Author Archives: Mass Audubon

Bird-a-thon 2021 Highlights

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!

Social Shares

It’s a Waiting Game

“Chimney Swift” Sees a Baltimore Oriole

Inclusive Birding

Nature Activity Fun

Follow the Leader

Crushing the Scavenger Hunt

Creating Bird Art

By Melissa Hanson

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.

The Results

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.

Thank you to our 2021 Sponsors!

Lead Sponsor

Media Sponsor

Supporting Sponsor: ZEISS

Community Sponsor: River Valley Co-op

Protecting a Home for Herons in Worcester

Once a rare sight in the northeast US due to hunting pressure and pollution, Great Blue Herons have staged a staggering comeback in the past few decades. Now, these statuesque wading birds can be seen at ponds, lakes, and rivers of all sizes, often in surprisingly urban areas. Their impressive size and graceful flight have won them many admirers. 

Great Blue Heron with fish in mouth flying to nest with three young Great Blue Herons. Copyright Joe Howell
© Joe Howell

While spotting a heron on its own is a sight to see, it’s nothing compared to coming upon herons standing over their just hatched fuzzy-headed young, in what is known as a “heronry.” 

These communal nesting grounds can contain up to 50 herons and there’s one in Worcester that could use your help to protect it. 

Saving Heron Pond 

Adjacent to Mass Audubon’s Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife SanctuaryHeron Pond is a 17-acre urban wetland that features not only a heronry but an active beaver colony. Mass Audubon is partnering with the City of Worcester to purchase a permanent Conservation Restriction (CR) on the land. A CR is a legally binding agreement that permanently protects certain conservation values of a property while allowing the land to remain in private ownership. 

Located within a state designated Environmental Justice Population and upstream of a federally designated high-risk area for flooding, protecting this land will provide opportunities for more people to connect with nature and bolster the climate resilience of the neighborhood by providing flood storage. 

We just need your support to raise the final $36,000 to make this happen. Please consider making a gift today! 

Donate now >

— Nancy Cowan

Common Yellowthroat surrounded by ferns in water

Always Up for a Challenge

2 Boston women
125 years of impact
38 Bird-a-thon events
$3,000,000+ event dollars raised

Mass Audubon’s rich history spans 125 years. What started as a mission to stop the cruel and deadly treatment of birds for fashion has evolved into one of the nation’s leading nature conservation organizations.

In 1896 the founders of Mass Audubon, Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall, set out to persuade as many Boston women as possible to forgo feathers in their fashionable hats to help protect birds.

Our founders did not shy away from the challenge. This is a tradition we’ve upheld all these years as we fight to protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and wildlife.

Bird-a-thon, our largest annual fundraiser taking place this Friday and Saturday, has been an integral part of our history for the past 38 years. This year, we invite our Bird-a-thon participants to take part in a very special challenge.

In honor of our 125th anniversary, participants can complete a 125-item nature scavenger hunt. This scavenger hunt will have them searching high and low for a wide range of nature-related items like birds on a wire, ants marching in a line, and the sound of rustling leaves. Any participant who checks off each item will be entered into a drawing for an awesome prize!

Are you up for the challenge? Sign up for Bird-a-thon today!

*Deadline to register is Wednesday, May 12, at 2 pm.

Thank you to our 2021 Bird-a-thon Sponsors!

Lead Sponsor

Camosse Masony Supply logo

Media Sponsor

90.9 WBUR logo

  Supporting Sponsor: ZEISS
  Community Sponsor: River Valley Co-op

Bird-a-thon brings birders, nature-lovers, and families together to celebrate nature and raise funds that provide essential year-round support for Mass Audubon’s conservation, nature education, and advocacy work. Bird-a-thon will take place from 6 pm May 14 until 6 pm May 15.

The “MVP” of Climate Adaptation

Climate change impacts all of us. Along with sea level rise, we’re seeing extreme weather, inland and coastal flooding, and severe heat at a greater frequency and intensity. To adapt to climate change means to prepare for impacts like these, and one way that Mass Audubon is acting is through protecting and restoring nature. That’s because natural areas like forests and wetlands help us withstand these impacts in addition to storing carbon, helping us mitigate climate change simultaneously!

