Category Archives: In Your Words

Melanie Gárate | Coastal Waterbird Education Specialist

In Your Words: Melanie Gárate

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! 


Melanie Gárate

As a native Chilean, my passion for the oceans and their critters began in the vibrant Pacific Ocean. Led by my father’s love of the sea, I spent long summer days on the coast, where we would be the first ones in the water and the last ones out, forced back onto land as the sun nestled under the horizon.

Since my time as a child in Chile and throughout undergrad and graduate school, I have been fortunate enough to travel for research and explore a variety of coastlines—from the pristine coral reefs of marine preserves in Puerto Rico to the dazzling Mediterranean waters of Spain.

These adventures have been juxtaposed with visits to the polluted streams and oceans in Ecuador, the volcanic islands and surrounding waters of the West Indies, and nearby streams in the Greater Boston area. I noticed that where pollution was greatest, there was also a considerable difference between socioeconomic classes and a limited amount of environmental education. These disparate experiences laid the foundation for my path to conservation and urban education, where my interests are very much aligned with the mission at Mass Audubon.

Melanie Gárate | Coastal Waterbird Education Specialist

Today, as part of Mass Audubon’s Coastal Waterbird Program (CWP), I protect endangered shorebirds and their habitat, focusing on educating the diverse urban community of Revere and the metro Boston area. In addition, I’m a teacher naturalist at Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center, where we provide positive outdoor experiences and environmental science education for urban youth who would ordinarily not have access to wild and natural outdoor spaces.

Mass Audubon has enabled me to transform my natural curiosity for the oceans and wildlife and passion for reaching underserved populations into my profession. Through my work with Mass Audubon, I am able to conserve the nature of Massachusetts by interacting with and engaging Boston’s urban youth, adults, and families in dynamic and enriching educational opportunities. It’s a dream come true.

 


Melanie Gárate is a Coastal Waterbird Education Specialist and Teacher Naturalist at Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center.

In Your Words | Eckerson Brothers

In Your Words: Eckerson Brothers

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!


 

In Your Words | Eckerson Brothers

One day in April 2011, we four Eckerson brothers— Jonathan (then 12), Matt (then 10), Joel (then 9), and myself, Andy (then 11)—started listing as many bird species as we could in a small notebook. This began our unofficial town bird club.

Growing up in a rural area in southeastern Massachusetts, we were lucky to have 500-plus acres of woods behind our house to explore and roam. But it wasn’t until that spring day that our interest in birds and wildlife really took off.

From there, we attended walks at Mass Audubon’s Oak Knoll and Attleboro Springs Wildlife Sanctuaries led by an amazing guide, Jack Lash. He poured out his seemingly unending knowledge of the natural world, which ignited our love of all fauna. After a year, our enthusiasm for birdwatching turned from a hobby into an obsession.

The four of us were always birding together in our yard, in the woods behind our yard, and on our neighbor’s farm (with permission). If we could offer any advice to young people, it would be to find someone to share your passion with. Whether it’s your mom, dad, sibling(s), mentor, or someone you just met, enjoy this world’s beauty together.

Then, learn all about the living creatures around you. When we started, we knew nothing. We read a lot and got involved with Mass Audubon. Jonathan and I conducted breeding surveys for Oak Knoll and Attleboro Springs Wildlife Sanctuaries and became Mass Audubon interns. We now regularly attend the Birders Meeting and look forward to connecting with fellow birders and hearing the great speakers.

We especially enjoy entering the annual Picture This Mass Audubon Photo Contest. When our family purchased a point-and-shoot Canon SX50 HS PowerShot camera with a 600mm zoom lens in 2013, our birding entered a new phase, now with the “power” of a camera added to our arsenal of optics. We have all entered the contest over the years, and Joel and I have been fortunate enough to have several winning photographs.

Getting the four of us out together is a little harder now that Jonathan and I are attending college. But when we can, we make a group trip to the southern part of Bristol County to do some birding—just like old times.


Written by Andy Eckerson on behalf of the Eckerson family, members since 1990.

Anne Monnelly Carroll Canoeing at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

In Your Words: Anne Monnelly Carroll

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!


Anne Monnelly Carroll Canoeing at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

Anne Monnelly Carroll Canoeing with day campers at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary circa 1992

Mass Audubon’s Wildwood was the first overnight camp I attended. I was quite homesick at the start, but as the week progressed, I had several experiences that were transformative. One morning we woke before dawn and hiked Mount Wachusett to see the sunrise. I remember the lavender pre-dawn light and how exciting it was to be up before the sun. When we got off the mountain, it was hot and we were tired, but the best was yet to come.

The counselors brought us to a nearby bog, talking excitedly about a special ceremony, a sort of rite of passage to become “one with nature.” We walked along a boardwalk until we got to a spot where the water was deep and clear, and we completely immersed ourselves in the bog water. I can’t explain what made it so magical, but it clearly made an impression on me that has lasted all these years.

Water has always played a central role in my life. My first water adventures were with my parents in the Ozarks, where they would take me as a newborn down the Current River in a canoe, stopping to camp on gravel bars. In fact, many of my childhood family vacations took place outdoors: we hiked, canoed, camped, birdwatched, and snorkeled.

