Category Archives: Natural History

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

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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

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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 ( 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.

Nature in a Minute: Trailing Arbutus at North Hill Marsh, Duxbury

One of the first Mass Audubon sanctuaries  to reopen is North Hill Marsh in Duxbury.  A four mile trail circles the pond, with shorter options available. Print the map from the Mass Audubon web page and take it with you.

 There is an observation platform near the start of the trail system.   Look for Osprey flying over the pond or perched on a branch over the water.  The day artist-in-residence  Barry Van Dusen visited this sanctuary it was raining.  He was still able to sketch the Osprey, though representing the rain in the final drawing was a challenge. (See p. 74  Finding Sanctuary, Barry’s book about all the Mass Audubon sanctuaries.)

But the real treasure at North Hill Marsh is the Trailing Arbutus.  This low-growing evergreen plant has small white flowers in early spring.  An earlier name for this plant was Plymouth Mayflower.  This name is based on the idea that the plant announced spring for the winter weary Pilgrims at Plymouth colony .  Trailing arbutus became the State Flower of Massachusetts in 1918.

The Latin name Epigaea repens aptly describes the plant Epigaea comes from the Greek word “upon the earth”, referring to the oval evergreen leaves that hug the ground.  Repens means trailing, noting the interconnecting root system of the plant.

Barry Van Dusen’s Sketchbook Page of Osprey at North Hill Marsh

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

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

Milly’s Bird of the Day: The Chipping Sparrow

Happy birding and please help Milly and her Bird-a-Thon team by visiting her fundraising page here.

Like Warblers, there are a lot of species of Sparrows who call Massachusetts home.

Sparrows are beautiful and charismatic, but some species can be very difficult to differentiate from one another. Milly is quite fond of Chipping Sparrows because they love the Museum of American Bird Art, and she can easily tell them apart from other Sparrows.

Chipping Sparrows are known for their pulsing 1 note trilling song and the rufous crown on top of the male’s head. Keep a look this spring and summer, from backyards to woods these little energetic sparrows are widespread across our state.

Happy birding and please help Milly and her Bird-a-Thon team by visiting her fundraising page here.

Nature Notes: Thinking Like a Scientist

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This blog post corresponds with a program for children and their caregivers by the Museum of American Bird Art at Mass Audubon about Thinking Like a Scientist, Bird Nesting, Searching for Signs of Spring, and making art by creating a bluebird and nest box out of household and common art materials.

Nature Story Time: Have You Heard the Nesting Bird

Eastern Bluebird Singing

What are Nests Made of?
From Nature on PBS

NATURE NUGGETS brings science and animals from NATURE on PBS to kids and their caregivers. Use the activities below to create active learning and engagement opportunities with your child.

Art Project: Create a Bluebird and Nesting Box

Build your own bird nest!

Use Mass Audubon’s Nature at Home resources and build your own bird nest!

Eastern Bluebird

Hooded Merganser Nest from Nature Nuggets on PBS

Trail Camera Scavenger Hunt

Check out our fun Trail Camera Scavenger Hunt on the Taking Flight Blog.

Mass Audubon’s Bird of the Day Series

Learn more about your neighborhood birds from Mass Audubon’s Bird of the Day Series.

American Robin

Northern Cardinal

Mass Audubon Bird Nest Resources

Become a Citizen Scientist

Using Citizen Science volunteers, Cornell’s NestWatch is a nationwide nest monitoring program. The Museum of American Bird Art participated in NestWatch, monitoring our nest boxes that usually have nesting Tree Swallows, House Wrens, Chickadees, and occasionally an Eastern Bluebird.
Click here to learn more about common nesting birds from NestWatch.

Nature Notes: Butterflies

Monarch Butterfly overwintering grounds in Mexico

Nature is a production of THIRTEEN for PBS. Throughout its history, Nature has brought the natural world to millions of viewers.

This blog post complements a nature-based STEAM programming about butterflies and their life cycle.

Monarch Butterfly laying an egg on Common Milkweed

Monarch butterfly laying eggs on common milkweed, © Sean Kent

Monarch Caterpillar on it’s host plant Common Milkweed

Monarch caterpillar eating common milkweed, © Sean Kent
Monarch Caterpillar

Engineer a Butterfly Habitat

To engineer a butterfly habitat, you need to think about and create a list of what a butterfly needs to survive during it’s entire life cycle as an (i) egg, (ii) caterpillar, (iii) chrysalis, and (iv) butterfly. The following are a few things to think about when engineering a butterfly habitat.

  • Food 
    • Host plants for caterpillars
    • Nectar 
  • Water
  • Places to shelter or hide

After thinking about how to create a butterfly habitat, design your habitat to contain everything a butterfly needs and draw it on a piece of paper. After drawing your butterfly habitat, if you have a couple of pots for plants, a garden, or another area you could modify, you could engineer your own butterfly habitat.

To attract black swallowtail butterflies, you can plant parsley in your garden.

My Parsley Is Attracting Butterflies - Learn About Attracting ...
File:Black swallowtail caterpillar.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

How to Create a Nature Journal

Get outdoors and record your nature observations in your very own nature journal. You can make one with materials you have at home!

Barry Van Dusen’s Sketchbook Page of a Painted Lady Butterfly

If you’d like to learn about nature drawing, including drawing butterflies, enjoy this wonderful blog post by acclaimed artist Barry Van Dusen about Getting Started with Nature Journaling. Below is a sketch of painted lady butterflies.

Barry Van Dusen’s Sketchbook Page of a Monarch Butterfly

During his artist in residence, Barry Van Dusen visit …. and closely observed Monarch Butterflies. Here is an image of his sketchbook page from that day.

“On one liatris plant, I count eight Monarch butterflies – a phenomenal concentration of these handsome migratory insects, whose populations have been down in recent years.  There’s just time enough to do some sketches before I leave to catch the ferry at Vineyard Haven.”

~ Barry Van Dusen in Martha’s Vineyard

Nature in a Minute: Spring wildflowers

The Resplendent Windflower
Wood anemone – Anemone quinquefolia L.  Buttercup (Ranunculaceae)

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Look for Wood anemone on your woodland walks. The pure white flowers on 4-8 inch stalks above the whorl of leaves makes this an easy wildflower to spot in the spring. The scalloped leaves are divided in 3 to 5 leaflets. 

The delicate flowers sway easily even in a soft breeze. This trait gives the plant its Latin name Anemone meaning windflower. The second part of the Latin name is quinquefolia, translating as five leaves. 

The root of Wood anemone is horizontal, with many flowers and leaves growing from a common root system. Because of this root system wood anemone can form a carpet of plants.                                                  

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: Trail Camera Scavenger Hunt #2

It’s time for the second set of trail cam scavenger hunt videos! If you missed our first, post, here’s the link. This time, we have footage from the vernal pool, the meadow, and out in the forest. Got your list ready? See what you can find! 

Vernal Pool Mysteries

Is that Milly making mischief of one type or another?

Oh dear, what’s in the meadow?

Hop to it!