For people on the autism spectrum or with other sensory-sensitive needs, some environments can be overwhelming. Loud noises, bright lights, and crowds can make spaces less accessible for those with sensory sensitivities. In order to continue making nature accessible to all, we’re launching a series of Sensory Friendly Days at sanctuaries throughout Massachusetts this summer!
During these times, you can visit when properties are closed to the general public or tend to be relatively quiet. Some sites will have special hikes with nature guides available to recommend appropriate trails and guide your experience, while others provide self-lead opportunities. You can also find All Persons Trails at many of these sanctuaries, which feature wide, flat, ADA-Accessible paths connecting parking areas to the wilds of the sanctuaries.
Aides and companions receive free admission on Sensory-Friendly Days and on any regular visit day.
Check out These Sensory-Friendly Opportunities
Metro West: Broadmoor in Natick, Habitat in Belmont, and Drumlin Farm in Lincoln
These programs are supported in part by grants from the Lincoln, Sudbury, Belmont, Arlington, Natick, Sherborn, Framingham, Boston, Topsfield, Norfolk, Wrentham, Plainville, Sharon, Norwood, Walpole, Canton, Milton, Plymouth, Kingston, Attleboro, North Attleboro, Marshfield, Duxbury, Westport, Dartmouth, Millbury, West Boylston, Fitchburg, and WellfleetCultural Councils, local agencies which are supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.
Juneteenth, a portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth”, commemorates the end of slavery in the United States each year on June 19. Because the enslaved ancestors of many Black Americans were not free on July 4, 1776, many consider Juneteenth their true Independence Day and a day to celebrate Black history, culture, joy, and family.
Notably, this year is the first time that Juneteenth will be observed as an official state holiday in Massachusetts: State Representative Bud L. Williams of Springfield added the measure to a coronavirus spending bill and Governor Charlie Baker signed it into law in July 2020, noting that Juneteenth is “an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the goal of creating a more equal and just society.”
In addition to being a day of celebration and remembrance, Juneteenth is also an opportunity for reflection on the history of slavery and systemic racism in this country and the impact it continues to have today.
Below is a roundup of resources we’ve gathered in honor of Juneteenth: organizations that are celebrating Black people in nature, as well as some things to read, watch, listen to, and follow at the intersections of blackness, nature, science, environmental justice, and racial justice. There are also great resources in last year’s Juneteenth blog post that are still relevant and worth a read or revisit.
If you are looking for opportunities to experience and connect to nature with other Black folks, or want to support the movement to diversify the outdoors and make nature accessible to all, these organizations are a terrific place to start:
Outdoor Afro has become the nation’s leading, cutting-edge network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature with more than 80 leaders in 42 cities around the country. Join their community for meaningful opportunities to get outdoors and to support their work to ensure that Black people have access, representation, meaningful participation, and quality nature-based experiences.
The Black Outdoors works to increase awareness of and participation in outdoor recreational activity amongst black people and other underrepresented groups. They offer tips and tricks for navigating the outdoors, recommendations and reviews on places to visit, information about what kinds of gear you might need, and stories from people of color who are engaging with the natural world and finding escape, adventure, solitude, and community in the outdoors.
The Rusty Anvil, based in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, reconnects BIPOC folks to nature through mindful wilderness trips and place-based skills that provide space for self-reflection and healing, intimacy with nature, and conscious environmental stewardship for BIPOC individuals.
Unlikely Hikers is a diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating outdoor community featuring outdoorspeople that are underrepresented in the media and outdoor industry, including people of size, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, queer, trans and non-binary people, people with disabilities, and people who utilize the outdoors to aid their mental health.
Diversify Outdoors is a coalition of social media influencers—bloggers, athletes, activists, and entrepreneurs—who share the goal of promoting diversity in outdoor spaces where BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other diverse identities have historically been marginalized and silenced. Sign up for their newsletter and follow their hashtag #DiversifyOutdoors on social media to join the movement.
