While any amount of time spent in nature has been shown to boost your mood, reduce stress levels, and improve overall health and wellbeing, there is something particularly soothing about the gentle, continuous babbling of a forest stream. Close your eyes and picture a quiet spot in the woods somewhere, with moss-covered rocks and warm sunlight filtering down through the canopy, dappling the water and leaf litter with a haphazard checkerboard of verdant light.
Getting outside to enjoy special places like these can be challenging right now, so here are five gorgeous photos of babbling brooks from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest for you to enjoy. We hope that imagining yourself in the gentle repose of these scenes will bring you a moment of peace, serenity, and clarity.
We all know what it’s like to be stuck at home, socially distancing during COVID-19. There are only so many times you can binge your favorite show on Netflix or read your favorite book before you might start to feel a bit disconnected from the world.
If you’re feeling like this, we have good news. One of the ways Mass Audubon is celebrating Earth Day, April 22, COVID-19 edition, is by participating as a team in the month-long 2020 Drawdown Ecochallenge. The Drawdown Ecochallenge is a global competition that consists of a set of actions aimed at tackling our collective climate footprint to fight climate change.
With a dash of friendly competition, this Ecochallenge allows you to select certain actions, ranging in difficulty and frequency, that will help reduce the amount of carbon you emit. Each action you take contributes points towards the Mass Audubon team and allows you to gauge your impact real-time throughout the challenge.
The Ecochallenge allows us to still come together digitally as a community and stay connected with what’s happening to the environment around us. With plenty of actions we can complete while socially distancing, the Ecochallenge is just one of the ways we can celebrate Earth Week while keeping our communities safe and healthy.
Whether it’s taking a much needed, daily walk to check out the infrastructure of your neighborhood or doing some research on what makes seafood sustainable, the Drawdown Ecochallenge can bring us together to celebrate Earth Day’s 2020 theme, Climate Action, as a digital community and keep engaging with our environment in safe ways.
The challenge begins on April 1 and lasts until the end of the month, April 30. Join Mass Audubon’s team and get ready to tackle climate change together! Tag @MassAudubon in your #Ecochallenge photos for a chance to be shared on our social media platforms.
Many a novice birder have heard a soft, mournful cooing in their back yard and made a mad dash to their window expecting to see an owl, only to find instead a portly, long-tailed Mourning Dove dressed in shades of soft brown and grey, pecking about for seeds that have fallen from feeders.
On the ground, Mourning Doves often look plump and dainty, walking with mincing steps and bobbing their heads as they look for food. In flight, however, they are entirely different birds. Remarkably swift and agile, they fly straight and fast on whistling wings.
A common sight year-round, Mourning Doves are generally unbothered by humans. When they’re not breeding or nesting, they frequently form large flocks and are often found perching on telephone wires and lamp posts in groups of a dozen or more. They are able to mate throughout the year but typically do so from spring to fall. Breeding pairs are often seen gently preening each other’s necks as a sweet bonding behavior. And while they typically make their nests in bushes and trees, they’ve been known to take advantage of any horizontal surface, such as the back of a wicker patio couch or the upturned head of a push broom left outside!
Here are five fantastic photos of Mourning Doves from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest—let us know in the comments if you’ve seen any in your neighborhood, particularly any wacky nesting sites!
There’s no getting around it: things are a little stressful right now. We know that time spent connecting with nature is a powerful stress-reduction tool, but did you know that even looking at pictures or listening to sounds of nature can have an impact on your stress levels?
To give you a virtual “change of scenery” and a healthy dose of nature and wildlife, we’ve compiled a list of the amazing live animal webcams and digital wildlife experiences from all around the state, the country, and the world.
Get an inside look at the fastest animals on Earth—right in our own “backyard” (so to speak)! There are nearly half a dozen live webcams at locations across Massachusetts focused on nesting Peregrine Falcons.
Beyond Massachusetts, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has live streams of a hummingbird feeder in West Texas, a fruit feeder in Panama, and a seed and suet feeder at Cornell itself, along with a half dozen other nest cams from around the world, in season.
For a truly sublime “Moment of Zen”, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium Live Animal Cams. In particular, the Jelly Cams offers a gentle, soothing visual experience paired with calming background music, but the boundless joy of sea otters frolicking and playing can’t be beat.
Ocean Networks Canada maintains several live webcams from 75 feet below the sea at the Folger Pinnacle Reef off Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The cameras only operate for five minutes every hour, but you never know what you’re going to see!
The San Diego Zoo’s Live Animal Cams include everything from penguins and polar bears to elephants and tigers. Check out the giraffe cam for a look at the African Plains habitat, which also includes rhinos and other wildlife from their Safari Park.
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo hosts a few live animal webcasts on its website, including a Lion Cam, Elephant Cam, Giant Panda cam, and even one for Naked Mole Rats!
Around the World in 80 Seconds
On the other side of the globe, you can visit a watering hole at the Djuma Game Reserve in South Africa, where impalas, elephants, hippos, and all manner of birds come to drink.
