Category Archives: General

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 massaudubon.org/birdathon.

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

Hostess Catering
Metlife

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

Get Your Mass Audubon Flying Owl Shirt!

With our nature centers and their gift shops closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, we’re getting creative to make sure you still have ways to show your Mass Audubon pride and support our mission to protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and wildlife.

Mass Audubon Flying Owl Shirt Maroon
Mass Audubon Flying Owl Shirt in Maroon

With that in mind, we are introducing our first ever online t-shirt campaign through Bonfire! Here’s how it works:

  1. We created a t-shirt campaign using Bonfire’s online platform, featuring a brand-new Great Horned Owl design.
  2. For the next two weeks only, you can order Flying Owl t-shirts through Bonfire, with a variety of colors and sizes to choose from, including youth sizes.
  3. At the end of the campaign, Bonfire will print and ship all the ordered t-shirts directly to your door, between May 5–14.
  4. All proceeds from the sale of the shirts will go directly toward Mass Audubon’s mission. If you’d like, you’ll also have the option of adding an additional tax-deductible donation to Mass Audubon to your order.

Only Available Until April 27—Order Soon!

This campaign is only open until April 27, so order your Flying Owl T-shirt today before this limited edition design flies away!

Barred Owl © Cynthia Rand

Take 5: Barred Owls

“Solemnity is what they express—fit representatives of the night.”

—Henry David Thoreau

The shy but stocky Barred Owl does indeed cut a solemn figure, with its soulful, dark brown, almost black eyes and stripes of mottled brown and white crossing its body.

Many nighttime travelers in the New England woods have been asked, who cooks for you, who cooks for you all? by a Barred Owl. Its deep, resonant voice carries well in the moist, forested woodlands that the species prefers during the breeding season. They prefer natural tree cavities and human-made nest boxes for their nesting sites, preferably high enough up to avoid predators like weasels and raccoons.

Barred Owls are quiet and elusive, but since they don’t migrate at all, they don’t tend to move around all that much, generally adhering to a territory of no more than a few square miles their entire lives. Although their territories may sometimes overlap, Barred Owls do their best to avoid their cousins, Great Horned Owls—their greatest predator.

You can learn more about the Owls of Massachusetts on our website, report an owl sighting of your own, and enjoy five photos of these gorgeous raptors from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest, below.

Barred Owl © Ronald Grant
Barred Owl © Ronald Grant
Barred Owl © Jim Renault
Barred Owl © Jim Renault
Barred Owl © Corey Nimmer
Barred Owl © Corey Nimmer
Barred Owl © Darya Zelentsova
Barred Owl © Darya Zelentsova
Barred Owl with Young © Tina McManus
Barred Owl with Young © Tina McManus
Barred Owl © Cynthia Rand
Barred Owl © Cynthia Rand
Killdeer © Jillian Paquette

Take 5: Clamorous Killdeer

Among the earliest of spring migrants, Killdeer arrive as early as late-February in exceptionally warm years. No, they’re not raptors despite their fierce-sounding name. A member of the plover family, Killdeer are one species of shorebird you don’t need to go to the beach to enjoy; listen for the shrill kill-deer, kill-deer call for which they are named (earlier names included Chattering Plover and Noisy Plover) in fields and pastures, and on playgrounds, lawns, unpaved driveways, beach dunes, and other open areas.

Killdeer have distinctive color markings: tawny-colored on top and white below, with two black bands across the breast (although juveniles only have one), and black and white patches marking the face, including a black streak that runs through their large eyes. The rusty-colored rump is more visible when the bird is in flight or during a distraction display: When a parent Killdeer (either on a nest or herding young) feels threatened, it will fan its tail, exposing the red rump, and lurch around feigning injury to draw the potential predator away from the nest or young. Talk about protective parents!

Although they won’t visit your backyard feeder, keep an eye out for Killdeer in large lawns and fields where they often forage for insects on the ground and may even dig their shallow nests in the bare ground.

