Have a Cold One to Support Mass Audubon

Here’s something to toast about: Mass Audubon is one of five local charities that will benefit from the 2021 sales of Castle Island Brewing Company’s latest IPA: Fiver.

Castle Island Brewing Company is an award-winning brewery based in Norwood dedicated to the idea that beer should be inclusive, approachable, and excellent. They recently kicked off the Fiver Initiative with the purpose of giving back to some deserving local charities.

In addition to Mass Audubon, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, Artists for Humanity, Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, and Facing History and Ourselves will receive a cut of sales.

So whether you enjoy a can of Fiver on a cold winter’s day; a frosty mug of it in the heat of summer; or a freshly poured pint in the taproom this fall, you’ll be supporting Mass Audubon during every season this year. We’ll cheers to that!

~ Emily Sabo

Birders Meeting Goes Virtual

Every March since 1992, birders from around New England have come together to attend Mass Audubon’s annual Birders Meeting. This year’s event, which will take place virtually over four days, is focusing on “The Bird Next Door: Birding Your Patch.”

Ruby-throated Hummingbird © Christine St. Andre

What is Patch Birding?

Simply put, “patch birding” means focusing your efforts on one local area to develop a deep knowledge of the place and its birds. Your patch can be your yard, your neighborhood, the swamp down the street, your apartment balcony, or any place you visit regularly.

Patch birding is taking off because it helps us focus closely and see birds in a new light. It can also lead to exciting discoveries, from easily-overlooked hotspots to unreported patterns in species migrations and distribution. Patch birding also reinforces the value of parks and greenspaces, and, perhaps most importantly, reduces climate-altering CO2 emissions from travel.

Schedule and Speakers

The Birder’s Meeting will take place March 7, 8, 14, & 15. You can choose to sign up for individual sessions or the whole series. 

Sunday, March 7 • 7:00-8:30 pm ET

125 Years of Conservation with David O’Neill and The Value of Birding Your Patch with Heather Wolf, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Mass Audubon President David O’Neill will kick off this year’s Birders Meeting with a short presentation on Mass Audubon’s impressive history in conservation and his vision for the organization going forward. Learn more about our 125th >

Join birder, author, and photographer Heather Wolf as she shares her ongoing urban patch birding adventure under the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, where she has documented over 170 bird species over the years.

Monday, March 8 • 7:30-8:30 pm ET

A Sense of Place with Susannah Lerman, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station

For many of us, we had our first experiences with the natural world in our backyards and neighborhood parks. These natural history sparks often ignite a life-long appreciation for birds and other wildlife. Susannah Lerman will present research on how aesthetics (e.g., color and bird song) influence human-wildlife interactions and how public interest of backyard birds compares with ecological dynamics in residential landscapes.

Sunday, March 14 • 7:30-8:30 pm ET

Nature’s Best Hope with Doug Tallamy, University of Delaware

Recent headlines about global insect declines and three billion fewer birds in North America are a bleak reality check about how ineffective our current landscape designs have been at sustaining the plants and animals that sustain us. Author Doug Tallamy will discuss simple steps that each of us can—and must—take to reverse declining biodiversity and will explain why we, ourselves, are nature’s best hope.

Monday, March 15 • 12:00-1:00 pm ET

Birding at the Speed of Slow with Scott Edwards, Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University

How we bird, and how we move through the landscape, is as important as what we bird. Scott Edwards will share how birding a local patch repeatedly or moving slowly through seasons and soundscapes allows us to see details of song, behavior and migration that reveal birds’ annual cycles—when and how their lives change over time.

Green Frog

Take 5: Hopping into March

As we enter March, look to the frog for inspiration on how to make the most of this transitional season: get outdoors and make some noise, soak up the sun, and look for seasonal oases around you.

While Massachusetts thaws, woodland hollows and low areas flood, creating temporary isolated pools. The resulting vernal pools fill with melting snow, spring rain, runoff, and rising groundwater, which amphibians live in during critical periods of their life cycle.

Soon, you’ll start to hear an orchestra of active frogs by vernal pools, starting with woods frogs. You can learn how to distinguish different frog calls and find out how to contribute to a community science project by signing up for our Frog Watch USA online program.

In the meantime, enjoy 5 hopping photos captured by photographers from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest .

Grey Tree Frog © Sandra Hayslett
Gray Treefrog © Sandra Hayslett
Wood Frog © Jane Parker
Wood Frog © Jane Parker
© Martha Pfeiffer
Green Frog ©Martha Pfeiffer
Northern Leopard Frog ©Kenneth Hilts
Green Frog © Bernard Creswick
American Bullfrog ©Bernard Creswick
Osprey Nest Nicole Mordecai

Your Chance to Speak Up for Birds

The 100-year old Migratory Bird Treaty Act  (MBTA) is one of our first environmental statutes, making it illegal to hunt, trap, kill, or possess nearly 1,000 avian species. Despite providing crucial protections, the law has been under attack in recent years.  

