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.

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.