Enjoy these five photos of Killdeer from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest and check out our Quick Guide to Killdeer.

Killdeer © Latitia Duret
Killdeer © Latitia Duret
Killdeer © Ryan Barraford
Killdeer © Ryan Barraford
Killdeer © Ken DiBiccari
Killdeer © Ken DiBiccari
Killdeer © Jillian Paquette
Killdeer © Jillian Paquette
Killdeer © Nanci St. George
Killdeer © Nanci St. George
Porcupine © Kati Seiffer

What To Do This Weekend: Feb 29-Mar 1

Go birding, look for animal tracks, see maple sugaring in action, take a winter nature hike, and more at a wildlife sanctuary this weekend.

Porcupine © Kati Seiffer
Porcupine © Kati Seiffer

Greater Boston

During Digital Photography for Beginners at Moose Hill in Sharon, get to know your camera better. Learn about lenses, composition, lighting, depth of field, and more. (adults, registration required)

Go Backyard Birding at Boston Nature Center. Learn how to use binoculars, go on a bird hike, and create some seed and fruit art for the birds to enjoy. (families with children, registration required)

New to birding, or looking to sharpen your skills? All skill levels are invited to Birding for Beginners at Habitat in Belmont. (adults, registration required)

Look for Signs of Animals as they forage for food and shelter at Broadmoor in Natick during the cold winter months. Learn to identify the tracks, chews, scat, burrows and other clues left by many creatures including deer, fisher and coyote. (adults and families, registration required)

More in Greater Boston

North Shore

Take a Sugaring Off Tour at Ipswich River in Topsfield to learn how to identify a sugar maple, observe tapping and sap collection methods, watch the sap being boiled down in the sugarhouse, and get a sweet taste of the final product. (adults and children, registration required)

Go Saturday Morning Birding in the Newburyport/Plum Island, some of the best year-round birding locations in the country. Beginners and birders of all levels are welcome. (adults)

More on the North Shore

Connecticut River Valley

Leap into a Winter Ecology Walk at Graves Farm in Williamsburg to look for animal tracks, winter birds, and other signs of wildlife. Identify winter plants and look for winter spiders, springtails, stoneflies, and more. (adults, registration required)

More in the Connecticut River Valley

Berkshires

Take a two-mile Richardson Brook Hike in Tolland to explore the sanctuary’s secretive hemlock forests in search of snowy specialties like hemlock, fisher, porcupine, and moose. Note: this trail is very uneven and rocky. (adults, registration required)

More in the Berkshires

South of Boston

During Family Habitat Days at Oak Knoll in Attleboro look for interesting animals, plants, and see what has visited the sanctuary. (families, registration required)

More in South of Boston

Hermit Thrush © Evan Lipton

Take 5: Hermit Thrushes

Northern Cardinals. Blue Jays. American Goldfinches. You expect to see these birds during the winter. But birds like the American Robin and the Hermit Thrush catch many New Englanders off guard this time of year. After all, shouldn’t they be sunning themselves down south?

Not necessarily. According to Joan Walsh, Mass Audubon’s Bertrand Chair of Field Ornithology and Natural History, many traditionally migratory birds are sticking around, possibly due to increasing temperatures and a more readily available food source (i.e., berries)—a trend that’s been increasing over the last 40 years. And, in some cases, we humans have contributed to the number of birds seen this time of year.

Though quiet as a mouse in winter, the Hermit Thrush is full of song in spring. In fact, you’re likely to hear this small, olive-brown-colored forest dweller long before you see him. Considered by many to be the finest songster in North America, the Hermit Thrush utters a song that consists of a series of ethereal flutelike phrases.

It may be a few months before you hear the fabled “American Nightengale” sing its sweet song, but if you’re lucky and attentive, you can hit the trail to spot this bird: Hermit Thrushes prefer secluded woodland habitats, from the damp mixed forests of western Massachusetts to dry pine barrens along the coast. Common characteristics of their nesting areas are a dense understory (think saplings and shrubs) and an abundance of evergreens.