Mass Audubon partners with a program that prioritizes nature-based solutions to climate change— Massachusetts’ Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program. The MVP Program provides support for cities and towns in the Commonwealth to identify climate hazards like extreme weather, assess local vulnerabilities to these hazards, and develop action plans to increase resilience to climate change.

Two Steps Closer to Resilience

In addition to encouraging the use of nature-based solutions, the MVP Program’s core principles include using best available climate change science, leading a robust and equitable community engagement process, and enacting climate solutions that benefit the entire community—especially vulnerable populations most affected by climate change. Here’s how it works.

Step 1: Planning

First, municipalities participating in the MVP Program need to lead a community-driven planning process to understand climate hazards and vulnerabilities and to identify priority adaptation actions. The city or town works with a state-certified technical assistance provider (like Mass Audubon) and organizes a community workshop with a range of stakeholders that can speak to infrastructural, societal, and environmental needs in light of climate change.

Once a municipality completes the MVP Planning Grant process and submits a summary of findings, they become certified as an MVP Community, eligible to apply for Action Grants to achieve their climate resilience goals.

Step 2: Action

MVP Communities apply for Action Grants to implement on-the-ground projects that address the priorities identified during the planning stage. The potential for these projects is vast—they can include updating stormwater infrastructure given increases in precipitation, removing dams to restore stream flow, conserving a wetland to protect against flooding, or planting trees in an environmental justice community.

Getting an Action Grant can be competitive, but applications that prioritize nature-based solutions to climate change—which provide co-benefits to communities like improved air quality—are in a better position to receive the grant.

The Power of Partnerships

The MVP Program is a great example of partnership between state and local government to address the climate crisis, and MVP communities are working together to make their projects more impactful.

Thanks to MVP grants, four Greater Boston awardees are each focusing on extreme heat from climate change—an impact that was felt strongly this past summer. Since the four projects are similar in geographic area and project goal, the teams have been meeting regularly to learn from each other’s efforts and coordinate community engagement.

Multiple communities are also encouraged to apply for funding together, and Mass Audubon is a partner in one successful example of this. In Southeastern Massachusetts, the communities of Freetown, Lakeville, Middleborough, and Rochester are working together to create a nature-based watershed management and climate action plan in an area of interconnected lands and ponds known as the Assawompset Ponds Complex.

Get Involved

89% of the entire Commonwealth, or 312 municipalities, now participate in the MVP Program. You can help bring participation to 100% and encourage the use of nature-based solutions in your own city or town!

Whether or not your community is already involved in the MVP Program, contact your municipal officials to encourage using this opportunity to protect and restore nature. Even more, all Action Grant projects require public involvement, so your input as a stakeholder is highly valued.

Solving climate change is up to all of us, collectively. Visit our website for more ideas on how you can start acting for resilient, sustainable communities.

– Paige Dolci, Climate Resilience Coordinator

Eastern Phoebe copyright Anthony Lischio

10 Common Bird Sounds

Do you wonder what you’re hearing outside? Is it the Northern Cardinal you see flitting about? Or maybe it’s something more cryptic?

We’ve pulled together 10 sounds and songs of birds that you may commonly hear when you are out and about in your yard or neighborhood, particularly in the spring. Listen to them enough times and you’ll be able to identify some of what you are hearing when you go outside.

Northern Cardinal

Female Northern Cardinal

Both male and female Northern Cardinals sing a loud, whistling song. Northern Cardinals used to be a species more commonly found south of New England and rarely seen in Massachusetts, but they began to expand their range northward in the 1950s. Now they are a very common species in New England.

Eastern Phoebe

© Anthony Lischio

Eastern Phoebes are cute flycatchers that often nest in manmade structures, like under the eave of a house. Their song gave them their name because it sounds like “fee-bee”.

Black-capped Chickadee

The Black-capped Chickadee is the official state bird of Massachusetts. While its chickadee-dee-dee call is perhaps the most identifiable, the chickadee’s song is a clear two- or three- note whistle similar to the Eastern Phoebe’s song. Play them both back-to-back to hear their differences.

Northern Flicker

© Christopher Peterson

The Northern Flicker is a flashy member of the woodpecker family with a spotted breast and bright yellow feather shafts that you may glimpse when they fly. Their song sounds a lot like they are laughing and can be confused with the song of the Pileated Woodpecker, though the Northern Flicker’s song is more even-toned.

