Category Archives: Birds & Wildlife

Group taking nature hike across boardwalk in March

What to Look For – March 2020

March in New England can mean deep snows and cold temperatures . . . or greening meadows and thawing ponds. Every year is different.

Spring migrants are already making their way north from wintering grounds in Central and South America. A few species like Tree Swallows, Great Blue Herons, and Eastern Phoebes may even start arriving early in the month.

This is also the time when many of our native trees begin showing signs of growth. Although the warming climate has the sap in our Sugar Maples rising earlier and earlier in the season, the buds on Red Maples and Pussy Willows continue swelling with each passing warm day.

In past years we’ve recorded our first observation of Osprey by the end of March. From there, the signs of spring become increasingly apparent as the days continue to lengthen.

For a broader overview of what to expect when venturing outside each month, we highly recommend Mass Audubon’s monthly Outdoor Almanac. You’ll get information about everything from phases of the moon to potential wildlife sightings!

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!

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!

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!

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!

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.


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.