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.

Spotted Salamander © Ryan Dorsey/Mass Audubon

Take 5: Salamander Swarm

Every year, warming spring days trigger amphibians like spotted salamanders and wood frogs to migrate en masse to vernal pools to breed on the night of the first soaking rain above 45°F—a phenomenon known as “Big Night.” This spectacular annual event is taking place all across Massachusetts.

Vernal pools are temporary, isolated ponds that form when spring rain and meltwater from ice and snow flood into woodland hollows and low meadows. These pools provide critical breeding habitat for certain amphibian and invertebrate species—since vernal pools eventually dry up, they are inaccessible and inhospitable to predatory fish.

To celebrate the return of spring and the mass migration now taking place all around us, here are five great photos of native salamanders. Note that not all salamanders migrate to and breed in vernal pools—the eastern red-backed salamander, for example, has no aquatic larval stage at all, so you’re most likely to find one under a moist, rotting log or rock while northern dusky salamanders are stream denizens and lay their eggs in flowing seeps in June or July.

Blue-spotted Salamander © Patrick Randall
Blue-spotted Salamander © Patrick Randall
Eastern Red-backed Salamander © Chris Liazos
Eastern Red-backed Salamander © Chris Liazos
Spotted Salamander © Ryan Dorsey/Mass Audubon
Spotted Salamander © Ryan Dorsey/Mass Audubon
Northern Dusky Salamander © Patrick Randall
Northern Dusky Salamander © Patrick Randall
Blue-spotted Salamander © Brendan Cramphorn
Blue-spotted Salamander © Brendan Cramphorn
Baltimore Oriole © Lee Millet

Take 5: Birds of the Rainbow

Spring is in the air and all of Massachusetts is eagerly awaiting the return of bright, beautiful color to the drab, grey-brown landscape of winter. In that spirit, here are five colorful birds to look for as the weather warms to make your day a little more colorful.

Scarlet Tanager © Jeff Carpenter
Scarlet Tanager © Jeff Carpenter
Baltimore Oriole © Lee Millet
Baltimore Oriole © Lee Millet
Yellow Warbler © Bernard Creswick
Yellow Warbler © Bernard Creswick
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (female) © David Pallin
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (female) © David Pallin
Indigo Bunting © Yunzhong He
Indigo Bunting © Yunzhong He
Katydid © April Churchill

Take 5: Fooled You!

April Fools! Nature is chock-full of animals trying to “fool” potential predators with an amazing array of evolutionary tricks.

Take, for example, the beautiful, veined, leaf-green wings of the katydid or the “eyespots” on the wings of a polyphemus moth. The Eastern Screech Owl’s camouflaged plumage can render it nearly invisible against a tree trunk while expert mimics like the unspotted looper moth or the giant swallowtail caterpillar can be indistinguishable from a brown leaf and a dollop of bird poop, respectively.

Enjoy these five photos of wildlife that can easily fool you—they’re probably a bit more pleasant than your average office prank, anyway!

Katydid © April Churchill
Katydid © April Churchill
Eastern Screech-Owl © Brad Dinerman
Eastern Screech-Owl © Brad Dinerman
Polyphemus Moth © Martha Pfeiffer
Polyphemus Moth © Martha Pfeiffer
Giant Swallowtail "Bird Poop" Caterpillar © Mass Audubon
Giant Swallowtail “Bird Poop” Caterpillar © Mass Audubon
Unspotted Looper Moth © Kristin Foresto
Unspotted Looper Moth © Kristin Foresto
Marsh Wren © Matt Filosa

Take 5: Marsh Wren Splits

True to their name, tiny-but-fierce Marsh Wrens are denizens of wetlands and saltmarshes of North America, returning to Massachusetts to breed in the spring. With a sharp eye, you’ll spot them flitting about among the reeds, rushes, and cattails, picking at the vegetation for tasty insects and spiders and aggressively vying for resources and mates.

