Species Highlight: 5 Birds for Bird-a-thon

On May 13, birders from across the state will be hiking quietly through bushes, binoculars in hand, patiently waiting for a bird to come into view. Throughout the heat of the day and into the cover of darkness, these dedicated birders silently wait. Why, you may ask? All for a chance to win Bird-a-thon’s coveted Brewster Cup.  

Bird-a-thon is Mass Audubon’s largest fundraising event and a great opportunity to see some unique creatures across the state. Learn more about five special species and how Mass Audubon works to help them.  

Saltmarsh Sparrows  

Saltmarsh Sparrow © Andy Eckerson

High in the saltmarsh hay and cordgrass, a Saltmarsh Sparrow makes its nest. They are unmistakable with their burnt-yellow facial pattern and a stark grey ear patch that blends into a white and brown-streaked breast. While you might not think much of this small bird, Saltmarsh Sparrows are unique because they only live and breed in salt marshes along the Atlantic coast.

However, rising sea levels are shrinking and dividing their breeding environment. With less available area to breed and nest, the Saltmarsh Sparrow population is rapidly declining.  

The Coastal Resilience Program uses nature-based climate solutions to focus on the protection, management, and restoration of coastal habitats, like salt marshes. By protecting, educating, and advocating for salt marsh ecosystems, we can help preserve the Saltmarsh Sparrow. 

Indigo Buntings  

Indigo Buntings © Jason Gilbody

When walking through a weedy meadow or near the edge of a shrubby forest, keep your eyes out for the brilliant blue of the Indigo Bunting. Not only do buntings look beautiful, but they sound beautiful too. From dawn until dusk, you can hear their high-pitched songs—individual notes often cluster in pairs and pairs often come in threes, (“what what, where where, here here?“) but songs can vary widely from one individual to the next. 

In the spring, Indigo Buntings migrate to the Northeast from South America to breed in young forests and fields. Without thoughtful and intentional forest management, these habitats are becoming more elusive in Massachusetts. One of the hallmarks of the Foresters for the Birds program is educating private landowners about how to create a home for open-country birds, like Indigo Buntings, on the land they manage. 

Wood Thrushes  

Wood Thrush © Liam Waters

Under the shady canopy of a forest and in the mix of shrubs and young trees, a Wood Thrush hops across the ground in search of a snack. Although they appear to be very similar to other thrushes, Wood Thrushes are slightly larger and have prominent black and brown spots speckled down their plump, white belly.  

Wood Thrushes need large areas of forest to nest—about sixty acres per pair! When we focus on protecting properties that already connect to conserved lands, like Greater Gales Brook, we’re giving species like Wood Thrushes the space they need to thrive.  

Bobolinks  

Bobolink

Pay attention as you walk through hayfields and meadows to find a Bobolink. You can easily spot a male Bobolink in the spring and summer when its plumage is still black with a yellow cap on the back of its head and streaks of white down the back and wings. When fall rolls around, males turn to match their female counterparts with a brown and black plumage.  

Today, the conservation of Bobolink depends on sustainable farming methods that don’t diminish the habitat of grassland birds, which is key to the Bobolink Project. Mass Audubon, the Connecticut Audubon Society, and Audubon Vermont all work together to raise money to financially support farmers in delaying their hay harvest until the birds have finished their nesting cycle. The project also offers resources for grassland owners that do not farm but want to preserve their meadows for birds.  

Osprey  

Osprey © Nicole Mordecai

As one of the top aerial predators in Massachusetts, it’s always a treat to watch an Osprey swoop down to catch its prey in salt marsh estuaries or nearby bays. Even though these birds are tough, they suffered a drastic population decline in the mid to late 20th century. Before its ban in the 1970s, DDT was a pesticide used to kill insects, but it also made Osprey eggs very fragile and chicks were unable to hatch. It took decades for their population to rebound from DDT exposure, but other human activities still threaten Ospreys today. 

Ospreys are important because they serve as a tracker for their environment. If Ospreys aren’t doing well, then there might be something going wrong in their ecosystem. For almost 20 years, the South Coast Osprey Project has monitored Osprey breeding activity at Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary in Westport, to observe the rebound of the species and gauge the health of the surrounding ecosystem and wildlife.  

You Can Help Too! 

Even if going out and birding isn’t your thing, you can still help your team raise donations to make an impact on wildlife across the state. Learn about all the ways you can get involved and join Bird-a-thon today.  

