Category Archives: Natural History

Inspiring curiosity, creativity and more with Barry Van Dusen: A Day with the Wild at Art Travel Camp

Our inaugural travel week at the Wild at Art Summer Camp has just wrapped up. From July 9 to July 13, our travel program included visits to Barry Van Dusen’s art studio for an inside look at his craft and a short trip to Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary to paint and sketch with Barry in the field. It was wonderful to see all the campers inspired by a true master artist and wonderful person. Enjoy this short video of the day.

We also visited World’s End in Hingham, travel by ferry to Peddock’s Island in Boston Harbor, visited the Roger Williams Zoo, had ice cream at Crescent Ridge, and visted the amazing Nature Lab at Rhode Island Institute of Design

Nature in a minute: Highlights from Bird-a-thon

Nature in a minute…wood duck selfie from our trail camera

Nature in a minute to start off the week of April 9, 2018. We’ve had wood ducks spotted at the vernal pool 4 times over the past week. Here are a few wonderful new trail camera videos showing the wood ducks. They spent over three hours in the vernal pool on Saturday morning, April, 7, 2018. If you listen closely to the black and white video (it’s take at dawn ~5:15 am) you can hear the wood ducks talking to one another, it sounds a little bit like zippers opening and closing. Enjoy the following three videos.

 

 

Wood ducks in our vernal pool…Nature in a minute

Our vernal pools have been bursting with life this spring. Spotted salamanders and wood frogs have migrated into our vernal pools in the last week or two.

Wood frog in our main vernal pool calling and looking for mates.

Last week, I placed a trail camera on the edge of the vernal pool trying to record spotted salamanders visiting the pool during big night, which is the night – usually after or during a rainfall – that most salamanders migrate to the vernal pool to mate and lay eggs. I didn’t capture any video of the spotted salamanders, but I was able to photograph spotted salamanders in the pool the following morning.

 The trail camera did pick up some really really exciting activity, a pair wood ducks on April 2 and April 3 using the vernal pool and checking out the wood duck. Enjoy the videos. I really love the one from 4:50 am on April 3 because of all the beautiful bird songs, fog, and serene sense of solitude that dawn always brings in the spring.

Wood Ducks on April 3, 2018

Wood Ducks on April 2, 2018

 

Drawing Owls from Life on Saturday April 7

Have you wanted to look closely at and draw a live Great Horned Owl or Barn Owl? Our Drawing Owls from Live program is a unique opportunity to learn about these amazing creatures in an intimate and beautiful setting. This program will take place in the Museum of American Bird Art from 10:30 am to 12:00 pm on Saturday, April 7th. 

Check out this video from a similar program for homeschool students that took place in February 2018. This will give you a good sense of how close you will be to the Owls, how the program is organized, and our beautiful museum space where the program will take place.

During this class, you will sketch live owls in our beautiful Museum of American Bird Art. Discover more about these amazing creatures from a trained Mass Audubon naturalist, while you learn to draw owls from life with pencil and paper in this hands-on workshop led by a trained Mass Audubon art educator. You will explore methods for developing your owl sketch, as well as techniques for capturing depth, volume, and texture. This program will take place in the Museum of American Bird Art from 10:30 am to 12:00 pm on Saturday, April 7th. 

Wood Ducks…Nature in a minute

As a flock of robins “swarmed” in the pine grove, bright red male cardinals sung from the tallest trees, and fairy shrimp emerged from the vernal pool, a flock six wood ducks flew into the maple, oak, and pine trees above our vernal pool on the morning of February 28. Nature can be so wonderful!

I was fortunate enough to have my camera with me and I was able to capture a few pictures and one short movie of these amazing creatures. Enjoy this brief glimpse into the hidden world of the wildlife in our sanctuary.

Watch and listen to the wood ducks chattering to one another high up in the trees.

 

The following are more photos of the wood ducks in the wildlife sanctuary. 

 

 

 

Signs of Spring…Nature in a Minute

Over the past weekend, male red-winged blackbirds have returned to set up and defend breeding territories, the evening displays and buzzing songs of the male woodcock have brightened up evening hikes, and flocks of robins have descended in our pine sanctuary “vacuuming” up insects emerging as the world warms and sun shines just a little bit longer each day.

 

This post is a short video and photo essay of one of our earliest signs of spring, the emergence of eastern skunk cabbage. Since late January, these spring sentinels have been emerging by the Pequit Brook in Canton and next to a wetland near the meadow by the museum.

Pequit Brook

As I’ve looked closer at skunk cabbage, I’ve been amazed at the diversity of color exhibited by skunk cabbage and wanted to share that with you. Enjoy the following photos and videos of skunk cabbage emerging at the Pequit Brook.

Skunk Cabbage and the Babbling Pequit Brook

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

The otters of Trowel Shop Pond

You never know what you will see when you are lucky enough when nature revels itself. At the beginning of February, three otters have been quite visible during the day at Trowel Shop Pond in Sharon, which is about 5 minutes away from the Museum of American Bird Art.

Trowel Shop Pond, Sharon

What started off as a big black blob on the ice as Sean Kent, the education coordinator, drove home from work on Friday, February 2nd, and turned the car around on the hunch that the blob was an otter, has turned into a magical window into the hidden lives of otters. Enjoy this photo essay that gives you a glimpse into the lives of these three otters that have been at Trowel Shop Pond during the week of February 2 to February 9, 2018.

Otter hauled out on the ice. Notice the distinct pattern of water on the ice. These ice holes and freshly frozen areas are characteristics of otters. Look for them on ponds near you that have flowing water.

Smile, I’m ready for my close up. This otter just finished eating a blue gill, but was having trouble getting it down.

Fresh Catch!