And if none of the above are quite what you’re looking for, Earth Cam and Explore.org have an incredible array of live animal cams from around the world—although not technically “wildlife,” the Puppy Playroom cam at the Warrior Canine Connection, an organization that trains veterans to train service dogs for fellow veterans, is the “cuteness overload” we all need right now.
“Solemnity is what they express—fit representatives of the night.”
—Henry David Thoreau
The shy but stocky Barred Owl does indeed cut a solemn figure, with its soulful, dark brown, almost black eyes and stripes of mottled brown and white crossing its body.
Many nighttime travelers in the New England woods have been asked, who cooks for you, who cooks for you all? by a Barred Owl. Its deep, resonant voice carries well in the moist, forested woodlands that the species prefers during the breeding season. They prefer natural tree cavities and human-made nest boxes for their nesting sites, preferably high enough up to avoid predators like weasels and raccoons.
Barred Owls are quiet and elusive, but since they don’t migrate at all, they don’t tend to move around all that much, generally adhering to a territory of no more than a few square miles their entire lives. Although their territories may sometimes overlap, Barred Owls do their best to avoid their cousins, Great Horned Owls—their greatest predator.
In Your Words is a regular feature of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter. Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares his or her story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. In the Spring 2020 issue, we interviewed three counselors from Mass Audubon’s Wildwood Camp. You can also read Nina and Dustin’s stories. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email email@example.com to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue!
When I was 10, my friend Evan was going to Wildwood for the
first time and was nervous about not knowing anyone there, so he invited me to
go with him. I loved it so much that this will be my ninth summer, first as a
camper and then as a Leader-in-Training (LIT), a Leader-in-Action (LIA), a
Junior Counselor, and finally as a full-fledged counselor.*
I loved being out of the school environment in a place where
I could run around and be a kid, but the biggest thing for me was that there
were new people every year who didn’t know me. Each summer that I returned to
camp was a chance to create a better me. Having the freedom to remake yourself
over and over is a great way to experiment and explore who you are at a time in
your life when everyone’s trying to figure it all out. You don’t always get to
do that at school where people may have known you for years and already have
expectations about who you are.
At first, I didn’t think much about the nature camp aspect.
I just thought that all camps were like that. But over the years I’ve come to
enjoy Wildwood’s emphasis on teaching kids about nature more and more. Having
staff naturalists leading programs every day is so helpful because I don’t
always have the answers to kids’ nature questions—plus, I get to learn about
nature, too. I want to run for political office someday, and protecting the
environment is a big reason why.
One time, when I was a camper in Leopold (boys ages 9–10)
and we were sleeping in the cabins, I woke up to a HUGE spider right near my
face. I was convinced it was poisonous, but I also thought it was just a cool
spider and wanted to know what it was, so I convinced my counselor to go wake
up the staff naturalist to come identify it for us—at 2:00 in the morning!
LIT and LIA were the most fun I’ve had in any Wildwood program. I loved the leadership aspect and felt like we grew even closer as a group than we did as regular campers. Toward the end of the program, we climbed Mount Ascutney and sat at the top for over an hour, just looking out at this magical view in silence. There was a real sense of community and camaraderie after spending several weeks learning and growing together. The beauty of the natural setting definitely enhances the Wildwood experience, but for me, it’s really all about the people and the connections I’ve made.
Jackson Lieb is studying business and political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and will return to Wildwood this summer for his 10th year, and second as a counselor.
In Your Words is a regular feature of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter. Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares his or her story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. In the Spring 2020 issue, we interviewed three counselors from Mass Audubon’s Wildwood Camp. You can also read Dustin and Jackson’s stories. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email firstname.lastname@example.org to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue!
Since my parents met as campers there, it was always a foregone conclusion that I would attend Wildwood for overnight camp as well. As soon as I was of age, I started spending part of every summer at Wildwood, eventually working my way up through the Leaders-in-Training and Junior Counselors programs and finally becoming a counselor myself.
My clearest memory from my childhood years at Wildwood was
taking a walk down First Point Trail, learning about vernal pools from staff naturalist
Johnathon Benson. It was so amazing to me that all these frogs and salamanders
were completely dependent on these small, temporary pools to survive and
procreate. Wildwood definitely instilled a fascination and love of nature in
me. I remember being a Leader-in-Training (LIT) and asking for special
permission to get up at 3:00 am to watch the Perseid meteor shower from the
activity field. We laid in the grass and counted shooting stars and talked for
hours—that was a really special memory.
Like most kids, I had a few mixed experiences as a camper,
which is a natural part of the growing process. A few really great counselors
helped me through the challenging times and made me feel like I mattered. Now,
as a counselor myself, I want to be that person for other kids, and the culture
at Wildwood fosters that kind of supportive environment. Wildwood is a kind of
safe space where kids are encouraged to be themselves, to drop the “false
personas” they may be holding at home or in school, and even to try out new
ways of expressing or defining themselves as they figure out who they really
are and want to be.
Now that I’m in college, I want to become a science teacher
so I can impart the lessons that Wildwood has taught me and use the skills I’ve
learned there. Even now, I find myself using my “counselor voice” to make sure
my friends are staying hydrated and rested through finals!