Last June, a Black birder named Christian Cooper was birding in Central Park when he recorded a video of a confrontation he had with a White woman who threatened to falsely tell the police that Cooper was threatening her life after he asked her to follow the posted dog leash law. In September, Cooper—who is also a former writer and editor for Marvel Comics—turned his experience into a graphic novel called It’s a Bird, which is free to read on certain digital platforms.
Co-organizers of the first Black Birders Week talk about the joy of the natural world and the work outdoor-focused groups need to do to reduce racism and promote inclusion in this 2020 interview from Scientific American.
Recordings of many of the presentations and events that took place as part of Black Birders Week 2021 are still available for viewing on the Black AF in Stem website, including collaborations with US Fish and Wildlife and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Racism makes our economy worse—and not just in ways that harm people of color, says public policy expert Heather C. McGhee in her 2019 Ted Talk. From her research and travels across the US, McGhee shares startling insights into how racism fuels bad policymaking and drains our economic potential and demonstrates how racism has a cost for everyone, beginning with examples of countless municipalities across the U.S. that closed their public parks, pools, and schools in response to desegregation orders throughout the 1960s, depriving Americans of all races of access to nature and the outdoors.
From Gimlet Media’s How to Save a Planet podcast, learn about why the fight for racial justice is critical to saving the planet, and what the broader climate and environmental movements need to learn from the Black Lives Matter movement to be successful.
From the REI Co-op Wild Ideas Worth Living podcast, check out an interview with Black Birders Week organizer Corina Newsome, where she talks about how she fell in love with birds and the “treasure hunt” of birding, the circumstances that inspired Black Birders Week, and what it’s like being a Black woman in the outdoors.
Science Friday (SciFri) producer Christie Taylor talks to herpetologist Chelsea Connor, a co-founder of Black Birders Week, about her relationship with the outdoors, and what comes next for creating and maintaining spaces where Black scientists can thrive.
The Unlikely Hikers Podcast with Jenny Bruso features diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating stories from people underrepresented in outdoor media and culture.
Follow the hashtags #BlackinNature and #DiversifyOutdoors on most social media platforms to join the conversation and movement for equity and access to the outdoors for all.
Creators of Black Birders Week, the Black AF in Stem Collective (@BlackAFinSTEM on Instagram and Twitter) is a group of unapologetically Black scientists studying topics in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
The hilarious Alexis Nikole—a.k.a. The Black Forager (@BlackForager on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter)—is a foraging expert and lover of environmental science, ethnobotany, and free food. Follow her on the platform of your choice for laughs and learning as she takes you on her adventures in foraging and cooking with wild food.
When most people think of sea turtles, they imagine these marine reptiles enjoying the warm waters of the tropics. However, visitors and residents of the Cape may not realize that each summer hundreds of these turtles make their way into waters around Cape Cod.
While sea turtles don’t nest north of the Carolinas, many sea turtles spend their summers in our nutrient-rich waters, feeding on the plentiful crabs, jellyfish, and other prey. In fact, warming water temperatures due to climate change is leading to turtles traveling farther north each summer.
When the time comes to head south for the winter, some juvenile turtles that have been feeding north of the Cape get trapped by its shape, or “hook”, becoming lethargic in the cooling water.
When the water reaches about 50°F by early-November, these turtles become too cold to eat, drink, or swim—they become cold-stunned. Strong onshore winds, mostly from the north or west, push cold-stunned turtles onto the beaches.
This is where a team of Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary staff and trained volunteers come in. They patrol the beaches of Cape Cod night and day at high tide, on the lookout for cold-stunned turtles. Any turtle they find is rapidly transported to the sanctuary and then on to the New England Aquarium or National Marine Life Center for evaluation and rehabilitation. Since 1979, Wellfleet Bay’s Sea Turtle Team has rescued and recovered more than 5,000 turtles.
