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

Monitoring the Mysterious Bird Disease

Two American Goldfinches at a bird feeder
American Goldfinches

We have received quite a few questions about the mysterious disease impacting birds in some states to our south.

We’re in touch with local wildlife officials and health experts. To our knowledge, the disease has not yet been observed in Massachusetts but we will continue to monitor the situation and advise accordingly.

Three Openings Worth Celebrating

As more and more people discover the power of spending time outdoors, we’re doing everything we can to offer more opportunities to experience nature. In fact, one of the main goals in our new five-year Action Agenda is creating inclusive and equitable access to nature by opening more than 50 miles trails, creating three new urban sanctuaries, and protecting and restoring 17 urban green spaces. And three recent openings are prime examples of how we are accomplishing this goal.

New Pathways in Natick 

Mass Audubon President David O'Neill speaks with sanctuary supporters on the new bridge, which is surrounded by trees and water to the left.
Mass Audubon President David O’Neill speaks with sanctuary supporters on the new bridge.

Over the years, Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary‘s well-loved trail system has been compromised by heavy use, flooding, and erosion. Many trails were old cart paths, not designed for large numbers of visitors, and others have been impacted by beaver activity. Heavy storms due to climate change have also affected many locations. 

To ensure safe, accessible, and enjoyable connections to nature for all people, while protecting the habitats for the plants and animals, we launched an effort to improve our trail system following a comprehensive study completed by Peter Jensen, a nationally recognized trail-development expert. The plan addresses all nine miles of trails making reroutes, creating scenic viewpoints, adding puncheon and bog bridges, and much more. Improvements began in 2019 engaging volunteers, school groups, Mass Audubon campers, and others in the process. 

In May 2021, we untied the ribbon on the first phase of the project, which included the opening of a new trail and scenic bridge overlooking Little Farm Pond, replacing an unsafe and often flooded plank walkway. The event, which welcomed Mass Audubon President David O’Neill, Mass Audubon Board Chair Beth Kressley Goldstein, Metro West Director Renata Pomponi, Project Lead Elissa Landre, Mass Audubon staff, Board members, volunteers, and partners, also served as a wonderful opportunity to launch the Action Agenda

Easier Access in Attleboro 

The Knoll Stroll ribbon cutting.

Oak Knoll Wildlife Sanctuary in Attleboro, located right on Park Street, has long been a center for the community. Now, with the opening of the new Knoll Stroll Trail, the sanctuary is accessible via public transportation, reducing a barrier to enjoying this nature oasis in the city. 

Connecting to the GATRA bus has long been a priority for the sanctuary. Thanks to the acquisition of the 26-acre Dorrance property in 2019, the vision became a reality. Now, visitors can walk 50 feet from the bus stop and be immediately immersed in nature via the new “Knoll Stroll” and the almost two miles of trails including a loop around Lake Talaquega.   

To celebrate the trail opening, David O’Neill joined South East Director Lauren Kras, Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux, State Representative Jim Hawkins, State Senator Paul Feeney, longtime sanctuary supporter Ted Leach, and Brian Hatch of Hike Attleboro. 

An Accessible Barn in Lenox 

Matthew Keator of Mass Cultural Council, Lenox Select Board Chair Neal Maxymillian, West Director Becky Cushing Gop, David O'Neill, Allyce Najimy of Mass Cultural Council, and State Rep. William “Smitty’ Pignatelli cutting the ribbon
Matthew Keator of Mass Cultural Council, Lenox Select Board Chair Neal Maxymillian, West Director Becky Cushing Gop, David O’Neill, Allyce Najimy of Mass Cultural Council, and State Rep. William “Smitty’ Pignatelli

For more than 90 years Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary has welcomed visitors and served the community as a vibrant hub of conservation, environmental education, and outdoor recreation in the Berkshires.  

Our creative nature-based programming is seen as a vital community resource that supports curiosity, scientific exploration, and self-discovery. But the sanctuary’s aged facilities lacked the accessibility and amenities needed to support collaboration, creativity, and expansion. 

In order to welcome and accommodate the diverse needs of modern visitors, the sanctuary launched and completed the $1.125 million Opening Doors to Nature campaign. The centerpiece of this effort, an energy-efficient and universally accessible addition to its 18th-century barn, is now open for all to enjoy.  