Mourning Dove

© Brian Hunter

The soft coo-ing song of the Mourning Dove is often mistakenly thought to be the sound of an owl.  Another sound you may hear them make is the loud whistling their wings make when they take off and land.

Wings:

Common Grackle

© Matt Sabourin

Common Grackles are blackbirds that have a striking iridescence to their feathers in the sunlight. Their song sounds like a rusty gate opening.

House Wren

For such a tiny bird, the House Wren certainly has a lot to say—and loudly! Their bubbly song is fast-paced and often made up of over 12 syllables per bout of singing. They also have large repertoires of songs and will sing around 600 times an hour during the spring.

Baltimore Oriole

© Sarah Keates

The striking Baltimore Oriole is often considered a sign of spring in Massachusetts with its flute-like song. Baltimore Orioles build intricate hanging nests that cradle their young.

Grey Catbird

The Gray Catbird is another bird whose song inspired its name. Though they make a lot of different sounds, including gurgles, squeaks, and whistles, their cat-like mew is very distinctive.

Mew:

Chipping Sparrow

Unsurprisingly, given its name, the Chipping Sparrow’s song is a series of metallic sounding chips. If you look closely at this small sparrow, you’ll spot its rusty hat.

— Margo Servison

Urban Nature can Help Protect our Planet

Nature surrounds us and supports us, whether a large forest a few miles away or a street tree right in front of your home. The nature around you provides a number of services that help us withstand the impacts of climate change. So nature based solutions, like protecting existing natural areas and restoring damaged habitats, are key to solving climate change.

But it’s important we remember that cities also have an abundance of nature, which means we can use these nature based solutions in every Massachusetts community. Let’s explore a few examples.

Boston Food Forest and Boston Nature Center, Boston

Boston Food Forest Coalition and Mass Audubon Boston Nature Center & Wildlife Sanctuary.

The Boston Food Forest Coalition (BFFC) is working with neighbors across the city of Boston to build a network of community-based edible gardens. Urban farms can offer pollinator habitat while boosting local access to green space and mitigating extreme heat felt in cities. Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center & Wildlife Sanctuary is home to the first flagship food forest demonstration site, which provides access to healthy food reflective of the surrounding community’s preferences.

Bridgewater State University Green Parking Lot, Bridgewater

Photo © Horsley Witten Group

When Bridgewater State University needed to upgrade the parking lot for its Marshall Conant Science and Math Building, they worked with the Horsley Witten Group to incorporate a little bit of nature by planting vegetation in trenches between the parking rows. The design accommodated more parking spaces. It also created bioretention trenches that catch and store stormwater runoff from the parking lot, filtering it before it soaks into the ground. 

Alewife Stormwater Wetland, Cambridge

Photo © Catherine Woodbury, City of Cambridge

The City of Cambridge and partners restored the degraded banks of Alewife Brook with engineered stormwater wetlands that manage the surrounding community’s stormwater and flows into the brook. Enhanced walking trails in the public park provide overlooks of the wetland, which is hard at work absorbing stormwater and filtering out pollutants.

Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary Rain Garden, Worcester

Impervious surfaces like roads, driveways, and buildings prevent rainfall from soaking into the ground, creating stormwater. Rain gardens, like the one at Mass Audubon’s Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, help to manage our stormwater problem. A rain garden is very intentionally designed to capture water and return it to the ground. The rain garden at Broad Meadow Brook purifies runoff from the parking lot and provides native pollinator habitat.

What You Can Do in Your City

You can help restore and protect the nature in your city. See whether your community participates in the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program. If they do, remind them that Action Grants can support land protection, and if they don’t, urge them to join. And to take action in your own yard, check out ways to restore native habitat on lawns.

– Danica Warns, Climate Resilience Coordinator

Powering up Climate Action

Since moving to the Connecticut River Valley in 1981, Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton and Northampton has helped grow our dedication to the environment.

We’ve hiked Arcadia’s trails, canoed the marsh, sent our kids to summer camp, volunteered, and donated money. Perhaps most important, Arcadia has been playing a major role in our climate change advocacy, education, and action.

We view climate change as an existential threat to the planet. The severe disruption to the environment has us freaking out and desperate for action.

We are Morey Phippen and Brian Adams, and we’re fighting for climate justice.