Rarely leaving the relative safety of the dense reeds, they have developed some acrobatic moves, including grasping a stalk in each foot and scuttling up and down with their tails cocked upward. Take a walk through a marsh this spring and look both between and above the reeds for Marsh Wrens: they will occasionally flutter up above the cattails and sing “on the wing” to make themselves more conspicuous to other wrens, both males and females.

Here are five great photos of Marsh Wrens “doing the splits”, all past submissions to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Visit the photo contest page on our website to see all the past contest winners and sign up to receive alerts when this year’s contest opens.

Marsh Wren © Matt Filosa
Marsh Wren © Matt Filosa
Marsh Wren © Davey Walters
Marsh Wren © Davey Walters
Marsh Wren © Mark Rosenstein
Marsh Wren © Mark Rosenstein
Marsh Wren © Craig Daniliuk
Marsh Wren © Craig Daniliuk
Marsh Wren © Matt Filosa
Marsh Wren © Matt Filosa
John Burk © Stan Sherr

In Your Words: C. John Burk

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. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email explore@massaudubon.org to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue! 


John Burk © Stan Sherr
John Burk © Stan Sherr

I arrived in Northampton on Labor Day weekend in the fall of 1961. I was 25 and unmarried. My second-floor apartment looked out on a parking lot and then beyond to the Mill River.

Sometime over that weekend I decided to explore and followed the Mill River down through the meadows. Crossing the bridge where the river flows into the oxbow and trying to return back on the opposite side, I encountered signs that informed me I was entering Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary. Not wanting to trespass, I turned around and retraced my earlier route into town.

I had been newly hired by the Botany Department at Smith College to teach, among other subjects, plant ecology. I wanted to take my students on a field trip and wondered whether I could take them to the wildlife sanctuary since the state’s woodlands were closed due to drought and a threat of forest fires.

We drove out that Friday afternoon to the white farmhouse that serves as Arcadia’s offices and knocked on the door. The person who answered was Ed Mason, the sanctuary director. He graciously welcomed us. We walked down the trail to the Mill River and its marshes, the first of many such expeditions through the years for class field trips and an assortment of independent research projects.

John Burk © Kai Jensen
John Burk © Kai Jensen

I learned that a colleague was serving on the sanctuary advisory committee, and she eventually asked me to replace her. It was an obligation I happily took on.

In the five decades since, I have focused my volunteer activities on issues of ecological management. I’ve worked with students and sanctuary staff to document the plant life of the area and identify patterns of vegetation and its responses to outside forces, such as oil ollution in the marshes, invasion by aggressive non-native species, and a changing climate.

Carefully documenting these changes over time provides important data that can help inform and guide conservation efforts. As a period of accelerated climate change becomes increasingly likely, I hope that my work with students and staff will better position us to meet the challenge.


John Burk is Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at Smith College and a longtime volunteer at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton and Northampton.

School of Fish © Suzette Johnson

Take 5: Under the Sea

For the majority of Earth’s creatures, life really is “better down where it’s wetter, under the sea.” Scientists estimate that as much as 80% of life on Earth is found in its oceans. With as much knowledge as we have gained about the oceans, we have truly only scratched the surface.

Here are five underwater photos from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. See the most recent and past contest winners and sign up for alerts when the next contest is announced on our website.

Blue Shark © Kevin McCarthy
Blue Shark © Kevin McCarthy
Hermit Crab © Emily Zollo
Hermit Crab © Emily Zollo
Harbor Seal Pup © Alex Shure
Harbor Seal Pup © Alex Shure
School of Fish © Suzette Johnson
School of Fish © Suzette Johnson
Jellyfish (likely Lion's Mane) © Alex Shure
Jellyfish (likely Lion’s Mane) © Alex Shure
Barn Swallow © Ken Lee

Take 5: Mirror, Mirror

We all need time to pause for moments of reflection. Why not “take five” and reflect on these five photos of wildlife and their mirror images? They might just have you seeing double…

These photos were all submitted to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. See the 2018 photo contest winners on our website and sign up for alerts when the contest opens again for 2019.

Mallard © Mark Landman
Mallard © Mark Landman
Great Blue Heron © Don Miffitt
Great Blue Heron © Don Miffitt
Orange Bluet Damselfly © Sherri Van den Akker
Orange Bluet Damselfly © Sherri Van den Akker
Purple Sandpiper © Davey Walters
Purple Sandpiper © Davey Walters
Barn Swallow © Ken Lee
Barn Swallow © Ken Lee
Snowy Owl © Diane Robertson

Take 5: Grumpy Birds

Another snowed-in Monday got you feeling a little blah? These grumpy-looking birds know how you feel. Or, at least, they look like they do. At any rate, here’s hoping they’ll take a bit of the edge off your winter blues.

These photos were all submitted to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. See the 2018 photo contest winners on our website and sign up for alerts when the contest opens again for 2019.

Snowy Owl © Diane Robertson
Snowy Owl © Diane Robertson
Barn Swallows © Sherri Van den Akker
Barn Swallows © Sherri Van den Akker
Red- Tailed Hawk © Brooks Mathewson
Red- Tailed Hawk © Brooks Mathewson
Tree Swallow © Barbara Batchelder
Tree Swallow © Barbara Batchelder
Snowy Owl © David Seibel
Snowy Owl © David Seibel
Gray Squirrel and Red-Tailed Hawk © David Morris

Take 5: Great Timing

There is a tremendous amount of skill that goes into capturing a great photo: lighting, exposure, composition, depth of field, and so much more. But any wildlife photographer will tell you it also takes a good deal of luck.

Here are five examples of great timing in photography—just the right balance of skill, luck, and being in the right place at the right time with the right equipment to capture an unusual shot. These photos were all submitted to our annual nature photography contest, Picture This: Your Great Outdoors. You can see the winners of past photo contests and signup to be notified when this year’s contest opens on our website.

Gray Squirrel and Red-Tailed Hawk © David Morris
Gray Squirrel and Red-Tailed Hawk © David Morris
Mallard Ducklings © Nathan Goshgarian
Mallard Ducklings © Nathan Goshgarian
Cedar Waxwing © Kim Nagy
Cedar Waxwing © Kim Nagy
White-breasted Nuthatch © David Baake
White-breasted Nuthatch © David Baake
Eastern Bluebirds © William Hottin
Eastern Bluebirds © William Hottin

Eastern Screech-Owl © Amy Powers-Smith

Take 5: Owl Things Considered

It may still be cold and wintery outside, but things are heating up for our breeding owl species. Late winter is the height of the courtship and mating season for most owl species so there’s a good chance you may hear a “hoo’s hoo” of mating calls (although not all owls make “hoo” sounds!) on your next stroll through the forest. Great Horned Owls, for example, are one of our earliest breeders and begin hooting to attract mates as early as December.

Many owls roost in tree cavities during the day and those that do will also lay their eggs in tree cavities, although a roosting cavity is not necessarily also a nesting cavity. Lots of nature photographers love to capitalize on this fact to capture some wonderful photos of “owl peek-a-boo”. Here are five great shots of owls in tree cavities that were entered into our annual photo contest. For your own chance to glimpse one of these gorgeous raptors, join one of the dozens of Owl Prowls happening at our sanctuaries this time of year.

Eastern Screech-Owls © Peter Bartholomew
Eastern Screech-Owls © Peter Bartholomew
Eastern Screech-Owl © Richard Cuzner
Eastern Screech-Owl © Richard Cuzner
Barred Owls © Fred Harwood
Barred Owls © Fred Harwood
Eastern Screech-Owl © Amy Powers-Smith
Eastern Screech-Owl © Amy Powers-Smith
Eastern Screech-Owl © Jeff Martineau
Eastern Screech-Owl © Jeff Martineau