Category Archives: General

How We’re Spending Juneteenth

Today is Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. This year, we will honor the day by learning, reflecting, and actively listening.

One of our goals at Mass Audubon is to make our wildlife sanctuaries more welcoming and safer spaces for everyone. In order to accomplish this, we need to better understand the challenges that Black and Brown people face when trying to experience, celebrate, and enjoy the outdoors.

We hope you will join us today by taking time to watch, listen, and read some of the following stories.


Birding While Black Livestreams Session 1 and Session 2: As part of Black Birders Week, National Audubon hosted two livestream candid conversations.


Being ‘Outdoorsy’ When You’re Black Or Brown: NPR’s Code Switch podcast explores what it means to be a person of color outdoors and the organizations and individuals pushing the boundaries of what “being outdoorsy” looks like.


Birding While Black: J. Drew Lanham’s 2016 essay on race, belonging, and a love of nature.

It’s Time to Build a Truly Inclusive Outdoors: Corina Newsome speaks to National Audubon on the difficult conversations the birding community must face.

I’m a Black Climate Expert. Racism Derails Our Efforts to Save the Planet: Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s op-ed in the Washington Post on why stopping climate change is hard enough, but racism only makes it harder.

Being Black While in Nature: You’re an Endangered Species: The Guardian’s Poppy Noor shares the defense mechanisms Black nature-lovers have to employ.

Read Up on the Links Between Racism and the Environment: The New York Times provides a list of essential reading.

Black Women Who Bird Take the Spotlight to Make the Presence Known: As part of Black Birders Week, women are sharing their love of the outdoors and the challenges they face in them via National Audubon.

Garter Snake © Larry Manning

Take 5: Gutsy Garter Snakes

The most widespread of all snake species in Massachusetts, the Eastern Garter Snake can frequently be spotted out sunning itself on rocks and logs in sunny forest clearings, grassy meadows, backyards, and in freshwater habitats.

While garter snakes are basically harmless, they may release an unpleasant-smelling secretion when they are handled so, as with all wildlife, it’s best to leave them to their business and admire them from afar. Snakes that are sunning may have just eaten, so handling them may cause them digestive problems. Conversely, snakes that are hiding may be getting ready to shed, which can affect their vision, so they may be more defensive if they cannot see well. It suffices to say that it’s better for both snakes and people if we can avoid harassing them by attempting to handle them.

Garters lack fangs or, strictly speaking, venom glands, although they do have a small amount of toxin in their saliva that is only dangerous for amphibians and other small prey animals. Far more interesting than its offensive capabilities is the snake’s chemical defense strategy: Not only are garter snakes resistant to naturally occurring poisons from their toxic prey (including newts and toads), but they can also retain the toxins in their bodies, thereby becoming toxic themselves and deterring potential predators. Amazing!

Here are five photos of our amazing official state reptile from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2020 photo contest is now open, so submit your beautiful nature photography today!

Garter Snake © Larry Manning
Garter Snake © Larry Manning
Garter Snake © John Gounarides
Garter Snake © John Gounarides
Garter Snake © Brendan Lynch
Garter Snake © Brendan Lynch
Garter Snake © Pamela Kelly
Garter Snake © Pamela Kelly
Garter Snake © Amy Severino
Garter Snake © Amy Severino

Standing Up for What is Just and Equitable

This week marks my first week as President of Mass Audubon. I had planned to introduce myself to all of you by sharing my excitement and enthusiasm for what lies ahead. And I am extremely excited to meet with so many of you who are committed to our important mission. But given the extraordinary times we are in, I feel it is important to use this opportunity to take a stand for what is just and equitable for people of color here in Massachusetts and beyond.

Like many of you, I am appalled by the injustices and acts of violence against racially marginalized groups. The gruesome events that have unfolded in the past weeks and months have rattled me. In particular, the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor and the protests that have followed illustrate the historic, systemic racism and environmental injustice that exists in our country towards people of color, specifically Black people.

Fighting for what is right is core to Mass Audubon’s mission. The organization was founded by two women fighting for the protection of birds, and has since expanded that fight over the last 124 years to comprise all things surrounding conservation, education, and advocacy for the protection of not only wildlife, but also people.

One fight that I know we need to amplify is the fight for racial and environmental justice. For far too long, Brown and Black people have found everyday activities like jogging or birding unsafe and have disproportionately suffered from significantly lower air quality as a result of toxins, pollutants, and greenhouse gases.