Normally, when birds die through activities like energy extraction, the MBTA helps hold companies responsible, and is a strong incentive to avoid such impacts in the first place. But a rule passed by the Trump Administration altered the MBTA so that incidental, as opposed to deliberate, bird deaths resulting from these activities–for example, birds killed in oil spills–will no longer result in prosecution. 

Osprey © Nicole Mordecai

Now we have a chance to take action.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has delayed the Trump Administration’s rollback, and is taking input from the public as they consider their next steps. You can submit comments by clicking this link and tell USFWS we need to reinstate full MBTA protections! 

Here’s what you can copy and paste into the comment portal (or personalize your comments with a message of your own!): 

I urge the US Fish and Wildlife Service to reverse damaging rollbacks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and to restore full protections under the law. Many of our bird species are already in trouble due to factors like habitat loss and climate change, with reports documenting a decline of 3 billion birds in North America since 1970. We can’t stop holding companies responsible for bird deaths at a time when 76% of all bird species in the US are declining. 

The MBTA is the primary legislation protecting native birds in the United States, and we need it today more than ever. Please take immediate action to restore this critical law and to enforce penalties for bird deaths. Thank you for considering these comments. 

Skyline copyright Michael Mondville

One Way Light Pollution Impacts Birds

Skyline copyright Michael Mondville
Boston’s bright lights create a hazy glow on the horizon that can be seen for miles. Photo © Michael Mondville

Migrating birds are attracted to artificial light at night, and ornithologists are just beginning to understand how that affects their survival.

Recent studies show that the diffuse glow of entire cities can draw migrating birds towards them—and away from more suitable habitat.

There are already hundreds of records of mesmerized birds fluttering around single, isolated sources of bright light— from thousands of migrants trapped in the beams of mile-high searchlights in New York City, to dozens of warblers gathering at the windows of lighthouses.

But until recently, there was limited evidence for how light pollution across an entire region affects where migrants rest and feed.

Radar studies show “clouds” of birds near cities 

To test if birds gather disproportionately in brightly-lit cities, migration ecologists looked to doppler radar data. This is the same radar used to create weather forecasts across the country. Doppler radar reveals the density of particles in the air, whether it’s rain, birds, or aircraft, so it’s useful for remotely observing which areas migrating birds are using the most.

Naturalists might expect that migratory birds gravitate towards undeveloped areas, just as most do when they aren’t migrating. But this isn’t necessarily true, according to a team led by scientists from the University of Delaware.

In fact, radar signals consistently show more migrants pausing within a couple of miles of brightly-lit areas than anywhere else within around 30 miles. Migrant density peaks again 50-60 miles away, where the glow of lights on the horizon is dimmer or invisible.

These graphs show the density of migrating birds relative to major sources of light pollution like cities in spring (left) and fall (right) migration. Source: Cohen et al. (2020) (axis labels added).

This suggests that artificial light from cities is drawing in birds from greater distances than once believed. The authors of the study write that this pattern risks “impeding [birds’] selection for extensive forest habitat.” 

They go on to caution that “high‐quality stopover habitat is critical to successful migration, and hindrances during migration can decrease fitness.”

Prioritizing Urban Greenspaces for Birds

Migratory birds’ attraction to artificial light may be one reason behind the surprisingly excellent birding at greenspaces in cities—something birders have known about for a long time, but struggled to fully explain.

A canopy of trees meets Boston’s skyline, as seen from Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Watertown. Source: Wikimedia commons

Take Mount Auburn Cemetery, for example: it’s arguably the most famous site in the Northeast to see big numbers of warblers in spring. New York City’s Central Park, too, offers excellent birding that can rival—or outmatch—spring migration in intact forests.

But despite their attraction to the bright glow of cities, birds face increased hazards in urban environments. Most migratory birds feed exclusively on insects, which are harder to come by in cities, and urban ecosystems host more predators per square mile than other habitats.

Modifications as simple as planting native species, reducing insecticides, adding understory and mid-story habitat, or controlling predators could give migrants a much-needed boost at these sites. As long as light pollution continues to be an issue, improving urban habitat and reducing hazards remains important work.

Three Land Projects Worth Celebrating

Mass Audubon has been protecting important places in the Massachusetts landscape for almost a century now. Working with land owners, public and private conservation partners, and supporters, we use best available science to identify high-priority parcels of land and pursue their permanent conservation for the benefit of people and wildlife.

And we are off to a great start in 2021! We have already ensured 80 acres will be permanently protected from development.

