Category Archives: Wildlife Sanctuary

Nature in a Minute: The Caterpillars Count!

The Museum of American Bird Art and Mass Audubon has partnered with UNC Chapel Hill to participate in a Citizen Science Project called the Caterpillars Count. Caterpillars Count! is a citizen science project the measures seasonal variation (phenology) and abundance of important food sources for birds, primarily arthropods like caterpillars, beetles, and spiders found on the foliage of trees and shrubs.

We have a wonderful team of two volunteers and Sean Kent, the education and camp director, taking data on a weekly basis. So far we have monitored over 1,500 leaves for arthropods. Stay tuned!

 

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

 

Wood frogs of our vernal pool…Nature in a minute

As winter ends, low lying areas and woodland hollows fill up with snow melt and rainwater to create temporary isolated woodland ponds called vernal pools. The wildlife sanctuary at the Museum of American Bird Art has 5 vernal pools on the property with our largest vernal pool only a 5 to 10 minute walk from the museum’s parking lot. These pools provide critical breeding habitat for several amphibian and invertebrate species with life cycles that have adapted to these rich, temporary phenomena.

As winter slowly turns into spring, I eagerly anticipate walking up the first hill on the main loop trail. Before the vernal pool is visible, I know spring has arrived when I hear a characteristic “quacking” that isn’t from ducks, but from the wood frog (Rana sylvatica). When they emerge from their winter slumber, they quickly make their way to vernal pools to breed. I heard the first wood frogs in the vernal pool on March 26, 2018 and was able to take the first pictures today.

Characteristic dorsal-lateral ridges on the back of the wood frog.

This masked frog looks somewhat like a much larger spring peeper, but look for the ridges running down the sides and no pattern on the back.

Notice the characteristic eye mask right next to the eye

True to its name, it lives in forests, breeding in temporary, or vernal, pools. It attracts mates with a quacking call, and the female lays large masses of eggs.

Listen carefully for the characteristic quacking coming from the vernal pool right next to where this wood frog is sitting.

Learn even more about vernal pools in the Spring 2018 issue of Explore.

The splendor and solace of snow…nature in a minute

Although spring is right around the corner, winter is hanging on with three Nor’easters in the past two weeks. After all the shoveling and arduous cleanup (huge thanks to our property manager Owen Cunningham), we took an hour to snowshoe the wildlife sanctuary and enjoy the quiet and calm that always seems to follow a large storm. The trees were blanketed with a thick snow and everywhere you looked the wildlife sanctuary was painted white.

The meadow was blanketed with nearly two feet of snow and only one set of snow shoe tracks. 

The start of the main loop trail.

This trail leads to our vernal pool. In less than a month, as you walk up the hill you will be treated to an auditory sensation as a loud chorus of wood frogs welcomes spring. It is amazing how quickly nature turns in the spring. In two months, the pine forest floor will be covered with pink lady’s slippers that will be using the snow melt to thrive in May.

This is the spot that the wood ducks frolicked less than two weeks ago.

The vernal pool on our main loop trail.

Snow weighing down the saplings growing in our pine grove.

Who will use this cavity in spring? Maybe a chickadee or hairy woodpecker?

The pine grove. Deer recently walked by this scene.

A snow covered Pequit Brook.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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. 

 

 

 

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

Of Valleys and Summits

September 29, 2016

Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, Lenox

AHHHH – the Berkshires in autumn: cold nights, crisp dawns, and warm afternoons!  The landscape is still predominantly summer-green, but the swamp maples are flush with color and the hills, too, are painted with strokes of carmine, orange, gold and violet.

At Pike’s Pond, I hear some harsh croaks and look up to see two ravens frolicking in the air currents over Lenox Mountain, while beyond them a parade of Turkey vultures drifts southward.  Nearby, a common yellowthroat engages me in a game of hide-and-seek from a stand of cattails.

Sketchbook studies of a common yellowthroat, pencil, 6″ x 5.5″

Yellowthroat in Cattails, watercolor on Fluid 100 cold-press, 12″ x 9″

I see many yellowthroats around the sanctuary today, but only one with the black mask of an adult male.

Yokun Brook

Along the Beaver Lodge Trail

I make a circuit of the Yokun Brook, Old Wood Road and Beaver Lodge Trails, and encounter a few waves of migrant warblers, among them a magnolia and palm warbler.  Their fall plumages are a ghostly version of their springtime finery.  Compare the male magnolia warbler I painted last May at Marblehead Neck with this non-breeding male at Pleasant Valley.

Magnolia Warbler in fall plumage at Pleasant Valley, watercolor, 8.5″ x 12″

Magnolia Warbler in spring plumage at Marblehead Neck

I knew that the Trail of the Ledges would be steep and challenging (the trail map instructs NOT to attempt DESCENDING this trail!), so I leave my scope and binoculars in the car, carrying only my pack-stool loaded with art supplies, a drink and some snacks.  The lower portion of the trail is steepest, with hand-over-hand climbing in many spots – more like crawling than hiking!

Trail of the Ledges

As I climb, the plant communities reflect the change in elevation.  I pass through dark stands of hemlock and copses of hobblebush.

Hobblebush

Down among the rocks at my feet are clumps of common polypody, stunted by the thin, nutrient poor soils.  I’m fascinated by these miniature ferns – most fronds only about an inch wide.  In normal situations, the polypodys would tower over the partridgeberry, but here they are in pleasing scale.

Polypody and Partridgeberry, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 9″ x 11.75″

There are two scenic overlooks on the way up the Ledges Trail.  The first is a narrow window through the trees looking south.  The second is more open; with a view east back towards the Sanctuary.  I decide to set up and paint this view.

View East from Lenox Mountain, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10″ x 13.25″

The Sanctuary is on the slopes below me, wrapped around the base of the mountain, so you cannot see it from this high viewpoint.  What you DO see is the town of Lenox spread out below, and beyond that the hills that roll eastward into the Pioneer Valley.

The view from the summit of Lenox Mountain is more dramatic, and well worth the extra hike.  This view is to the north and west – Greylock to the north and the Taconic Range in the west.

View West from Lenox Mountain summit

The eastern side of Lenox Mountain falls into afternoon shadow early at this date, and I have to watch my footing carefully as I descend the Overbrook Trail.  The hemlock gorge is especially dark and gloomy, but the footing becomes easy again as the trail flattens out at the base of the mountain.

Sketchbook studies of a winter wren, pencil, 10″ x 6″

On the Bluebird Trail, a fleeting brown blur darts under the boardwalk as I approach.  I pause and make some soft squeaks and “pishes” – enough to coax a winter wren out into the open.   It makes some quiet notes that remind me of a song sparrow, and hops around some decaying birch logs on the forest floor.  I make some sketches – noting that impossibly short (and jauntily cocked) tail.  What a charming imp!

Winter Wren at Pleasant Valley, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 14.25″

 

 

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