Morey Phippen and Brian Adams, Climate Champions.

Married 40 years this summer and retired from our jobs as a family planning counselor and community college professor, we have channeled much of our time and energy into fighting for our planet at a local level. What we have been able to accomplish we credit to our parents, who left us an inheritance when they passed that has provided for us, our children, and the thrilling opportunity to contribute to charitable causes.

We decided to use some of this money to help nonprofits install photovoltaics (or solar panels).  Given the up-front costs that a solar system demands, we knew that nonprofits often have difficulty coming up with those financial resources. Solar energy’s cost has also dropped significantly, making it an affordable alternative to fossil fuel powered energy.

Our plan was to install solar panels at no cost to organizations, and negotiate a six-year purchase power agreement with them at a much-reduced electric rate. After six years we’d donate the systems in their entirety to the organizations.

Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary was one of the first organizations we approached. With over 700 acres of forest, meadows, grasslands, marsh, and wetlands, their mission to protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and wildlife was one we were totally committed to. It would be hard to find a better fit for our project!

In October 2017, we “flipped the switch” on a 5.6 kW photovoltaic system at the sanctuary.

Like other solar panels, it generates clean, renewable electricity from sunlight, about 8,000 kilowatt hours per year. But unlike other arrays, this panel uses a tracker that follows the sun across the sky. It adjusts to the height of the sun above the horizon as it changes during the day and throughout the seasons, which makes it a terrific teaching tool for the thousands of visitors who seek solace at Arcadia’s sanctuary every year.

To date we’ve installed over 550 kilowatts of solar at 34 locations including Arcadia, our local food pantries, homeless shelters, farms, environmental organizations, and social service agencies.  We’re hoping for a dozen more installations this year.

We are grateful to have such a wonderful sanctuary such a short distance from where we live, and to have the resources to help Arcadia and Mass Audubon in their quest to be carbon neutral and practice the urgent climate solutions that our planet needs.

Morey Phippen and Brian Adams, Mass Audubon Members, Donors, and Volunteers

Have a Cold One to Support Mass Audubon

Here’s something to toast about: Mass Audubon is one of five local charities that will benefit from the 2021 sales of Castle Island Brewing Company’s latest IPA: Fiver.

Castle Island Brewing Company is an award-winning brewery based in Norwood dedicated to the idea that beer should be inclusive, approachable, and excellent. They recently kicked off the Fiver Initiative with the purpose of giving back to some deserving local charities.

In addition to Mass Audubon, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, Artists for Humanity, Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, and Facing History and Ourselves will receive a cut of sales.

So whether you enjoy a can of Fiver on a cold winter’s day; a frosty mug of it in the heat of summer; or a freshly poured pint in the taproom this fall, you’ll be supporting Mass Audubon during every season this year. We’ll cheers to that!

~ Emily Sabo

New Year, New Climate Resolutions

Photo © Andrew Weber

2020 was a tough year. It would be easy to simply bury our heads in the sand and ignore the climate crisis, but nature needs us now more than ever before. And what’s more, we need nature too.

As 2021 begins, we can all make some resolutions that will help us feel better while also helping the world we all share. Consider resolving to contend with the anxiety that comes with our global climate crisis.

Serious concern about climate change has been called “climate grief,” defined as a psychological response to loss caused by the environmental destruction of climate change. And we all have plenty of it. We see, often daily, how climate change is playing out in extreme weather events, coastal flooding, and impacts on the health and safety of our communities.

It turns out that taking actions to learn about and help address climate change is not just good for the planet, but also for our mental health.  According to therapists, climate grief can be addressed by:

  • Staying informed
  • Connecting with others who are also concerned
  • Maintaining our relationship with nature
  • And engaging with meaningful climate solutions in ways that are relevant and applicable to us.

For this new year, you can make several resolutions to help the planet, that, in turn, will help you deal with any climate grief you face.

Be informed.

Read more information from reliable and trustworthy sources about local and national climate actions, regulations, incentive programs, and solutions. Digest and reflect on essays and articles from environmental organizations and advocacy groups.

Share and engage with others.

Initiate conversations with neighbors, extended family, and people in your community, about local and global climate threats and solutions. Attend library programs, climate cafés, and public information meetings held by local, state and federal elected officials. Participating in talks, meetings, and conversations will help you feel part of a collective of concerned, committed individuals who are learning together, sharing, and engaging in solutions. Being part of a solutions-oriented climate community can keep you feeling supported and energized when you need it most.

