.

These are perfect conditions to look for river otters. Otters swim up and down the Charles River and streams that flow into it. At Broadmoor, Indian Brook flows through the sanctuary. Otters swim upstream, rest on floating ice; then slide into the water looking for fish. They are curious creatures so you may see them dive into the water, then raise their heads like a periscope to see what you are up to. If you don’t see the otters themselves, look for slides in the ice or across snow.

otter slide in snow

Another animal that visits when there is even a little open water is the hooded merganser, a petite diving duck, also looking for small fish.

Hooded merganser pair

This pair of “hoodies” as some call them, are fishing together in the Wildlife Pond.

World of Winter

There is so much to see right at your feet. Look down!

Where do you find turkey tracks? What are they doing? How many can you count?

Fishers are actively hunting for their favorite food – squirrels – and leave tracks in the ice on Broadmoor ponds.

Photographer Cheryl Rose captured frog faces in the ice.

Ice and water are endlessly changing.

Come and find something beautiful in the winter landscape.

Scavenger Hunt – The Power of Nature

There are two white pine trees that “died” of natural causes in the past two months.  You can see both of them from the trails.  See if you can find them.  Can you figure out what happened?

This tree is on the Old Orchard Trail.

This tree is between Signpost 3 and Signpost 12.

Hint:  Insects played a part in both these events.

Happy Holiday! and see if you can solve these mysteries.

Seasonal Scavenger Hunt

Flying away to new homes, these milkweed seeds catch the wind for trips to new parts of the field.

Those that sprout and grow will be found next summer by Monarch butterflies to lay their eggs. The new plants will feed the caterpillars that hatch until they are ready to form a chrysalis; then hatch into the next generation of butterflies.

Wooly bears are caterpillars of the Isabela moth, often seen navigating the Broadmoor trails this time of year.  Some have patterns of black and rust.  This one is almost completely black.  Many folks think the width of the colored bands can predict whether winters will be harsh or mild.  There is no scientific evidence to support this idea, but it focuses attention on these little creatures.

A dead and rotting trunk was probably a perch for birds.  Poison ivy vines sprouted from berries they deposited and have formed a wild sculpture.

Beech are among the last trees to lose their leaves.  Some keep them most of the winter.

When you find pink survey tape on trees and shrubs and marked stakes in the ground, please leave them where you find them.  They are wetland markers required for permits to improve our trails.  Stay tuned for more about trail improvements and follow our progress on this blog in the coming year.

And now for a little winter teaser…..  Between the time this post was started and publication, a wall of snow dropped four inches of snow at Broadmoor.


Ruby-crowned kinglets were photographed at Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary in Hopkinton by Cheryl Rose.

These diminutive little birds move non-stop, flitting from branch to branch picking out small insects, berries and spiders.

Ruby-crowned kinglets were also seen at Broadmoor this week and our All Person’s Trail is a great place to look for them.  Two benches have been added to the meadow outlook spur.  They are the same locust wood used for the outlook platform and will weather to the same color over time.  Come and see our new addition.

And don’t forget to order birdseed from Broadmoor for pickup November 10.  You’ll be helping the sanctuary and your local birds.

Signs of the Season

Fair Weather Birders joined me last week to explore field edges near the Nature Center and at Little Farm Pond.  Raptors were on display.  This red-tailed hawk glided in to perch overlooking Indian Brook field.  The brown feathers on the belly form a “band” that is unmistakable for identifying red-tails.

Below the bird feeder, white-throated sparrows scratched for seeds.  Look for stripes on the head and yellow lores between beak and eye

At Little Farm Pond a large shape glided silently in and perched, watching us.  Barred owls are often active during the day.  These owls have no ear tufts and dark eyes.  When they call, some hear “Who Cooks for You?”

Pollinators are still active especially in the fields and native plants garden.  New England Asters and goldenrods are favorites of bees, Monarchs, and other butterflies.

Citizen scientists monitoring our 55 nest boxes intended for birds noted a large paper wasp nest in July.  That nest continued to grow and now almost completely covers box number 26.

Come and see what seasonal signs you can find!

Many thanks to Acima Cherian for sharing  photos she took while Fair Weather Birding.


The Awesome Power of Nature

Yesterday afternoon a powerful thunderstorm moved across Broadmoor featuring a temperature drop of nearly 30 degrees in an hour and frequent lightning.

A lone white pine in the middle of the Old Orchard Trail was struck by lightning.

Nearly every year one of the tall white pines is hit by lightning, but this tree was unusual.  It had a hollowed out branch that visitors always thought should be an owl residence.  No one ever saw an owl use it.  It also had a hollow side branch that served as a chimney when the tree caught fire.  In the picture above, the smoke on the right is coming from that branch.

Natick and Sherborn firefighters responded and tried hard to douse the fire.

The tree was completely hollow where carpenter ants had colonized the trunk.

A hole at the very bottom served as a little fire box to keep feeding the flames.

In the end, cutting the tree was the only way to extinguish the fire.

Many of us loved that tree, but its stump will remain testimony to the awesome power of nature.

Special thanks to the Natick and Sherborn firefighters, who even salvaged the kestrel nestbox from the tree trunk.

Native Plants and Nature Play Area

The garden of native plants in and around our nature play area is in full bloom.

Children including our summer campers are enjoying jumping on rocks, climbing on logs and watching pollinators like bees and butterflies drinking nectar from the flowers.

Rudbeckia, with yellow flowers and lavender bee balm are popular with bees.

Bee balm comes in many colors including magenta.

A favorite with Monarch butterflies is butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).  Monarchs nectar and lay their eggs on this beautiful perennial plant.