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.

Staring Contest with a Black Swallowtail Caterpillar © Mass Audubon

Take 5: The Wonder of Wildlife

In case you hadn’t heard, Mass Audubon is celebrating Earth Month all April long with special programs, free Discovery Days, climate action community challenges, Nature Play Days, and more!

And since Earth Day falls during Massachusetts’s school vacation week, we’ve lots of Earth Day-inspired vacation week camp activities planned. We also have a Virtual Vacation Week Camp so kids ages 5–8 can enjoy a fun and educational spring vacation program without even leaving your neighborhood!

At Mass Audubon, connecting young people with nature is central to our mission, and there’s just nothing quite like seeing the look of wonder on a child’s face when they interact with wildlife for the first time.

So, in that spirit, here are five fun photos of kids experiencing the wonder of wildlife. Just please remember that most wildlife is like you—they prefer that you look, don’t touch! However you celebrate Earth Month, make sure you get out and enjoy some of this beautiful spring weather—that’s a wonder of nature all by itself!

Inspecting a Monarch Butterfly © Shirley LeMay
Inspecting a Monarch Butterfly © Shirley LeMay
Close Encounter with a Gray Treefrog © Melissa Shelley
Close Encounter with a Gray Treefrog © Melissa Shelley
Dragonfly Friend © Michelle Lo Conte
Dragonfly Friend © Michelle Lo Conte
Staring Contest with a Black Swallowtail Caterpillar © Mass Audubon
Staring Contest with a Black Swallowtail Caterpillar © Mass Audubon
Finding Treasures in the Sand © Melanie Mendez
Finding Treasures in the Sand © Melanie Mendez
Common Milkweed © Laura Ferraguto

Take 5: Native Plants that Pollinators Love

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the biodiversity of our entire ecosystem depends on pollinators. Animals like birds, bees, bats, butterflies, moths, and other insects feed on plants, and in doing so, help 80% of the world’s plant species reproduce.

Over the last few decades, pollinator populations have declined dramatically due to climate change, pesticide exposure, and loss of habitat and food sources. Fortunately, we can help. One major way to make a positive impact on pollinators—and beautify an outdoor space—is to plant a native pollinator garden.

Even small outdoor spaces can provide quality habitat and help us fight biodiversity loss. A pollinator garden can range from a decorative planter with native flowers to small flowerbeds or larger vegetable gardens interspersed with flowers. 

There are several ways you can learn more and start making a difference in your backyard or neighborhood:

Enjoy these five photos of pollinator-friendly native plants from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest and let us know in the comments how you plan to support pollinators this year!

Echinacea (Conflowers) © Diana Stephens-Talbot
Echinacea (Conflowers) © Diana Stephens-Talbot
Buttonbush © Cristina Hartshorn
Buttonbush © Cristina Hartshorn
Cardinal Flower © Ed Anzures
Cardinal Flower © Ed Anzures
Common Milkweed © Laura Ferraguto
Common Milkweed © Laura Ferraguto
Maple Leaf Viburnum © Laura Bryan
Maple Leaf Viburnum © Laura Bryan
Barbara and her husband Nick with a cold-stunned Loggerhead sea turtle

In Your Words: Barbara Brennessel

Barbara Brennessel is a long-time volunteer at Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, where her work includes cold-stunned sea turtle rescue.


Barbara and her husband Nick with a cold-stunned Loggerhead sea turtle
Barbara and her husband Nick with a cold-stunned Loggerhead sea turtle

My husband Nick and I have volunteered at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary for more than 15 years. In the spring, we survey and tag Horseshoe Crabs in Wellfleet Harbor.
Later in the summer, I monitor and protect Diamondback Terrapin nests, an interest sparked by attending a Cape Cod Field School program at Wellfleet Bay.

Barbara Brennessel measuring a Diamondback Terrapin
Barbara Brennessel measuring a Diamondback Terrapin

The highlight, by far, is how we mark the end of each year by volunteering to rescue cold-stunned sea turtles on Wellfleet and Truro beaches. These turtles get trapped in Cape Cod Bay’s cooling waters, especially when it gets below 50 degrees F; they become cold-stunned and thus lose the ability to swim south into semi-tropical and tropical areas.

We keep our phones handy so we can respond to calls from Wellfleet Bay’s Turtle Rescue Team. When the wind is howling from a westerly direction, we anticipate
being called to walk along a specific stretch of beach to look for turtles. We prepare for the cold, the wind, and a good sandblasting.

Our gear is always ready near the front door: boots, down parkas, hats, gloves, and headlamps for night patrols. This past year, we included face masks to our supplies so that we could adhere to COVID protocols. Our sled for transporting turtles from the beach is in the trunk of our car, along with a banana box or two in case we are asked to bring a turtle to the sanctuary.

Barbara during a Cape Cod Field School program on Diamondback Terrapins
Barbara during a Cape Cod Field School program on Diamondback Terrapins

We have seen some spectacular sunrises and sunsets while on turtle patrol. It is quite eerie yet also amazingly beautiful to be on a beach in the middle of the night. If you see a headlamp headed your way, who else could it be but another sea turtle volunteer!

Most of the two dozen or so turtles we rescued in 2020 were Kemp’s Ridleys, but the last few were loggerheads. Every live, rescued turtle has the potential to contribute to future generations of these endangered reptiles. It is tremendously satisfying to know that these rescued turtles have a chance to live a longer life, mature, and produce baby turtles.


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! 

Black-capped Chickadee © Sue Feldberg

Take 5: Chick-a-Dee-Dee-Delightful

Spring at last! Our early migrant birds are returning in ever-greater numbers, but many of the year-round residents have already been preparing for nesting season for weeks, including our beloved Massachusetts state bird, the Black-capped Chickadee.

Year-round, chickadees make their namesake call, chickadee-dee-dee, using an increasing number of dees the more alarmed or threatened they feel—an early-warning alarm that even other species of birds will respond to. But as early as mid-January, males begin singing their high, sweet fee-bee song to attract mates and prepare for nesting season.

It’s easy to confuse the chickadee’s sweet whistle with the more emphatic, raspy fee-BEE sung by Eastern Phoebes, which we should also start hearing around this time of year, but play them side-by-side a few times and you’ll quickly learn to recognize the difference:

Plenty of small migratory songbirds will associate with flocks of chickadees during spring and fall migration, so if you hear a flock of chickadees in your neighborhood, grab your binoculars—there may be an interesting migrant nearby, as well.

Enjoy these five photos of Black-capped Chickadees from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest, and listen for these sweet songbirds on your next nature walk.

Black-capped Chickadee © Jonathan Elcock
Black-capped Chickadee © Jonathan Elcock
Black-capped Chickadee © Sue Feldberg
Black-capped Chickadee © Sue Feldberg
Black-capped Chickadee © Timothy Hayes
Black-capped Chickadee © Timothy Hayes
Black-capped Chickadee © Bob Durling
Black-capped Chickadee © Bob Durling
Black-capped Chickadee © Craig Blanchette
Black-capped Chickadee © Craig Blanchette

Black Bear © Jeanne Gleason

Take 5: Bear in Mind

“Yaaaaawwwn! What a great nap. Boy, am I hungry…where’d I leave those sunflower seeds?” Sound familiar? Even if long naps don’t give you the munchies, you can probably understand why Black Bears are so hungry when they wake up from their 3–4 month winter hibernation: they lose about 30 percent of their body weight during their seasonal snooze!

When bears enter a den, usually between early November and mid-December, their body temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate drop to conserve energy and help the bear survive the cold, lean winter months. For around 100 days, Black Bears do not eat, drink, urinate, or defecate. Urea, a waste product found in urine, can be fatal in high levels in most animals (including humans), but hibernating bears are able to break down the urea. The resulting nitrogen is used to build protein, which helps bears maintain muscle mass and healthy organ tissue during inactivity. During this time, their stored body fat provides the nutrients and water they need during hibernation, which results in about a 30 percent loss of their body weight.

Bears emerge from the den according to the availability of food, rather than weather conditions, and usually do so in March or April. In communities where black bears have been reported (mostly central and western parts of Massachusetts), it is risky to put up feeders at any time of year: Once a bear has discovered a food source it will revisit that source again and again. If you choose to put up a feeder, you can minimize risk by doing so only from mid-December to the end of February, when bears are denned for the winter. No matter what time of year, though, you should take your feeders down as soon as you hear a report of a bear in the area, for the safety of both the people and the bears.

Enjoy these five photos of Black Bears from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest and, as always, if you see wildlife in your neighborhood, admire them from a safe distance and report any unusual behavior to MassWildlife.

Black Bear © Matthew Watson
Black Bear © Matthew Watson
Black Bear © Jeanne Gleason
Black Bear © Jeanne Gleason
Black Bear © Susan Shaye
Black Bear © Susan Shaye
Black Bear © Alvin Laasanen
Black Bear © Alvin Laasanen
Black Bear © Diane Koske
Black Bear © Diane Koske
Groundhog © Debbie Lamb

Take 5: Groundhog Day

Let’s get real for a minute: living through a pandemic can sometimes feel a bit like the classic movie Groundhog Day—reliving the same day over and over, never quite sure when we’ll escape a sort of perpetual limbo. But unlike the anti-hero of that fictional Hollywood reality, we know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that, while socially distant, we are not alone as we navigate this strange, challenging reality together.

And there’s even better news: Groundhog Day (a popular holiday observed on February 2 in the United States and Canada) traditionally marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, meaning warmer days and even more outdoor adventures in nature lie ahead. Whether you consider yourself “superstitious” or not, it may bring you some comfort to know that Drumlin Farm’s own Ms. G—the official state groundhog of Massachusetts—made her annual appearance on February 2 and did NOT see her shadow, thereby predicting an early spring! You can watch a recording of the live event on Facebook, which was held virtually this year due to COVID-19 and the heavy snowstorm the day before.

So while we may need to wait a bit longer for springtime, in the meantime you can enjoy these five photos of our native groundhogs (also known as woodchucks) and look forward to brighter days—both literally and figuratively—in the near future.

Groundhog © Eric Roth
Groundhog © Eric Roth
Groundhogs © John Coran
Groundhogs © John Coran
Groundhog © Martha Akey
Groundhog © Martha Akey
Groundhogs inspecting a "fellow woodworker's" craftsmanship © Lois DiBlasi
Groundhogs inspecting a “fellow woodworker’s” craftsmanship © Lois DiBlasi
Groundhog © Debbie Lamb
Groundhog © Debbie Lamb
Tree Bark, possibly cherry or oak © Samantha Buckley

Take 5: Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Winter is a fantastic time to appreciate the beauty and diversity of tree bark. Without the dense foliage of the warmer seasons, it becomes easier to appreciate the unique patterns and textures each species presents.

A few species are fairly easy to identify from their bark, like mature Shagbark Hickories, whose bark peels away in long, narrow, vertical strips that can appear “shaggy” from a distance, hence the name “shagbark.” White Birches, also known as Paper Birches, are also easy to spot with their bright, namesake bark that peels horizontally in thin, papery, white strips.

Others are more tricky to identify by the bark alone—Red Maple is sometimes called the “tree of a thousand barks” due to the high variability in texture, pattern, and color of its bark, ranging from smooth to shaggy to “plated”, sometimes even on the same tree! For most trees, other markers such as branching pattern or the shape of buds or leaf scars can be necessary to make a positive identification (a good field guide is helpful, or you can take a program about tree identification to dive even deeper)—that is, if a species ID is even what you’re after.

But very often it is enough to simply slow down and appreciate the beautiful diversity of tree barks that can be found in even the smallest patches of forest. So, on your next winter nature walk, get curious and turn your focus to the woody “skins” of our native evergreen and deciduous trees with both sight and touch—how many different patterns can you discover?

Here are five photos of tree bark from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. You’ll probably notice there are a couple that are not definitively identified in the captions—true to form, many trees are impossible to confidently pin down to species based on bark alone, even for seasoned experts!

Yellow Birch © Dominic Konrad
Yellow Birch © Dominic Konrad
Paper Birch © Bob Dempkowski
Paper Birch © Bob Dempkowski
Most likely an old Sugar Maple © Nicole Nachef
Most likely an old Sugar Maple © Nicole Nachef
Norway Maple (non-native/invasive species but highly ubiquitous) © Matt Cembrola
Norway Maple (non-native/invasive species but highly ubiquitous) © Matt Cembrola
Tree Bark, possibly cherry or oak © Samantha Buckley
Tree Bark, possibly cherry or oak © Samantha Buckley
Dark-eyed Junco © Eladi Bermudez

Take 5: Whatcha Gonna Do With All That Junco?

If you enjoy watching birds at feeders, there’s a good chance you have a soft spot for these little darlings of the winter bird feeder crowd: Dark-eyed Juncos.

Although there are juncos to be found in Massachusetts year-round, these “snowbirds” are most recognizable hopping around on the ground or in the snow beneath seed feeders, often in small flocks. These ground-feeding sparrows love to snap up fallen seeds in their cone-shaped pink bills, which contrast sharply with their dark grey or brown upper plumage. Their white outer tail feathers will flash into view when they take flight.

Many juncos spend the breeding season to the North of us, across much of Canada, flying south and spreading out across North America the rest of the year, although some will stay year-round and retreat to the woods or higher elevations as the weather warms.

Enjoy these five photos of Dark-eyed Juncos from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest and look for them on your next winter walk in the woods!

Dark-eyed Junco © Rob Cardinale
Dark-eyed Junco © Rob Cardinale
Dark-eyed Junco © Andy Eckerson
Dark-eyed Junco © Andy Eckerson
Dark-eyed Junco © Dan Harrington
Dark-eyed Junco © Dan Harrington
Dark-eyed Junco © Jim Feroli
Dark-eyed Junco © Jim Feroli
Dark-eyed Junco © Eladi Bermudez
Dark-eyed Junco © Eladi Bermudez
Fireflies and Star Trails, Winner: Landscapes, under 18 © Will Draxler

Take 6: 2020 Photo Contest Winners, Under 18

With the passing of each year, we all grow a little older (though perhaps a bit more grateful than usual to be leaving this particular year behind). But the entrants to the Under 18 bracket of our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest stay “forever young,” so how is it that their submissions keep getting better every year?

We were blown away once again by this year’s slate of young photographers and their creative compositions. Here are the winners from each of the six categories: Birds, Mammals, Other Wildlife, Plants & Fungi, Landscapes, and People in Nature.

See these, the 18 and Over winners, and some terrific honorable mentions on the photo contest homepage, as well as the winners from past years.

Common Tern, Winner: Birds, under 18 © Kieran Barlow
Common Tern, Winner: Birds, under 18 © Kieran Barlow
Fireflies and Star Trails, Winner: Landscapes, under 18 © Will Draxler
Fireflies and Star Trails, Winner: Landscapes, under 18 © Will Draxler
Eastern Cottontail, Winner: Mammals, 18 and over © Christy Bomer-Norton
Eastern Cottontail, Winner: Mammals, 18 and over © Christy Bomer-Norton
Grasshopper, Winner: Other Wildlife, Under 18 © Deyan Kassev
Grasshopper, Winner: Other Wildlife, Under 18 © Deyan Kassev
Winner: People in Nature, Under 18 © Siya Gunda
Winner: People in Nature, Under 18 © Siya Gunda
Pickleweed, Winner: Plants & Fungi, Under 18 © Alexander Knight
Pickleweed, Winner: Plants & Fungi, Under 18 © Alexander Knight
Sledding with Wachusett Meadow Camp Director Elizabeth Broughton

Camp Is Coming! An Update on Summer Camp 2021

What’s that? Did you say camp is coming? Yes, camp is coming!

Mass Audubon’s camp staff love winter, but we really miss summer camp, and we bet you do, too. Across the state and at one special property in southern New Hampshire, our camp staff is hard at work getting ready for next year.

Even with all the challenges and new protocols, we had an amazing summer in 2020, and we’re confident that our success in delivering a safe summer of camping this past year will guide us into an even better season of discovery, exploration, and fun in the outdoors in 2021.

Check out this video for the latest update on summer camp:

Registration will open a little later than usual, but keep an eye out for more updates from your Mass Audubon nature camp and contact your camp director if you have any questions.

And if you’re missing us as much as we’re missing you, campers, check out our upcoming winter programs for even more fun in nature.

We can’t wait to see you! Now get outside and enjoy nature!