I recognize that we have more work to do to right these wrongs. I will dedicate my first few months to gaining a better understanding on how I and Mass Audubon can not only contribute but serve as a model for the Commonwealth.

I will listen to our staff members, especially those of color, on how we can support them and move forward as an organization; I will work with partners and grassroots organizations to ensure everyone has access to clean air, clean water, and open space; I will continue our focus on the climate crisis, which causes people of color to bear the burden of some of climate change’s worst impacts; I will work to ensure we create access to our sanctuaries and trails that is safe and welcoming to everyone; and I promise to make diversity, equity, and inclusion at the forefront of what we do from this day forward.

I hope you will join me in standing in solidarity with those fighting racism and injustice, and share your thoughts on how we can make Mass Audubon a stronger community that uses our voice for people and wildlife.


David O'Neill Signature

David J. O’Neill

We Welcome All

We Welcome All

We Welcome All

The outdoors is one place where we can all come together. When we share our passion for the sweet song of the chickadee, a sighting of a red fox, or a delicate Lady’s Slipper in bloom, the differences among us disappear.

We should all feel safe to explore nature free of harassment or prejudice and we are deeply troubled and saddened by what Christian Cooper experienced while birding in New York’s Central Park on May 25. Incidents of this kind must end so that everyone can find joy and wonder in the outdoors.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are fundamental values at Mass Audubon and we will do everything we can to ensure that our programs, our trails, and open spaces are open to everyone without fear or bigotry.

Losing a Nature Hero: Liz Duff

On May 15, we lost a member of our family, someone whose work embodied the integration of education, science, conservation, and community-based advocacy.

Liz Duff worked for Mass Audubon for more than 20 years and contributed greatly to our education and engagement efforts on the North Shore, working with partners throughout New England. 

Liz Duff

She leaves our community with a strong and lasting legacy of meaningful environmental education and activism that has transformed the land and people that she so dearly stewarded and loved. Her contribution to students and teachers across the region and her collaboration with colleagues — across Mass Audubon and beyond — will influence how we connect youth to their local ecosystems for years to come.

Whether in the field with classroom teachers, helping connect students with authentic environmental research, or showcasing youth research at the annual Coastal Science Conference that she hosted with Plum Island Long Term Ecological Research, her commitment to her students of all ages was profound. It is incredible to imagine how many students and educators she influenced over the decades.

Liz’s programs, the conference, and community events all demonstrated what an agent of change she was in this region. The number of schools, individuals, government agencies, and community-based organizations that Liz worked with are too many to mention, but each and every one of them was part of the strong network of webs that Liz helped to weave over the years.

Most of all, Liz was a conservationist who cared deeply about her work and the health of the planet. She will be deeply missed here at Mass Audubon and in the greater conservation community.

At Mass Audubon, we are pleased to announce a new award in Liz’s honor. The Liz Duff Excellence in Environmental Education Award will be presented annually to recognize a professional who has developed and implemented field-based environmental education program that combines scientific investigation and civic engagement with the goal of having a positive impact of one’s community.

While we all wish Liz was still in the field, in her waders with a group of enthusiastic and engaged students, we hope that this award will allow her life’s work to continue to inspire others who also aim to connect people to nature and protect our planet.  

Snapping Turtle © Mark Renehan

Take 5: Snapping Turtles

Every year in late spring and early summer, adult female turtles cross the roads of Massachusetts in search of nest sites. One of the biggest (literally) culprits is the Snapping Turtle.

Found in all sorts of water bodies, from rivers to lakes to marshes, the Snapping Turtle can grow up to 19” long. It has three ridges on its carapace (the top half of its shell), a spiky tail, and a decidedly “dinosaur-ish” look, with good reason—The first turtles appeared over 200 million years ago, making them even more ancient than their reptilian cousins, snakes and lizards.

Many people assume that something is wrong when a turtle is crossing the road. With best of intentions, they mistakenly attempt to return it to water, take it home, or take it somewhere that seems safer to release it. But the best thing to do is leave it alone or, if threatened by traffic, move it to the side of the road in the direction it was already heading. The turtle knows where it wants to go and may have been nesting in the same spot for many years—or even decades.

But remember, Snapping Turtles can be aggressive and have powerful jaws that can deliver a painful bite if threatened (possibly because their small lower shell or “plastron” leaves them vulnerable) and their neck can stretch the length of their shell. Never grab one by the tail—you could seriously injure the turtle. Simply give her space and let her mosey along on her way.

