Author Archives: Mass Audubon

Stump Puffball

What’s Coming Out of That Mushroom?

When this video clip was posted to social media by one of our TerraCorps members, it was received with mixed reactions. Responses ranged from “so cool!” to “that’s definitely a trap and releasing poison.” Most people just wanted to know “what is coming out of them?” and “is that a type of fungi?” and “DOES IT SMELL?” 

These alien-looking pods are actually a type of mushroom called Lycoperdon pyriforme or “stump puffball.” The name is not misleading –- stump puffballs grow on dead or decaying tree stumps in large clusters of dozens or sometimes hundreds.  

Stump puffballs start out as regular-looking mushrooms but in the fall and early winter they transform into hollow, spore-filled air sacs. The green “dust” you see in the video are millions of tiny spores exploding out of a small hole in the mushroom top. 

Aside from being poked and prodded by curious humans, these spores are released by natural forces like rain or animals.   

The word pyriforme is Greek for “pear-shaped.” However, the origin of Lycoperdon is debated among researchers. Some believe Lyco comes from lýkos meaning wolf and pérdomai meaning “break wind,” aka the “wolf-fart” mushroom. Others believe it was incorrectly translated from its original Leuco-perdon meaning white puff. 

Regardless of the Greek roots, the “wolf-fart,” nickname is a misnomer. These spores do not actually smell. However, you certainly do not want to inhale them as it could cause respiratory problems.  

Have you ever encountered Lycoperdon pyriforme? We’d love to hear about your stump puffball finds in the comments below! 

— Kaleigh Keohane

Green Your Transportation

In recent years, the transportation sector has surpassed power plants as the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the US. The low cost of fuel, American’s desire for bigger vehicles, and continued sprawling development that requires more individuals rely on automobiles to move around has driven a steady uptick in vehicle emissions.

This makes the transition to an electric or hybrid vehicle one of the more effective things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. If you’re among the 83% of Americans who drive regularly, it’s now easier than ever to switch to electric and hybrid vehicles that emit roughly a quarter as much CO2 as gasoline powered vehicles.

Electric Vehicle Charging via Noya Fields
Plugged In Electric Vehicle Charging via Noya Fields/Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Why make the change?

Unlike traditional vehicles, electric vehicles do not release any exhaust emissions when driven. This means that they not only reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, they also eliminate dangerous air pollution that causes smog and other health and ecological risks.

Even better, drivers can cut their emissions down to zero by charging electric or hybrid vehicles through renewable energy such as solar, wind, or hydropower. That’s why Mass Audubon now provides electric vehicle charging stations at many of our sanctuaries across the state, all powered by renewable sources. It’s also why we support An Act to Secure a Clean Energy Future, which sets zero-emissions standards for state-owned or leased vehicles.

Beyond helping save the planet, a greener vehicle can save your wallet as well. On average in the US, the cost of fueling your car with electricity is less than half the cost of fueling your car with gasoline. (You can even charge your car for free at the Habitat Education Center & Wildlife Sanctuary or Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary.)

Electric vehicles are also more reliable and cheaper to maintain than traditional vehicles. If that’s not reason enough, when you purchase a new electric vehicle you can receive up to a $7,500 tax credit from the federal government, and for those purchasing before September 30, 2019,  an additional $1,500 rebate from the state of Massachusetts.

How else can I help?

Not everyone can switch to an electric or hybrid vehicle today, but fortunately there is still much you can do to fight climate change during your daily travels. Carpooling or taking public transit instead of driving even a few times a month can reduce your carbon footprint. Walking or biking shorter distances when possible can help to eliminate it entirely.

Working from home once or twice a week can also go a long way towards a greener future, with telecommuters in 2017 preventing 3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere. If you do use a traditional car, properly inflating your tires, driving slower, and avoiding idling can save on both emissions and expenditure at the gas pump.

Pledge to Green Your Transportation

Ready to be a climate hero? Take the Green Transportation Pledge.

“I pledge to do any (or all) of the following:

  • Upgrade to an electric or hybrid vehicle.
  • Advocate for the adoption of green vehicles in my school, work, or community
  • Ask your state legislator to support An Act to Secure a Clean Energy Future and advance a crucial clean energy bill in the State House.
  • Reduce my footprint by carpooling, biking, walking, or working from home.”

