Author Archives: Ryan D.

About Ryan D.

Where: Mass Audubon Headquarters, Lincoln | Who: A Vermont expat with maple sap in her veins | Favorite part of the job: Exploring sanctuaries with camera in hand.

Wild Turkey © Brad Dinerman

Take 5: Turkey Trot

It has been quite a year, to say the least. Many folks use Thanksgiving as a time to reflect on the past year and give thanks for the goodness in their lives, especially in challenging times. While 2020 has certainly been challenging, we have also seen more people than ever getting outdoors at our sanctuaries and discovering the powerful benefits that time in the outdoors brings to our physical and mental well-being. So what better way to give thanks and give back than spending more time in nature?

This year, Mass Audubon is encouraging as many people as possible to get outside and hike with us the weekend after Thanksgiving during Hike-a-thon 2020. Anyone can join Hike-a-thon from anywhere, and all types of hikes are encouraged, from a stroll around the neighborhood to trying out one of our universally accessible All Persons Trails to taking on a challenging summit hike. You can even join a naturalist-guided walk hosted by one of our sanctuaries!

And since it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without some wild turkey photos, here are five shots of turkeys out for a “Turkey Trot” of their own from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Wild Turkey © Justin Miel
Wild Turkey © Justin Miel
Wild Turkey © Cynthia Vogan
Wild Turkey © Cynthia Vogan
Wild Turkey © Brad Dinerman
Wild Turkey © Brad Dinerman
Wild Turkeys © Bruce Carnevale
Wild Turkeys © Bruce Carnevale
Wild Turkey © Stewart Ting Chong
Wild Turkey © Stewart Ting Chong
Snowy Owl © Paul Malenfant

Take 5: Superb Snowy Owls

They’re here! Snowy Owls have arrived from their breeding grounds in the Arctic and can be spotted at Plum Island, Duxbury Beach, and other open, treeless areas near the coast through March—if you make the trip to see Snowy Owls this winter, please protect these beautiful raptors by viewing them from a safe and respectful distance at public sites and do not approach them.

Norman Smith, the former director of Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum, is keeping busy in his retirement by continuing his Snowy Owl rescue and research efforts: The first report of a Snowy Owl at Logan Airport this season came in on November 5, so he hurried down to capture the owl, take some measurements and research notes, and release it at Duxbury Beach.

Norman reports that it was a healthy “hatch-year” bird (meaning it was born this past summer), which suggests there was good breeding this year in the region of the Arctic where this particular owl was born. Historically, since he started with the Snowy Owl Project in 1981, Norman would capture almost all hatch-year birds, but the past several winters saw predominantly adults arriving in Massachusetts, a poor sign for breeding success. Norman says his colleagues in Greenland reported their best breeding year since 1998 this past summer, while others in Barrow, Alaska, reported no breeding at all, so it can vary dramatically by location due to a number of factors, including climate change.

Snowy Owls predominantly feed on rodents called lemmings, so the success of lemming populations affects Snowy Owl populations: when there’s a boom in lemmings, we see a rise in the number of hatch-year owls traveling south. Lemmings are now facing increased pressure from climate change, such as rising temperatures, milder winters, shifting weather patterns, and changes in vegetation, which makes breeding success more difficult. So a decline in hatch-year Snowy Owls can signal climate impacts across entire food chains.

Enjoy these five photos of Snowy Owls from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest, then visit our website to learn how you can support our work to monitor and protect these beautiful birds and where and how to observe Snowy Owls yourself.

Snowy Owl © A. Grigorenko
Snowy Owl © A. Grigorenko
Snowy Owl © Jenny Zhao
Snowy Owl © Jenny Zhao
Snowy Owl © Paul Malenfant
Snowy Owl © Paul Malenfant
Snowy Owl © Sara Silverberg
Snowy Owl © Sara Silverberg
Snowy Owl © Karen Walker
Snowy Owl © Karen Walker
Common Yellowthroat © Jeff Martineau

Take 5: Animal Masks

Wearing masks in public in a great way to protect yourself, protect those around you, and help slow the spread of COVID-19. Since we’re all wearing masks in public for the foreseeable future, we thought it might be fun to highlight a few mask-wearers from the animal kingdom, as well.

While you’re outdoors, safely enjoying our trails, consider these five Massachusetts natives that “wear” their masks 24/7, with photos from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Common Yellowthroat © Jeff Martineau
Common Yellowthroat © Jeff Martineau
Wood Frog © Lucas Beaudette
Wood Frog © Lucas Beaudette
Cedar Waxwing © Sandra Taylor
Cedar Waxwing © Sandra Taylor
Raccoon © Richard Ruggiero
Raccoon © Richard Ruggiero
Peregrine Falcon © Martha Akey
Peregrine Falcon © Martha Akey
Fall Leaves © Ken Conway

Leave the Leaves

Fall Leaves © Ken Conway
Fall Leaves © Ken Conway

Fall is a magical time in New England as oaks, maples, and aspens reveal their spectacular red, orange, and yellow hues. Before you know it, though, those leaves have fallen to the ground, carpeting lawns and gardens and prodding residents to reluctantly pick up their rakes and perform the annual ritual of “autumn cleanup.”

Well, we’ve got good news: you’re officially off the hook. Not only will your back thank you, so will our native pollinators, including bees, butterflies, beetles, and moths, who rely on leaf litter for food and shelter to help them survive winter.

Woolly Bear Caterpillar
Woolly Bear Caterpillar

The vast majority of butterfly and moth species don’t migrate (Monarchs are a well-known exception) but rather overwinter in leaf litter—the familiar Woolly Bear caterpillar, the larval form of the Isabella Tiger Moth, is one of these.

Some, like Red-banded Hairstreak butterflies, lay their eggs on fallen leaves that newly hatched caterpillars will happily devour and—if it’s late in the season—may even use as a shelter through winter.

The hollow stalks of ornamental grasses and flowers like daylilies provide convenient, protected compartments for cavity-nesting insects like Mason and Carpenter bees.

Here are a few tips to make your fall garden cleanup easier and more pollinator-friendly:

  • Leave the leaves! When you bag and throw them away, you’re probably tossing out precious pollinator larvae and eggs, too.
  • Pile leaves around the base of trees, shrubs, and perennial plants to protect their roots and provide shelter for pollinators.
  • Put off trimming back dead stalks from ornamental grasses and flowers until spring, once nighttime temperatures are consistently about 50°F and any nesting insects have reemerged.
  • Save some leaves in a pile and add them gradually to your backyard compost bin to supplement your “green” food waste with “brown” matter.

So feel free to put off raking or skip the fall cleanup altogether—as it turns out, it’s one of the most valuable things you can do to protect and help native pollinators thrive.

Eastern Bluebird © Norman Corliss

Take 5: Songbirds in the Snow

Well, it’s official: the first snow of the season has fallen on parts of Massachusetts, and while the human residents have a range of reactions (joy, frustration, excitement, disgust, and even denial, depending on your opinion of October snowfall), our native birds, too, have a variety of ways to cope with stormy weather.

Birds that typically roost or take refuge in shelters of some kind will do so, either in natural cavities or nest boxes, sometimes huddling together to share heat. Perching birds will perch as close to tree trunks on the leeward side (sheltered from the wind) as possible, taking advantage of the natural grasping reflex in their feet to stay put, even as they sleep (possibly even entering a state of torpor, or lowered metabolism and body temperature, to conserve energy). Herons and other wading birds will find what shelter they can in low vegetation, while some ducks and other swimming birds will actually ride out the storm on open water, tucking in their extremities for warmth.

To commemorate the first snowfall of the season, here are five “songbirds in the snow” from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Eastern Bluebird © Norman Corliss
Eastern Bluebird © Norman Corliss
Black-capped Chickadee © Katie Busick
Black-capped Chickadee © Katie Busick
Pine Warbler © Susan Bryant
Pine Warbler © Susan Bryant
Dark-eyed Junco © Andy Eckerson
Dark-eyed Junco © Andy Eckerson
Northern Cardinal © James Minichiello
Northern Cardinal © James Minichiello
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Ken Lee

Take 5: The Littlest King

Small but mighty, kinglets are barely bigger than hummingbirds, weighing less than half an ounce, and yet they are still capable of surviving in remarkably cold environments, in some regions overwintering in places where nighttime temperatures can fall below 0°F. Their preference for the upper canopy of thick stands of tall conifers, especially spruce and fir, coupled with their diminutive size, makes them difficult to spot, but fall migration is likely your best chance.

Both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned kinglets are migrating from northern forests to their wintering grounds and passing through Massachusetts this time of year, but only individuals of the golden variety tend to linger beyond the fall migration period. You’ll need a keen ear to pinpoint the very piercing call of the male Golden-crowned Kinglet, which is so high-pitched that some older birders find that they lose the ability to hear the highest notes as they age.

Here are five photos of “kingly” Golden-crowned Kinglets from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Golden-crowned Kinglet © Ken Lee
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Ken Lee
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Claudia Carpinone
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Claudia Carpinone
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Davey Walters
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Davey Walters
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Mary Keleher
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Mary Keleher
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Nathan Goshgarian
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Nathan Goshgarian
Northern Saw-whet Owl © Heather Demick

Take 5: Who’s Seen a Saw-whet?

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is an small, elusive creature. It clocks in at no more than 4 ounces and is about the size of a robin, but is still a fearsome hunter of small mammals (and occasionally small birds). Nocturnal and secretive, it is rare to spot one in the wild, but ongoing banding and tracking efforts have shown they are far more abundant than they seem.

Wondering about the name? It comes from the sound they make, which early birders like John James Audubon compared to the sound of a saw blade being sharpened (“to whet” is to hone or sharpen a blade).

While many saw-whets overwinter in Massachusetts, a good number also migrate south for the winter, and usually around this time of year and into early November. Keep an eye on cedar trees or dense thickets for owls roosting during the day, and you might just get lucky, but in the meantime, here are five photos of saw-whet owls you can enjoy right now.

Northern Saw-whet Owl © Heather Demick
Northern Saw-whet Owl © Heather Demick
Northern Saw-whet Owl © Jennifer Johnston
Northern Saw-whet Owl © Jennifer Johnston
Northern Saw-whet Owl © Diane Koske
Northern Saw-whet Owl © Diane Koske
Northern Saw-whet Owl © Janice Berte
Northern Saw-whet Owl © Janice Berte
Northern Saw-whet owl at the Drumlin Farm bird banding and research station
Northern Saw-whet owl at the Drumlin Farm bird banding and research station
Manchaug Pond, Sutton, MA © Marty Jo Henry

Fall Fest Fun for All

Manchaug Pond, Sutton, MA © Marty Jo Henry
Manchaug Pond, Sutton, MA © Marty Jo Henry

From October 24–31, Mass Audubon’s Fall Fest offers in-person and virtual programs, free activities, and unique fall experiences for all ages throughout Massachusetts. Here are all the ways you can get in on the fun!


Family Fun Days at Wildwood

Kick off Fall Fest a little early at Mass Audubon’s Wildwood Camp in Rindge, NH this weekend (October 17–18) where you can enjoy canoeing and kayaking, guided nature walks, archery, tie-dying, campfires, and more fall fun!

Fall Fest Programs

Howl at the full Halloween moon, prowl for owls, travel by hayride, and more with fall fest programs across the state, both in-person and online.

Nature Play Days

Create your own Fall Fest wherever you are with downloadable bingo cards, scavenger hunts, activity sheets, crafts, and more for Young Explorers during Nature Play Days.

Follow Along on Facebook

Make fall crafts, explore the outdoors, and meet spooky animals with us all week long through fun and interactive videos on our Facebook page.

Pumpkin Carving & Painting Contest

Enter our contest by sharing your artistic creations to our Facebook page from October 24–31. Try one of our pumpkin carving stencils or design your own masterpiece!

Fall-unteer at a Sanctuary

There are lots of great ways to give back to your community this fall by volunteering at a wildlife sanctuary near you. Volunteer projects take place outdoors, so you can spend some time working in nature and be socially distanced, too.

Exclusive Mass Audubon Experiences

During our “Fall Fun-raiser” silent auction, you can bid on exclusive Mass Audubon experiences like private strawberry-picking at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, unique animal encounters at Habitat in Belmont, Cape Cod adventures, and more.

Pumpkins © Beth Del Bono

Take 5: Pumpkin Everything

Pumpkins are the quintessential symbol of fall. Native to North America, pumpkins are believed to have been domesticated for at least 7,000 years, originally cultivated by Mesoamerican peoples for food and medicine. Today, they are grown in incredible quantities around the world, in large part to meet the needs of all the autumn-loving pumpkin carvers and pie-eaters who look forward to this time of year.

Want more pumpkin everything? Check to see if there’s a pumpkin carving program at a sanctuary near you or check out our collection of pumpkin-themed activities for Young Explorers, including stencils for pumpkin decorating, instructions for making your own pumpkin bird feeder, and cool experiments for “pumpkin scientists.” That’s a lot of pumpkins!

And while you’re at it, why not swing by a nearby farm to support the local food movement and pick up your decorative gourds and soon-to-be jack-o-lantern subjects? You’ll be glad you did!

In the meantime, let’s celebrate fall here on the blog with a few pumpkin photos, submitted to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Manchaug Pond, Sutton, MA © Marty Jo Henry
Manchaug Pond, Sutton, MA © Marty Jo Henry
Squirrel munching on a pumpkin in Gloucester, MA © Suzanne Sweeney
Squirrel munching on a pumpkin in Gloucester, MA © Suzanne Sweeney
Pumpkins © Beth Del Bono
Pumpkins © Beth Del Bono
Pumpkins in Bolton, MA © Carmella Kurriss
Pumpkins in Bolton, MA © Carmella Kurriss
Pumpkins at a farm stand in Methuen, MA © Nancy Rich
Pumpkins at a farm stand in Methuen, MA © Nancy Rich
Reflections of Fall at Harold Parker Forest in Andover, MA © Paul Mozell

Take 5: Fall Through the Looking Glass

After a cool, wet spring and a hot, dry summer (ideal conditions for spectacular fall foliage), nature is coming alive with reds, oranges, and yellows as plants gradually cease photosynthesis, lose their green-colored chlorophyll, and enter a dormant phase for the winter.

Many folks, it seems, have noticed that this annual spectacle can be doubly beautiful when reflected on the surface of water, so here are five “impressionistic” photo contest entries of fall foliage viewed “through the looking glass.”

Check out our fall foliage guide for great hikes and fall activities, the science behind fall foliage, and even fall photography tips for great shots like these. The 2020 Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest is officially closed, but now is a great time to get your landscape shots in for next year’s contest!

Reflections of Fall at Harold Parker Forest in Andover, MA © Paul Mozell
Reflections of Fall at Harold Parker Forest in Andover, MA © Paul Mozell
Autumn Reflection on South Natick Dam © Ilene Hoffman
Autumn Reflection on South Natick Dam © Ilene Hoffman
Fall Foliage Reflections at Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary © Cheryl Rose
Fall Foliage Reflections at Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary © Cheryl Rose
Impressionistic Autumn Color in Rutland, MA © Kimberly Beckham
Impressionistic Autumn Color in Rutland, MA © Kimberly Beckham
Fall Color at Bottomless Pond in Sudbury, MA © Bryan Gammons
Fall Color at Bottomless Pond in Sudbury, MA © Bryan Gammons