Here are five photos of these amazing creatures from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Learn more about the turtles of Massachusetts on our website.

Snapping Turtle © Jim Morelly
Snapping Turtle © Jim Morelly
Snapping Turtle © Mark Renehan
Snapping Turtle © Mark Renehan
Snapping Turtle © Mary McDonough
Snapping Turtle © Mary McDonough
Snapping Turtle © Paul Malenfant
Snapping Turtle © Paul Malenfant
Snapping Turtle © Richard Welch
Snapping Turtle © Richard Welch

Birdwatching for Beginners

While some activities have been on the decline due to staying close to home, one that has seen a surge in interest is birdwatching! If you haven’t already joined in the fun, there’s no better time to start than during our re-imagined Bird-at-home-a-thon, which takes place May 15-16.

This annual fundraiser prompts teams to spend the day looking for birds and taking part in other nature-based activities, all while supporting our wildlife sanctuaries and programs.

Get in on the action by joining a team and following these easy steps on how to look for birds from Wayne Petersen, Mass Audubon’s Director of Important Bird Area program.

Bird watching.
© Jennifer Johnston

Wake up early. Early in the morning, around 6 am, can be the birdiest time. Birds that migrate overnight are often still active just after dawn so you could see them before they settle into quiet feeding modes for the day.

Listen for bird sounds and watch for movement. Start looking with just your eyes without binoculars. If you spot some movement see if you can get a closer look with your binoculars.

In a wide-open area, scan the far distance with your binoculars slowly to see if there’s anything you’d miss with just your eyes.

Keep your eyes on the sky to look for flying birds, either high or at treetop level.

Take a closer look at groups. If you see several birds together, try to stay with them because there could be several different species in the same area. Birds often forage together in small groups in the same places.

Find nearby thickets or weedy areas. Be sure to check them for any birds that might be hiding or quietly feeding.

Look for exposed bare branches and dead trees for perched hawks or woodpeckers first thing in the morning.

Find a nearby pond or streams, paying special attention to their brushy edges. Birds often like to be near water.

Slowly scan open areas, fields, and marshy areas because there are birds in such areas but they are often inconspicuous.

Be patient and stay still! Birds may not be as active or noticeable if you keep moving. Stand in one place quietly and take in the sights and sounds. Birds will often return to their normal behavior if you stop moving and seem like less of a threat.

A Bird-a-thon checklist will help you keep track of what species you identify. If you have a field guide, keep it with you to check species ID, range maps, and other useful descriptions (like behavior).

There are also online apps, like Merlin, that can help you ID birds. A quick Google search can also help you start to narrow down your options as well (though keep location in mind!).

Good luck, have fun, and hopefully find some birds you may never have seen before!

© Sarah Houle

On This Giving Tuesday Now, Thank You

© Sarah Houle
© Sarah Houle

Today is Giving Tuesday Now, a day to celebrate the many ways that people in our communities and around the world have been helping each other during the global pandemic.

We’d like to thank you—our members and friends—for your unwavering support during these difficult times. You honor and inspire us with your commitment to protecting the wildlife and wild lands of Massachusetts.

Like all nonprofits, Mass Audubon is struggling with serious financial setbacks from lost admissions and program revenue. But thanks to you, our work continues, and is as important and as relevant as ever.

A few examples of what your generosity makes possible include:

  • Our educators are creating new and innovative online learning tools and connecting with teachers, parents, and adult learners. For example, thousands of families across the state took part in our first Virtual April Vacation Week and many programs are now offered online.
  • We are launching several new citizen science projects, and the Coastal Waterbird Program is continuing its critical work protecting endangered birds along miles of Massachusetts coastline.
  • Dedicated staff continue the vital daily work of caring for over 38,000 acres across the state that are home to more than 150 endangered and threatened native species.

Your support today will help ensure that we will emerge even stronger tomorrow.

Thanks again for all you do to protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and wildlife.

Downy Woodpecker

Bird-a-thon Reimagined

Since 1983, Bird-a-thon , Mass Audubon’s largest annual fundraiser and birding competition, has been enjoyed by thousands of dedicated supporters and birders all the while raising over $3 million dollars for our wildlife sanctuaries and programs statewide.

It is very much part of Mass Audubon’s DNA, and we aren’t going to let COVID-19 stop us from having this beloved event. With a little reimagining, this year’s Bird-at-home-a-thon will be more engaging, inclusive, and even carbon-free! Here, we highlight some of this year’s changes.

Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker

How’s the birding different?

