Author Archives: Hillary T.

About Hillary T.

Where: Mass Audubon Headquarters, Lincoln Who: Massachusetts transplant by way of Florida and New York. Raising two young girls, who she hopes will be budding naturalists Favorite part of the job: Learning something new every day from some of the smartest and most enthusiastic groups of people

Drawing Inspiration from Nature

How do you inspire generations of nature heroes, especially those who have yet to make a deep connection with the outdoors?

To answer this question, we literally went back to the drawing board. We know that in an increasingly visual world, a captivating graphic can stimulate the imagination. To that end, our talented designer has been hard at work, creating bright, playful illustrations to represent our wildlife sanctuaries as well as all the work we do.

These new designs find inspiration in specific species and spark a sense of wonder for people of all ages. Keep an eye out for these new illustrations on Facebook, in emails, on the website, and in print.

New icons

A Butterfly Boom

Bees swarm. Locusts swarm. Butterflies, not so much. But at the moment, many thousands of painted lady butterflies are filling gardens and roadside stands of fall wildflowers at the end of a long flight from Southwestern deserts.

Painted Lady © Gillian Henry

There are two species of very similar “Lady butterflies” that occur in Massachusetts. The American lady is a common resident species that flies throughout the warm seasons and overwinters in the pupal stage or as an adult butterfly. The life cycle of the painted lady is considerably more dramatic.

The butterflies involved in the present “irruption” presumably originated in the deserts of northern Mexico. Triggered by poorly understood conditions on the wintering grounds, Painted Ladies emerge in enormous numbers (think locusts) and disperse northward occasionally reaching as far as New England.

If, as sometimes happens, the irruption occurs in spring or summer the species can reproduce here, but cannot overwinter at this latitude. So unless there is another mass migration next year, you may see no painted ladies at all in Massachusetts next year.

A sense of the enormity and drama of the largest of the Lady irruptions is given in this 1869 account by S. B. J. Skertchl from the Sudanese desert:

Three painted ladies © Lucy Merrill-Hills

“Our caravan had started for the coast, leaving the mountains shrouded in heavy clouds, soon after daybreak. At the foot of the high country is a stretch of wiry grass, beyond which lies the rainless desert as far as the sea. From my camel I noticed that the whole mass of the grass seemed violently agitated, although there was no wind. On dismounting I found that the motion was caused by the contortions of pupae of V. cardui, which were so numerous that almost every blade of grass seemed to bear one…Presently the pupae began to burst and the red fluid that escaped sprinkled the ground like a rain of blood. Myriads of butterflies, limp and helpless, sprinkled the ground. Presently the sun shone forth and the insects began to dry their wings, and about half an hour after the birth of the first the whole swarm rose as a dense cloud and flew away eastwards towards the sea. I do not know how long the swarm was, but it was certainly more than a mile, and its breadth exceeded a quarter of a mile.”

Want to witness this butterfly irruption?

You may have to travel no farther than your garden. Like many butterflies, the painted lady isn’t especially picky about which flowers to nectar on. Or head for coastal areas where they tend to concentrate and seek out patches of late-blooming wildflowers such as goldenrods and asters.

For more information on this fascinating butterfly, check out Mass Audubon’s Butterfly Atlas, which includes data collected between 1986 and 1990.


A Good Year for Monarchs?

During the last week of August, Regional Scientist Robert Buchsbaum and several Mass Audubon naturalists and scientists took a field trip to Conway Hills Wildlife Sanctuary just west of the Connecticut River in Conway, MA. While there, they were pleasantly surprised by what they saw. Here’s Robert’s report:

The initial goal of our exploration was to document the odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) that are present at this sanctuary. Conway Hills is a relatively new sanctuary for Mass Audubon so our records of species that occur there is still a work in progress.

While rambling through a big field in the center of the sanctuary, we couldn’t help but notice the large number of monarch butterfly caterpillars that were feasting on the milkweed plants in the field. Just about every one of the milkweed plants (the common milkweed—Asclepias syriaca) had a monarch caterpillar on it, busily chewing on leaves.

Monarch caterpillar at Conway Hills

This was very heartening to all of us, given how scarce monarch butterflies were last summer and the overall concern about the future of this stunning butterfly.