Looking back, I believe that day in the bog was so special in large part because of the Wildwood counselors. Their excitement and love of nature was infectious. I clearly caught the bug because years later, during summers off from college, I became a counselor myself at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary’s Nature Camp in Topsfield. There, Sanctuary Director Carol Decker became a mentor who showed me how to share the magic and wonder of nature with children.

As a result of these experiences, I have focused my career on protecting water—and my volunteer work on connecting children to the outdoors. My parents planted these seeds, and Mass Audubon nurtured their growth with its wonderful staff, programs, and wildlife sanctuaries. And I hope that I am doing the same for future generations.


Anne Monnelly Carroll is Director of the Office of Water Resources at the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Children enjoying the trails at Boston Nature Center

In Your Words: Patricia Spence

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.


In Your Words: Patricia Spence

Patricia Spence at Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center

My love for exploring nature probably originated from summers spent on Cape Cod with my grandparents. Days were filled investigating my grandfather’s vegetable and flower gardens, catching frogs, swimming, and going on Cape trips.

As a single mom raising two boys in Dorchester, I wanted my sons to know the fun and excitement of all things “nature”—discovering salamanders under rocks, hiking the Blue Hills, and learning about birds, bugs, and bees. I also wanted them to understand that they are the stewards of our planet. So off they went to classes at Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center (BNC). There, they experimented and explored in a wonderful outside-classroom setting.

The BNC connection led to more nature experiences at other Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries, including the Blue Hills Trailside Museum, Drumlin Farm, Allens Pond, Ipswich River, Broadmoor, and Moose Hill, as well as at Wildwood overnight and family camps.

While they took classes, I spent time reconnecting with nature by volunteering at BNC. Through these experiences, I gained a deep appreciation for the director, staff, youth leaders, and all of the committees. The wildlife sanctuary continues to passionately seek ways to involve diverse families from all walks of life from across the city and region.

Children enjoying the trails at Boston Nature Center

Children enjoying the trails at Boston Nature Center

My boys are now men, but I will always remember the BNC programs that opened an entire world of nature for us, our family, and our friends. BNC has been a critical path to nature and the environment for folks living in the city that would not normally experience nature programs, wildlife, and the joy of birds, butterflies, and other small critters.

I love the space, the serenity, and the beauty of nature right in my own backyard at the Boston Nature Center, and I encourage all who live near and far to come visit.


Pat Spence is a Mass Audubon Council member, former chair of the Boston Nature Center Sanctuary Committee, and Mass Audubon member since 2000.

In Your Words: Vasha Brunelle

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.


Vasha Brunelle © Frank Brunelle

Vasha Brunelle © Frank Brunelle

Growing up in Connecticut, most of my free time was spent outdoors, usually in the woods or swamps. As an adult living on Martha’s Vineyard, I returned to the woods for long walks and started painting local birds.

About 12 years ago, a friend suggested I get involved at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. Since then, I have monitored horseshoe crabs for their citizen science project, painted several signs and murals, and served as the secretary for the Felix Neck sanctuary committee. But, perhaps, the most exciting and challenging opportunity came when I began volunteering with the sanctuary’s Coastal Waterbird Program in the spring of 2013, monitoring a pair of American oystercatchers nesting in my neighborhood.

Being new to nest monitoring, I needed help. The coastal waterbird coordinator at Felix Neck patiently showed me how and when to observe the birds, and what information to record. I was delighted the first time I saw a clutch of eggs in an oystercatcher scrape (a sandy, shallow nest dug by oystercatchers), horrified when a nest was lost to storm surge washover during a nor’easter, and ecstatic to see for the first time a chick emerging from the grasses.

American Oystercatcher © Phil Sorrentino

American Oystercatcher © Phil Sorrentino

Since those first couple of years, I’ve learned so much more about the threats to these birds, particularly predators, weather, and disturbances from beachgoers and dogs. But the birds’ admirable resolve to breed and reproduce despite these challenges has inspired me. I’ve become adept at speaking to people I meet while out observing—answering questions or gently reminding them to be cautious in a restricted area.

It’s gratifying to observe and record data, knowing that all of this information serves an important purpose: to help us understand population trends and factors for reproductive success so we can adjust our strategies to provide the birds the best chance of survival. This summer, I will be monitoring a second oystercatcher nest, a tern colony, and a pair of osprey. If you see me out and about, stop and say hi!


Vasha Brunelle is a longtime volunteer with Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary’s Coastal Waterbird program, which you can learn more about on their webpage.

In Your Words: Butterfly Garden Team

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.


The Butterfly Garden at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary

The Butterfly Garden at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary

The Butterfly Garden Team began in 2012 with the mission of creating outdoor spaces that welcome and nourish butterflies and other pollinators. When Jessica Watson, Stony Brook’s Volunteer Coordinator, presented us with the opportunity to restore the butterfly garden at the Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, it gave us a chance to do something we love right in our hometown. For us, Stony Brook has been a peaceful refuge from the stresses of work, a place to meet friends, and a way to get up close and personal with the local wildlife.

