Our new Critter Cards “take flight” with Online Fans!

Hello Critter Card Fans! This past Tuesday, March 31st, we launched our first Critter Card, featuring the Red-winged Blackbird, a staple of our local ecosystem. Filling fields, meadows, marshes, and wetlands with a memorable “conk-a-ree” call, Red-winged Blackbirds are not a shy species. Even the females, though much softer in color, have unabashed sass and will sing in order to establish territory.

Critter Card ft. Red-winged Blackbird – Mass Audubon Joppa Flats

Aside from a couple technical learning curves, our first card went over beautifully. Find the links associated with the card here: More information from Mass Audubon; Calls by Cornell; Miss Lisa makes a Video.

Male Red-winged Blackbird displaying and calling – Ben Flemer, Bird Bander

When we initially posted this Critter Card on Facebook we imaged an audience of children and we encouraged our followers and constituents to feel comfortable sharing, utilizing, and critiquing our new learning tool. Since then, we realized these cards can be utilized well beyond a youth age range, and we hope that many beginning and advanced adult birders will feel welcome to submit photos and art as well.

Male Red-winged Blackbird – Lisa Hutchings

Speaking of critique and feedback, we would like to say a huge THANK YOU to our viewers for the outstanding support and love we’ve received! We are happy to have reached so many of you. From parents to toddlers, teenagers to teachers, “green” to seasoned birders. A shout out to the organizations and individuals that connected with us to spread the knowledge and love for nature: North Shore Montessori School, The ABC’s of Plum Island, Plum Island Outdoors, Greater Newburyport Families Club, countless teachers and parents, professionals and nature-lovers. THANK YOU for that support. We are proud to be in this community with you all.

“This is a wonderful way to stay in touch with grandkids who will LOVE the Critter Cards! Thank you SO MUCH!!!” – Grandmother

“Could I share this on my classroom dojo with my 5th graders? We are going to start a birding project.” – teacher

“These are amazing! Thank you! I’m so excited to get started on this with my class and daughter online!” – parent and teacher

“I took a look at this week’s bird already, and I would be happy to share it with my family.” – age 13


We want to encourage you all to continue to submit your photos, artwork, poems, and so on!

Male (left) and female (right) Red-winged Blackbirds – Kathy Diamontopoulos
An interpretation of a Red-winged Blackbird using Aquabeads, age 8
Male Red-winged Blackbird singing – Heather Miller
Male Red-winged Blackbird perching in a tree – homeschooling mom
Male Red-winged Blackbird Calling – David Durrant, B.C.P at Parker River National National Wildlife Refuge
Red-winged Blackbird – Mass Audubon Employee
Drawing of Red-winged Blackbird – age 13

Try This

Here are two more at-home activities from Lisa Hutchings, School & Family Education Coordinator or “Miss Lisa” to some.

– Make a map of your “patch” (this is your yard and the surrounding area) to show where the birds are singing. Don’t worry if you don’t see any Red-winged Blackbirds, we want you to share what other wildlife you find as well! Use this sound map to get started. Here is a video of Laura from Mass Audubon Arcadia showing us how to make a map!

– Red-winged Blackbird lyrics challenge: How many songs can you come up with that have the words ‘Blackbird’, or ‘Red-winged Blackbird’, or even ‘bird’ in the title? Here is a song called Big Sky Country” with lyrics; “Red-winged Blackbird, sitting on a cattail’s end, Red-winged Blackbird, sitting on a cattail’s end, light enough to be there, but heavy enough to bend, Red-winged Blackbird, sitting on a cattail’s end…”

What’s Next?

What backyard wildlife would you like us to feature this spring? Can you guess the theme of our next Critter Card when we announce it on Tuesday 4/7?

For guesses, suggestions, and questions, email Lisa Hutchings at lhutchings@massaudubon.org. For submissions of your Red-winged Blackbird art work, photos, and more, email Shelby Vance at svance@massaudubon.org so we can add your work to our Critter Card compilation!

Thank you all for such strong and supportive engagement. Stay tuned for the next Critter Card coming to Facebook on Tuesday, April 7th.