Take the Pledge >

— Taylor Wurts

The Impacts of Climate Change on Shellfish

For many, summertime in New England means fried clams, oysters on the half shell, and lobster rolls. Unfortunately, the increasing threat of climate change means these delicacies may be harder to come by.

In fact clams, mussels, and other shellfish have seen a drastic decline in their populations. Since 1980, shellfish harvest throughout New England has dropped by 85 percent, causing negative impacts to both the environment and the New England shellfish industry.

"2010-07-15_0027" by kapchurus is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“2010-07-15_0027” by kapchurus is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

It’s All About Chemistry

By now you probably know that the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) due to the burning of fossil fuels is driving climate change. What you may not realize is that it’s also changing our ocean’s chemistry, driving a phenomenon known as Ocean Acidification.

Oceans absorb roughly 30% of the CO2 that is released in the atmosphere. While this may seem like a good thing, there’s a catch: when carbon dioxide is absorbed by seawater a series of chemical reactions occur, reducing the pH and causing the seawater to become more acidic.

In turn, this increased acidity reduces the abundance of carbonate ions. Shellfish need carbonate to build their shells. Without it, clams, mussels, and oysters are having a harder time building and repairing their shells. This results in a shorter lifespans and weaker shellfish larvae.

Without Shellfish, Problems Arise

It’s not just missing out on the annual clambake. A loss of shellfish will lead to several serious issues.

An increase of dead zones.

In the absence of filter-feeding shellfish, nutrients start to build-up resulting in an event known as Eutrophication. This begins with the rapid introduction of nutrients to an area, whether that be through fertilizer runoff or the release of waste. Normally shellfish would filter out these nutrients. Without shellfish, algae and bacteria thrive, absorbing the nutrients along with oxygen in the water. No oxygen will lead to a die off of fish and many other aquatic organisms, resulting in a “dead zone.”

The food web will collapse.

Shellfish are considered a keystone species, organisms that an ecosystem depends on in order to function. When shellfish populations decrease, the food web begins to collapse. Species such as the Atlantic cod, salmon, pollock, squid, and coastal waterbirds will lose a primary food source, decimating their populations as well. 

The economy will suffer.

The loss of these species will threaten thousands of New Englanders who rely on shellfish for their livelihoods. With the value of the New England shellfish industry totaling $440 million a year, Massachusetts cannot afford to lose this precious supply.

Keep Oceans Safe for Shellfish

The best way to protect shellfish populations and all the people and organisms that rely on them is to reduce your own carbon footprint. Some ways to do that can be:

By doing any or all of these changes, you will make a huge impact, for people and shellfish.

– Post by Jonathan Dong

Boston Skyline copyright Yu-Jen Shih / FlickrCC

Why Cities are More Vulnerable to Climate Change

Boston © Yu-Jen Shih/Via Flickr CC
Boston © Yu-Jen Shih/Via Flickr CC

There is a good chance you know someone who lives in a city or you live in one yourself.

According to the United Nations, 55% of the world lives in cities and by 2050 that number will change to an estimated 68% of the world population. People throughout our planet are increasingly moving from rural to urban centers, making for larger cities with greater population density than ever before.

Everything from our coastlines to the health of people who live and work in cities is vulnerable to impacts of climate change. As global temperatures continue to rise, our urban infrastructure and residents will become even more at risk.

And while so many people in one place means more environmental stressors, more people also leads to greater people power to create green solutions. Here’s a look at some challenges cities face and solutions that are making a difference.

Rising Temperatures

Temperatures are rising and cities are feeling that heat to a higher degree then their rural counterparts. Why? Look no further then the Urban Heat Island Effect for the answer.

Dark objects like asphalt, sidewalks, and rooftops absorb a lot of heat, which in return raises surface temperature. These types of objects cause the city to “become its own heat island,” which traps hot air from naturally circulating out long after the sun has gone down.