Connect to nature for health and motivation.  

Get outdoors and experience nature in your neighborhood or visit nearby trails every week. These daily connections with local nature will help you stay physically and emotionally healthy, connecting you to the Earth, which needs your help.

Act on climate.

Acting on the climate crisis helps address climate grief. This year, commit to climate action above and beyond what you already do. Start with individual solutions, like increasing how many plant-based meals you eat, and grow to community solutions, like participating in community composting programs or using your voice to support critical climate legislation. Actively engage with more local land protection and clean energy efforts by donating or volunteering. Use your power as a consumer, a voter, and community member, to push for local and global climate solutions.

We all have the power to make a difference, at or near home, in our collective climate fight. With the hope and promise of a new year in front of us, we can address our climate grief by seeking ways to act on the climate crisis. It’s one of the healthiest resolutions we can make.

Lucy Gertz, Adult Programs Education Manager

Sea Turtles Face Challenges in Warming Waters

Photo © Esther Horvath. Lea Desrochers, Turtle Research Assistant at Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary rescues a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle at at Corn Hill Beach, Truro, MA.

Every November and December, for more than 30 years, sea turtles strand on the bayside beaches of Cape Cod. At first there were only a few. But since 1999, hundreds of turtles have washed ashore each year. In 2014, more than 1,200 sea turtles were rescued or recovered.

Cold Stunning in Cape Cod Bay

Sea turtles strand on the Cape in the fall because of “cold-stunning”, a kind of hypothermia. Most are young Kemp’s Ridleys, the most endangered sea turtle in the world, transported north by the Gulf Stream. Ridleys feed along the New England coast during the summer. As they move south in the fall, some may become trapped by the hook shape of Cape Cod. Unable to find their way out of the bay and chilled by falling temperatures, turtles’ systems start to shut down.

For years, the staff and volunteers at Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary have patrolled beaches to rescue cold-stunned turtles and transport them to the New England Aquarium for lifesaving medical care. Most of the rescued turtles will eventually return to the ocean. 

Warming Waters May Play a Role

Before 1990, sea turtles generally didn’t travel north of Cape Cod because the water was too cold. Young turtles making return trips south in the fall would cold-stun on Long Island, New York, but rarely along the Massachusetts coast. That started changing in the 1990’s. Since then, the Gulf of Maine, which includes Cape Cod Bay, has been warming even faster than the global average. Warmer waters have encouraged sea turtles and many other forms of marine life to take advantage of abundant food resources in New England and even eastern Canada. Unfortunately, for some turtles, the outstretched arm of the Cape can be a deadly trap.

Warming Temperatures Pose More Threats

Green Sea Turtle covering a nest. Photo © United States National Park Services.

Climate change threatens sea turtles well beyond Cape Cod. Warming temperatures on nesting beaches, especially those in tropical regions, could skew sea turtle sex ratios since a hatchling’s sex is determined by the incubation temperature of its nest. Warmer nest temperatures tend to produce females and, in some locations, nests are producing too few males. If the sand at a nesting beach becomes too hot, it can weaken hatchlings or even kill them. Nesting turtles can also be overcome by heat in the process of digging their nests or laying eggs.

And the beaches turtles use to nest are themselves at risk. The increasing rate of sea level rise, more intense coastal storms, erosion, and flooding are likely to accelerate the loss of sea turtle nesting habitat.

Hope for these Resilient Reptiles

Sea turtles have been on the planet for 100 million years and managed to survive the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs. But can they survive all the human-made problems that confront them? Sea turtles are also threatened by ocean pollution, entanglement in fishing gear, and extensive development along their nesting beaches. The good news is that sea turtle populations have been bolstered with help from conservationists, including Mass Audubon, and there are significant legal protections in place for them. There’s been progress, but a great deal of work remains.

A cold-stunned sea turtle that washes up on a Cape Cod beach has already dodged a number of obstacles in its life. Rescuing that turtle supports a second chance at survival. But we also have a special opportunity to make a difference in helping it to overcome larger challenges like climate change.

Jenette Kerr, Wellfleet Bay’s Marketing and Communications Coordinator.