Category Archives: Nature in a minute

Nature in a Minute: Bracken Fern

Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) is easy to identify. It has one main stem with three triangular leaves branching from the stem. The leaves (fronds) radiate horizontally from the main stem.

Bracken fern grows to three feet in height.  It’s one of the earliest ferns to come up in the spring.  It grows in large colonies along roadsides and trails in dry woodlands.  The Latin name refers to the shape of the fronds that look like wings. Pteridium for pteron,  meaning wing. Aguilinum for aquila meaning eagle.  

Bracken fern grows in the drier, upland part of MABA’s main loop trail.

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

Nature in a Minute: New York Fern

New York ferns (Thelypteris noveboracensis) are one of the smallest ferns. They are only 18 inches in height. The frond of New York fern is tapered at both ends. Notice how the leaflets are very tiny at the bottom, get wider in the middle, then are smaller at the top.  

New York ferns grow in small clusters. They prefer a sunny spot in the woods or edges of moist meadows.  

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

Nature in a Minute: Callahan State Park, Framingham, June 12, 2020 by Deborah Stone

This post is by Deborah Stone, a good friend of MABA.

Just as I came down a trail to the edge of Beebe Pond, a Great Blue Heron landed about 20 feet ahead of me. It froze in classic heron statue pose—until I spooked it by lifting my binoculars. Then it alighted for safer territory. Perfect timing. Whenever I see a heron, I can’t resist stopping to watch it catch dinner, and I was beyond ready for a break and lunch. I leaned my butt on a rock with an indent that felt custom made and found the heron farther out in the pond

Holding half a PB&J in my right hand and binocs in my left, I watched the heron stalk— slowly, deliberately, intently. I didn’t have its patience and took a large bite of my sandwich. It felt rude to eat before everyone had their dinner, so I willed my chewing to reach the heron as a kind of telepathic aid to success. Karma didn’t take long to work. The heron thrust its head down and came up with a large fish. Quite the morsel but how to get it down the gullet? The fish was crosswise in the heron’s beak, flapping its tail wildly, trying to escape. 

Five times the heron lowered its head behind some grasses, presumably to maneuver the fish into a better position. After the second, third and fourth time, when the heron lifted its head again, the fish was still crosswise, but after the fourth time, I could see that it was lifeless. After the fifth time, the beak came up with the fish still crosswise. The heron gave a little head toss and Bingo! Straight on, down the hatch. I thought I saw a bulge in the heron’s neck, something like the snake that swallowed a mouse in Le Petit Prince. I estimated it took a full minute from the time of capture to the time dinner was ready. 

I couldn’t see what culinary tricks the heron performed while it had its head down, but I can guess. At Hall’s Pond Sanctuary in Brookline, I once saw a heron make a catch far too large to fit down its throat. It flew to the pond’s edge and dropped the fish on the ground. There, it pecked at the fish to subdue it, then picked it up and carried it to another spot where there was a large flat rock. I watched the heron stab away at the fish, ripping a bite here and there. Eventually, the remaining piece of fish was down to a manageable size. 

Here at Beebe Pond, the water was shallow. I couldn’t see whether there was a hummock or a rock to serve as a butcher block, but I’m guessing the heron found a way to disable the fish without letting it loose in the water. Perhaps the heron held part of the fish on the pond bottom with one foot while using its beak as a pincers. I could try to find answers in a book or on YouTube, but I prefer trying to solve nature’s mysteries with wonder instead of science. 

I was only part way through my half sandwich when the heron caught its next fish. This one was somewhat smaller. This time, too, the heron had caught the fish crosswise in its beak. This time, though, the heron flipped the fish parallel to its beak and swallowed, all in about three seconds. Dessert always goes down easier, doesn’t it?

Note: Photos were not taken during these observations, but are illustrative of the events.

Nature in a Minute: Royal Fern

Royal Ferns (Osmunda regalis) are the largest ferns, growing to a height of 4-6 feet. The leaves are erect and branch-like. Because of its imposing size it’s Latin species name is regalis, royal.

These ferns love to have their roots wet. They grow along streams and in boggy areas all over New England.  This Royal Fern is growing right in Pequit Brook on the MABA sanctuary trail.

The fertile leaves of Royal Ferns are clustered in a dense bunch, taller than the other leaves. Millions of microscopic spores are released from these fertile leaves. The spores are green when they first appear and turn brown as they ripen. 

Nature in a Minute: Sensitive Fern

Sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis) are medium to large size. The leaves are broad, almost triangular in shape. They are not as lacy as other ferns. When the first frost occurs in late fall, the Sensitive fern turns brown and withers quickly. That’s the reason for its sensitive name.

Sensitive ferns form a unique fertile fronds. In late summer a stalk appears with bead-like spore cases. These turn brown and persist all winter, long after the leaves are gone. In the spring millions of spores are released.

You can find Sensitive ferns on the MABA loop trail and in the wet meadow near the gallery.