Patten HIll field in Shelburne
Patten HIll in Shelburne

The Last Piece of the Puzzle in Shelburne

Thanks to the efforts of many—including over 300 donors—the remaining land of the Patten Hill Farm Trust in Shelburne Falls has been permanently protected. Mass Audubon purchased the lands from the Patten Hill Farm Trust to be added to our High Ledges Wildlife Sanctuary—initially established by gift of Ellsworth “Dutchy” and Mary Barnard in 1970.

This addition strengthens the connection between High Ledges, the undeveloped 574-acre Shelburne Falls Fire District land (a public water supply property), and the 221-acre Davenport Farm. Joining all these protected properties creates a largely unfragmented land corridor of more than 1,000 acres. See why this matters >

A Sanctuary Grows in Canton

Pequit Brook
Pequit Brook

At the end of January, Mass Audubon received a donation of 2.73 acres of land next to the Museum of American Bird Art at Mass Audubon (MABA) in Canton, MA. The new addition—donated by Bill Carroll and the Carroll Family—features a lovely series of rapids, or cascades, of Pequit Brook that runs along the Main Loop Trail.

Most of the land is a vibrant red maple swamp teeming with various species of native plants and animals. Learn more >

A Partnership in Marshfield

Thanks to a collaboration between the Town of Marshfield and Mass Audubon, 13 acres of land abutting our North River Wildlife Sanctuary has been protected. The Town purchased the property from the MacLarey family using Community Preservation Act funds, and Mass Audubon acquired a permanent Conservation Restriction (CR) on the land.

A CR is a legally binding agreement held by one entity (in this case, Mass Audubon) that permanently protects important conservation values of a property owned by another entity (in this case, the Town of Marshfield) .

This land ranked as one of our highest priority parcels identified for protection in the area and allows for passive recreation including the right to build a small parking lot for a new trailhead. Learn more >

Winter Sunset Landscape

Take 5: Light Up Your Winter

The special light of winter can be elusive, but beautiful. With the snow-heavy season we’ve been having, we’re seeing landscapes of bright whites, overcast skies, winds filled with flurries, sunsets reflecting off ice, and sparkling icicles.

While these conditions make for amazing scenic moments, enjoyed by all that brave the cold, they can also be a real challenge for photographers looking to capture the perfect shot: you need to balance framing, aperture, and shutter speed.

If you’re looking to master the ever-changing and complex needs of winter light photography, try our online Winter Nature Photography series dives into tips, tricks, and pitfalls.

To get you inspired, are five photos of special winter light moments, captured by photographers from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest who have mastered the art of lighting up their winters through photography.

© Paul Mozell
©Heidi Besen
©Pui Ying Ching
©Dana Goedewaagen
©Mark Goulding
Groundhog © Debbie Lamb

Take 5: Groundhog Day

Let’s get real for a minute: living through a pandemic can sometimes feel a bit like the classic movie Groundhog Day—reliving the same day over and over, never quite sure when we’ll escape a sort of perpetual limbo. But unlike the anti-hero of that fictional Hollywood reality, we know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that, while socially distant, we are not alone as we navigate this strange, challenging reality together.

And there’s even better news: Groundhog Day (a popular holiday observed on February 2 in the United States and Canada) traditionally marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, meaning warmer days and even more outdoor adventures in nature lie ahead. Whether you consider yourself “superstitious” or not, it may bring you some comfort to know that Drumlin Farm’s own Ms. G—the official state groundhog of Massachusetts—made her annual appearance on February 2 and did NOT see her shadow, thereby predicting an early spring! You can watch a recording of the live event on Facebook, which was held virtually this year due to COVID-19 and the heavy snowstorm the day before.

So while we may need to wait a bit longer for springtime, in the meantime you can enjoy these five photos of our native groundhogs (also known as woodchucks) and look forward to brighter days—both literally and figuratively—in the near future.

Groundhog © Eric Roth
Groundhog © Eric Roth
Groundhogs © John Coran
Groundhogs © John Coran
Groundhog © Martha Akey
Groundhog © Martha Akey
Groundhogs inspecting a "fellow woodworker's" craftsmanship © Lois DiBlasi
Groundhogs inspecting a “fellow woodworker’s” craftsmanship © Lois DiBlasi
Groundhog © Debbie Lamb
Groundhog © Debbie Lamb

New Year, New Climate Resolutions

Photo © Andrew Weber

2020 was a tough year. It would be easy to simply bury our heads in the sand and ignore the climate crisis, but nature needs us now more than ever before. And what’s more, we need nature too.

As 2021 begins, we can all make some resolutions that will help us feel better while also helping the world we all share. Consider resolving to contend with the anxiety that comes with our global climate crisis.

Serious concern about climate change has been called “climate grief,” defined as a psychological response to loss caused by the environmental destruction of climate change. And we all have plenty of it. We see, often daily, how climate change is playing out in extreme weather events, coastal flooding, and impacts on the health and safety of our communities.

