Author Archives: Jessica W

Focus on Fauna: The Beavers of Stony Brook

Ski gloves: check.

Down jacket: check.

Insulated boots: check.

At first glance around Mass Audubon’s Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary and Bristol Blake State Reservation on a day like this, it’s hard to believe any creature is still puttering around out there. The entire landscape is buried under a thick blanket of snow, and every pond is frozen and frosted with its own layer of flakes.  There’s almost no sign of anything stirring, with the exception of the footprints of a few intrepid nature lovers.

All’s quiet on the western front. Or possibly eastern. My internal compass is…not accurate. (Photo by Jessy B)

But life in this frozen landscape persists, and it does so without gloves or boots or jackets.  For the beavers of Stony Brook and Bristol Blake, on a day like this it’s just business as usual. I can’t see them, but I know the beavers are awake and busy—most notably by the fact that they’ve already dammed up a spillway that I cleared just two weeks before.

Two weeks ago. (Photo by Jessy B)

This week. Come on, guys. (Photo by Jessy B)

I’ve been volunteering for Stony Brook a few months now, drawn to the idea of learning more about my natural surroundings firsthand and keenly interested in helping to preserve and protect our remaining open spaces. I’ve come to learn a great deal about the plant and animal residents of this lovely place—and if I had to name the star players of this corner of marshland, I would choose the beavers.  Intelligent, industrious, and mischievous, the beavers play a fascinating role within their ecosystem.

When it comes to staying warm and fed through the winter months, beavers have their strategy down pat. The beavers’ home, called a lodge, is a dome-shaped structure built from tightly woven branches and plants, reinforced with insulating mud. The dome is ventilated by a primary hole at the top of the dome, along with any small gaps that remain in the walls of the lodge.

Within the lodge lies a chamber above the water line where the beaver family will sleep and huddle for warmth. All those furry bodies, combined with the thick mud and wood walls, means that the inside of the lodge stays significantly warmer than the outside air—studies have shown that even when the outside temperature falls well below freezing, the inside of a beaver lodge will remain at about 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lodges are often built in the middle of ponds, and will typically include at least one underwater entrance. Frankly, diving into icy water every time you want to get to your living room doesn’t seem that appealing to me—but the beavers have that covered, too. The beavers’ fur is thick and naturally oily, creating a warm, waterproof layer for the aquatic rodents.  For a great illustration on what a beaver lodge looks like see this link.

The beaver lodge (mound in center of photo) at Bristol Pond, buried under snow. (Photo by Jessy B)

So the beavers are warm, snuggly, and super busy damming up perfectly good spillway that were just minding their own business—but what are they eating to fuel all of this activity?

During the fall, before snow and ice claim the landscape, beavers get to work creating a food stash for the winter months. After cutting branches from the trees, the beavers drag these nutritious sticks underwater, where they jam them into the pond bottom to prevent them from floating or flowing away. By the time the pond freezes, these industrious creatures have stockpiled enough food to see them through the winter. While adult beavers slow their metabolic rate during the cold months to conserve energy, young beavers are still growing and will rely on this submerged pile of sticks for a dependable food source. The beaver’s wide, flat tail can also store fat, which it can then use for energy while food is scarce (similar to the bricks of ramen noodles I keep in my pantry, for when I forget to buy groceries).

I decide it’s finally time to go when I can no longer feel my fingers. Upon returning home, I kick off my snow-caked boots, hunker down with a mug of hot chocolate, and peruse Netflix. My own little lodge isn’t made from sticks and mud, but it is full of furry animals–and that makes it pretty darn cozy.

Want to learn more about the beavers of Bristols Pond?  Visit Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary and Bristol Blake State Reservation, or find out how to get involved.

Focus on Fauna written by Jessy, Stony Brook’s trail maintenance volunteer and general outdoor enthusiast. 

