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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Leave the long lines, crowds, and hunting for a parking spot to others on this Black Friday and join REI and Mass Audubon for our OptOutside campaign, a “Green Friday” of discovery outdoors.
Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary is one of many Mass Audubon locations that will be hosting or setting up self-guided activities this Friday, November 25, 2016.
Education Coordinator Marla Cohen has created a scavenger hunt to add more challenge to your walk along our beautifully groomed, half-mile Pond Loop trail. Look for the scavenger cards and crayon supplies on the porch of the sanctuary building. For those both young and old, Marla has left a trail of “leaves” camouflaged along the path filled with fun activities on your self-guided walk.
Come to Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary this Friday, enjoy your walk with friends and family and share your photos with us by posting to #OptOutside #MassAudubon, on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram
Enjoy your Thanksgiving with friends and family and hope to see you outside!