During very hot summer days, consumers require more electricity to cool their homes, particularly in hot, urban areas that lack nature to keep them cool. During “peak hours” when electric demand is highest, the state’s energy grid operators are forced to use additional dirty fossil fuels in an effort to meet the extra demand. These “peaker plants” are generally the dirtiest and most expensive energy sources, charging for oil and gas at extremely high rates

Through programs like Greening the Gateway Cities, the state is working to reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect by increasing tree canopy cover in urban residential Gateway Cities. The tree canopy reflects heat that would otherwise cause residents to use more electricity to cool down their homes.

Coastal Storms & Flooding

In Massachusetts, 85% of residents live within 50 miles of the coastline, which means most Massachusetts residents are at risk of flooding from rising sea levels and powerful storms driven by climate change.

New England’s largest city, Boston, is located right on the coast. In response to the powerful Nor’easters like the ones in March 2018 becoming more common, Boston has developed the Resilient Boston Harbor Plan. This goal of this plan is to protect neighborhoods from sea level rise and flooding.

High Energy Footprint

As hubs for people to live and work, as well as large drivers of economic activity, cities tend to require more energy to function. According to C40 Cities, a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change, cities consume two-thirds of the world’s energy, accounting for more than 70% of global CO2 emissions but only occupy 2% of the world’s landmass.

Despite these large energy footprints, cities have also shown great leadership on energy reduction goals. Earlier this year, Boston announced an ambitious goal to be 100% carbon free by 2050. The Carbon Free Boston Report outlines the strategies necessary to achieve this goal including:

  • Deepening energy efficiency while reducing demand
  • Shifting to an all electric system that does not source its energy from fossil fuels
  • Purchasing 100% clean energy

Good News for Massachusetts Cities

Massachusetts is considered a national leader in addressing the threat of climate change and proactively preparing for its impacts. The State is providing support for cities and towns in Massachusetts to begin the process of planning for climate change resiliency and implementing priority projects to protect people, infrastructure, and the environment through the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program (MVP).

You Can Lead the Way, Whether You Live in a City or Not

We know that change starts at the local level, which means each of us must use our voices to ensure our cities are taking action to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the current and future impacts of climate change.

This change can start at your own home as long as you have the right information. We can usually predict when peak events will occur a few days in advance, so if we plan accordingly, consumers can reduce their reliance on the dirtiest and most expensive power generators. The Green Energy Consumers Alliance issues “Shave the Peak” alerts that will remind you to use less electricity when it matters most.

Pledge today to sign up for “Shave the Peak” alerts to help clean up the New England power system and advocate for forward-thinking policies that can transform our electric grid.

— Post by Adonis Logan

Just Graduated College? Give TerraCorps a Try

Nick Tepper on Nantucket as part of the Alternative Spring Break.

It had been five minutes since we reached Nantucket’s southern shores, and a beautiful sunset was fading to afterglow over the dunes. All was calm when one of the students pointed and said ”a big bird just landed in that dune!”

Immediately, a Barn Owl floated effortlessly across the moors. We began passing binoculars like hot potatoes, unaware that magnification would soon become obsolete. One of the owls came so close that everyone could see his heart-shaped face and golden wings with the naked eye. It then hovered 20 feet from the van, grabbed a vole, ate it, and then exploded off into the night. 

This experience all happened thanks to TerraCorps. For the past six of months, I have been working at Mass Audubon as part of my TerraCorps service year. I’ve had the opportunity to work on many projects from launching Mass Audubon’s presence on iNaturalist to leading naturalist excursions during an Alternative Spring Break for UMass Boston students on Nantucket. 

As a recent college graduate, reading the “2-5 years of experience” requirement on job postings is pretty discouraging. TerraCorps supports young professionals like myself as they gain valuable experience and connections into the ecological field through hands-on work with ecologically based nonprofits. 

When I applied for this position, I only knew Mass Audubon as a legendary name in the world of conservation. Now I can personally attest that it is so much more. The people I’ve met, adventures I’ve had, and lessons I’ve learned have become permanent building blocks in my professional career.  

I am excited to say that Mass Audubon is actively looking to bring on more TerraCorps members throughout the state. Apply for a service year with Mass Audubon for a chance to learn from the best naturalists, stewards, and educators in Massachusetts. If your position is anything like mine, you will have dozens of Barn Owl-type moments that you will remember for a lifetime!