More Community Support

“Leave it to the marvelous staff of Joppa to come up with this project and execute it so superbly! Even as a non-mom, non-teacher, and somewhat savvy birder, I really appreciate the Critter Card” – Mass Audubon Volunteer

“So great!!!” – The ABC’s of Plum Island

“Thank you so much Lisa! [We] are excited to do this today!” – parent, children ages 3 and 6

Thank you so much for offering this! What a nice thing to do during this challenging time!! We really enjoyed the video and presentation. – parent

“Thanks so much Miss Lisa! We really appreciate it!” – parent, ages 3 and 6

“This is great!” – Mass Audubon employee

“Thanks so much! I will use this with my 6 yo this week” -parent, age 6

“[YOU] BRING out the [BEST] in out family.” – parent, age 8

“Thanks so much for sending out these cool Critter Cards. Hope the bead art of a Red-winged Blackbird makes you smile. Can’t wait to see next weeks Critter Card.” – parent and 8 year old

“This is great!” – 1st grade teacher

“Thank you for all you do Miss Lisa” – parent

“Great job Lisa! Thanks for the videos!” – parent

“Thanks! [We] will be out listening and looking!” – parent

It’s Colombia not Columbia (on T-shirts for sale at the Medellin airport)

Author: Dave Larson 

I was leading a Mass Audubon tour in central Colombia at the beginning of March. The day after we returned, all Mass Audubon facilities were closed due to the pandemic, and I’ve been working from home ever since. You could say that we got back home just under the wire. 

You might ask, why a tour to Colombia? Well, that country has the most species of birds of any country in the world, over 1900! And because of its complex topography, it has a lot of endemic species (found only in that country). So, of course we went to Colombia! We flew into the southern city of Cali and worked our way along the Cauca River valley up to Medellin, with side trips up into the western and central Andes ranges.  

The birds and scenery were fabulous! Right off the bat we found the glorious, endemic Multicolored Tanager.

Multicolored Tanager – Dave Larson

Part of the fun of birding in different countries is experiencing different cultures and the certainty of running into some locations that are amazing. Birding in the cloud forest is always a treat, but nothing beats eating outside, overlooking the bird feeders, at a local restaurant in the cloud forest, such as Doña Dora’s.

Group Photo at Dona Dora’s
Toucan Barbet – Dave Larson

So many places, so many birds–which way to look? Hummingbirds are everywhere (almost 170 species) and many species come to feeders. It is hard to beat the Violet-tailed Sylph for impact or a Blue-headed Sapphire for vibrance.

Violet-Tailed Sylph
Blue-Headed Sapphire – Dave Larson

Antpittas are one of my favorite groups of birds. Notoriously difficult to see in the wild, many have been trained to come to feeding stations at specific times to get worms. Of the 12 species we recorded, we saw six, all at feeding stations. My favorites were the Crescent-faced Antpitta and the endemic Brown-banded Antpitta. 

Crescent-Faced Antpitta – Dave Larson
Brown-Banded Antpitta – Dave Larson

Cotingas are another awesome group of tropical birds. And maybe the most amazing of cotingas is the Andean Cock-of-the-rock. We visited a large, boisterous lek of displaying males in the lovely town of Jardin. It was mind-boggling.

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock

Tanagers are the group most often associated with Neotropical forests and Colombia has at least 175 species. Favorites of our trip participants included Flame-rumped, Glistening Green, Saffron-crowned, Gold-ringed, and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager. My personal favorite was the Purplish-mantled Tanager.

Gold-Ringed Tanager – Dave Larson
Scarlet-Bellied Mountain-Tanager – Dave Larson
Purpleish-Mantled Tanager – Dave Larson

Finally, Colombia has glorious scenery, warm and friendly people, and amazing guides, like our Pablo Florez of Multicolor Birding. Colombia has made huge strides since the end of the civil war, and most of the country is safe for travelers. If you get a chance, go.

Birding Along the Road – Dave Larson
Mountains after Mountains – Dave Larson

Tree Swallows Ushering in Spring

Written by Kathy Diamontopoulos

Tree Swallows arrive in Massachusetts from late March through April. They can be found in open areas near wetlands and fields where insects are abundant and trees are available for nesting. You may see them soaring through the air, twisting and turning, as they catch bugs in their mouth. You may also find them peering out from a cavity in a tree, which is where they often nest.

Tree Swallow in nest cavity – Kathy Diamontopoulos

The first time I saw tree swallows was early in the spring at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield. I had never seen these aerial acrobats before and was fascinated with their swift flying maneuvers. There were also some tree swallows perched on the nesting boxes in the field and as I approached the boxes, I got to see how beautiful they really were. I was amazed that this exotic-looking bird with their iridescent, two-tone coloring was a visitor to our area. 

Tree Swallow on nest box – Kathy Diamontopoulos

Not long after discovering these beauties, I came across one peeking its head out of a hole in a tree on one of the trails. To my delight, another tree swallow flew in and joined the first in the cavity of the trunk. I stayed for some time watching the comings and goings of the birds. It was an experience that taught me to always look around your surroundings because you never know what unexpected treasure you may find.

Tree Swallow in tree cavity – Kathy Diamontopoulos

When late summer and early autumn arrives, I know it will be time to say goodbye to these seasonal visitors as they make their journey back to the southern coasts of the US. It won’t be long after that, though, before they arrive again to help usher in spring.

Tree Swallows swarm on Plum Island – Patti Wood

– Kathy Diamontopoulos