Author Archives: Mass Audubon

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.

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

Snapshots of Bird-a-thon 2018

Mass Audubon’s annual fundraiser, Bird-a-thon took place in early May. Bird-a-thon 2018 participants have been sharing their photos and memories with us. Here are some of our favorites.

Gabby, Age 4, and Jack, age 2, honorary members of Team Blue Hills, view a Barred Owl fledgling.

John Zmud of Team South Coast Sanctuaries caught this Common Tern mid-meal.

Members of Team Stony Brook enjoyed the sunrise at Quabbin Reservoir.

Devin Griffiths of Team Moose Hill always gets great shots, like this photo of a Blue-Winged Warbler.

Team Habitat spotted this Hooded Warbler.

The rain couldn’t stop these birders from Team Broadmoor from getting the most out of their trip to the South Shore.

Mother and Daughter duo Lindsay and Susan got to many birding spots in Middlesex County.

This Cattle Egret, spotted at Cherry Hill Reservoir, didn’t look thrilled about the rain.

View more Bird-a-thon 2018 pics in the event photo album. Want to add your Bird-a-thon pictures? Email them to us.

The birding may be over, but the fundraising competition is still going strong*. Many teams are close to reaching or surpassing their goals. You can support a Bird-a-thon team or participant by making a donation. Funds raised through Bird-a-thon support nature education, land and wildlife stewardship, and so much more.

Want to participate next year? Join the Bird-a-thon mailing list to be alerted when 2019 registration opens.

* Team and individual fundraising prizes are announced in late June, based on fundraising results as of June 15, 2018.

Bird-a-thon

Some Heroes Wear Binoculars

Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear heavy binoculars that they “borrowed” from their father 20 years ago–or carry scopes around that are twice their size–or proudly display a well-worn Bird-a-thon t-shirt.

This past weekend, Bird-a-thon teams fanned out across the state to focus their eyes, ears, and lenses on nature. And now that the birding is done, we wanted to take a moment to thank all of our Bird-a-thon participants and supporters.

Bird-a-thon, is not only an opportunity to focus on nature, but also a celebration of the hard work team members have done to raise essential funds for Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries and programs.

The funds raised in conjunction with this one day event will impact the work of Mass Audubon for the coming year and beyond. Bird-a-thon funds are used to:

  • Provide program materials for campers, students, and aspiring naturalists of all ages–to build communities that value, appreciate, and protect nature.
  • Support the work of dedicated staff with expertise in community engagement and advocacy–allowing for quick responses to environmental challenges and opportunities.
  • Manage land and wildlife based on the most current science available–keeping Mass Audubon sanctuaries healthy and vibrant for this and future generations.

And while the birding portion of the event may be over, there is still time to make an impact—with or without a cape.

Be a hero: support your favorite team >

Thank You to Our Sponsors!


Presenting Sponsor: Camosse Masonry Supply
Lead Sponsor: Eversource
Media Sponsor: 90.9 WBUR
Supporting Sponsor: ARE Demo & Excavation, Inc.
Community Sponsors: Dune Jewelry, MetLife, Lennox & Harvey, Lauring Construction

Lime Kiln Farm

A Focus on Land Conservation

As the largest private landowner in Massachusetts, you may wonder why we continue to seek out additional open space to protect. When it comes to conserving land, we look at many characteristics of a property, especially if it contains priority habitat, acts as a wildlife corridor, or will be resilient in the face of climate change.

We also look for property that protects or enhances habitat or visitor experience at existing wildlife sanctuaries. Three recent acquisitions exemplify how we take these principles and put them into action.

Land Conservation at Lime Kiln Farm

Lime Kiln Farm in Sheffield

Priority Habitat

There are 169 species of animals and 258 species of plants that are protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. These 427 native species are either at risk, or may become at risk, of extinction. In order to protect these species, we need to protect the land they are found on, which is deemed priority habitat.

Success Story: The recent donation of 15 acres in Richmond added land that is deemed to be priority habitat for several Sedges (a flowering plant) and the Jefferson Salamander, and a critical connection for bears, beavers, and birds travelling to and from the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary which abuts this property on the east.

Wildlife Corridor

The linkage across open lands and occasionally through culverts under roadways that joins two or more areas of similar wildlife habitat is known as a wildlife corridor. Corridors are critical to allow for the movement of animals and survival of healthy animal communities.

Mass Audubon works to link priority habitat to support the safe passage of wildlife. The conditions and habitats that enable animals to move and thrive are the same ones that enable people to weather storms, live off the land, and enjoy a constant supply of clean water. Larger, unfragmented tracts of forests help counter global warming, absorb precipitation into groundwater reservoirs, and provide for sustainable forestry.

Success Story: We recently purchased 52 acres in Northampton that provide a wildlife corridor, connecting Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary to the Rocky Hill Greenway in Northampton.

Climate Resilience

Effects of climate change are moderated by complex topography, dense wetlands, and unpaved open spaces. Complex topography means a variety of elevations and a combination of forests, fields and swamps, buffers against climate change, giving most species a better chance to survive.

Success Story: This spring, we added 120 acres of fields, forests, and wetlands to Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Sheffield. These acres add to the protected habitat and  corridors for wildlife in the Housatonic watershed.  The complex topography in this Sanctuary provides resilience against extreme changes in temperature and rainfall.