Pollinators and You

Can you recall the days of sun and leisure in your gardens during the summer? Have you been left with the impression that the hum of honeybees and the beauty of a floating monarchs are happening with less frequency? You are not alone. It is a fact that our native pollinators are in decline nationally and worldwide. Pollinators are in need of our help to maintain and create a biodiverse habitat in which they can thrive. Approximately 1/3 of our food is dependent on pollination. This is an effort that goes well beyond protecting a species. It involves ensuring a food supply and protecting a way of life. You can make a difference and participate in statewide initiatives to protect our pollinators, our land and ultimately our own well-being.

Milkweed sp. Attracts bumblebees, insects, and butterflies, and is a host plant for the monarch butterfly • Blooms in summer and early fall         Photo by Teune at the English language Wikipedia

Stony Brook’s efforts to protect the biodiversity of open space and the pollinators who inhabit it have been on-going and typically volunteer centric. Over 3 years ago, for example, The Garden Club of Norfolk adopted and nurtured a variety of plantings at Stony Brook’s once overgrown and ineffective Butterfly Garden. As a means to attract our native butterfly populations, Club members incorporated many plantings within the garden that are both a caterpillar host and butterfly nectar source. Every week from early spring until late fall, the gardeners meet in the Butterfly Garden to weed, water and prune the plantings always looking for additional volunteers. Their efforts have been recognized with awards and grants from many organizations such as Massachusetts Gardener Association, New England Region of State Garden Clubs and the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts. Stony Brook’s Butterfly Garden is also an official Monarch Waystation and Certified Butterfly Garden by the North American Butterfly Association.

Hummingbird Moth

Future plans for increasing biodiversity at Stony Brook include establishing a field of native plantings and improving established gardens to provide habitats for our pollinators and native wildlife. Continuing the removal of invasive and exotic plantings are also an important steps towards creating a diverse habitat. What can you do to protect and restore pollinators and their habitats? Start by choosing plants in your yard that attract pollinators. Research our native bee populations and how you might be able to create a bee home. Fill out an application and join the Stony Brook volunteer team.  We believe our efforts, no matter how small, are making a difference. It all starts with one simple step towards a common goal.  Hope to see you at Stony Brook!

Vacation Week Fun At Stony Brook

Staying home for vacation weeks Tuesday, February 21st-Friday, February 24th or Tuesday, April 18th-Friday, April 21st with your 5 to 12-year-old? Looking for an enrichment program for your homeschooler?

Sign up for a day or all four days of Stony Brook’s vacation week programs (9am-3:30pm) as each day has a different theme. Your child could explore chemistry and create an edible science project. Or solve a “track mystery” with their new-found knowledge of track patterns.  The fun and adventure are limitless.

If your child enjoys exploring the natural world, using their imagination, creating crafts and participating in ooey-gooey fun these vacation week classes are for them. Stony Brook knows how to make learning fun! Call the sanctuary at (508) 528-3140 to register or sign up online.

Purple Martins and Stony Brook

Purple martins and Stony Brook? Not an automatic connection for most of our visitors, but sanctuary director, Doug Williams, and volunteer, Madeleine Linck, hope it will become one. About nine years ago, the purple martin house was erected in the front field in hopes that America’s largest swallow, the purple martin, would rear a new generation. Finally, after 5 years or more, the Purple Martins began to use the specially designed house as home base for their young.  For years, this is where the story ended…until last spring.


Current purple martin house at rest for the winter

Madeleine Linck, former wildlife technician at Three Rivers Park District in Minnesota, came to Stony Brook, attracted to the sanctuary because of the nesting purple martins. Madeleine was moving to Massachusetts and hoped to help monitor the purple martin house. Based on her former experience monitoring the MN district’s purple martin nesting sites, Madeleine became the lead in instructing volunteers in the fine art of checking the housing. By late summer of last year, Madeleine and her trained volunteers had identified active nests raising young and/or witnessed fledglings.

Male purple martin By Ingrid Taylar

Currently, on Madeleine’s recommendation, the sanctuary is hoping to provide an ideal gourd housing option for the growing population of purple martins. The gourds are more attractive to the purple martins and are much less accessible to predators. The sanctuary is hosting a free program for those who would like to learn more about purple martins, Wednesday, April 19th at 7:00pm. Of course, Stony Brook is home to many other discoveries and opportunities for you to explore. Hope to see you at the sanctuary soon!