Sea Turtles in Massachusetts
While unlikely, it is possible to find five species of sea turtles on the Cape. Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary keeps track of sea turtles in the summer and early fall by asking boaters to report sightings at seaturtlesightings.org.
STATUS: Endangered The smallest and most endangered sea turtle in the world the Kemp’s Ridley is also the most common turtle found cold-stunned on Cape Cod Bay beaches. Juveniles are typically only 5-10 pounds, but adults can grow up to 100 pounds. Several hundred to over 1,000 strand each winter on Cape Cod.
STATUS: Threatened This species has the largest geographic distribution of any sea turtle in the world. Juveniles and sub-adults can vary widely in size—between 30-200 pounds—and full-grown adults can reach 350 pounds. Loggerheads are becoming a commonly stranded species on Cape Cod. In recent years, an average of 24-26 are found cold-stunned, with a high of nearly 150 in 2012.
STATUS: Threatened Green turtles are named for the green color of their body fat. Juveniles can weigh anywhere from 5-25 pounds, and adults can reach an impressive 400 pounds.
STATUS: Endangered These are the largest turtle species in the world. Leatherbacks are also the only sea turtle whose body temperature can rise above the temperature of the surrounding water, due to a number of unique physical adaptations. Thanks to these adaptations, leatherbacks don’t cold-stun. But they can still be severely injured or killed by boat strikes, fishing gear entanglement, and ingesting plastic. Full-grown adult leatherbacks can reach up to eight feet in length and weigh 1,500 pounds!
STATUS: Endangered This species rarely leaves tropical water, making it the least common sea turtle found off Cape Cod. Only one or two cold-stunned individuals have ever been recorded. The hawksbill is listed as “Endangered” in Massachusetts and at the federal level. Adults can reach up to 180 pounds.
As spring gives way to summer, young ducks that were but mere hatchlings a few weeks ago are growing rapidly. Mallard ducklings remain with their mother after hatching for about 50–60 days until they can fly on their own. Mother Mallards keep their fluffy little ducklings together for protection against predators and favor open water for the same reason, so you’ll often see them paddling along in a cluster or an orderly line.
It takes Mallards over a year to reach full adulthood, but they can begin flying at about three or four months when their wings fully develop and the blue/purple “speculum” feathers on their wings grow in. Not long after that, their bills change color, too, which means they can finally be visually differentiated by sex—males have yellow bills while females’ are black and orange. The plumage is still similar, but by ten months of age, the males will grow into their more vibrant colors: emerald-green heads, white neck rings, reddish breast plumage, and a curly central tail feather known as a drake feather.
Have you seen Mallard ducklings near bodies of water in your community? Can you guess how old they are based on their plumage? Check out our tips for when ducks nest in your backyard and enjoy these five adorable photos of ducklings from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.
Bird-a-thon, which took place May 14-15, was a great time to get outside to bird and enjoy nature. About 1,000 participants trekked out across their state, or stayed close home, to spot bird species, search for items on our 125th anniversary scavenger hunt, and/or complete nature activities like drawing a picture of a bird and playing nature bingo.
The weather was amazing, the birding spectacular (including sightings of a Tropical Kingbird, Swallow-tailed Kite, White-faced Ibis, Pacific Loon, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Sandhill Crane, Thick-billed Murre, Red-headed Woodpecker, Summer Tanager, and Prothonotary Warbler), and the fact that we could bird safely together again made moods soar.
Check out some favorite social shares, scroll down for results, and show our sponsors some love!
It’s a Waiting Game
“Chimney Swift” Sees a Baltimore Oriole
Nature Activity Fun
Follow the Leader
Crushing the Scavenger Hunt
Creating Bird Art
View more photos in the online photo gallery. Feel free to add your own Bird-a-thon pictures as well, and please be sure to include your name in the file name so we know who to credit.
Our 13 teams recorded an impressive combined total of 274 bird species in Massachusetts. Great job! We’ve finished tallying the species and activity lists and are excited to announce the winners of the 2021 Bird-a-thon birding and points awards.