Enjoy these five photos of Hermit Thrushes from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest, and if you haven’t yet, check out this year’s photo contest winners!

Hermit Thrush © Jaymie Reidy
Hermit Thrush © Jaymie Reidy
Hermit Thrush © Anthony Lischio
Hermit Thrush © Anthony Lischio
Hermit Thrush © Adolfo Cuadra
Hermit Thrush © Adolfo Cuadra
Hermit Thrush © Evan Lipton
Hermit Thrush © Evan Lipton
Hermit Thrush © Mark Rosenstein
Hermit Thrush © Mark Rosenstein
Winter Ski Tracks © Heidi Besen

Take 5: Get Outside

With family and friends gathering to celebrate the season and one another, we hope you’ll take some time to get outdoors and enjoy the unique beauty of nature in winter with your loved ones. Breathe in the cold, crisp air, listen for wintering songbirds like chickadees and cardinals, and look for fresh tracks in the snow. By foot, snowshoe, or ski, there is so much explore and appreciate this time of year.

We appreciate all the nature heroes who inspire us every day because we know the impact one person can have on the planet. Enjoy these five photos of folks enjoying the wonder of winter in nature. And happy holidays from all of us at Mass Audubon!

Making a Snow Angel © Holly Chadwick
Making a Snow Angel © Holly Chadwick
Snow Shoveling Artwork © Charles Lanphear
Snow Shoveling Artwork © Charles Lanphear
Winter Trees © Perri Van der Clock
Winter Trees © Perri Van der Clock
Winter Ski Tracks © Heidi Besen
Winter Ski Tracks © Heidi Besen
Winter Snowshoeing © Bill Madden
Winter Snowshoeing © Bill Madden
Jeanne Li - Volunteer at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

In Your Words: Jeanne Li

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! 


Jeanne Li - Volunteer at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary
Jeanne Li – Volunteer at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

I have always enjoyed the outdoors and science. When I went to college at Vassar in the 1960s, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and other writings started me thinking about a career in ecology. I wrote to government agencies asking about job opportunities; the replies were not encouraging. So I switched my focus from zoology to chemistry and spent my working life in laboratories—indoor places. In my free time, I went hiking, skiing, sailing, and birding, and had many other outdoor adventures around central Pennsylvania.

When I moved to Massachusetts in 1984 and began looking for places to hike, I discovered Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries. In 2000, a move to the North Shore put Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield just 10 minutes away. I wanted to give back and help the environment but my job did not permit donating much time. So I helped with special events and did trail monitoring while I hiked, reporting any problems I found to the property manager.

Boardwalk choked by Glossy Buckthorn
Boardwalk choked by Glossy Buckthorn – May 2012

As retirement approached, I began looking for new ways to fill my time. I spoke to the staff at Ipswich River about volunteering to do some type of outdoor work related to ecological management and they asked if I would help restore a field by removing an invasive plant, Glossy Buckthorn. That fall, I successfully cleared a small patch with the guidance of Richard Wolniewicz, the property manager, and Lou Wagner, the now-retired regional scientist.

Clearer views and healthier native plants after Glossy Buckthorn removal - Winter 2019
Clearer views and healthier native plants after Glossy Buckthorn removal – Winter 2019

Unfortunately, the buckthorn grew back the following spring. To permanently eradicate it, we would need to take a targeted approach, individually cutting and applying herbicide to each plant by hand. Today, the fields contain more grasses and wildflowers and fewer invasive plants, which is very satisfying to see. With the help of other volunteers, student interns, and staff, we have extended the work to remove buckthorn along the wetland trail edges, as well.