— Nick Tepper

Crowdsourcing Nature Sightings

Have you ever asked a friend for the ID of a plant or animal you didn’t recognize? Are you the friend who gets asked? Do you ever snap a photo of something you don’t recognize to research later, but you never get to it? Do you have hundreds of pictures on your phone or computer of plants and animals that you wish could be of use to someone? If you answered yes to any of these questions, consider joining iNaturalist!

What is iNaturalist?

iNaturalist is an online platform designed to connect people like you to an entire community of nature enthusiasts). Here, users share sightings of plants, fungi, and animals and in return get identifications on what’s in their images (or audio files). ID’s are consensus-based. This means other users can see your observations, and either agree or disagree with your identifications based on their own knowledge.

An observation becomes “research grade” when the majority of identifiers reach a species-level consensus about the plant, animal, or fungi in your picture. If you think your photo of an insect in your yard isn’t important enough to post, think again! All research grade observations on iNaturalist get added to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, and can then be used in scientific research and publications.

How to Use iNaturalist

One of the best parts about iNaturalist is that everyone can use it–you don’t need to be a scientist or a professional naturalist. All you need is a computer or smartphone and an interest in the natural world around you.

To get started, create a free account at iNaturalist.org or via the smartphone app. Then, upload identifiable pictures or audio with a location and a date and give it your best ID (if you have no clue, the platform will often suggest what it thinks is in your photo). Within minutes or hours, other users will see your observation and will help to identify it.

iNaturalist and Mass Audubon

Mass Audubon is launching an iNaturalist initiative to compile a catalog of the biodiversity present at our wildlife sanctuaries. All of our sanctuaries are now a “Project” that you can contribute to. Make sure to scroll through the leaderboard to see the standing of your favorite sanctuary. Then get outside, enjoy the outdoors, and start observing!

— Nick Tepper, TerraCorps

What is Nature Camp? And Why Should You Try It?

It is summer camp registration season, and that means it’s decision time! Summer is an ideal time for children to be outside, but choosing between camp opportunities can be overwhelming. How do you pick between dozens of options? And why should you consider nature camp?

Photo: Phil Doyle

Why Nature Camp

According to studies done by Common Sense Media in 2017, children ages 4–8 spend three hours per day in front of a screen (outside of school), and that number climbs to over six hours once they reach teenage years. Our camp community is designed to turn that trend on its head and create a new, happy generation of nature enthusiasts who are comfortable in nature and just as excited to share it with others as we are.

Mass Audubon campers laugh, sing, play, and do all of the wacky, fun activities that make summer camp special, and they experience hands-on learning in nature. Exploration and discovery fuel our programming, because campers are curious. Camp activities include things like carefully rolling logs in search of salamanders, dipping nets into ponds to catch water bugs, paddling Massachusetts’ rivers and estuaries, exploring salt marshes for crabs and eels, and tagging butterflies in meadows.

Why You Should Try It

We believe giving campers the opportunity to learn about their surroundings creates better outdoorspeople, community members, and future environmentalists. Additionally, it teaches campers valuable skills like creativity, observation, and self-confidence while giving them opportunities to move and play in both structured and unstructured ways that stimulate mental and social growth.

Our unique and wonderful summer staff help make this possible. We hire counselors who have experience working with children and a passion for sharing their knowledge of the outdoors. Some counselors join us for specific programs based on their area of knowledge in order to deliver the best possible program for our campers. Paddling instructors, nature photographers, birding experts, professional artists, and others enrich the camp experience.

Many campers become Counselors-in-Training (CITs) as teens and eventually staff. Some even go on to be leaders in the environmental and education fields.

Find a Camp Near You!

Mass Audubon offers 20 different camp experiences, from day camps for four-year-olds, to overnight camp for children in elementary and middle school, to teen travel and adventure opportunities—all focused on connecting your child with nature.

Come for a summer experience filled with all the magic and wonder of traditional day camp, and stay for the wildlife, exploration, and new friends. Laugh, love, and learn something new at a Mass Audubon camp this summer!

— Zach D’Arbeloff, Drumlin Farm’s Assistant Camp Director

Free Admission and More for Federal Employees

In this time of uncertainty and stress for all federal employees, and in recognition of our ongoing, collaborative efforts to protect the nature of Massachusetts, Mass Audubon would like to offer some respite.

