Category Archives: General

Belted Kingfisher © Kathy Hale

Take 5: Hail to the Kingfisher

“He may generally be seen sitting on some post or dead branch, near a solitary mill-dam, quietly watching his prey in the element below.”

William Peabody, in his 1839 report to the state legislature on the birds of Massachusetts.

Belted Kingfishers are widespread not only in Massachusetts but across North America. Still, you’d do well to learn to recognize their call, as you are far more like to hear one before you see it: They periodically utter a dry, metallic rattle that’s evocative of either the Predator, for fans of science-fiction/action movies, or one of those spinning, ratcheted noisemakers popular at New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Kingfishers favor lower elevations near waterways of all kinds, where they can dig their burrows to nest in earthen banks and mounds with little vegetation. If you’re looking to spot one on your next walk or hike, aim for trails along calm waters, where they dive to capture fish and crayfish in their long, straight bills. They love a good perch overlooking a wide river or lake, favoring branches or dead tree snags that give them a literal birds-eye view of their prey in the placid waters below.

An interesting point of note: Belted Kingfishers are one of the few bird species in which the female is more brightly colored than the male. Although both sexes sport a rakish-looking, ragged crest, males have a single, grey-blue band across their white breasts, while females have both a blue and a chestnut band.

Enjoy these five photos from the annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest, and remember to submit your own nature photography to the 2020 contest soon—the September 30 deadline is fast-approaching!

Belted Kingfisher at Daniel Webster © Edmund Prescottano
Belted Kingfisher at Daniel Webster © Edmund Prescottano
Belted Kingfisher at Wellfleet Bay © Sherri VandenAkker
Belted Kingfisher at Wellfleet Bay © Sherri VandenAkker
Belted Kingfisher at Horn Pond in Woburn © Jim Renault
Belted Kingfisher at Horn Pond in Woburn © Jim Renault
Belted Kingfisher at Wellfleet Bay ©Susan Wellington
Belted Kingfisher at Wellfleet Bay ©Susan Wellington
Belted Kingfisher © Kathy Hale
Belted Kingfisher © Kathy Hale

Received Unsolicited Seeds in the Mail? Don’t Plant!

As if 2020 events couldn’t get any stranger, people across the country are receiving packets of seeds in the mail they did not order.

Example of unsolicited seeds via Washington State Department of Agriculture
Example of unsolicited seeds via Washington State Department of Agriculture

If you happen to receive unsolicited seeds, whatever you do, do not plant them. Instead, report and send them to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (if not in Massachusetts, send to your state’s plant regulatory official).

There is still much to learn about who is sending them and what they are, but the current thinking by is that they could be invasive plants. The USDA is collecting the seeds to better understand what they are and their impact on the environment.

If you’re looking for something to enhance your garden, consider native plants that attract pollinators.

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.

Watch

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

Listen

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.

Read

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.

Sincerely,

David O'Neill Signature

David J. O’Neill
President

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.