The opening celebration was an opportunity to thank donors and supporters, including Mass Cultural Council for their generous $300,000 in support. Also joining West Director Becky Cushing Gop and President David O’Neill to cut the ribbon were Lenox selectboard chair Neal Maxymillian and State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli. 

All About Sea Turtles in Massachusetts

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.  

Loggerhead © Elizabeth Bradfield

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. 

Loggerhead

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. 

Kemp’s Ridley   

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.   

Loggerhead  

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.   

Green   

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.   

Leatherback   

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!   

Atlantic Hawksbill   

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.   

Learn more  

Find out more about sea turtles and how you can get involved at massaudubon.org/seaturtles.  

Ways to Volunteer This Summer

Looking for a way to get out and give back? Consider lending a hand at one of our wildlife sanctuaries.

A volunteer planting a plant in the garden at a wildlife sanctuary.

West

June 11: Water Chestnut Removal by Canoe with Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton

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.

Metro South

June 19: Volunteer Work Day at Museum of American Bird Art in Canton

Work alongside staff with seasonal tidying all around this beautiful 120-acre wildlife sanctuary, just 15 miles south of Boston. Registration is required.

North Shore

June 26 and July 12: Pepperweed Pull in the Newburyport Area

Help keep this invasive plant from taking over the edge of the Great Marsh and learn about our additional efforts to steward this important area. Registration is required.

Metro West

Garden Volunteering at Habitat Education Center in Belmont

Give staff a hand with chores in our beautiful formal gardens and our Community Garden. Projects include planting, pruning, weeding, watering, fence clearing, mowing, and compost management. 

Habitat Restoration at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln

Help improve habitat quality for native species; learn about plant ID and restoration techniques; and spend time outside.

South East

Trail Stewards at Tidmarsh in Plymouth

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.

Trail Blazers at Allens Pond in South Dartmouth

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.

Trail Stewards at Oak Knoll and Attleboro Springs in Attleboro

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.

Central

Weekly Volunteering at Broad Meadow Brook in Worcester

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.

Islands

Weekly Volunteer Work Days and Butterfly Garden Clean Ups at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown

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.

Will We See Cicada Brood X in Massachusetts?

People are buzzing with excitement (and maybe a little fear) about the possibility of billions of cicadas emerging after almost two decades of living underground. If you fall into the excitement category and hoping to witness this phenomenon here in Massachusetts, alas, you’ll have to hold on for a few years. 

When they emerge after 17 years underground, swarms of Cicada Brood X could be spotted in parts of the Southeast, Midwest, and North Atlantic. While we may not experience the 2021 version this event, we do have our fair share of annual cicadas that contribute our summer soundtrack. 

Cicada on a stem near a leaf. Copyright Jacob Mosser
Cicada © Jacob Mosser

Cicadas in Massachusetts 

Of the more than 2,000 species of cicadas that exist worldwide, nine species have been documented in Massachusetts including one periodical cicada species and eight annual cicada species. The most common cicada here in Massachusetts is the “Dog Day” Cicada.

The annual, dog day cicada emerges every one or two years. It’s approximately 2.25 inches long, medium brown, with a green venation (the vein structure in its wing). Though we hear them each summer, these cicadas are solitary insects; we seldom see them. 

Hearing Cicadas 

Cicadas are sometimes referred to as harvester flies because their “song” is characteristic of late summer days. This astonishingly loud sound comes from a pair of organs called tympana located at the base of the males’ abdomen. 

The tympana are complex mechanisms that consist of a series of three membranes inside a resonating chamber. A powerful muscle flexes one of these membranes (the tymbal), somewhat in the way we pull and release a metal, can top to create a loud click. Done in rapid succession and amplified by the resonating chamber, the familiar whine is produced.  

Mark Your Calendar 

We may not witness Brood X this year, but those in Southeastern Mass or on the Cape and Islands can anticipate being treated to Brood XIV, emerging summer 2025. 

Virtual Book Launch: Butterflies Are Pretty…Gross!

As part of Mass Audubon’s Earth Month festivities, you can celebrate what makes butterflies pretty and gross during the virtual book launch of the children’s book Butterflies Are Pretty…Gross with author Rosemary Mosco and illustrator Jacob Souva on Sunday, April 18 at 1 pm.

Listen to Rosemary read the story, watch Jacob give a drawing lesson, and learn from Mass Audubon Education Manager Martha Gach about how to attract butterflies to your neighborhood during this free, one-hour event.