Admission to all Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries in the Commonwealth are free to all current federal employees and their families for the duration of the federal shutdown. We hope it provides you with the chance to find some peace in nature during this time.

In addition, Federal employees that would like to sign up for summer camp can defer their deposits by calling a sanctuary directly to register.

Learning STEMS from Nature

Children have wonderful imaginations and an innate desire to explore the world around them through direct experience, and the natural world provides endless opportunities for exploration and discovery, questioning and investigation.

Spending time outdoors is often thought of as recreation but so much learning in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) can happen at the same time.

Through play and exploration, children in our early childhood programs practice and build confidence in core science attitudes and skills, including:

  • curiosity by asking lots of questions because the natural world provides endless opportunities for wonder
  • creativity and inventiveness through the construction of animal homes with twigs and pine needles or imaging the life cycle of the dragonfly larvae to adult though the dramatic play at the pond’s edge.
  • persistence as they collect maple seeds on a walk for experiments in aerodynamics back in the classroom
  • critical thinking through the open-endedness of learning in and with natural materials by observation, asking questions, investigations, re-thinking things and asking more questions.

By listening to the different bird songs in spring, noting the arrival of a dragonfly larvae in the pond, chasing butterflies in a field, timing the length of time it takes a maple leaf to drop to the forest floor, or carefully noting the shape of winter’s first snowflake, children gain these documented benefits while participating as a part of the cycles and systems of nature, all the while deepening their connection, appreciation, and sense of stewardship for the environment.

At Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries, STEM learning is a part of everything we do. Every one of our school programs is designed to integrate with the Massachusetts State Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework, but our commitment goes even deeper.

Hundreds of classroom educators attend professional development programs run by Mass Audubon each year to increase their comfort with integrating nature play and learning into traditional preschool and elementary education curriculum. And through our nature preschools, camps, and school programs, we reach tens of thousands of children annually.

Beyond the traditional educational setting, STEM thinking is reflected in how we invite people to approach the environment and how we manage our sanctuaries. Scientific practices and monitoring guide the stewardship of our properties, with scientific data collection taking place year-round related to breeding bird activity, wildlife populations, the spread (and control) of invasive species, and many more research opportunities. We embrace evidence-based thinking in all we do, and we invite you to join us in exploring how learning STEMs from nature.

Get outside where every day can become a STEM day! Visit a Mass Audubon sanctuary near you to explore on your own or through one of our thousands of hands-on educational programs.

– Kris Scopinich (Mass Audubon Director of Education)
and Renata Pomponi (Sanctuary Director, Drumlin Farm)

A Closer Look at New Climate Report

A new special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is waving a red flag on the effects of climate change. This report, written by over 90 scientists from 40 countries, warns that we need to make large-scale and rapid changes.

Scientists say we must limit average global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C (2.7°F). This temperature increase is considered the “tipping point” for many of the most severe threats posed by climate change. It is also an ambitious target given our current rising temperatures.

So far, average global temperatures have warmed about 1°C (1.8°F) since pre-industrial times (the second half of the 19th Century). According to the IPCC, without accelerated action, the planet will reach the 1.5°C threshold as early as 2030. This temperature increase would escalate the risk of extreme drought, floods, wildfires, and food shortages, impacting tens of millions of people.

Small Change, Big Impact

While half a degree difference might not sound like much, that shift will have devastating effects on our plants and animals, coral reefs, Arctic summer sea ice, and water availability. Every bit of warming matters, with higher temperature changes leading to increased risk of long-lasting or irreversible changes.

The warning is clear, but we still have a chance to put into place the “disruptive innovation” needed to change course if we act now.

You Can Be Part of the Solution

Global climate change must be addressed through both effective state and federal policy and our own individual actions. By reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and switching to clean, renewable energy sources, we can mitigate the worst effects of climate change before it is too late.

Our personal choices in areas like home energy use, travel methods, altering our diet to be less reliant on land- and energy-intensive animal products, and developing smart, green infrastructure throughout our communities can all contribute to a global shift in the right direction.

Here are a few ways you can make a difference:

There will also be an opportunity soon to oppose recent federal proposals to weaken emissions standards for methane—we’ll keep you posted!

— Alexandra Vecchio, Mass Audubon’s Climate Change Program Coordinator