This volunteer work has provided opportunities to meet and work with people from many different backgrounds, to learn botany and ecology, to present at Mass Audubon’s annual Staff Natural History Conference, to drive a tractor, and to keep physically fit. As a bonus, I observe birds, mammals, amphibians, and insects as I work. I am honored to be a part of Mass Audubon’s effort to conserve our natural world.


Jeanne Li is a volunteer at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield.

American Mink © Mark Lotterhand

Take 5: Mink Outside the Box

American Minks are members of the weasel family, averaging between 2 and 3.5 pounds, smaller than some of their cousins, Fishers and River Otters, but larger than others, such as ermine or long-tailed weasels.

They share many traits with otters, including webbed feet and a coating of oil to keep their fur waterproof. They are also semi-aquatic and carnivorous, eating mostly muskrats, fish, frogs, snakes, and small mammals. But unlike the more social otters, minks are loners and typically only meet up to breed and then part ways. They seem to share a bit of the otters’ playfulness, however, and can be spotted pushing through the snow or sliding down snow-covered slopes on their bellies. If you’re lucky enough to spot a mink in wintertime, it will likely be at dawn or dusk, as they are “crepuscular.”

Enjoy these five photos of minks from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest and check out the recently announced winners of the 2019 photo contest on our website!

American Mink © Lauren Sullivan
American Mink © Lauren Sullivan
American Mink © Jason Barcus
American Mink © Jason Barcus
American Mink © Mark Lotterhand
American Mink © Mark Lotterhand
American Mink with Crayfish © John Harrison
American Mink with Crayfish © John Harrison
American Mink © Charlene Gaboriault
American Mink © Charlene Gaboriault
Turkeys

What To Do This Weekend: Nov 23-24

Learn about wild turkeys, attend a forest festival, improve your cell phone photography skills, go on a nature walk, and more at a wildlife sanctuary this weekend.

Turkeys
Wild turkeys

North Shore

Journey back in time during the Family Forest Festival at Ipswich River in Topsfield and learn about the people and wildlife who have called these forests home. Go on a hike, try your hand at building a kid-sized log cabin, see and use real historical carpentry tools, and learn the names and stories of towering trees and woodland wildlife. (families, registration for the hike is required)

Go Saturday Morning Birding in the Newburyport/Plum Island are — one of the best year-round birding locations in the country. Beginners and birders of all levels are welcome. (adults)

More on the North Shore

Greater Boston

It’s Turkey Time at the Boston Nature Center. Search the sanctuary for turkeys, create turkey track posters, examine feathers under a microscope, and create a craft to take home. (families)

During Cell Phone Nature Photography at Moose Hill in Sharon, hike up our popular Bluff Trail while learning how to get the most out of your cell phone’s camera. (adults, registration required)

Go on a field trip from Drumlin Farm for Rhode Island Rarities. Species to be on the lookout for include Black-headed Gull, Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese, Eurasian Wigeon, Black Vulture, and Tufted Duck. (adults and teens 14+, registration required)

More in Greater Boston

South of Boston

What better way to get in the holiday spirit than a Walkin Talkin Turkey Walk at Tidmarsh in Plymouth. Explore the former cranberry farm and learn all about the star of many a Thanksgiving table, turkeys! (adults and children ages 10+, registration required)

Take a Long Scenic Hike at Allens Pond in South Dartmouth. Cover at least 2 miles of uneven terrain and opens up the senses to the wonders of the sanctuary! (adults, registration required)

Head to Oak Knoll in Attleboro for Talkin’ Turkey to discuss an animal that is so quintessentially American it was almost made into the national bird. Learn turkey facts and turkey myths, and go on a hike to look for some on our trails. (adults and children, registration required)

More in South of Boston

Connecticut River Valley

Get a perfect introduction to nature during a First Child in the Woods Walk at Arcadia in Easthampton/Northampton. This one-hour hike will enable your child or children to gently discover the natural world around them and give you skills to confidently lead explorations of your own. (families, registration required)

More in the Connecticut River Valley