Have you noticed more monarchs this year?

Let us know in the comments!

Pick an August Facebook Favorite

Each month, as part of our Photo Contest, we select 5 images from the previous month’s entries for you to pick as your favorite on Facebook. All you need to do is click an image and “like” it. Not on Facebook? Tell us your favorite in the comments below.

Have a great shot of your own? The deadline to enter is September 30. Details >

© Dennis Durette

© Rachel Bellenoit

© Julie Blue

© Melena Ward

© Don Bullens

A Great, Great Nature Hero Story

Back in the late 1800s Harriet Hemenway, along with her cousin Minna Hall, made a bold decision. After learning about the cruel way birds were killed to get their feathers for fashionable hats, she decided to save the birds. To do so, Hemenway and Hall founded Mass Audubon, the first Audubon Society, and sparked the modern-day environmental movement.

Harriet Hemenway

Hemenway is Mass Audubon’s original nature hero, so you can imagine our delight to learn that her great, great granddaughter Lila recently spent a week at Wachusett Meadow’s Nature Day Camp! As a preschooler, we hope Lila follows in Harriet’s footsteps and becomes a future nature hero!

Lila, Hemenway’s great, great granddaughter.

You can read more about Hemenway and Hall here. Have a Nature Hero story to share? Tell us about it in the comments!

Humpback whale c Sherri Vanden Akker

Take 5: Wonderful Whales

Ever year, from April through October, folks head out into the open seas for a chance to see a whale or two. And fortunately for us, many have their cameras in hand.

Check out 5 fantastic shots of humpback whales from past editions of our Picture This photo contest. The 2017 contest is now in its final month, so enter your wildlife and nature photographs today!

© Sherri Vanden Akker

© James Duffy

© Maureen Duffy

© Jennifer Childs

© Victoria Bettuelli


© Ann Marie Lally

Take 5: Tree Swallows

Aerodynamic and graceful, a tree swallow is most often seen in the sky as it gleans insects on the wing. It is about the size of a chickadee, and is an iridescent blue above and white below. Tree swallows are often seen in small flocks foraging over ponds or fields, chittering back and forth.

Here are five photos of tree swallows from past years’ photo contests. If you have a great shot of your own, we’d love to see it! Enter today at

2013 Photo Contest Entry © Ann Marie Lally

2016 Photo Contest Entry © Myer Bornstein

2013 Photo Contest Entry © Lisa Gurney

2013 Photo Contest Entry © Michael Ross

2016 Photo Contest Entry © Michael Rossacci

What To Do This Weekend: Aug 12-13

Things to look forward to this weekend: a butterfly festival, canoe and kayak trips, a duck derby, nature walks, and more!

Butterfly Festival at Broad Meadow Brook

Cape Cod and Islands

Head to State Beach for Saturdays at Sengekontacket, a one-hour program run by a Felix Neck naturalist that explores the nature of Sengekontacket Pond on Martha’s Vineyard. (all ages)

Take an Early Morning Bird Walk at Wellfleet Bay. From pine woodlands and freshwater pond to salt marsh and beach, Goose Pond Trail’s diverse natural communities offer diverse bird sightings. (adults, registration required)

Go on a Shorebird Kayak Exploration in Barnstable to witness the beginning of the fall migration on one of the Cape’s most beautiful barrier beaches, Sandy Neck. (adults, registration required)

More on the Cape and Islands

South of Boston

The Allens Pond annual Duck Derby takes place on Saturday in South Dartmouth. After the duck race, head to the sanctuary for a festival complete with great food, music, and a silent auction. Can’t make it but still want to try and win dinner anywhere in the world? The deadline to purchase a duck online is Friday at 5 pm. (all ages)

Construct some simple homemade Bathyscopes, a viewfinder for underwater exploration, at Duxbury Beach. (all ages)

More South of Boston

Greater Boston

Join Drumlin Farm on a field trip to Plum Island in Newburyport to see Swallows and Shorebirds at Sunset. (adults and children ages 14+, registration required)

Go on a guided Nature Walk at Boston Nature Center to discover in the forests, meadows, and seasonal wetlands. Ask questions and learn about the biodiversity in an urban setting. (adults and children ages 4+, registration requested)