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

Nature in a Minute: The Cinnamon Fern

Ferns are an ancient family of plants. They were growing on Earth 360 million years ago. They are older than land animals and even dinosaurs. You can find ferns growing on the trails at MABA and in damp woods near where you live. Ferns do not have flowers like other plants. They reproduce in a unique way, by tiny spores that are blown by the wind and carried by water. Ferns are at their peak in early summer when the part of the plant that produces the spores is most easy to see. This is the first in a series on recognizing ferns in the woods. 

Cinnamon Fern  (Osmunda cinnamomea)

Cinnamon ferns grow in a circular vase-like form. The leaves grow to three feet or taller. The fertile leaves that hold the spores are green at first, soon turning to cinnamon- brown. The brown fertile leaf resembles a stick of cinnamon, thus the name Cinnamon fern.

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

Nature in a Minute: What’s blooming on MABA trails – Starflower

Trails at the Museum of American Bird Art in Canton are open.  Come walk the Main Loop trail and look for these wildflowers.

Starflower   (Trientalis borealis)

The delicate white flowers grow on sturdy little stems above the whorl of leaves. The Latin name for Starflower refers to its size and location. Trientalis means one-third of a foot.  Starflowers grow low to the ground to a height of about 4 inches.  The species name borealis refers to north. Starflowers are abundant in the northern United States.

Starflowers form floral constellations on woodland trails in springtime. This cluster of three Starflowers reminds me of the constellation Orion which is easy to find by three bright stars that create Orion’s Belt. 

Starflower   (Trientalis borealis)

Orion  Constellation 

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

Nature Notes for Orchard Cove: May 28, 2020

SUPPORT OUR WORK and Donate to the Museum of American Bird Art

Pink Lady’s Slippers are blooming this week and next, especially in pine forests. Enjoy our latest Nature in a Minute blog post about Pink Lady’s Slippers.

Pink Lady’s Slipper Video from the University of Delaware

Lady Slipper Pollination

Enjoy this short video about pollination of lady slipper orchids. The lady slipper’s orchid is native to Europe, but this video shows how bees pollinator a lady slipper orchid and it is very similar to how the pink lady’s slipper is pollinated. If you are out for a walk and see large bumble bees – most likely queen bumblebees – flying around near pink lady slippers, take a few minutes to watch and see if the bumble bee flies into the slipper and has to maneuver out of the top of the orchid, it is a real treat to see this pollination in action.

Nature apps for your phone, tablet, or other device.

A nice article in the Boston Globe about 8 nature phone apps you can use when you go exploring.

Barry Van Dusen’s Blog Post about spring wildflowers, including Yellow lady slippers and other orchids.

High ledges wildlife sanctuary and paintings of yellow lady slippers.

West mountain wildlife sanctuary and paintings of the purple fridge orchis.

Painted Trillium at High Ledges Wildlife sanctuary.

Barry Van Dusen’s visit to Cook’s Canyon Wildlife Sanctuary, in Barre on July 11, and his painting of the Yellow blue-bead lily (Clintonia).

Green Frog Call

SUPPORT OUR WORK and Donate to the Museum of American Bird Art

Hi everybody, each week I (Sean Kent – MABA’s education and camp director) deliver a live online illustrated lecture called Nature Notes for the residents of Orchard Cove in Canton. I love nature and am infinitely curious with what is going on natural world. I am an educator, naturalist, accomplished landscape and wildlife photographer, and field biologist with expertise in native bee biology, species interactions, and ecology in general.

This post contains additional resources that correspond with the lecture, but might also be of interest to readers of Taking Flight in addition to the residents of Orchard Cove. Please contact me (skent@massaudubon.org) if you or your organization/residence might be interested in live online illustrated lectures, including lectures on The Secret Life of Backyard Birds and Native Bees and other Pollinators. Be well and safe.

Nature in a Minute: What’s Blooming at MABA

One-flowered cancer root   Orobanche uniflorum 

You can find this delicate plant in the grass beside the path through the meadow at the Museum of American Bird Art in Canton. Be careful not to trample it when you walk by. This plant has no chlorophyll, the chemical that gives most plants the green color in leaves.One-flowered cancer-root depends on other plants for its nutrients. It’s a parasite. 

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

Nature in a Minute: What’s blooming at MABA

You can find a few Pink Lady’s slippers along the Main Loop trail at the Museum of American Bird Art. 

Pink Lady’s Slipper  Cypripedium acaule

Pink Lady’s slippers are large and showy.  The Latin species name acaule means “stem less” referring to the leafless flower stem. The two large leaves grow from the base of the plant. Pink Lady’s slippers are in the Orchid family of plants. 

These plants require a special fungus in the soil to supply nutrients. The flower and fungus have a mutually beneficial interaction called symbiosis. Bees pollinate Pick Lady’s slippers. They are attracted by the color and sweet scent. 

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.