Tag Archives: nature in a minute

Nature in a Minute: Spring wildflowers

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

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

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: Mystery Plant Challenge

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

Plant ID challenge

Test your skill at identifying plants in winter without the help of colorful flowers and leaves.  Answers will be posted on April 23.

Plant A  

 Plant A seed capsule

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

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

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

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

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 – Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Catching its breath in between catching gnats this Blue-gray Gnatcatcher catches a few rays from the sun. Migrants are returning to Massachusetts. This Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was photographed in Easton on April 6, 2020.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers spend most of their time in broadleaf and mixed forests with a healthy understory, especially those with streams and wetlands. They eat small insects, arthropods, spiders, and other small invertebrates. Check out their nests in the video below, amazing to see how it is camouflaged with lichens and built so naturally right on the branch.

A nesting Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Barry Van Dusen spends some time with Blue-gray Gnatcatchers

Enjoy Barry Van Dusen’s blog post about Blue-gray Gnatcatchers when he visited Mass Audubon’s Eagle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary, Holden, MA on May 11, 2015 during his residency at MABA.

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

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.

Nature in a Minute – I Happen to Be Standing

As our patterns of life have fragmented into a new routine, the ritual of finding solace and comfort in nature – whether it from my living room window while my girls jump on the couch (happening right now as I write), in my yard, or at nearby conservation land – seem all the more important. 

“I Happen to Be Standing” from A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver  

“…While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm…”

When the chance allows in the morning, during the days with my kids, or in the late afternoon, I’ve been trying to spend time observing nature and taking photographs to share with you.

With the spring really starting to spring, the Red-winged Blackbird takes center stage.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird photographed on April 4, 2020. Photo by Sean Kent

You will see Red-winged Blackbirds spending their breeding season in Massachusetts in places like freshwater ponds, fresh and saltwater marshes, and streams. They especially love areas with reedy plant growth. Red-winged Blackbirds will occasionally nest in forests along waterways, sedge meadows, and fallow fields at farms.

For the next few months, you will see males making dramatic displays and calls to defend their territory. Learn more by watching the video below.

Flamboyant Displays: Learn more about the territorial displays of the Red-winged Blackbirds

The song of the Red-winged Blackbird is a constant sign of spring in wetland areas. The song of a male is a creaky conk-la-ree! Listen to it in the following video.

Red-winged Blackbird call

Female Red-winged Blackbird

Photographed in May 2018. Photo by Sean Kent

Blending in is the goal of the female Red-winged Blackbird. She will sit still on her nest, usually built in the reeds with brownish grasslike material. It is imperative that predators overlook her and the nest. Few female Red-winged Blackbirds have arrived in Massachusetts, they usually arrive 2 to 3 weeks after the male Red-winged Blackbirds.

Red-winged Blackbird soaring away

Red-winged Blackbird photographed on April 4, 2020 Photo by Sean Kent

Photos by Sean Kent

Spring by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –          
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;          
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush          
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring          
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing; 
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush 

And remember, be safe, be well, you’re not alone, and we will meet again.