In past years, participants would spread out all across Massachusetts in groups of two or more, driving to the best birding spots in their area. This year participants are staying close to home to bird solo or with their household unit.

You’re welcome to bird from your back window, backyard, or a green space within walking or biking distance from your home. Not only will this new guideline keep everyone safe and help prevent the spread of COVID-19, it will also allow us to reduce our carbon footprint. It’s a win-win!

All 26 wildlife sanctuary and program teams will work together to collectively count as many bird species as possible. Birding isn’t so much a team effort, as it’s an organization effort.

What’s this new point system all about?

We’ve introduced a whole new point system this year that will invite more people into the community of birders and nature heroes. You can earn points for your team by birding and also by completing fun, nature-based activities. Drawing a picture of a bird, completing a bird word search, and filling up your bird feeder are just a few of the ways to earn points for your team.

Earning points can be something the whole family can help with, no matter their age or birding level. And based on the total number of points earned by your team, you could all win one of our two new awards!

One thing that hasn’t changed?

The fundraising! Bird-a-thon is still a vital way we raise important funds for our wildlife sanctuaries and programs. We rely on the generosity of our supporters to continue our work in nature conservation, environmental education, and addressing climate change. We can’t do it without you!

Want to join in?

To join a team, make a donation, or learn more, visit

Thank you to our 2020 Bird-a-thon Sponsors!

Hostess Catering

Michael Pappone with Wayne Petersen

Why I Bird-a-thon: Michael Pappone

Bird-a-thon is nothing new to Michael Pappone. As an active participant since 1995, Michael has a long-standing love of Mass Audubon’s largest annual fundraiser. Here, he shares why he participates, how he started birding, his plan for birding at home, and what bird he would be, if he could be a bird.

Michael Pappone (right) with Mass Audubon’s Wayne Petersen. Photo by Craig Gibson

Why Bird-a-thon

The birds have been telling us for years about the challenges we face in protecting the environment for all living things. Bird-a-thon provides the ideal bully pulpit to take the urgency of our conservation work to all our friends and family who care about nature.

An Introduction to Birding

I was first introduced to birding as a boy growing up in South Dakota, right in the middle of the Central Flyway. My family grew up in a hunting culture. As my dad cleaned the game, Ring-necked Pheasants and waterfowl in particular, I would sit on my dad’s knee and learn Bird Anatomy 101. My brother and I were fascinated by the iridescence of the Mallard’s feathers and the inner workings of the wings.

Birding eventually became a way to bring a more systematic focus to my love of nature. It provided an impetus to see more birds and understand what makes each one special. It’s been a fantastic way to connect with nature lovers across the continent who have become lifelong friends.

Elevating My Birding Game

I credit Wayne Petersen, Mass Audubon’s Director of Massachusetts Important Bird Areas, and Jeff Collins, Mass Audubon’s Director of Conservation Science, for deepening my knowledge of birds.

Birding with experts like Wayne and Jeff allowed me to learn the stories behind the birds and deepen my appreciation for the intricacies of birding. And to take it a step further, I completed Mass Audubon’s Birder’s Certificate Program at Joppa Flats.

Most Exciting Bird Sighting

My most exciting species sighting so far was of a Harpy Eagle. When scanning the Ecuadorian rain forest from a canopy tower proved unsuccessful, I eventually saw a Harpy, feeding her young no less, in Peru. With birding, you savor the special sweetness when patience is rewarded.

Bird-at-home-a-thon Strategy

By no means do you have to travel far and wide to have a good time birding. With the stay-at-home advisory, I have become even more familiar with my neighborhood and its many habitats. My Bird-a-thon day strategy will cover pine and hemlock woods, mixed deciduous, open meadows, vernal ponds, and another pond that has a heron rookery.

My Bird Spirit Animal

If I could be any bird, it would be a Barred Owl! I would fly noiselessly, avoid Great Horned Owls, and keep pesky Eastern Screech Owls off my hunting grounds. I’d give the resident Wood Ducks due respect, and bask in the chorus of the Wood Frogs and the Peepers down in the pool every spring. I’d delight the neighborhood with daytime sightings in plain view and help the nearby Cooper’s Hawks keep the chipmunk population from getting out of control.

Feeling Inspired?

It’s not too late to join a team, raise money, or both! Find out how at

Thank you to our 2020 Bird-a-thon Sponsors!

Hostess Catering

Michael Pappone serves as a member of Mass Audubon’s Board of Directors.