Otter hauled out eating a sunfish

All three otters playing in the snow

Spice is nice: Nature Notes from the Sanctuary

Wow, it’s been a hot, dry summer at the Museum of American Bird Art, yet, life keeps on living in our streams, pine forests, and meadows. Animals explore our meadow, monarch caterpillars chomp on milkweed growing in our fields, and fishers saunter through our pine forest. Here are a few highlights from the past couple of months.

A coyote drops by for a quick visit

Coyote

Coyote

Every morning, hundreds of bumblebees and native bees buzz through our recently planted native plant meadow collecting pollen and nectar from partridge pea, great blue lobelia, sunflowers, and much more. Last year, no bees buzzed or goldfinches ate seeds because the meadow was a mowed lawn. _SMK5573In April 2016, we removed all the lawn in front of our bird and photography blind and planted approximately 26,000 native plant seeds and 72 native plant seedlings. The new meadow should also greatly improve the photography opportunities at our blind because of  increased cover for birds visiting the feeders. For example, this past week, we had over 50 migratory sparrows, including Chipping Sparrows and Song Sparrows, feeding on the abundant seeds in the newly planted meadow.

Check out a few pictures of our meadow in the making, with help from our homeschool classes too!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Monarch Caterpillars

If you walked through our meadow on a daily basis, it would seem that the monarch population was hurting in Canton because I only saw two monarch butterflies this entire summer. However, we’ve had lots of sneaky monarch butterflies because we’ve had lots of caterpillars chowing down on the milkweed in the sanctuary. Check out these pictures.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail

_SMK3225

Not a snake, but a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

The Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly is a fascinating creature that belongs to an extremely diverse group of butterflies, including the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Black Swallowtail you may see flying around or munching on the parsley in your garden (black swallowtail caterpillar).

Sam Jaffe's photograph of a Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Top), Black Swallowtail (Middle), and Spicebush Swallowtail (Bottom). Learn more at: http://www.thecaterpillarlab.org/single-post/2015/12/01/SPICEBUSH-SWALLOWTAIL

Sam Jaffe’s photograph of a Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Top), Black Swallowtail (Middle), and Spicebush Swallowtail (Bottom). Learn more at: http://www.thecaterpillarlab.org/single-post/2015/12/01/SPICEBUSH-SWALLOWTAIL

As an adult, the spicebush swallowtail will drink nectar from many plant species. Caterpillars eat leaves from plants in the Laural family (Lauraceae). The two species in Massachusetts are it’s namesake Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), which typically grows in wet habitats, and Sassafras (Sassafras albidum). 

_SMK5583

This spring and summer we were extremely fortunate to have many Spicebush Swallowtails gliding through the dappled light of our pine forests. During our summer camp, many kids collected and cared for spicebush caterpillars and watched their development from egg to butterfly.

Spicebush caterpillars have amazing adaptations to scare or deter predators. They secrete chemicals from their horns (osmeteria) that have been reported to deter ants (Eisner and Meinwald 1965).  Spicebush caterpillars also mimic bird droppings as early instar caterpillars and mimic snakes and tree frogs during their late instars to deter bird predation. Enjoy a few photos from this past summer.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To learn more about this amazing species, you can find a species description from Mass Audubon and a fantastic indepth article by the University of Florida’s entomology department. 

Beautiful Wildflowers

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Amazing Insects

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

References:

Eisner T, Meinwald YC. 1965. Defensive secretion of a caterpillar (Papilio). Science 150: 1733-1735

 

Blooming slippers, climbing fishers, swooping swallows, and more

Natural History Notes for May & June

Although we are tucked right into the heart of suburban Canton, amazing natural history moments, capable of inspiring awe and wonder, pop up everyday on our wildlife sanctuary. The sanctuary has been bursting with life and activity over the past two month and here are a few of the highlights.

First ever sighting of a fisher (Martes pennanti)

During our spring Ecology and Art homeschool class, our students were lucky enough to witness three fishers sauntering through the forest and then bounding up several trees. It was a spectacular sighting.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A wave of migrating birds

This spring Owen Cunningham, our property manager, and Sean Kent started a series of Friday morning natural history hikes that coincided with a fantastic wave of migrants, including many warblers.

Magnolia Warbler

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

YellowBilledCuckoo-1

Wilson’s Warbler

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Birds have been busy building nests and caring for their fledglings

We have several pairs of nesting orioles, including one pair that has nested in the trees behind our bird blind, and their babies have recently fledged. During the last week of June, the Mulberry tree by our offices has produced copious amounts of ripe fruits that have been fattening up many species of birds on the sanctuary.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Nesting Tree Swallows

This spring we have been lucky to host several pairs of nesting tree swallows. It’s been marvelous to witness the tree swallows raise their young, defend their nests against house wren intrusion, and grace the meadow with their majestic flight.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pink Lady’s Slipper

Every spring, starting in the middle of May and extending to early June, pink lady’s slippers, a majestic orchid, that thrives in acidic soils of our pine forest, emerge and bloom throughout the sanctuary.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hunting Hawks

The populations of chipmunks, red squirrels, and lots of other little critters have exploded thanks to a super abundant crop of acorns this past fall.

RedTailedHawk-1

Red-tailed Hawk

Flowering plants in our meadow, bird garden,
and new native pollinator garden

Pollinators, including many native bees, have been taking advantage of all the species of flowering plants that have been blooming on our sanctuary. False indigo (Baptista australis) bloomed in early June and had many species of butterflies, bumblebees, leaf cutting bees, and mining bees collecting pollen and nectar from the flowers. Check out two videos of a bumblebee collecting pollen and nectar from a few flowers.

FalseIndigo-1

False indigo from the bird garden at the Museum of American Bird Art

 

Skipper gathering nectar from a False Indigo flower

Skipper gathering nectar from a False Indigo flower