Register for the event >

Butterflies Are Pretty…Gross! by Rosemary Mosco, illustrated by Jacob Souva

About the Book

Butterflies are beautiful and quiet and gentle and sparkly . . . but that’s not the whole truth. Butterflies can be GROSS. And one butterfly in particular is here to let everyone know!

Talking directly to the reader, a monarch butterfly reveals how its kind is so much more than what we think. Did you know some butterflies enjoy feasting on dead animals, rotten fruit, tears and even poop? Some butterflies are loud, like the Cracker butterfly. Some are stinky — the smell scares predators away. Butterflies can be sneaky, like the ones who pretend to be ants to get free babysitting.

This hilarious and refreshing book with silly and sweet illustrations explores the science of butterflies and shows that these insects are not the stereotypically cutesy critters we often think they are — they are fascinating, disgusting, complicated and amazing creatures.

Buy the book >

How Two Women Started a Movement

It really is an amazing story. In the late 1800s, it was fashionable for women to wear hats adorned with feathers and dead birds. When Boston-based Harriet Hemenway read an article that described in graphic detail how these beautiful birds were hunted and killed, or stripped of their feathers, she knew she had to do something.

Young Harriet Hemenway

She shared what she learned with her cousin, Minna Hall. “We had heard that Snowy Egrets in the Florida Everglades were being exterminated by plume hunters who shot the old birds, leaving the young to starve on the nests,” the two said, as noted in Massachusetts Audubon Society: The First Sixty Years by Richard K. Walton and William E. Davis, Jr.

Over tea on a cold January day in 1896, the two launched a campaign to convince other women to forgo the trend of wearing birds for fashion, and in doing so, take on the multinational millinery industry. They set out on a series of tea parties, convincing other women to join their cause.

Minna Hall courtesy of the Friends of Hall’s Pond

Then, they brought together some of these prominent women with renowned ornithologists to launch the Massachusetts Audubon Society to “further the protection of birds” and “to discourage the buying and wearing of the feathers of wild birds.” Through leaflets, lectures, and calendars, they attracted more and more members to get involved.

Hall served on the organization’s Board of Directors for more than 50 years, devoting much of her energy to producing the publications and a traveling library. Hemenway first served as a Vice President and provided critical funding for projects that helped the organization build its reputation, before joining its Board, where she served for 16 years. They both remained dedicated to the organization, birds, and nature until they passed, Hall at the age of 92 and Hemenway at 103.

Thanks to Hemenway and Hall, the longest independent running Audubon Society was formed, critical bird legislation was eventually passed (the very legislation under threat today), people across the Commonwealth became fascinated with birds, and Mass Audubon’s land protection program, which now has conserved almost 40,000 acres, was born. And for that, we are eternally grateful.

Learn more about the incredible 125-year-legacy of Hemenway and Hall at massaudubon.org/125.

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.

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 McLarey 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 >

Black-capped Chickadee at a Feeder

Why Cleaning Bird Feeders Matters

Enjoying watching birds visit your feeder? Great! Make sure the birds that visit stay healthy by keeping your feeder clean.

Black-capped Chickadee at a Feeder
Black-capped Chickadee at a Feeder

Why a Clean Feeder is a Happy Feeder

High concentrations of birds in close proximity to one another can contribute to the spread of disease at bird feeders. The four diseases that most frequently affect birds that use feeders are: salmonella, trichomoniasis, aspergillosis, and avian pox.

All of these diseases are transmitted from one bird to another at feeding stations, especially when overcrowding occurs. Birds are also susceptible to mites and lice. There are many steps you can take to help keep feeder birds and people safe and healthy.

How to Keep Birds Healthy

  • Clean feeders every 2 weeks using one part bleach to nine parts warm water. Soak the feeder in the solution for a few minutes, rinse, and air dry.
  • If uneaten food is accumulating in or under feeders, consider using less food or switch to a seed more to the birds’ liking.
  • If birds are fighting over space at a feeder, consider adding more feeders to alleviate the congestion that can potentially be responsible for the rapid spread of disease.
  • Store seed in airtight containers to prevent spoilage.
  • Avoid throwing large amounts of food on the ground or alternate ground feeding areas so that uneaten food does not accumulate and develop bacteria or mold.
  • If dead birds are found, stop feeding for a few weeks and thoroughly clean feeders and areas under feeders. Use disposable gloves when handling dead birds.

Learn More

Get answers to bird feeding frequently asked questions. Still have questions? Ask our wildlife experts.