More in Greater Boston

North Shore

Paddle to Thacher and Milk Islands, off the coast of Rockport, to visit an active nesting colony of herring and great-black backed gulls, and observe the behavior of young birds, from nestlings to fledglings. Then we’ll walk the mowed paths of the island to the North Tower lighthouse and climb the stairs to the top. (adults, registration required)

Bring the family for an Ocean Web Cruise aboard the Yankee Clipper for an exciting exploration of the lower Merrimack River ecosystem. We’ll also look for seabirds, seals, and waterfowl. (families, registration required)

More on the North Shore

Central Massachusetts

Celebrate butterflies during the 10th Annual Barbara J. Walker Butterfly Festival at Broad Meadow Brook in Worcester. On tap: Caterpillar Lab, nature walks, face painting, music, plant sale, and more.

More in Central Massachusetts


Explore the coves and marshes of one of the Berkshires’ most beautiful lakes on a Naturalist Guided Canoe Trip. Paddle across Lower Goose Pond to pristine Upper Goose Pond in search of eagles, herons, ravens, and a variety of songbirds. Eat a snack onshore and search for interesting plant and animal life. (adults and children ages 10+, registration required)

More in the Berkshires

Pick a July Facebook Favorite

Each month, as part of our Photo Contest, we select 5 images from the previous month’s entries for you to pick as your favorite on Facebook. All you need to do is click an image and “like” it. Not on Facebook? Tell us your favorite in the comments below

© Amy Severino

© Amy Severino

© Alan Nelson

© John Martello

© John Martello

© Yingna Cai

© Yingna Cai

© Michael Rossacci

© Michael Rossacci

What To Do This Weekend: August 5-6

Look for dragonflies while paddling, run a 5k, try your hand at science experiments, practice yoga, and more with a wildlife sanctuary this weekend.


During the Loon Moon Canoe Trip on Buckley Dunton Lake in October Mountain State Forest look for herons, loons, beavers, and owls at twilight. When the moon is high, we’ll raft up or go ashore to share snacks and beverages while we listen for nocturnal sounds of wildlife. (adults, registration required)

More in the Berkshires

Central Massachusetts

Connect with yourself as you connect with nature during Yoga at Wachusett Meadow in Princeton. This class is appropriate for all levels, from complete beginners to advanced, as several options/modifications will be given for each pose (asana). (adults, registration required)

More in Central Massachusetts

North Shore

Enjoy Saturday Morning Birding with Joppa Flats. Join beginners and birders of all levels to search out avian activity in the Newburyport/Plum Island area. (adults)

More on the North Shore

Greater Boston

Enjoy a leisurely Summer Morning Canoe on the Charles in Natick. Listen to bird songs and watch for great blue herons, turtles, and dragonflies as we paddle during the quiet morning hours. (adults, registration required)

Explore Spiders on the Pond at Blue Hills Trailside Museum. Take a closer look at webs and the spiders that create them as you explore around the edges of Trailside’s pond. (families, registration required)

We all know about solids, liquids, and gases, but what is oobleck? Find out during Boston Nature Center’s Science Experiments. (families, registration required)

More in Greater Boston

South of Boston

Get to know Bats at Moose Hill in Sharon. After the talk, we will head out on the trails in search of bats. (families with children ages 10+, registration required)

Participate in the Annual Ducky Dash 5k road race to benefit the Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary. Run, walk, or roll (strollers are allowed) along the most gorgeous scenic course that starts at the sanctuary and runs flat and fast to Gooseberry Island and back. (adults and children, registration required)

Search for Horseshoe Crabs on Duxbury Beach as part of North River’s free Family Fun on the Beach days.

More South of Boston

Cape Cod and Islands

Spend the day at Long Pasture in Barnstable Getting to Know Your Digital Camera Part 2. (adults, registration required)

Head to State Beach for Saturdays at Sengekontacket, a one-hour program run by a Felix Neck naturalist that explores the nature of Sengekontacket Pond on Martha’s Vineyard. (All ages)

Take an Early Morning Bird Walk at Wellfleet Bay. From pine woodlands and freshwater pond to salt marsh and beach, Goose Pond Trail’s diverse natural communities offer diverse bird sightings. (adults, registration required)

More on the Cape and Islands