Author Archives: Don C

Northern Cardinal at a feeder in winter © Charlie Zap

What to Look For – February 2020

Most, if not all, of the beautiful migrant species that breed in Massachusetts—including Scarlet Tanager, Baltimore Oriole, and the colorful array of wood warblers—left a while ago. But if you look out at the birds (and squirrels) visiting the sanctuary’s feeders this month, you’ll notice the presence of several “new” faces among the familiar resident species.

No, these migrants are not misplaced or confused. They spend their winters here to escape the harsher weather found in their Canadian and Arctic breeding grounds.

And February is a great time to get out and enjoy these visiting birds from the North!

Fox Sparrow © Alberto Parker
Fox Sparrow © Alberto Parker

American Tree Sparrows and Fox Sparrows routinely show up at Stony Brook during the winter months to feed on the calorie-rich seeds we provide in the feeders. Occasionally, we’re also treated to the sights and sounds of Pine Siskins, crossbills, and redpolls vying for their turn at the buffet.

Look for these winter migrants among the American Goldfinches, Black-capped Chickadees, and Northern Cardinals that frequent the sanctuary’s feeding stations year-round.

Take a trip farther afield this month and you may be rewarded with sightings of a Snowy Owl, Bald Eagle, or Rough-legged Hawk (depending on where you go). Or head to the shoreline, where you’ll be able to view flocks of wintering sea ducks and their kin collected together on the open waters.

Happy winter, everyone!

Blocks of suet donated by Millis TSC

A Suet Surprise

Stony Brook received an unexpected—but very welcome!—call from Tractor Supply Co. in Millis this month.

They told us they’d been running a special on their bird feed recently. And as an additional incentive, they advertised that they would donate one package of suet for every package purchased.

So what was the big surprise? All of the donated suet would go to local Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries!

To our delight, the store ended up donating nearly 200 blocks of suet! The delivery will be shared between Stony Brook and four other wildlife sanctuaries (MABA, Oak Knoll, Broadmoor, and Moose Hill).

Our sincerest thanks to the Millis Tractor Supply Co. for their unsolicited generosity! We know the birds will be thankful as well.

Snow covered fence and field at sunset

What to Look For – December 2019

Winter’s cold and gray days arrived earlier than anticipated this year. The ponds and marshes glazed over before Thanksgiving, sending all but the hardiest waterfowl south toward open water. Most of the deciduous trees have lost their leaves, helped no doubt by the high winds and rains.

The landscape, however, remains cheery. Now that the leaves have fallen, winterberry hollies are putting on quite a show in roadside wetlands everywhere. Their abundant and brilliant red berries are as beautiful to us as they must appear to the fruit eating birds that remain in our area for the winter.

Besides the hollies, several other species of trees and shrubs offer a bountiful food resource to local birds who seem pay for their meals by then disbursing seeds widely across the countryside. Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and even Eastern Bluebirds will feed on hollies, juniper berries, rose hips, crab-apples, and oriental bittersweet—all of which will help them survive the challenging winter weather ahead.

Red Fox

Although the birds remain active all winter long, woodchucks have all disappeared by this date and chipmunks will only come out on warm days. Many mammals, including river otters, remain active all winter long. Once we receive a good snowfall, a walk out to the boardwalk will reveal how popular the frozen wetlands are as wild animals take advantage of the newly available travel routes across the ice.

December offers a lot of fantastic reasons to get out and enjoy the beautiful outdoors, particularly at night. The Geminids meteor shower reaches its peak on December 13. If you have ever been thrilled by the sight of a “falling star” moving across the night sky, consider making plans to view the Geminids. Although this spectacle can be hit or miss, the memory of watching multiple “shooting stars” zip across the night sky will last a lifetime.

A full moon may impede views of the Geminids this year

This year does provide a challenge, though, as this preeminent meteor shower coincides with the full “Cold Moon” on December 12. The best viewing may happen in the two days after (December 13 and 14) during that window of time after the sun sets and before the moon has a chance to rise above the horizon.

