On August 7, 1989, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the first National Lighthouse Day in commemoration of the bicentennial date of the founding of the U.S. Lighthouse Service in 1789. Although only an official national holiday for that year, National Lighthouse Day continues to be celebrated on August 7 by aficionados and lighthouse organizations around the country.
It’s a great way to commemorate an important part of America’s rich maritime history and the first public works program undertaken by the newly formed United States government. Historic lighthouses—and the stalwart folks who tended and maintained them—protected our coastlines and guided our sailors to safety for centuries.
Lighthouse groups all along the coast offer public tours, museums, and presentations for those interested in learning more about this important national resource and heritage:
Mass Audubon’s Eastern Point and Straitsmouth Island wildlife sanctuaries offer fantastic opportunities to visit historic lighthouses, though the latter is only accessible via kayak in-season.
Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary offers guided kayak tours of Sandy Point Lighthouse and Barnstable Harbor starting in September.
Even simpler to enjoy, here are five gorgeous photos of lighthouses from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Submit your own photographs of the beautiful nature and scenery of Massachusetts today!
Voting has closed and Lisa Beskin’s remarkable underwater photograph of lilypads was the winner for the month of June! If you’re not already, follow us on Facebook to vote for the next “Facebook Fave” in July!
When summer heats up, it’s time to hit the water! Whether your vessel of choice is a canoe, kayak, sailboat, rowboat, or paddleboard, nothing beats the feeling of the paddle breaking the surface or the wind catching the sail on a sunny, summer day.
Why not check out an upcoming paddling program at a Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary near you, or check with your local sanctuary to see if they offer canoe or kayak rentals (covid regulations may affect availability) for your next amphibious adventure?
And in the meantime, get inspired by these five photos of folks getting out and enjoying the life aquatic from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Don’t forget to take some photos of your next paddle and submit them to this year’s contest by September 30!
Aside from humans, beavers are the only mammal that alters their habitat to meet their needs, which they accomplish by damming streams to form ponds. This behavior actually benefits other species (including people) as well.
Because of the flooding beavers create, trees often die off and the dead “snags” provide nesting sites for Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, Tree Swallows, and other birds. These new ponds and wetlands become homes for amphibians, turtles, fish, otters, muskrats, and other animals.
Beaver-created wetlands also enhance human habitat by storing and slowly releasing floodwater, which controls downstream flooding. They improve water quality by trapping, removing, or transforming excess nutrients, sediment, and pollution. These areas can also recharge and maintain groundwater levels, providing flow to streams even during droughts, which are expected to increase in frequency due to climate change.
If you’re looking to spot an industrious beaver, the best time of day is dawn and dusk, as they are crepuscular animals. To learn more about beavers (including how to tell the difference between beavers and muskrats) and how to handle various beaver-related issues, check out our all about beavers page. If you’ve got some great wildlife shots of your own, we’d love to see them! Enter the Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest today!
The Bald Eagle has been a powerful emblem for not hundreds but thousands of years: Long before it was adopted as the official emblem of the United States in 1782, the Bald Eagle was revered by many Indigenous peoples as sacred for its majesty and strength.
Despite their symbolic significance, Bald Eagles faced near extinction in the 1950s and 1960s due to the widespread use of the pesticide DDT. In 1982, the MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife (MassWildlife) teamed up with Mass Audubon to launch a project to restore the Bald Eagle as a breeding bird in the Commonwealth. There are now more than 70 active Bald Eagle nests in the Bay State, and 2020 saw the first nesting effort on Cape Cod since 1905, a truly remarkable conservation success.
Plentiful and easy to spot, the dragonflies and damselflies that make up the order Odonata are the largest insects you’re likely to see in Massachusetts.
There are more than 5,000 known species of dragonflies, with over 180 recorded in New England alone. They come in a dazzling array of colors, some even appearing iridescent in sunlight. Best of all, adult odonates eat a steady diet of other flying insects, including those pesky mosquitoes and black flies.
Here are five gorgeous photos of “dragons and damsels” from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2021 photo contest is open now, so submit your beautiful photos of the nature of Massachusetts today!
Lily is a goat volunteer at Habitat Education Center in Belmont. If you’d like to get involved at Habitat, check out the award-winning Habitat Intergenerational Program (HIP), a volunteer community service and learning program that connects people of all ages and enables them to participate in environmental service projects together.
As a city high school kid with an interest in the environment looking for volunteer opportunities, it was clear to me that Mass Audubon would provide the experience in nature that I have always craved. Goat tending at Habitat Education Center in Belmont is unique, hands-on work that has brought me closer to nature than I’ve ever been.
There are plenty of rewarding and demanding chores to be done each day, from keeping the feeders stocked with hay to sweeping and scooping manure, but running the goats from their greenhouse home to the meadow is one of the most thrilling parts of being a volunteer.
All passersby love to watch as three or four of us run alongside the herd of six chubby goats, with the person in the lead shaking a tin can of pellets while trying to keep ahead of the two alpha males. Although they often seem quite lazy while basking in the sun for nearly half the day, goats don’t mess around when it comes to treats!
While I have an important job to do as a volunteer, the goats have their own mission: they are perfect “meadow mowers” in the summer. They eat invasive plant species and poison ivy and help to trim down woody plants in the meadow.
The goats certainly have unique personalities and traits. Lily is often dubbed the “roundest” goat by many visitors. Jacob sometimes requires a little more encouragement and attention from staff and volunteers, but he cracks us up when he won’t budge or refuses his medicine. Kudzu brushes against us asking for a rub, and Chester loves to lead the group to and from the meadow. They never fail to keep me and the other volunteers busy.
Each week I volunteer, I gain even more experience and responsibility working with animals and interacting with visitors. Goat tending has also become less of a job and more of an outlet to unwind from my busy life of AP classes, swim practices and meets, and family responsibilities. Sitting with the goats and brushing their fur or watching them nibble hay from their feeders are the little things that make me happy. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
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 their story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email [email protected] to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue!
Pollinators are creatures that help plants reproduce by spreading a powdery material called pollen among flowers of the same species when the sticky pollen attaches to their bodies—many pollinators have evolved to be extra “hairy” so even more pollen will stick to them. Animals like bees, butterflies, moths, birds, and bats pollinate a majority of fruits and vegetables (i.e. non-grain crops) used in agriculture. But pollinators don’t just help plants; they rely on plants to survive and reproduce, sourcing critical nutrients from energy-rich nectar and protein-rich pollen.
Meet the Pollinators
There are many different types of pollinators in Massachusetts—bees are best-known for their pollinating prowess, but other insects such as wasps, butterflies, moths, and some flies and beetles, as well as birds like hummingbirds, are important pollinators, too. Nectar-feeding bats also pollinate plants, but are not typically found in Massachusetts—our native bats are mostly insectivores.
Read more about pollinators and what you can do to help them on our website and enjoy these five photos of pollinators that you might spot hovering around the flowers in your neighborhood this summer.
Juneteenth, a portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth”, commemorates the end of slavery in the United States each year on June 19. Because the enslaved ancestors of many Black Americans were not free on July 4, 1776, many consider Juneteenth their true Independence Day and a day to celebrate Black history, culture, joy, and family.
Notably, this year is the first time that Juneteenth will be observed as an official state holiday in Massachusetts: State Representative Bud L. Williams of Springfield added the measure to a coronavirus spending bill and Governor Charlie Baker signed it into law in July 2020, noting that Juneteenth is “an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the goal of creating a more equal and just society.”
In addition to being a day of celebration and remembrance, Juneteenth is also an opportunity for reflection on the history of slavery and systemic racism in this country and the impact it continues to have today.
Below is a roundup of resources we’ve gathered in honor of Juneteenth: organizations that are celebrating Black people in nature, as well as some things to read, watch, listen to, and follow at the intersections of blackness, nature, science, environmental justice, and racial justice. There are also great resources in last year’s Juneteenth blog post that are still relevant and worth a read or revisit.
If you are looking for opportunities to experience and connect to nature with other Black folks, or want to support the movement to diversify the outdoors and make nature accessible to all, these organizations are a terrific place to start:
Outdoor Afro has become the nation’s leading, cutting-edge network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature with more than 80 leaders in 42 cities around the country. Join their community for meaningful opportunities to get outdoors and to support their work to ensure that Black people have access, representation, meaningful participation, and quality nature-based experiences.
The Black Outdoors works to increase awareness of and participation in outdoor recreational activity amongst black people and other underrepresented groups. They offer tips and tricks for navigating the outdoors, recommendations and reviews on places to visit, information about what kinds of gear you might need, and stories from people of color who are engaging with the natural world and finding escape, adventure, solitude, and community in the outdoors.
The Rusty Anvil, based in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, reconnects BIPOC folks to nature through mindful wilderness trips and place-based skills that provide space for self-reflection and healing, intimacy with nature, and conscious environmental stewardship for BIPOC individuals.
Unlikely Hikers is a diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating outdoor community featuring outdoorspeople that are underrepresented in the media and outdoor industry, including people of size, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, queer, trans and non-binary people, people with disabilities, and people who utilize the outdoors to aid their mental health.
Diversify Outdoors is a coalition of social media influencers—bloggers, athletes, activists, and entrepreneurs—who share the goal of promoting diversity in outdoor spaces where BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other diverse identities have historically been marginalized and silenced. Sign up for their newsletter and follow their hashtag #DiversifyOutdoors on social media to join the movement.
Last June, a Black birder named Christian Cooper was birding in Central Park when he recorded a video of a confrontation he had with a White woman who threatened to falsely tell the police that Cooper was threatening her life after he asked her to follow the posted dog leash law. In September, Cooper—who is also a former writer and editor for Marvel Comics—turned his experience into a graphic novel called It’s a Bird, which is free to read on certain digital platforms.
Co-organizers of the first Black Birders Week talk about the joy of the natural world and the work outdoor-focused groups need to do to reduce racism and promote inclusion in this 2020 interview from Scientific American.
Recordings of many of the presentations and events that took place as part of Black Birders Week 2021 are still available for viewing on the Black AF in Stem website, including collaborations with US Fish and Wildlife and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Racism makes our economy worse—and not just in ways that harm people of color, says public policy expert Heather C. McGhee in her 2019 Ted Talk. From her research and travels across the US, McGhee shares startling insights into how racism fuels bad policymaking and drains our economic potential and demonstrates how racism has a cost for everyone, beginning with examples of countless municipalities across the U.S. that closed their public parks, pools, and schools in response to desegregation orders throughout the 1960s, depriving Americans of all races of access to nature and the outdoors.
From Gimlet Media’s How to Save a Planet podcast, learn about why the fight for racial justice is critical to saving the planet, and what the broader climate and environmental movements need to learn from the Black Lives Matter movement to be successful.
From the REI Co-op Wild Ideas Worth Living podcast, check out an interview with Black Birders Week organizer Corina Newsome, where she talks about how she fell in love with birds and the “treasure hunt” of birding, the circumstances that inspired Black Birders Week, and what it’s like being a Black woman in the outdoors.
Science Friday (SciFri) producer Christie Taylor talks to herpetologist Chelsea Connor, a co-founder of Black Birders Week, about her relationship with the outdoors, and what comes next for creating and maintaining spaces where Black scientists can thrive.
The Unlikely Hikers Podcast with Jenny Bruso features diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating stories from people underrepresented in outdoor media and culture.
Follow the hashtags #BlackinNature and #DiversifyOutdoors on most social media platforms to join the conversation and movement for equity and access to the outdoors for all.
Creators of Black Birders Week, the Black AF in Stem Collective (@BlackAFinSTEM on Instagram and Twitter) is a group of unapologetically Black scientists studying topics in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
The hilarious Alexis Nikole—a.k.a. The Black Forager (@BlackForager on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter)—is a foraging expert and lover of environmental science, ethnobotany, and free food. Follow her on the platform of your choice for laughs and learning as she takes you on her adventures in foraging and cooking with wild food.
As spring gives way to summer, young ducks that were but mere hatchlings a few weeks ago are growing rapidly. Mallard ducklings remain with their mother after hatching for about 50–60 days until they can fly on their own. Mother Mallards keep their fluffy little ducklings together for protection against predators and favor open water for the same reason, so you’ll often see them paddling along in a cluster or an orderly line.
It takes Mallards over a year to reach full adulthood, but they can begin flying at about three or four months when their wings fully develop and the blue/purple “speculum” feathers on their wings grow in. Not long after that, their bills change color, too, which means they can finally be visually differentiated by sex—males have yellow bills while females’ are black and orange. The plumage is still similar, but by ten months of age, the males will grow into their more vibrant colors: emerald-green heads, white neck rings, reddish breast plumage, and a curly central tail feather known as a drake feather.
Have you seen Mallard ducklings near bodies of water in your community? Can you guess how old they are based on their plumage? Check out our tips for when ducks nest in your backyard and enjoy these five adorable photos of ducklings from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.