These new additions to our wildlife sanctuaries will enhance visitors’ experiences with greater exposure to natural wonders and habitats.

Learn more about Mass Audubon’s land conservation efforts >

Written by Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist

8 Ways to Watch Woodcocks

American Woodcocks are back! Even when spring arrives late, woodcocks still perform their remarkable sky dances. In March and early April, these fascinating, awkward-looking birds put on a mating display at dusk.

The best part: it’s easy to view this display in any large brushy field, including some city parks.

American Woodcock by Will Freedberg

Keep an ear out for a woodcock’s sharp, nasal “peent!” from sunset to half an hour afterwards. The woodcock will take off after a few calls, wheeling and diving in the sky as their wings produce their signature twitter. Then, the bird dives steeply, its wings continuing to whistle as it falls to the ground to start over.

To help you track down these enigmatic birds, here’s a list of Mass Audubon’s upcoming guided woodcock walks, plus some sites in greater Boston to look for them by yourself.

Mass Audubon Woodcock Programs

Join a walk if you want some help finding woodcocks or just enjoy the company of a group of nature lovers. Experienced naturalists will make sure you don’t miss a peent!

1. In Greater Boston: March 30 and April 6 at Broadmoor (Natick); March 31 and April 14 at the Blue Hills Trailside Museum (Milton); April 3 for adults and April 7 for teens at Drumlin Farm; April 8 at the Boston Nature Center (Mattapan).

2. On the South Shore: March 28 and April 4 at Birchwold Farm (Wrentham) with Stony Brook; April 7 at North River (Marshfield).

3. In Central and Western Massachusetts: April 4 at Broad Meadow Brook (Worcester); April 5 at Wachusett Meadow for families (Princeton); April 7 at Arcadia (Easthampton/Northampton); April 11 at Pleasant Valley (Lenox).

4. On Cape Cod: March 30 and April 14 at Long Pasture (Barnstable); March 30 and April 7 at Wellfleet Bay (Wellfleet).

See the entire list of woodcock programs!

4 Parks to Seek Woodcocks in Greater Boston on Your Own

5. West Roxbury: Millennium Park
This former landfill became a great birding site after it was covered with soil from the Big Dig and reclaimed by native grassland. Search for woodcocks along the northwest and southwest edges of the park and by the canoe launch.

6. Boston: Franklin Park
Park off of Circuit Drive. The best area is through the open area towards a softball field.  Sometimes, woodcocks display in the sports fields off of Pierpoint Drive to the north.

7. Cambridge: Alewife Reservation
Most woodcocks are found by walking the path between Bullfinch Parking Lot (off of Acorn Park Drive) and the T station.

8. Belmont: Rock Meadow
Rock Meadow is best accessed from a small parking lot on the West side of Mill St. south of its intersection with Concord Ave. Walk the path into the adjacent field about 400 feet, passing the community gardens on your left. The woodcocks will be displaying on your right, but can be found further into the meadows as well.

Post by William Freedberg, Bird Conservation Associate

A Hero for Waterbirds

Back in 1896, it was the passion and persistence of two Boston women who launched the modern-day conservation movement. When Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall founded Mass Audubon to stop the killing of birds for fashion, they left a lasting impact on the environment and served as an inspiration for future generations.

To honor their intrepid spirit, Mass Audubon has created the Hemenway + Hall Wildlife Conservation Award. This honor, which will be awarded annually, recognizes excellence in wildlife conservation and celebrates an individual or organization whose research and related ecological management successes have amply demonstrated and provided a significant and lasting wildlife conservation benefit.

The inaugural recipient of the Hemenway + Hall Wildlife Conservation Award goes to Carolyn Mostello, a coastal waterbird biologist in MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP).

Carolyn has devoted her career to restoring and protecting the populations of, most notably, federally endangered Roseate Terns, as well as those of Common Terns, American Oystercatchers, Common Eiders, and various other island nesting species off the coast of Massachusetts.

Most recently Carolyn oversaw the restoration of Bird Island in Buzzards Bay. Rising sea level and erosion of the original seawall on the island turned the beaches into salt marsh and salt pannes. Common terns, who nested on the beach, were forced to move inland, displacing endangered Roseate Terns.

Working with the town of Marion and colleagues in other private, state, and federal agencies, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Carolyn and her team restored nesting habitat for both bird species by raising the elevation of the island, removing invasive plants, planting native ones, and protecting the island from additional erosion by rebuilding the seawall.

Common Terns on Bird Island © Ian Nisbet

Carolyn Mostello’s work on these islands has been critical to the persistence of the North American Roseate Tern population. Due to her work and the work of others, Roseate Tern numbers at the Buzzards Bay sites have increased by 37% over the past eight years.

Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton, who will make the award presentation at the Birders Meeting on March 11, notes that Carolyn’s important efforts on behalf of coastal waterbirds align with the legacy of the organization’s founding mothers.

“Carolyn personifies excellence in wildlife conservation every day as she demonstrates her commitment to the biodiversity of the Bay State,” Gary said. “She has not only shown success in protecting endangered and threatened bird species, but has served as an inspirational role model for others to take up this crucial work. Thus she is a perfect choice to be the first honoree of the Hemenway + Hall Wildlife Conservation Award.”

Slide to See Bird Island Before and After

Free Admission 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.

Gary Clayton
Mass Audubon President