If the Geminids don’t happen to light up the sky, the full moon offers reason enough to get outside for a nighttime stroll. The shortest day of the year—the Winter Solstice—will occur on December 21. For many people across the northern hemisphere, it’s a time to rejoice as the hours of sunlight start to grow longer each day.

We hope to see out on the trails in the coming weeks!

Bench looking out over a snowy field at Stony Brook

Holiday Greetings from Us to You!

It’s that time of the year when we take a moment to reflect upon our place in the community and how fortunate we are to be stewards of this property we all love. However, more than anything, it’s the people who make Stony Brook special that we’d like to celebrate.

The volunteers, of course, who do remarkable things for us every day, come to mind immediately. But so do our regular visitors whose stories we come to know and whose daily lives we participate in vicariously, whether painfully or joyously or even matter-of-factly.

And then there are those occasional bursts of energy who happen by the sanctuary unpredictably: artists and photographers; bike-riders crossing the country; runners with great thirst; former residents recalling their past; philosophers looking for reflection and space; families needing a break from the routine; workers and businessmen and women seeking a change of pace.

Thank you for reminding us of the beauty which is always here to inspire and enlighten. Happy holidays!

~The Stony Brook Staff

Dark-eyed Junco on a snowy pine branch

What to Look For – November 2019

Stone wall at Stony Brook covered in fallen leaves

November is a time of transition around Stony Brook. Most of the leaves on our deciduous trees will have fallen (or at least turned brown), opening and expanding views into the landscape and exposing both bird and insect nests that had remained safely hidden all summer long.

Of course, this is also the month when we “fall back.” On November 3, we’ll shift our schedules one hour earlier to account for the change in Daylight Savings Time. Coupled with shorter days, the time change means we’ll start spending more time outside around dusk and after the sun has set. Keep an eye out for winter moths fluttering about during your travels late in the day. Only the males can fly, but their abundance may foreshadow the intensity of their damage to our forest next spring.

The local bird populations change, too. With fall migration largely complete, the mix of species around us has transitioned from birds that breed in Massachusetts to those that overwinter here. We typically enjoy an influx of ducks such as Green-winged Teal and Bufflehead in November, both of which travel from their breeding grounds in the Far North to more hospitable wintering grounds further south.

Toward the end of the month and into December, Great Blue Herons will become scarce as the ponds and wetlands begin freezing up, depriving them of their hunting grounds. Insect eating birds like Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows will be gone, replaced in part by seed eating sparrow species like White-throated, Fox, Chipping, and American Tree. Dark-eyed Juncos will also start returning from their breeding grounds to spend the winter visiting our feeders.

That said, we still look forward to enjoying a few more beautiful fall days before the onset of winter, and November should have more than its share. For the time being, you can still favor your hiking boots over your snow boots. Enjoy!


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

Party attendees taking photos during lunch

Stony Brook Camera Club Celebrates 50 Years

Earlier this month, the Stony Brook Camera Club assembled its membership, past and present, on the grounds of the sanctuary to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Founded in 1969, the SBCC seeks to promote enjoyment and proficiency in all aspects of photography through education, mutual exchange of knowledge and experience, and a broad appreciation of the natural environment. While the club has grown enormously over the last decade and no longer meets at Stony Brook, it still considers the sanctuary to be its home.

Two of the club’s founders, John Fuller and Roy Marshall, attended the celebration and exchanged stories and photos with more than 100 current SBCC members. The event featured lunch out on the grounds behind the Nature Center, a photo exchange in the Program Room, a talk on Mindful Photography, and an antique car display for photo backdrops.

The anniversary party was full of energy and excitement. And it just so happened to fall on one of those quintessential autumn days in New England, when the sun and the air and the foliage all combine to make us glad that we have places like Stony Brook for inspiration and retreat.

If you’re interested in joining the Stony Brook Camera Club, or would like more information, please visit the SBCC website.

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!