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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.