Four Leaders Making a Difference in Environmental Justice

Even though we are now in May, we are continuing to honor Earth Month and Celebrate Diversity Month by highlighting four leaders whose love of the natural world has launched them into a lifelong journey in environmental protection and advocacy. 

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) have always been at the forefront of environmental movements, developing innovative solutions to pressing environmental issues facing American communities, especially those that disproportionately bear the impact of climate change and other environmental crises. 

For example, in 1968, Thomas Oliver (T.O.) Jones kickstarted the Memphis Sanitation Strike to promote a better working environment for Memphis sanitation workers, which became the first organized, nationwide African American group to advocate for environmental justice (EJ). In more recent years, Kandi Mossett, an Indigenous environmental rights advocate, led the voices at Standing Rock, North Dakota, to preserve sacred Indigenous land against imminent destruction caused by the Dakota Access Pipeline project in 2016.  

Massachusetts communities also face rising impacts from climate change and harmful human activity, and BIPOC leaders are rising to the challenge at a local, regional, and statewide level. Here are just a few powerful leaders that advocate for EJ and access to nature. 

Rishi Reddi, Director of Environmental Justice at the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) 

Rishi Reddi © Sharona Jacobs

An environmental lawyer and award-winning fiction author, Reddi, who was born in Hyderabad, India, and lived in Great Britain before moving to the US, focuses on addressing laws and regulations that impact communities challenging EJ, public health, and racial injustice issues. 

Reddi is working on incorporating the EEA’s environmental justice policy for Massachusetts, into state programs and initiatives, including the MEPA review process, which ensures community and health impact analysis for development.  The policy expresses “the principle that all people have a right to be protected from environmental hazards and to live in and enjoy a clean and healthful environment regardless of race, color, national origin, income, or English language proficiency.” 

Reddi and her team at the EEA work directly with residents in historically underinvested EJ communities to understand where and what kind of change is needed to ensure that the state protects everyone from impacts of climate change.

Melanie Gárate, Climate Resiliency Manager for the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) 

Once a Coastal Waterbird Education Specialist and Teacher Naturalist at Mass Audubon, Melanie Gárate now works closely with municipalities, public health officials, and community-based groups in the Boston area to implement climate-resilient strategies for the benefit of those most impacted by extreme weather. 

In March of 2022, Gárate received the Environmental Justice and Equity Expert Urban Waters Learning Network Award funded by the EPA for her work at MyRWA. She is also a 2022 Public Voices Fellow on the Climate Crisis with the OpEd Project and Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, and she will work with other professionals to produce at least two pieces of thought leadership on how climate change impacts her community. 

To learn more about Gárate’s previous role at Mass Audubon, read her 2018 In Your Words

Raei Bridges, CEO and founder of The Rusty Anvil 

After finding personal liberation through reconnecting with the land, Raei Bridges founded The Rusty Anvil, LLC, an organization that aims to restore relationships between BIPOC community members and nature through guided wilderness trips and learning ancestral living skills while honoring the indigenous Mohican and Pocumtuc peoples who for millennia stewarded the land where the Rusty Anvil’s programming takes place.  

Bridges wants to restore the powerful, healthy relationships with nature that many BIPOCs are and have been excluded from through forest emersion. This practice is “centered around BIPOC individuals in their journey towards reclamation and reconnection to the natural world,” Raei noted. “These immersions offer an opportunity to experience the healing benefits of the natural world through mindfulness-based activities, daily journaling, and movement. They are intended to bridge the gap between marginalized communities and nature, and create a non-competitive space.”  

Reverend Mariama White-Hammond, Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space for the City of Boston

Rev. Mariama White-Hammond © Reba Saldanha

Reverend Mariama White-Hammond works to strengthen the resilience of Boston communities by protecting the water, air, climate, and land. Rev. White-Hammond oversees Climate Ready Boston, the Parks and Recreation Department, the Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO), and other programs that build resilient neighborhoods and protect natural resources across Boston. She also works with other members of the Cabinet to help Boston become carbon neutral by 2050.  

Rev. White-Hammond is the founding pastor of New Roots AME Church, a multi-racial and multi-class community. 

Continuing to Celebrate Diversity 

As we look to the future of the planet and our communities, we also see the importance of preparing the next wave of leaders in EJ and climate advocacy. Mass Audubon programs like the Environmental Fellowship Program and Willow Tree Youth Leaders Internship Program, provide young professionals of color and students with the skills and experiences needed for careers in environmental and conservation fields. 

To learn more about other Mass Audubon Diversity and Equity initiatives and programs, visit our Diversity & Inclusion page