It turns out that taking actions to learn about and help address climate change is not just good for the planet, but also for our mental health.  According to therapists, climate grief can be addressed by:

  • Staying informed
  • Connecting with others who are also concerned
  • Maintaining our relationship with nature
  • And engaging with meaningful climate solutions in ways that are relevant and applicable to us.

For this new year, you can make several resolutions to help the planet, that, in turn, will help you deal with any climate grief you face.

Be informed.

Read more information from reliable and trustworthy sources about local and national climate actions, regulations, incentive programs, and solutions. Digest and reflect on essays and articles from environmental organizations and advocacy groups.

Share and engage with others.

Initiate conversations with neighbors, extended family, and people in your community, about local and global climate threats and solutions. Attend library programs, climate cafés, and public information meetings held by local, state and federal elected officials. Participating in talks, meetings, and conversations will help you feel part of a collective of concerned, committed individuals who are learning together, sharing, and engaging in solutions. Being part of a solutions-oriented climate community can keep you feeling supported and energized when you need it most.

Connect to nature for health and motivation.  

Get outdoors and experience nature in your neighborhood or visit nearby trails every week. These daily connections with local nature will help you stay physically and emotionally healthy, connecting you to the Earth, which needs your help.

Act on climate.

Acting on the climate crisis helps address climate grief. This year, commit to climate action above and beyond what you already do. Start with individual solutions, like increasing how many plant-based meals you eat, and grow to community solutions, like participating in community composting programs or using your voice to support critical climate legislation. Actively engage with more local land protection and clean energy efforts by donating or volunteering. Use your power as a consumer, a voter, and community member, to push for local and global climate solutions.

We all have the power to make a difference, at or near home, in our collective climate fight. With the hope and promise of a new year in front of us, we can address our climate grief by seeking ways to act on the climate crisis. It’s one of the healthiest resolutions we can make.

Lucy Gertz, Adult Programs Education Manager

My past is my prologue

The first time I saw myself as a scientist was at a very young age, inspired by scouting. My two favorite merit badges were Nature and Environmental Science – but earning them took effort and time. I had to pick three different environments and observe patterns in them.

I vividly remember taking my bike out every day to our local salt marsh, each time with a growing curiosity. What would I hear? What new discovery would I make? Scouting taught me that if I take the time to look in nature, I will certainly discover something new.

Tom Eid, Climate Champion.

My childhood experiences come full circle.

While my scouting days are over, the lessons I’ve learned still ring true today: that as a community, we must look to the patterns in nature to understand what is happening to it.

Right now, that means grasping how nature is changing in order to adapt to our changing climate.

I’m Tom Eid and I’m a Climate Champion.

I act on climate by helping increase our collective, scientific understanding of how nature fares in the face of rising seas, warming temperatures, and shifting seasons through community science.

Community science is public participation in scientific research and decision making. It has provided me opportunities to collaborate with experts and help protect the environment. It is science by people to benefit nature.

What I did as a scout was science. The activities I completed were part of the practice of phenological monitoring: the observation of long-term patterns in wildlife behavior to understand nature and its adaptation to environmental threats. Many years later, I still use phenological monitoring to better comprehend how wildlife behavior is affected by the threat of climate change.

A return to the salt marsh

From July through September 2020, I worked with Mass Audubon on its Coastal Salt Marsh Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment project.

There was a beautiful nostalgia in the field at Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary that reminded me of my time scouting. What struck me is that the smell of a salt marsh is the same – no matter where you go or how many years have passed. There’ll always the gentle bending and bowing of salt marsh grasses as the wind blows through. The feeling of the soft, cushion-like peat underneath me. The calls of birds whistling through the air matched with the slight touch of sea salt in the marsh breeze.

While my monitoring as a scout merited me with a badge, these assessments gave me a pathway for climate action. I helped observe nature’s cues, noting shifts in things like where certain marsh plants grow, to inform adaptation strategies that preserve and enhance this critical habitat for people and wildlife. 

The scientist in you

Climate change is our reality: it affects us here and now. We are all responsible for making a difference.

What can you do to act on climate change to ensure a sustainable future for the world around us? Get outside and into nature! Community science can be that opportunity to engage, here’s how to start:

  1. Pursue your passion. What do you love about the environment?
  2. Leverage your skills: What do you bring to the table? How can you engage and educate others about new scientific findings?
  3. Embrace your sector: What type of work do you want to do? Visit Mass Audubon’s website for some ideas.

Together, lets commit to protecting nature. Let’s learn from nature’s patterns and cues, teach each other, and enable current and future generations to act on climate through science.

– Tom Eid, Mass Audubon Community Science Volunteer