Congratulations to our winning teams!
Brewster Cup (most species recorded statewide)
Team Metro South with 245 species
Forbush Award (2nd place in species recorded statewide)
Team Metro West with 238 species
County Cup (highest percentage of county par value)
Team West (Berkshire County, 146/142, 103%)
Sitting Duck Award (most species recorded while staying within a 25-foot circle)
Team West with 110 species
Eagle Eye Award (highest average number of activity points)
Team Cape Cod with 60 activity points
Mighty Migrant Award (highest average number of species points)
Team Central with 100 species points
It’s Not Too Late to Get Involved
The birding may be over, but fundraising is open through Friday, June 11! So far we’ve raised over $270,000 to support nature education, land and wildlife stewardship, and so much more. We can’t thank you enough for your generous support.
The 2021 Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest is now open! We’ll be accepting submissions until September 30 of photos that highlight people in nature, capture the beauty of Massachusetts wildlife, and celebrate our stunning landscapes and habitats.
But remember, photography is a creative art, not a science—that means experimenting is strongly encouraged and rules are meant to be broken!
Rule of Thirds
To achieve a balanced-looking shot, try to imagine that the frame is divided into a three-by-three grid and place your subjects along the dividing lines and intersection points.
You can offset the “visual weight” of your subject by counter-balancing it with another focal point of lesser importance in the same frame. Here, the hummingbird is balanced by the jewelweed flowers it has its eye on.
Use naturally occurring visual lines to draw the viewer’s eye toward a specific point in the distance.
The human eye instinctively gravitates toward symmetry and regular patterns—try focusing on the shape and texture of the subject to best capture this.
Tell a Story
As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” It’s amazing the complexity of stories and emotions you can capture in a single fraction of a second!
Water chestnut is an invasive plant that wreaks havoc on native plant and animal life, chokes out waterways, and interferes with recreation. Enjoy a beautiful day on the water pulling water chestnut and helping to preserve the habitat of this vulnerable waterway. This project was made possible through our cooperation with the Connecticut River Conservancy. Registration is required.This event was rescheduled from June 4 to June 11.
Walk the trails at Tidmarsh on a regular basis, taking notes about seasonal changes, reporting changes to the property including potentially hazardous or unpleasant trail conditions (storm damage, trash, tracks), and more.
Blaze new trails and construct trail features along 9 miles of trails, helping to preserve the ecological integrity of areas in and around the sanctuary. Examples of projects include trail maintenance, boardwalk construction, removing invasive plants, burning brush piles, or planting native plants.
Walk trails or boundaries weekly on Oak Knoll or Attleboro Springs Wildlife Sanctuaries and identify management problems (such as trash deposits, tracks of motorized vehicles, damage to natural assets); identify animal and plant species; observe and document seasonal changes (make field notes, and if possible photographs or drawings); and assist in routine maintenance of trails.
Every Wednesday morning and the 1st Saturday of every month help care for the sanctuary and enjoy a few hours of fresh air, fun and fulfillment. Help put up signs and markers, look for wildlife tracks, pick up branches, fill the bird feeders, and more.
Every Thursday morning you can help with projects, gardening, hiking trails, or other needed work around the Sanctuary. And Thursday afternoons, work alongside knowledgeable garden volunteers and learn about which plants provide food for Island butterflies and birds.
A bird as brilliantly colored as the Scarlet Tanager might seem at first to be impossible to overlook. But as it happens, this vibrant forest bird is improbably gifted at evading the birder’s eye, even as it moves sluggishly about the forest canopy, singing its hoarse song as it searches for caterpillars to eat.
During spring migration and summer, look for a flash of red up high in the canopy of mature deciduous forests for a chance to spy a male Scarlet Tanager. The females will be even trickier to spot—this species is sexually dimorphic, so the yellowish-green females are significantly less vibrant than breeding-season males, although the males’ brilliant plumage fades to yellowish-green in the fall and winter.
