Author Archives: Ryan D.

About Ryan D.

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

Wild tom (male) turkey © Kathy King

Take 5: Giving Thanks for Turkeys

The return of wild turkeys to New England is a marvelous success story. When European settlers first arrived, these native birds were plentiful but rising populations and over-hunting led to their erradication—the last wild turkey in Massachusetts was killed on Mount Tom in 1851.

Thanks to the efforts of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (now known as Mass Wildlife), in cooperation with the University of Massachusetts, wild turkeys were reintroduced in the early 1970’s and are now plentiful once again.

Learn all about wild turkeys in the Nature & Wildlife section of our website. You’ll also find a list of upcoming programs about turkeys at our wildlife sanctuaries.

Let’s give thanks for turkeys with five fantastic photos from past submissions to our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest!

Wild turkey in a field of daffodils © Kathryn Dannay

Wild turkey in a field of daffodils © Kathryn Dannay

Wild turkeys © Saundra Bernard

Wild turkeys © Saundra Bernard

Wild turkey © Aimee Grace

Wild turkey © Aimee Grace

Wild turkeys © Peter Hall

Wild turkeys © Peter Hall

Wild tom (male) turkey © Kathy King

Wild tom (male) turkey © Kathy King

Take 5: Magnificent Milkweed

You may have spotted big puffs of cotton-like fluff growing on waist-high stems in a lot of meadows recently. There’s a good chance you’re witnessing the opening of the seed pods of the milkweed plant! In the fall, milkweed pods open up and release their fluffy, downy seeds to drift away on the wind and hopefully produce new plants the following year.

Don’t let the “weed” part of the name fool you: this lovely native plant presents a variety of unique flowers (there are more than 70 species native to the United States!), attracts butterflies, feeds and protects a variety of insects, provides nesting material for goldfinches and orioles, and is amazingly easy to grow. More than 60 different insects need milkweed to complete their life cycle, most notably the beloved monarch butterfly, which feeds almost exclusively on milkweed.

To celebrate this important and beautiful plant, here are five photos of milkweed pods and seeds from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Milkweed © Barbara K. Mindell

Milkweed © Barbara K. Mindell

Milkweed © Ruby Sarkar

Milkweed © Ruby Sarkar

Milkweed © John Zywar

Milkweed © John Zywar

Milkweed © Patricia LaHaie

Milkweed © Patricia LaHaie

Milkweed © Juliet Goodman

Milkweed © Juliet Goodman

Male Northern Cardinal © Judith Keneman

Take 5: Colorful Cardinals

Northern cardinals bring splashes of vivid color to the grays and browns of a winter garden. Thanks to the increasing popularity of backyard bird feeders, these once rare (to New England) birds have become common year-round residents in Massachusetts over the past fifty years.

Identifying the male northern cardinal is easy thanks to his rose-red plumage, pointed crest, and black mask. The female cardinal can be trickier, though, with her more subdued fashion sense consisting of pale tan and brown with a few rosy accents on the crest, wing, and tail. Both sexes, however, have the same powerful, bright orange beak which they use to crack open stubborn seeds and slice open sugary fruits to help them survive the coldest months of the year.

Keep your feeders full of seed and you can likely delight in the colorful crimson hues of cardinals all fall and winter long! Here are five photos of cardinals from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest that should help you identify these beautiful birds.

Male Northern Cardinal © Judith Keneman

Male Northern Cardinal © Judith Keneman

Female Northern Cardinal © Richard Antinarelli

Female Northern Cardinal © Richard Antinarelli

Male Northern Cardinal © Johanna Wray

Male Northern Cardinal © Johanna Wray

Female Northern Cardinal © Debbie Dineen

Female Northern Cardinal © Debbie Dineen

Male Northern Cardinal © Nathan Butler

Male Northern Cardinal © Nathan Butler

Cross Orbweaver Spider © Brett Melican

Take 5: “Spooky” Spiders

This October, we’ve been leading up to Halloween with themed Take 5 posts covering critters that are spooky, creepy, and go “bump” in the night. We’ve highlighted snakes, crows, bats, and vultures, and now it’s time for the creepiest crawly of them all: spiders!

Even if the thought of spiders makes you want to run shrieking in the opposite direction, you have to admit—they’re pretty amazing. While different spiders use different webs for different reasons (and some don’t even use them), it is true that their silk has more tensile strength than steel!

With a handful of rare exceptions, their diets consist entirely of insects…and other spiders! And since the vast majority of spiders in Massachusetts are not dangerous, think twice next time you encounter one in your home and are tempted to squish it. Consider carefully relocating it outside with a cup and a piece of paper so it can continue its duty of ensnaring and noshing on pesky insects.

Here are five stellar photos from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest to honor these beautiful arachnids. Happy Halloween!

Cross Orbweaver Spider © Brett Melican

Cross Orbweaver Spider © Brett Melican

Spider Web © Ian Kinahan

Spider Web © Ian Kinahan

Orchard Orbweaver Spider © Kim Novino

Orchard Orbweaver Spider © Kim Novino

Cross Orbweaver Spider © Jack Cotter

Cross Orbweaver Spider © Jack Cotter

Grass Spider © Amy Harley

Grass Spider © Amy Harley

Turkey Vulture © Phyllis Tarascio

Take 5: Turkey Vultures

While folklore holds that spotting a circling vulture is a bad omen, turkey vultures actually perform a vital function within their ecosystem: Clean-up Crew!

Turkey vultures specialize in eating carrion (dead animals). They have a well-developed sense of smell that they use to find food. Their heads are naked so that they can reach inside a carcass without contaminating their feathers. They usually feed alone, but if a vulture sees others of its kind feeding on a carcass, it may fly down to join them.

Like crows, turkey vultures roost together, often gathering in trees by the dozen to sleep for the night, which can be a little eerie if you don’t know that these beneficial birds are harmless to humans. Here are five photos of turkey vultures from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

All October long, leading up to Halloween, we’re spotlighting wildlife that’s “spooky,” “creepy,” and goes “bump” in the night with our Take 5 posts. Keep an eye out for next week when we tackle the creepiest crawly of them all: spiders!

Turkey Vulture © Phyllis Tarascio

Turkey Vulture © Phyllis Tarascio

Soaring Turkey Vulture © Sherrelle Guyette

Soaring Turkey Vulture © Sherrelle Guyette

Turkey Vulture © Christine Young

Turkey Vulture © Christine Young

Turkey Vulture © Patrick Waggett

Turkey Vulture © Patrick Waggett

Turkey Vulture © Paul Bedard

Turkey Vulture © Paul Bedard

Bat © Serah Rose Roth

Take 5: Beneficial Bats

Bats, our only flying mammals, are truly remarkable animals. It’s too bad their unwarranted reputation has prevented many people from appreciating how beneficial and unique they are.

All bats found in Massachusetts are insectivores. They feed primarily at night, catching thousands of mosquitoes, moths, and other night-flying insects. It is estimated that an individual bat can eat 600 insects per hour!

Unfortunately, millions of bats have fallen victim to white-nose syndrome since it was first discovered in 2006. Find out what you can do to help.

Here are five photos of bats to celebrate these beneficial little beasts. Learn all about bat behavior, species, and anatomy, plus what you should do if you encounter a bat.

And in case you missed it, we featured a Bats By the Numbers in the fall 2017 issue of Explore member magazine.

Bat © David McChesney

Bat © David McChesney

Bat © Serah Rose Roth

Bat © Serah Rose Roth

Bat in Flight © Jeff Wills

Bat in Flight © Jeff Wills

Bat © Dave Shattuck

Bat © Dave Shattuck

Bat © Justen Walker

Bat © Justen Walker

 

Crow © Steve DiGiandomenico

Take 5: Clever Crows

Crows have long suffered under the reputation of being “bad.” Crows raid crops, frequently steal eggs and chicks from other bird nests, and have been known to steal shiny objects such as articles of jewelry from people.

Yet, these vocal black birds are among the most intelligent. Crow are said to be able to count (to a point) and they are also known to be very discriminating in their abilities to identify specific objects.

Here are five photos of crows* from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Notice a theme with our Take 5 posts? All this month, leading up to Halloween, we’re spotlighting wildlife that’s “spooky,” “creepy,” and goes “bump” in the night. BOO!

Crow © Michele Moore

Crow © Michele Moore

A crow and a red-tailed hawk face off in mid-air © Jim Higgins

A crow and a red-tailed hawk face off in mid-air © Jim Higgins

Crow © Matt Filosa

Crow © Matt Filosa

Crow © Steve DiGiandomenico

Crow © Steve DiGiandomenico

Bird silhouetted against the moon © Greg Saulmon

Bird silhouetted against the moon © Greg Saulmon*

*Okay, we’ll admit: this bird is not actually identifiable from just a silhouette, but it looks so perfectly spooky we had to include it anyway!

Common Garter Snakes © Michael Onyon

Take 5: Sublime Snakes

Snakes tend to get a bad rap, but they’re actually fascinating creatures that can help control pests like rodents and slugs thanks to their carnivorous diet. Plus, the vast majority of snakes that you’ll find in the Northeast are not dangerous.

In fact, of the 14 snake species found in Massachusetts, only two are venomous—the northern copperhead and timber rattlesnake—both of which are extremely rare (endangered, in fact) and they tend to avoid suburban and urban areas. Snakes prefer to avoid people, and will generally only bite when they are picked up, stepped on, or otherwise provoked. Fortunately, snakes do not carry diseases that are transmissible to humans.

Interestingly, snakes never stop growing, and every now and then, they must shed the skin that they’ve outgrown. Sometimes you can find these papery, scaly skins left behind on the trail—keep an eye out on your next hike!

Below are five photos of snakes that you might see in Massachusetts, submitted to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Learn about all the native snake species on our website.

Eastern hognose snake © Dominic Casserly

Eastern hognose snake © Dominic Casserly

Northern water snake © Brenda Bradley

Northern water snake © Brenda Bradley

Common garter snakes © Michael Onyon

Common garter snakes © Michael Onyon

Smooth green snake © Patrick Randall

Smooth green snake © Patrick Randall

Eastern hognose snake © Patrick Randall

Eastern hognose snake © Patrick Randall

Children enjoying the trails at Boston Nature Center

In Your Words: Patricia Spence

In Your Words is a regular feature of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter. Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares his or her story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them.


In Your Words: Patricia Spence

Patricia Spence at Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center

My love for exploring nature probably originated from summers spent on Cape Cod with my grandparents. Days were filled investigating my grandfather’s vegetable and flower gardens, catching frogs, swimming, and going on Cape trips.

As a single mom raising two boys in Dorchester, I wanted my sons to know the fun and excitement of all things “nature”—discovering salamanders under rocks, hiking the Blue Hills, and learning about birds, bugs, and bees. I also wanted them to understand that they are the stewards of our planet. So off they went to classes at Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center (BNC). There, they experimented and explored in a wonderful outside-classroom setting.

The BNC connection led to more nature experiences at other Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries, including the Blue Hills Trailside Museum, Drumlin Farm, Allens Pond, Ipswich River, Broadmoor, and Moose Hill, as well as at Wildwood overnight and family camps.

While they took classes, I spent time reconnecting with nature by volunteering at BNC. Through these experiences, I gained a deep appreciation for the director, staff, youth leaders, and all of the committees. The wildlife sanctuary continues to passionately seek ways to involve diverse families from all walks of life from across the city and region.

Children enjoying the trails at Boston Nature Center

Children enjoying the trails at Boston Nature Center

My boys are now men, but I will always remember the BNC programs that opened an entire world of nature for us, our family, and our friends. BNC has been a critical path to nature and the environment for folks living in the city that would not normally experience nature programs, wildlife, and the joy of birds, butterflies, and other small critters.

I love the space, the serenity, and the beauty of nature right in my own backyard at the Boston Nature Center, and I encourage all who live near and far to come visit.


Pat Spence is a Mass Audubon Council member, former chair of the Boston Nature Center Sanctuary Committee, and Mass Audubon member since 2000.

Red-tailed Hawk © Nathan Goshgarian

Take 5: High-Flying Hawks

‘Tis the season…the season of fall hawk migration, that is! Each year in late summer and early fall, thousands of hawks and their young move through the state from northern breeding grounds to wintering areas often far to the south. While the majority of broad-wing hawks depart by late September, now’s your chance to see the best variety of migrating hawks, as well as several species of falcons and late-moving ospreys, eagles, and northern harriers.

Enjoy these five fantastic photographs of hawks from past years of our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest and check out our How to Hawk Watch guide—then get out there and hawk watch like pro!

This year’s photo contest closes on September 30, so be sure to enter your nature photographs today!

Red-tailed Hawk © Nathan Goshgarian

Red-tailed Hawk © Nathan Goshgarian

Cooper's Hawk © Lee Fortier

Cooper’s Hawk © Lee Fortier

Red-shouldered Hawk © Richard Alvarnaz

Red-shouldered Hawk © Richard Alvarnaz

Broad-winged Hawk © Joseph Cavanaugh

Broad-winged Hawk © Joseph Cavanaugh

Cooper's Hawk © Mary Anne Doyle

Cooper’s Hawk © Mary Anne Doyle