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
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
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.
“…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.
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
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.
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.
This is a guest blog post by Julianne Mehegan, a wonderful friend of MABA, birder, and naturalist
Look for this small green plant when you are walking in the
woods. These plants evolved about 410
million years ago. They are found
Running Cedar Wompatuck State Park, Hingham April 4, 2020 J. Mehegan
The common name of this plant is Running cedar. It looks like a small cedar tree and it “runs” along the ground. The scientific name is Lycopodium digitatum. Running cedar is in the family of plants called clubmosses. It reproduces by spores instead of seeds. The spikey, yellowish top of the plant in the center of the photo is the part of the plant that has the spores.
The feet of the heron, under those bamboo stems, hold the blue body, the great beak above the shallows of the pond. Who could guess their patience? Sometimes the toes shake, like worms. What fish could resist?…
A Great Blue Heron answers the dinner bell
Although the iron grey sky hung low and the drizzle damped the muddy spring earth, I’ve been trying to spend time in communing with nature each day and enjoying the restorative power of simply being outdoors. Especially for those who can’t make it outside during our days of shared isolation, I’m always searching for the spectacular in the ordinary and not so ordinary that surrounds us everyday to bring you some wonderful glimpses of the natural world through my photography. As I was driving around the Norton Reservoir looking for Common Mergansers, Buffleheads, Bald Eagles, and other ducks, I spotted a faint flash of bright white in some cattails and reeds along the pond’s edge. I was delighted to see a Great Blue Heron and really excited when I realized it was enjoying a meal, mostly likely a sunfish – either a Pumpkinseed or Bluegill. I hope you enjoy these photographs of this amazing natural history moment.
Great Blue Herons will eat almost anything – from fish, small mammals, frogs, and more. Because herons and other birds lack teeth, they can’t chew and swallow their prey whole.
Will the Fish Fit?
Swallowing it Whole! Look at the Neck…
Where is my next meal???
Landscape of the Norton Reservoir with two Common Mergansers in the Distance
Thank you so much for reading our Nature in a Minute photo essay. We hope you are doing well in these challenging and uncertain times. Also, we have linked to a wonderful post by Barry Van Dusen, our former artist-in-residence at MABA, about his wonderful visit to a Heron Rookery at the Rocky Hills Wildlife Sanctuary in Groton.
Barry Van Dusen visits a Heron Rookery at the Rocky Hills Wildlife Sanctuary during his artist-in-residence at MABA
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.
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.
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.
Over the past weekend, male red-winged blackbirds have returned to set up and defend breeding territories, the evening displays and buzzing songs of the male woodcock have brightened up evening hikes, and flocks of robins have descended in our pine sanctuary “vacuuming” up insects emerging as the world warms and sun shines just a little bit longer each day.
This post is a short video and photo essay of one of our earliest signs of spring, the emergence of eastern skunk cabbage. Since late January, these spring sentinels have been emerging by the Pequit Brook in Canton and next to a wetland near the meadow by the museum.
As I’ve looked closer at skunk cabbage, I’ve been amazed at the diversity of color exhibited by skunk cabbage and wanted to share that with you. Enjoy the following photos and videos of skunk cabbage emerging at the Pequit Brook.