To somewhat more easily identify both males and females, listen for the loud, distinctive chick-burrr call given by both sexes. Their song is similar to a robin’s, but with a raspier tone.
Enjoy these five photos of Scarlet Tanagers from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest and let us know in the comments if you’ve been lucky enough to spot a Tanager in your area. The 2021 photo contest opens in early June, so keep an eye out for the announcement!
After the global success of its inaugural year, #BlackBirdersWeek returns Sunday, May 30 through Saturday, June 5, 2021!
Organized by Black AF in STEM, a collective of unapologetically Black scientists studying topics in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, this year’s event will showcase the many unique ways Black people connect in the outdoors.
The week’s lineup includes nationwide birding events, live-streamed panel discussions, and daily interactive themes, some of which are produced in partnership with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bird Collective, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and more.
Be sure to check out the schedule of events for Black Birders Week 2021 on their website, and follow @BlackAFinSTEM on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for updates about daily activities and entry links for a daily giveaway!
Black Birders Week at Mass Audubon
In addition to spreading the word about Black Birders Week and the official lineup of events, Mass Audubon is also offering the following free events to celebrate locally.
Virtual Conversation with Dr. J. Drew Lanham
The On Belonging In Outdoor Spaces speaker series concludes on Wednesday, June 2 with a talk featuring Dr. J. Drew Lanham on “Coloring the Conservation Conversation,” moderated by Mass Audubon’s president David O’Neill. Dr. Lanham will discuss what it means to embrace the full breadth of his African-American heritage and his deep kinship to nature and adoration of birds. He will also examine how conservation must be a rigorous science and evocative art, inviting diversity and race to play active roles in celebrating our natural world.
Join local naturalist John Green for a Black Birders Week bird walk at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton/Northampton on Thursday, June 3, to explore the birds of Arcadia at the end of the busy spring migration season.
The Boston Nature Center and our partners at the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition are sponsoring three Black Birders Week bird walks and a family program from Wednesday, June 2 to Saturday, June 5. Observe birds in a unique urban habitat and practice finding and identifying birds through field marks, sounds, and behaviors. Birders of all levels will enjoy these guided walks.
Virtual Storytelling Event
On Saturday, June 5, professional storyteller Ben Cunningham will share bird and wildlife folktales and stories from around the world in a free, virtual storytelling program, followed by a 15-minute Q&A with the performer. This event is free to register, but we ask that you consider making a donation to our partner Outdoor Afro, an organization that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature.
Great Horned Owls are one of the earliest birds to breed in Massachusetts, with courtship beginning as early as December. They are not cavity nesters, but use old Red-tailed Hawk or Great Blue Heron nests, often at the top of dead tree snags. With a little luck, you may be able to spot the still-downy heads of fledglings sticking up over the edges of these large nests.
Around six weeks of age, baby Great Horned Owls begin to venture out of the nest onto nearby branches, a behavior called (appropriately) “branching.” Because their wings are not yet fully developed, they use their talons to grip branches and move around.
After another week or so, their wings and confidence have strengthened enough to try out a few awkward test flights, but they usually bungle it more often than they succeed in the beginning. This can lead to some comical situations with confused, panicky youngsters finding themselves hanging upside down from tree branches or even on the ground, sharply clacking their bills and wearing a bewildered expression. Appearances to the contrary, they are perfectly fine and will return to the safety of their nests after a brief period of recovery.
So if you come across a fluffy fledgling looking a bit disgruntled on the ground, there’s no need to worry—the parents are almost certainly nearby keeping a watchful, stoic eye while their little ones blunder their way through adolescence. Keep a respectful distance to ensure you don’t inadvertently cause them further stress, and enjoy a quiet chuckle of commiseration—after all, who hasn’t been through an awkward growth spurt or two?
Enjoy these five photos of Great Horned Owlets from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2021 contest will be opening in early June, so get your cameras ready and get outdoors!