Tag Archives: Julianne Mehegan

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.  https://www.massaudubon.org/get-outdoors/wildlife-sanctuaries/north-hill-marsh

 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.

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: First flowers of spring – Goldthread

One of the first flowers you’ll notice on your spring walks in the woods is the tiny Goldthread.  The small, three-part leaf of Goldthread hugs the ground. The delicate white flower blooms about three inches above the leaf on a delicate stem.  Coptis trifolia is the Latin name for Goldthread. Coptis comes from the Greek word “to cut”, a reference to the divided leaf. Trifolia means “having three leaves”.

The common name Goldthread is derived from the color of the root.  Scratch down below the leaf to uncover the yellow root.  This is a small section of root I pulled up  and placed on a rock for a better photo.

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 Mystery Plants are Revealed: Mystery Plant B

Bush clover (Lespedeza capitate)  
Fabaceae (Pea or Legume Family)

The flower head of bush clover has many hairy bracts surrounding the small white flowers. After blooming the flower heads gradually turn brown.  The Legume family of plants has super powers. 

I grew up on a farm. My grandfather planted Lespedeza in the farm fields on a rotating basis. I learned as a kid that Lespedeza “fixes nitrogen”. Of course, I had no idea then why that was important but I loved to see the fields of clover and thought the name “lespedeza” was just a cool word to say and to write because it had a “z” in it. 

Now I know why a plant that “fixes nitrogen” is so important.  Inorganic nitrogen compounds are required for biosynthesis. Legumes convert nitrogen molecules in the air into chemical compounds such as amino acids and transfer them to the soil. Without this soil enrichment of Lespedeza food crops like tomatoes, beans and carrots would not grow well.

Lespedeza is also useful in Scrabble, because of that ‘Z”.

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 Mystery Plants are Revealed: Mystery Plant A

Common mullein   (Verbascum thapsus)

This is the answer to our Nature in a Minute: Mystery Plant Challenge. Click here to see the first post. Common Mullein is easily recognized in summer.  The tall stalk with yellow flowers is distinctive along roadsides and in open areas.  The leaves are large and fuzzy to the touch.


Common mullein is just as easy to spot in winter. The tall stalk is topped with dried brown seed capsules. 

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: Marsh Marigolds

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The marsh marigolds are blooming! These early spring wildflowers come up in wet places and along brooks.  Look for them when you are walking near shallow streams in the woods.  The showy, bright yellow flowers, surrounded by green leaves, are easy to spot at this time of year.

Marsh marigolds are in the buttercup family (Ranunculacea).  They look much more like buttercups than marigolds.  The Latin name is Catha palustris.  “Cup of the marsh” is the translation.  The big, early flowers attract bees and insects to Marsh marigold aiding in pollination. 

Enjoy this post by Barry Van Dusen about his visit to High Ledges Wildlife Sanctuary, Shelburne on May 21, 2015 during his artist in residency at MABA, where he encountered Marsh Marigolds and other spring flowering plants.

Painted Trillium, High Ledges. Barry Van Dusen

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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: Birches

Birch is plentiful in the northern United States and Canada. Birch trees have distinctive bark making it easy to identify different species.  Two birches common in our area are Gray birch and Yellow birch. Look for these trees on your walks in the woods.

Gray birch  (Betula populifolia)

Gray birches have chalky white bark with black triangular patches on the trunk.  As a gray birch gets older the black chevrons become more distinct. The bark is smooth and tough. Native American people used the flexible, highly waterproof sheets of bark for canoes and shelters.

Gray Birch Bark

Often several trunks will grow from one root source. Gray birches are easy to spot in the woods as they are the only trees in our area with a white bark. 

Yellow birch   (Betula alleghaniensis)

Yellow birch is one of the largest hardwood trees in the northeastern United States. The bark is yellowish and slightly shiny. The outer layers of the bark peel horizontally in thin, curly strips. 

The wood of Yellow birch is strong and even-textured. It is an excellent building material for cabinets, and interior woodwork. 

I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,

And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk

Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,

But dipped its top and set me down again.

That would be good both going and coming back.

One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

         From Birches by Robert Frost

Birds in Blue and Gray from Barry Van Dusen

Enjoy Barry Van Dusen’s post from Eagle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary, Holden, MA on May 11, 2015 and warblers foraging in birch trees.

Nature in a Minute – American Kestrel

Guest post by Julianne Mehegan

American Kestrel and Prairie Falcon by David Sibley, gouache on Bristol board. Mass Audubon Collection.

On my afternoon walk I spotted an American Kestrel. This handsome bird was doing what kestrels do, sitting on an open perch, hunting for insects and small rodents. Seeing the kestrel was a huge thrill for me, it really lifted my spirits.

Back at home I got out the Sibley Guide to Birds to refresh my knowledge about kestrels.  Kestrels are the smallest and most widespread falcon, ranging throughout North America. The kestrel I saw was a male. Its wings were bluish gray, the back and tail feathers were rusty-red, the breast speckled. When perched, the kestrel pumps its tail to maintain balance. The illustrations in the Sibley Guide show both the female and male kestrel and how the bird looks in flight.

David Sibley’s original art for this illustration in the Sibley Guide to Birds is in Mass Audubon’s art collection at the Museum of American Bird Art. To see more of David Sibley’s art, and to read about his new book, What It’s Like to Be a Bird, visit his website. MABA’s exhibition of original art from the book is expected to be on view again when the museum reopens to the public.

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

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

Art Views – Julianne Mehegan on Flight Over the Dunes by Cindy House

Art Views is a fascinating series of personal perspectives on bird art, generously contributed by artists, collectors, MABA staff and other art enthusiasts. Read more Art Views here.

The painting Flight Over the Dunes by Cindy House was purchased for MABA’s collection in 2014.

Flight Over the Dunes by Cindy House, pastel, 2009. Mass Audubon Collection.

Cindy House wrote: The last step in my pastel painting is to add the birds.  In Flight Over the Dunes, they were the small flock of flying Mourning Doves. I found the landscape incomplete without the birds that happened by when I was in the field.  Birds have an inexplicable way of bringing life to the landscape. 

Cindy considers the greatest gift given to her by her mother, a natural history teacher, was the ability to see and observe the splendor of the natural world. She now uses that gift to express herself with pastels and occasionally oils.

In 2009 MABA was honored to host an exhibition of Cindy’s work, Landscapes Discovered: Pastels of New England by Cindy House. To see more of her art, visit her website.

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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 – Skunk Cabbage

This is a guest blog post by Julianne Mehegan, a wonderful friend of MABA, birder, and naturalist.

Skunk cabbage is a plant with super powers. It grows in wetland areas. In winter skunk cabbage can warm the mud up to 70 degrees. The flowers push up through the warm mud and attract pollinators before any other plants come up. 

A few days later the leaves appear. They are bright green and resemble cabbage. When crushed the leaves give off an unpleasant odor, like a skunk. That’s how this plant got it’s common name skunk cabbage. 

In early spring as you walk in wetland areas, look for Skunk cabbage growing in the mud. Look closely at the flower and the leaves. Skunk cabbage loses its leaves every year but the plant can live up to 20 years. The scientific name is  Symplocarpus foetidus. In Latin foetidus means foul smelling.

A Moment of Zen
Skunk Cabbage at the Pequit Brook at MABA

Barry Van Dusen visits Habitat and finds Skunk Cabbage, Owls, and much more

When Barry Van Dusen was MABA’s artist in residence, he wrote a nice blog post about skunk cabbage while he was at the Habitat – a Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary and Education Center in Belmont Massachusetts.