Stony Brook Stewardship Sunday, January 8th at 1pm

Curious about how you can make a difference with only a couple of hours to spare this weekend? Join the Stewardship Volunteer Crew at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary this Sunday, January 8th at 1pm and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the open fields and wetlands in Norfolk.  Come and work beside other volunteers who share a common desire to protect and care for our wild spaces.


Removal of Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) vine by volunteers, Connor Kenney (left) and George Darrell (right)

There will be a something sweet to eat and a warm welcome for you inside the sanctuary upon arrival this Sunday, January 8th at 1pm. Matt O’Neil, sanctuary property manager, will lead the team and provide a brief training and explanation of the task for the day that may include removal of invasives.

By Vilseskogen

Berries of Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora) Photo By Vilseskogen

Stony Brook Stewardship Day is an opportunity to learn more about our natural world. Perspective of our landscape becomes better informed as we come to learn about invasives such as the multiflora rose that will take over the natural habitat of our fields if not managed. Learn more about Mass Audubon’s management of invasive species and if your own backyard is host to these alien invaders.


Busy As A Beaver At Stony Brook…

Photo by Cheryl Reynolds, Courtesy of Worth a Dam

Photo by Cheryl Reynolds, Courtesy of Worth a Dam

Ever noticed the dams that are being built at both spillways surrounding the Stony Brook Pond? Miss the closer vantage point the boardwalk provided of the beaver lodge? Have you met the Sunday afternoon’s “Nature Answer Lady” and learned all about the beavers that reside at Stony Brook? Curious to discover their latest creation?  Come to Stony Brook!



Beaver Lodge at southern tip of Bristol Blake Pond

Discover the beaver lodge recently identified at the southern tip of Bristol Blake pond in the wooded trail system (entry sign is at the exit of parking lot across North Street).  Be sure to visit the Exploratorium inside the nature center to see a mounted beaver used for our educational purposes.  Most Sundays after 1pm, Carol, aka “Nature Answer Lady”, will be inside the nature center to show you and yours artifacts of our resident beavers and explain some of their behavior.


Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon

Stony Brook volunteers, mark your calendars! Saturday, January 11th, 2017, at 12 noon, the sanctuary staff would like to honor our volunteers and their service to Stony Brook.  Whether you have contributed 2 or 200 hours toward Stony Brook’s operation, make sure to come to this special event.


Teal Marsh vista from the first spillway. Photo taken by volunteer, Jessy Billman.

At this luncheon, you will meet other volunteers who share similar values of land protection, education, and conservation advocacy while enjoying a light meal provided by our staff.  Those volunteers who have dedicated over 50 hours in 2016 are specially honored with a Mass Audubon Volunteer ID card.  This card will grant the card holder to free admission to all Mass Audubon sanctuary sites as well as reduced or free admission to participating cultural institutions.

There will be more specifics regarding the events at the luncheon to follow.  Please be sure to mark the date on your new 2017 calendars!  If you are interested in joining the volunteer team and working toward earning your own Volunteer ID card, learn more here.  Happy Holidays and hope to see you at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary soon.

Stony Brook Bird Club’s Christmas Stroll, Saturday, December 31st

Ever wonder what birds brave the Northeastern winters?  Would you like to enjoy a leisure walk and learn more about these hardy winter birds with others who share similar interests?  Join the Stony Brook Bird Club who have met at the sanctuary every Saturday following Christmas for over 44 years!

by: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

Cedar Waxwing by: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

Walk the sanctuary grounds with members who can point out some of those hardy winter birds by both sound and sight! Bundle up, pack up a thermos of hot coffee and meet at 8:30 am, Saturday, December 31st. Look out for Bill Marland, the Christmas count leader. His stories alone are well worth coming out that morning.  You do not need to be a member of the Stony Brook Birding Club to participate in the Christmas Stroll.

