Author Archives: Don C

Stony Brook Pond lilies in fall colors

What to Look For – October 2019

At this time of year, a stroll from the Nature Center to the boardwalk can be particularly productive during early mornings or evenings.

Keep your eyes on the sky and trees. September and October mark the peak of fall migration for the smaller perching birds such as warblers, vireos, and flycatchers. It’s also migration season for raptors and waterfowl that breed to the north and overwinter in warmer southern climes.

Native plants begin fruiting in early fall
Native plants begin fruiting in early fall

This is also the time when many of our native plants begin to ripen their fruits and change colors. Berries on Winterberry Holly begin to change to orange and red, while the hips on Swamp Rose turn from green to orange. These colors complement the yellows, golds, purples, reds, and crimsons of fall.

We highly recommend getting outside and taking a walk on the trails in the coming weeks. It’s the perfect way to enjoy the exhilarating, crisp and clear days that mark the beginning of fall in these parts.

Find out what else Mother Nature has in store this month with Mass Audubon’s Outdoor Almanac.

Stony Brook campers with their hand-drawn map of habitats for different species

Campers for Wildlife

Drawing of a Bald Eagle made by a young Stony Brook camper
This Bald Eagle was one of the many drawings campers created

After learning about how Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey plans to challenge the federal government’s recent moves to alter key components of the Endangered Species Act, a group of Ramblers (campers ages 7-8) attending Stony Brook Day Camp decided to make a statement of their own. 

With the help of their counselors, these young campers put together a letter and drawings expressing their support for the Attorney General!

The counselors were thrilled to see their concern, and happy to help the campers bring their ideas to fruition.

Thank you, campers, for being inspirational Nature Heroes to all of us!

Samsonite corporate volunteers at Stony Brook

Volunteers from Samsonite Make a Big Impact

In late June, some 30 employees of the Samsonite Corporation in Mansfield came out to Stony Brook for a Corporate Volunteer Day. They arrived ready to help with invasive plant removal, trail maintenance, and garden improvements.

Their impact was amazing! Four separate volunteer teams—each with their own corporate captains and a staff lead from Stony Brook—transformed the sanctuary by removing weeds and vines, opening up the waterfall vista, mulching the gardens, and layering the trails with wood chips to improve wheelchair access.

Visitors can’t help but notice the difference!

Equally impressive was the fact that Metcalf Materials donated sandstone for the trails and mulch for the gardens. Plus, Samsonite provided a $500 grant to purchase new trail maintenance tools for the sanctuary. 

Thank you to all involved for making this a special day! We never take this kind of hands-on help and generosity for granted.

Volunteer Opportunities for Groups & Organizations

If you’re interested in connecting your company with opportunities to make a difference, we invite you to learn more about corporate volunteering at Stony Brook.

Mystery Object Investigation Concludes

Mystery object on South Trail © Marian Pierre-Louis
Mystery object on south-side trail © Marian Pierre-Louis

Stony Brook regular Marian Pierre-Louis was enjoying a walk on the Pond Loop Trail in mid-January when she spotted something unusual hanging in the trees. Unsure as to what it was, she snapped a photo and headed back to the Nature Center. After showing the image to the sanctuary staff, she inquired about the object’s origins.

Unfortunately, we had no definitive answers to give her! We had no idea what this mysterious “birdhouse” was, nor had we ever seen it. So, in our February 2019 e-newsletter, we solicited our readers for any information or theories they could give us.

In the end, the best explanation we received came from Perry Ellis, a teacher naturalist at Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum:

“I’m not sure of the size of your metal ‘birdhouse,’ but I vaguely remember seeing this design during my youth in the seventies and eighties,” Perry told us.

“From the sixties to the eighties, people experimented with making Wood Duck boxes out of metal stovepipe. The idea was that the house was essentially predator-proof, since raccoons and other predators can’t grip bare metal and can’t use metal shears to get inside. Materials like hardware cloth would be put on the inside surface of the box so the ducklings could climb out. The problem with this design was the interior of the nesting box could get too hot, cooking the eggs inside and, sometimes, the incubating mama duck too.”

We greatly appreciate Perry’s response. There’s always something new to learn, and we’re eager to be a part of the dialogue!

Got a photo, observation, or question of your own?

We love hearing from Stony Brook visitors! If Marian’s story of discovery inspired you to share your own, please send it to us. We may feature it in our e-newsletter or on this blog!

Encounter with a Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl at Gooseberry Island © Fred Laberge
Snowy Owl at Gooseberry Island © Fred Laberge

Fred Laberge, a resident of Norfolk and a frequent visitor to Stony Brook, is always looking for the next great shot. That’s why, on January 4, he set out for Westport with a very specific goal in mind—to capture a spectacular photo of a Snowy Owl.

The word among his friends was that one or more snowies had been spotted on Gooseberry Island at Horseneck Beach State Reservation. A review of recent sightings on the e-Bird website confirmed it. 

Fred had attempted to catch a glimpse of a Snowy Owl on a previous trip to Westport in December. While he saw many interesting shorebirds, there was not an owl to be had. The trip on January 4 was his second attempt, and luck was on his side that day.

Snowy Owl © Fred Laberge
Snowy Owl © Fred Laberge

Immediately upon his arrival around 9:00 am, Fred spotted a snowy flying toward him near the parking lot at the end of the causeway. Not wasting a minute, he parked quickly and rolled down his car window with camera in hand. The owl was sitting on a post and did not seemed at all phased by Fred’s presence. He took a few images before the bird flew about 75 feet away to a pothole filled with rainwater.

Once it landed, the Snowy Owl continued to sit there drinking water from the puddle. Seeing his chance, Fred slowly (and quietly) exited the car. He worked his way along a sand dune, taking care to stay low, and managed to take a few more images.

After 2-3 minutes, another car approached and the owl took off in a westerly direction. As the bird flew diagonally towards him, Fred was ready with his camera. The light was perfect, and he was fortunate to get several stunning shots of this beautiful owl looking right at him.

“Right place at the right time for once,” he said. 

Snowy Owl © Fred Laberge
Snowy Owl © Fred Laberge

Got a great photo of your own?

We love receiving photos from Stony Brook visitors! If Fred’s image and story inspired you to share your own, please send us your photos. We may feature them in our e-newsletter or on this blog!

Amphibians after Dark – coming April 8th!

Ever wondered about the mysterious annual migration some of our native amphibians make on the first few warm and wet nights in the spring? Have you heard about vernal pools and know that they are important to our ecosystem, but are not sure why?  Do you just want a fun night out with your family, filled with cookies, crafts, exploration, skits, discoveries and a guided lantern-lit tour of Stony Brook?  Join the many other families who are also curious to learn and experience more about our natural world next Saturday, April 8th at Stony Brook’s Amphibians After Dark program.  Tours begin every 15 minutes from 5:30pm until 8pm, so you can pick a time that works best for your busy family. See details on our web page.

Like most community events at Stony Brook, this program’s success is driven by our volunteers’ involvement and commitment. We have help from young people like the King Philip’s LEOS who will staff the vernal pool game show.  Local families who have had children attending Stony Brook’s summer camp for years step into costume and act in short skits bringing humor and entertainment to those who live (or might not live) in our native vernal pools.  We even have camp parents who generously donate cookies and refreshments, as well as supplies to light the trails. There’s no way to cite all the volunteers who make this event possible, but suffice it to say that we’re extremely grateful for everyone’s support.   Hope to see you and your family next Saturday!

Volunteer Spotlight: “Nature Answer Lady” – Carol Bailey

A woman as diverse and colorful as the outfits she wears with pride, Carol Bailey has graced Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary with over 44 years of service! Carol first came to Stony Brook when she began her career as a biology professor at Dean College. At first, she became involved with the Stony Brook Bird Club, the Stony Brook Camera Club, and the annual Fall Fair as a volunteer. Then, in the 1980s Carol began to offer her strengths as a teacher by working as a part-time naturalist for field trips and/or birthday parties. Unfortunately, health problems prevented her from continuing her naturalist guide work along the sanctuary trail. Never accepting limitations, however, Carol has continued to share her passion for teaching and the natural world as a weekend docent stationed along the trail, out on the boardwalk, or at the sanctuary building check in.

Carol has an encyclopedic knowledge of natural history that courses through her veins and is always willing to share what she knows. At a very young age she was drawn to the natural world and sought answers to her many questions about the local ecosystem. She laughs recalling her insatiable curiosity saying, “If I could carry it, it was coming home!” This same childhood curiosity and sense of wonder is what she imparts to every volunteer she mentors or visitor she engages. She had the good fortune to have parents who nurtured and encouraged her in her desire to know, and feels that she should do the same. She recalls fondly how her father would bring home salvaged cages and aquariums to house her new discoveries. As a classically trained musician, Carol’s mother would help her to see the beauty of nature through the sounds and notes that filled the air. These early experiences contributed to her seemingly innate ability to stir the same wonder and enthusiasm in her visitors to the sanctuary today.

As I sat down to interview Carol, I came to appreciate the strong and independent woman that she is. Born in the “Baby Boomer” years, Carol was a woman who looked beyond the social norms of her day unafraid to blaze her own path. In fact, in 1988 she became the first female service line umpire for Centre Court Wimbledon (a task considered “too difficult” for women), and later that same year she held the same post in the Olympics in Seoul Korea. Indeed, her honors and interests have been incredibly diverse over the course of her life. She was, for example, a Peace Corp volunteer in Ghana, West Africa, an inductee into Muhlenberg College’s Athletic Hall of Fame, a taxidermist, and the only Girl Scout to be awarded the reptile and amphibian badge for the Mid-Atlantic area. When asked to define what motivated her and her ambitions, she replied with simple wisdom, “If you have a passion, you just do it!”

I hope you have a chance to meet Carol, look for her on most sunny Sunday afternoons at the sanctuary, either inside or outside. She is affectionately known as the “Nature Answer Lady” and is apt to be adorned with very colorful attire. Be prepared for any question directed her way; if she does not have the answer, she will take you on a journey to discover one. That has always been her way. If you are interested in becoming a docent, perhaps you will work with Carol as a mentoree and have a chance to witness her genius in person. If you wish to learn more about how you might volunteer at Stony Brook, see this link. Come to Stony Brook today and tap into your own childhood wonder. There is no place like it.