It’s hard to communicate the power of camp to my “non-camp”
friends and family. The skills I have developed through my years and
experiences at camp—how to connect with kids, how to be patient, how to love
nature, how to love yourself, how to appreciate what you have and what’s really
important in life—most people outside the camp world don’t really “get it.”
There’s something about going into the woods for a few weeks with no internet
or cell phone that does something really profound to you. It’s being in a place
you love with people you love. It’s so important.
Every day that I’m alive, I’m so glad that I went to and continue to be a part of Wildwood. It has given me the best friends I’ve ever had—and ever will have—for the rest of my life. I don’t know who I would be without it. In a literal sense, I wouldn’t be here without Wildwood; in a figurative sense, I wouldn’t be the person I am now, and for that, I am so thankful.
Nina Swett is a first-year student at Mount Holyoke College, where they hope to pursue a career path toward becoming a teacher. They will return this summer for their 14th year at Wildwood and third as a counselor.
In Your Words is a regular feature of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter. Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares his or her story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. In the Spring 2020 issue, we interviewed three counselors from Mass Audubon’s Wildwood Camp. You can also read Nina and Jackson’s stories. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email email@example.com to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue!
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by nature. I’ve lived near conservation woodlands all my life, where I explored every nook and cranny as a kid. I caught frogs and snakes; tallied the hawks, warblers, and cardinals; and fed birdseed to baby Mallards. I read book after book about whales, dinosaurs, and penguins and devoured episodes of Planet Earth. As a Wildwood counselor, I found a place where that nature-loving child in me can return as I sing silly songs, canoe around the perimeter of the pond, bury myself in sand (long story), and search the camp for a stuffed toy raccoon (longer story).
This past summer, one of our mid-session overnight camping
trips saw temperatures soar to a scorching 100°F. As a team, the staff proposed
to the campers that we could avoid the heat by waking up at 3:00 am to climb
the mountain and see the sunrise. We were all aware of the challenges involved
in taking 50 13- and 14-year-olds up a mountain in the dark, but to my
surprise, they were game! When the alarm rang in the early morning, my campers
ran over, fully awake and ready to hike. We clambered up the mountain by
moonlight and flashlight until a sliver of pink pierced the horizon as we
ascended above the tree line. At the top, we were rewarded with the most
beautiful sunrise I’d ever seen. The mist blowing across the valley distorted
the sunlight, and we found ourselves inside a giant rainbow. It was a magical
moment, and we all felt accomplished.
We are in unbreakable connection with nature—we inhale what
plants exhale, our food grows from the soil, and we’re constantly at the mercy
of natural phenomena. Humans haven’t conquered nature as we like to believe: we
are nature. At this critical time
when the health of our planet is in our hands, camps like Wildwood, which
foster that connection in children and teens, are exceedingly special places.
Since first coming to Wildwood for family camp in 2011, I’ve treasured this special place for its community, sanctuary, and opportunities. I’ve spent some of the best weeks of my life at Wildwood, whether as a camper, a trekker, a Leader-in-Training, or a staff member. I’ll be returning this summer for my third year as a counselor, which I see as a way to give back to a community that has given so much to me.
Dustin Ledgard is studying Composition at Indiana University and will be returning for his 11th summer at Wildwood this year, his third as a counselor.
UPDATE 3/23/20: As It brings us great sadness to inform you that, to support the stay-at-home advisory given by Governor Baker, we will be closing all of Mass Audubon’s wildlife sanctuaries and trails to any visitation as of noon on Tuesday, March 24, until further notice. Please visit massaudubon.org/covid19 for more details.
If ever there was a need for the benefits of being outside, it is now. Study after study has shown that being outdoors can do wonders for our health and well-being.
And while our buildings have temporarily shut-down, our 38,000 acres of protected land is there for you to explore.
Visit a favorite trail, or try a new one. While you’re there, take a deep breath, slow down, listen to the sounds around you, seek out signs of spring, and share what you see on our Facebook page or tag us on Instagram.
We may have to socially distance ourselves in person, but we can continue to be a strong community online.
Mass Audubon relies on memberships and admission fees to maintain our property and provide education programs. During this difficult time, we have opted to open our trails free to everyone. If you would like make a donation, you can designate your gift to the sanctuary you visited.
Be sure to keep visiting our blog, where we will be sharing more ways to engage with nature over the coming weeks. Until then, stay well and get outside.
Warming spring days trigger amphibians like Wood Frogs and Spotted Salamanders to migrate to vernal pools to breed, often in great numbers, on the night of the first soaking rain above 45°F—a phenomenon known as “Big Night.”
Vernal pools are temporary, isolated ponds that form when spring rain and meltwater from ice and snow flood into woodland hollows and low meadows. These pools provide critical breeding habitat for certain amphibian and invertebrate species—since most vernal pools eventually dry up, they are inaccessible and inhospitable to predatory fish.
Wood Frogs are one of several species that rely on vernal pools to breed and reproduce. As you approach a vernal pool in early spring, you can hear a chorus of wood frogs “quacking” their breeding calls.
Learn more about vernal pools and their unique inhabitants—including a list of sanctuaries with vernal pools that you can visit—on our website and enjoy these five photos of wonderful Wood Frogs.