Dark-eyed Junco By Ken Thomas via Wikimedia Commons

Dark-eyed Junco By Ken Thomas via Wikimedia Commons

Please post any photos and comments of the birds that you were fortunate to see on your visit to this blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.



Carolina Wren By William H. Majoros (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Carolina Wren By William H. Majoros (Own work)
via Wikimedia Commons




Want to learn more about some of our more common winter birds?  We hope to see you at the Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, Saturday, December 31st at 8:30am.

Stony Brook Stewardship Sunday, December 11, 2016

Have the holiday errands got you stressed out and all you want to do is get outside and feel like you are contributing to a greater good?  Thinking about volunteering but cannot commit to a set schedule yet?


Can you find the wheel barrel in the photo under all the invasive plant cuttings?

Come to Stony Brook THIS Sunday, December 11th at 1pm for a drop-in Volunteer Stewardship Day. Work with a staff member and fellow volunteers who will head out onto the trails and make sure that sanctuary guests have a fun and rewarding experience on the trails by removing impediments, clearing invasives, and spreading ground cover.


Volunteer Jessy Billman making repairs to Stony Brook’s Sensory Trail.

If you cannot make this weekend, set your calendars for our next Volunteer Stewardship Day, Sunday, January 8th, 1pm till 3pm.  We hope to see you outside at Stony Brook this Sunday!  Feel free to contact us if you would like to apply for a more regular volunteer experience.  



Volunteer Spotlight: Al and Paula Jesness

Welcome to Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary’s blog! Ever wondered what goes on at the sanctuary when the hum of summer hustle bustle has gone? Wanted to volunteer but not sure if or how you might be able to serve? Let this blog serve as your connection to Stony Brook during these quiet winter months and beyond. Please participate in the blog by leaving a comment or question and we will be sure to answer.

Stony Brook is not the sanctuary it is without the dedication and devotion of its volunteers.  We hope you will enjoy meeting some of the volunteers highlighted in our blog’s Volunteer’s Spotlight posts as you consider how you would like to begin or expand your own volunteer experience.

Al and Paula Jesness are a husband and wife volunteer team that has been profoundly instrumental in facilitating the behind the scenes operation of Stony Brook. Beginning as a volunteer over 25 years ago, Paula has served on the Sanctuary Committee for over 9 years.


Al and Paula Jesness

Paula has participated in the growth and development of the sanctuary’s All Person Sensory Trail and has recruited volunteers like Madeleine Linck, a Purple Martin Society member and advocate for the sanctuary’s current population. Paula’s hard work and organizational skills have also helped to ensure a successful Fall Fair for years by soliciting sponsorship and donations.  Volunteering at the front desk, Paula’s warm and welcoming personality left all she met with a positive and lasting memory of the sanctuary.

Al has worked as a Volunteer Service Day leader, organizing, orienting and inspiring our drop-in summer trail maintenance crew. With an eye for detail and patience to match, Al has also spread the beauty of Stony Brook far and wide, with one of his photos being printed in the March 20, 2014 issue of USA Today. You might want to check out a video of a resident Great Blue Heron’s successful fish hunt Al captured last summer as well. Al’s passion and skills for woodworking have also been put to use when, for the last few years, he hosted a craft table at the Fall Fair and last year ran a public program on building birdhouses.


2014 Stony Brook wintertime landscape photographed by Al Jesness and printed in March 20, 2014 issue of USA Today,”Your Take” section

Even the new deck off the sanctuary building overlooking Stony Brook pond deserves some thanks to Al who put in several 8 hour days to help keep the construction on schedule. No task is too great for these two, and they’re not afraid to get a little dirty as well, as evidenced by their working alongside The Garden Club of Norfolk in the sanctuary’s butterfly garden, offering their own gardening expertise and muscle.

The Jesness family are an example of the difference we can all make if we share our own strengths and passions. Consider joining our volunteer team and take on a sanctuary project.  See what you can do to help Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary.