Category Archives: General

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

How Two Women Started a Movement

It really is an amazing story. In the late 1800s, it was fashionable for women to wear hats adorned with feathers and dead birds. When Boston-based Harriet Hemenway read an article that described in graphic detail how these beautiful birds were hunted and killed, or stripped of their feathers, she knew she had to do something.

Young Harriet Hemenway

She shared what she learned with her cousin, Minna Hall. “We had heard that Snowy Egrets in the Florida Everglades were being exterminated by plume hunters who shot the old birds, leaving the young to starve on the nests,” the two said, as noted in Massachusetts Audubon Society: The First Sixty Years by Richard K. Walton and William E. Davis, Jr.

Over tea on a cold January day in 1896, the two launched a campaign to convince other women to forgo the trend of wearing birds for fashion, and in doing so, take on the multinational millinery industry. They set out on a series of tea parties, convincing other women to join their cause.

Minna Hall courtesy of the Friends of Hall’s Pond

Then, they brought together some of these prominent women with renowned ornithologists to launch the Massachusetts Audubon Society to “further the protection of birds” and “to discourage the buying and wearing of the feathers of wild birds.” Through leaflets, lectures, and calendars, they attracted more and more members to get involved.

Hall served on the organization’s Board of Directors for more than 50 years, devoting much of her energy to producing the publications and a traveling library. Hemenway first served as a Vice President and provided critical funding for projects that helped the organization build its reputation, before joining its Board, where she served for 16 years. They both remained dedicated to the organization, birds, and nature until they passed, Hall at the age of 92 and Hemenway at 103.

Thanks to Hemenway and Hall, the longest independent running Audubon Society was formed, critical bird legislation was eventually passed (the very legislation under threat today), people across the Commonwealth became fascinated with birds, and Mass Audubon’s land protection program, which now has conserved almost 40,000 acres, was born. And for that, we are eternally grateful.

Learn more about the incredible 125-year-legacy of Hemenway and Hall at massaudubon.org/125.

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
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
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!

A Year to Remember

The past year has been one like no other. While there have been many challenges, there have also been triumphs. Take a look at just a few highlights that you made possible, and help us accomplish even more next year.

712

Land protected on Cuttyhunk Island

Additional acres protected this past year, thanks to the support of generous individuals, foundations, families, businesses, communities, and public and private conservation partners. This brings total acres protected by Mass Audubon to 38,713 acres.

300,000+

Record numbers of visitors to our wildlife sanctuaries seeking nature as an important respite from the challenges we have faced. To provide even more access to nature, we’re opening new trails so people of all ages and abilities across Massachusetts can explore and enjoy the outdoors.

400

Boston Nature Center’s Youth Climate Summit

Young people brought together through six Youth Climate Summits across the state. These action-oriented climate immersion programs offer students the opportunity to learn about climate change, network with experts, and implement youth-led climate action solutions throughout their schools and communities.

6th

Edition of Losing Ground published. Losing Ground: Nature’s Value in a Changing Climate analyzes land use patterns in Massachusetts, highlights the value of forests, farmlands, and wetlands for climate resilience.

3,275

Campers that safely attended in-person camp this summer at 11-day camps across the state. An additional 122 campers took part in our virtual Nature Inside Out Camp.

18,000

Pounds of vegetables and over 600 dozen eggs that Drumlin Farm donated to our hunger relief partners, thanks to donor contributions of over $67,000 to cover the cost of the program.

$350,000

The record-breaking amount raised during our reimagined-for-COVID-safety Bird-a-thon (which became Bird-at-home-a-thon). Not only did it raise more money for our wildlife sanctuaries and conservation work than previous competitions, it also welcomed more participants than ever before.

900

Participants at attended a Shaping the Future of Your Community Program, which works with cities and towns on smart land use and resiliency planning.

6

Preschoolers (photo taken pre-COVID)

Number of licensed Mass Audubon Nature Preschools across the state, including the newest at Long Pasture on the Cape. Through hands-on activities, exploration, movement, and play, we support children’s curiosity and wonder using our wildlife sanctuaries as outdoor classrooms.

214

Pairs of Piping Plovers protecting by the Coastal Waterbird Program, up 13% compared to the previous summer.

Piping Plover © Mark Landman

A delicate ice formation © Josh Philibert

Take 5: Ice Art

It seems awfully dark around here these days, doesn’t it? The winter solstice—the day when the northern hemisphere experiences the shortest amount of daylight and the longest night—is just a week away. Next Monday also marks the official beginning of winter and although the colder weather tends to keep us indoors a lot more, there is still so much beauty and enjoyment to be found in nature in wintertime.

Many of the entrants to our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest have found inspiration in one of the most enchanting (but also, often, the most treacherous) hallmarks of winter in New England: ice formations. Here are five of our favorites.

A delicate ice formation © Josh Philibert
A delicate ice formation © Josh Philibert
Ice formations over a stream on Wolves' Den Trail at High Ledges in Shelburne
Ice formations over a stream on Wolves’ Den Trail at High Ledges in Shelburne
Winterberries after an ice storm © Cindy Riley
Winterberries after an ice storm © Cindy Riley
Ice crystals on Lower Mystic Lake in Medford, MA © Brad Edgerly
Ice crystals on Lower Mystic Lake in Medford, MA © Brad Edgerly
Ice formation on West Dennis Beach © Craig Daniliuk
Ice formation on West Dennis Beach © Craig Daniliuk
Red-breasted Nuthatch © Patricia Cully

Take 5: Red-Breasted Nuthatches

Folks this fall have been seeing a lot of Red-breasted Nuthatches—a bird that is more commonly seen in regions north of Massachusetts (though not uncommon in the western part of the state).

This year is believed to be an “irruption” year, when lots of typically northern-dwelling birds are seen in large numbers in areas south of where they’d usually spend the winter. Irruptions occur because there is not enough food in their usual winter habitats, whether that’s because of a drought or other natural disaster or because it’s just not a plentiful seed crop year (their preferred winter food) for northern tree species. Several other irruptive bird species have also appeared recently in greater numbers, such as Pine Siskins, Red Crossbills, White-winged Crossbills, and Pine Grosbeaks.

The name “nuthatch” comes from the way they open tough seeds: they’ll wedge the seed into a bark crevice or branch crotch and use their chisel-like bill to “hatchet” the “nut” open. Like their cousins the White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatches often descend trees head-first, using their relatively large and very strong feet, an adaptation that allows them to forage readily on insects hidden in the bark in the summer.

Enjoy these five photos of Red-breasted Nuthatches from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest and let us know if you’ve seen nuthatches of either variety at your feeders this fall—sometimes even both at the same time!

Red-breasted Nuthatch © Richard Alvarnaz
Red-breasted Nuthatch © Richard Alvarnaz
Red-breasted Nuthatch © John Zywar
Red-breasted Nuthatch © John Zywar
Red-breasted Nuthatch far from its usual habitat © Lindsay McSweeney
Red-breasted Nuthatch far from its usual habitat © Lindsay McSweeney
Red-breasted Nuthatch © Patricia Cully
Red-breasted Nuthatch © Patricia Cully
Red-breasted Nuthatch © Lee Millet
Red-breasted Nuthatch © Lee Millet
American Red Squirrel © Sue Feldberg

Take 5: Squirrel Away for A Rainy Drey

With most of the leaves fallen to the ground by now, you may have looked up into the canopy, noticed the occasional ball of sticks and leaves tucked into the branches of large deciduous trees, and thought, “What enormous bird lives there?”

Believe it or not, you’re probably looking at a squirrel nest, also known as a “drey.” While they often make nests in tree cavities (sometimes called “dens”), squirrels also create sphere-shaped dreys to keep warm and dry while they sleep. Although building material preferences vary by species, squirrels mostly construct their dreys out of branches, twigs, and leaves and line them with softer materials like grass and pine needles, and almost always choose a spot at least 20 feet off the ground.

Squirrels often build more than one drey (in case one is destroyed or becomes otherwise uninhabitable) in the late summer or early fall to use as shelters in the winter. Sometimes mother squirrels will use dreys for having and raising young in the summer (they produce broods twice each year, once in winter and once in summer), but more often they prefer tree cavities, which are more protected from hungry predators like raccoons, for sheltering their pups.

Here are five photos of industrious squirrels from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Eastern Gray Squirrel © Kim Nagy
Eastern Gray Squirrel © Kim Nagy
American Red Squirrel © Sue Feldberg
American Red Squirrel © Sue Feldberg
American Red Squirrel © Martha Akey
American Red Squirrel © Martha Akey
American Red Squirrel © Sophia Li
American Red Squirrel © Sophia Li
Eastern Gray Squirrel © Alex Renda
Eastern Gray Squirrel © Alex Renda
American Red Squirrel © Jason Barcus
American Red Squirrel © Jason Barcus