The Stony Brook garden was planted in the 1990s, but was in need of attention. Invasive vines and grasses and aggressive perennials had taken over most of the nectar and host plants.
With a lot of elbow grease and help from Stony Brook staff and volunteers, we renovated the garden section by section. We added two new types of milkweed for monarchs, as well as a variety of other nectar and host plants, mostly donated or started from seed. The walkway was cleared, widened, paved in crushed stone, and made universally accessible.

Butterfly Garden Team of the Norfolk Garden Club at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary

Butterfly Garden Team of the Garden Club of Norfolk at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary

In 2016, we received a grant from the Massachusetts Master Gardener Association and used the funds to replace a hedge of invasive honeysuckle with native and pollinator-friendly perennials and shrubs. The garden is now a Certified Butterfly Garden and Monarch Waystation.

We love this little “sanctuary within a sanctuary,” and the butterflies and other pollinators seem to enjoy it, too. A variety of butterflies, moths, bees, and birds join us as we weed, water, dig, plant, and mulch. We’ve even seen monarchs return!

Monarch Butterfly spotted at the Stony Brook Butterfly Garden

Monarch Butterfly spotted at the Stony Brook Butterfly Garden

Best of all, the garden is now serving its original purpose: providing information about gardening, butterfly habitat conservation, and natural history, and serving as a quiet haven where people can relax and observe the flowers and their visitors.

When we started this journey, we never imagined all we would gain in return. Working in the garden has brought us friendships, wonderful partnerships with Stony Brook staff and volunteers, and a sense of purpose and pride that comes from hard work and a beautiful garden.

Written by Members of the Butterfly Garden Team of the Garden Club of Norfolk: Martha Richardson, Stephanie Markham, Emily Nicodemus, and Michelle Noonan

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In Your Words: Norman Smith

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.


Norman Smith releasing a snowy owl photo © John Cole

Norman Smith releasing a snowy owl. Photo © John Cole

It’s been 50 years since I first started working at Blue Hills Trailside Museum—51 if you count volunteering. When I was a kid, my parents always let me pick a special outing on my birthday. And every year, I picked visiting Trailside. When I turned 13, I sent in a letter asking if there was anything I could do to help out. The staff accepted.

Every weekend and after school, I would ride my bike 10 miles each way to Trailside to empty trash barrels, pick up litter, clean cages, feed the animals—all routine stuff, but I loved it. Eventually, I got a part-time job taking care of the animals, collecting tickets, and assisting with any other task that needed attention. In 1970, after graduating high school, I started full time as an assistant naturalist. Back then, Garret VanWart was the sanctuary director—and a mentor. He took us out on field trips to Marina Bay in Quincy, and through a scope he set up, I saw my first snowy owl. I was hooked.

Everyone who knows me knows that I am not a tech person (I still use a flip phone). But I was the first person to put satellite transmitters on wintering snowy owls back in 2000 to understand their migration patterns. Our research was the first to prove that snowy owls returned to the arctic each spring. During this time, I used to take my son and daughter out with me to capture and release snowy owls. The transmitters have changed and so have my assistants—now I bring my granddaughters.

Over the last half century, there hasn’t been one day that I have thought of leaving the museum. This is more than just a job. This is my life’s work. I want to inspire as many people as I can to care about these precious resources that we have: to encourage and kindle excitement in every child that walks through the door; to get kids and adults to put down their phones and experience the wonders of nature up close; and to help embolden the next generation of stewards to carry on the legacy to help people better understand, appreciate, and care for the world around us so future generations have the same opportunities and more.

See a slideshow of photos from Norman’s 50 years with Blue Hills Trailside Museum and share your favorite Norman stories in the comments below!

In Your Words: Jenny Villone

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.


Jenny Villone at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary's Innermost House

Jenny Villone at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary’s Innermost House

I’ve been a lover of nature my entire life. Growing up, my mother, a skilled birder, adorned our lawn with bird feeders and houses, so I quickly learned to recognize all the backyard birds. I love the idea of simply noticing the details of the world around me: catching a glimpse of a ruby-throated hummingbird or a warbler flitting around a treetop.

Birds may have brought me to Mass Audubon, but over the past few years, I’ve learned how far the community extends beyond that.

As a volunteer, I’ve weeded the strawberry patch at Drumlin Farm, which has allowed an urbanite like me to connect with the land. My fiancé and I have gone on countless nature walks at Wellfleet Bay, learning about everything from scrub oaks to horseshoe crabs. And in the fall, I love spending a night at the rustic Innermost House at Ipswich River, reveling in having a sanctuary all to myself.

The older I’ve become, the more I’ve realized how critical the natural world is to my fulfillment and enjoyment of life. It’s inspired me to support organizations that help preserve, nurture, and champion our environment.

Mass Audubon has already provided me with a myriad of remarkable experiences. And I can’t wait to instill the values of Mass Audubon in my future children, encouraging them to maintain a fascination with the world around them.


Jenny Villone is a Boston-based Photographer and Digital Producer and a Mass Audubon Member Since 2014. 

Her article originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter.