Category Archives: Nature Notes

Celebrating Wildlife in Massachusetts

World Wildlife Day is a time to appreciate and advocate for nature. As residents or visitors of Massachusetts, we are lucky to be able to enjoy a wide array of wildlife across our landscape – from animals as small as a Bog Copper Butterfly to giant Humpback Whales.

To help you celebrate on March 3, we’ve highlighted some plants and animals you should keep an eye out for as you explore the outdoors this spring! 

Blooming Skunk Cabbages 

Skunk Cabbage ermerging
Skunk Cabbage

While they may not look like a flower, Skunk Cabbages are one of the first flowers to bloom in the springtime. You can find them sprouting in wetlands with a curved hood-like structure (the spathe) surrounding a round flower-bearing spadix. Eventually, big bright green leaves will emerge. As their name suggests, Skunk Cabbages release a potent, skunk-like smell as it blooms.  

“Quacking” Wood Frogs 

Wood Frog
Wood Frog © Amanda DeRosa

True to their name, Wood Frogs live in forested areas and breed in the vernal pools. They are a brown or tan color, with a dark “mask” covering their eyes. Wood Frogs have ridges running down their sides and no pattern on their back. As you approach a vernal pool, listen for the distinct quacking sounds of the Wood Frogs that have congregated there.  

Nesting Carpenter Bees 

Carpenter Bee
Carpenter Bee © Meyer Franklin

Solitary bees, such as carpenter bees, sweat bees, and mining bees, are a type of bee that overwinter in Massachusetts. Many of these bees are hole-nesters, making their home out of hollowed-out twigs or tunnels in the soil. In the winter, solitary bee eggs develop into larvae and emerge in April as young bees. You can tell the difference between carpenter bees and fuzzy bumblebees by their completely black, shiny, hairless abdomen.  

Returning Killdeer 

Killdeer © Ken DiBiccari

Named after their shrill kill-deer, kill-deer call, Killdeer are one species of shorebird that you don’t need to go to the beach to enjoy. They can be found in fields and pastures, on playgrounds, lawns, unpaved driveways, beach dunes, and other open areas. When a predator ventures too close to their young, the Killdeer parent begins a classic distraction display, which includes flopping along the ground with its wings dragging as though injured and constantly flashing its brightly marked tail to deter the potential threat.  

Denning Coyotes 

Coyotes © George Brehm

After their mating season wraps up in February, coyotes begin to search for a suitable den site to raise their young. Coyote dens are typically hidden in downed trees, stumps, or culverts. Coyotes resemble a German shepherd in appearance but have pointed ears that stand erect, a more pointed muzzle, and a very bushy tail that hangs down in a vertical position. While you may see coyotes any time of day, they are most active at dawn and dusk. Usually, coyotes will avoid human interaction, but it’s always best to observe them from a distance.  

What are you seeing on our adventures? Share in the comments or tag us on social using @massaudubon.

All About Sea Turtles in Massachusetts

When most people think of sea turtles, they imagine these marine reptiles enjoying the warm waters of the tropics. However, visitors and residents of the Cape may not realize that each summer hundreds of these turtles make their way into waters around Cape Cod.  

Loggerhead © Elizabeth Bradfield

While sea turtles don’t nest north of the Carolinas, many sea turtles spend their summers in our nutrient-rich waters, feeding on the plentiful crabs, jellyfish, and other prey. In fact, warming water temperatures due to climate change is leading to turtles traveling farther north each summer.

When the time comes to head south for the winter, some juvenile turtles that have been feeding north of the Cape get trapped by its shape, or “hook”, becoming lethargic in the cooling water.  

When the water reaches about 50°F by early-November, these turtles become too cold to eat, drink, or swim—they become cold-stunned. Strong onshore winds, mostly from the north or west, push cold-stunned turtles onto the beaches. 


This is where a team of Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary staff and trained volunteers come in. They patrol the beaches of Cape Cod night and day at high tide, on the lookout for cold-stunned turtles. Any turtle they find is rapidly transported to the sanctuary and then on to the New England Aquarium or National Marine Life Center for evaluation and rehabilitation. Since 1979, Wellfleet Bay’s Sea Turtle Team has rescued and recovered more than 5,000 turtles.   

Sea Turtles in Massachusetts  

While unlikely, it is possible to find five species of sea turtles on the Cape.  Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary keeps track of sea turtles in the summer and early fall by asking boaters to report sightings at 

Kemp’s Ridley   

STATUS: Endangered  
The smallest and most endangered sea turtle in the world the Kemp’s Ridley is also the most common turtle found cold-stunned on Cape Cod Bay beaches. Juveniles are typically only 5-10 pounds, but adults can grow up to 100 pounds. Several hundred to over 1,000 strand each winter on Cape Cod.   


STATUS: Threatened  
This species has the largest geographic distribution of any sea turtle in the world. Juveniles and sub-adults can vary widely in size—between 30-200 pounds—and full-grown adults can reach 350 pounds. Loggerheads are becoming a commonly stranded species on Cape Cod. In recent years, an average of 24-26 are found cold-stunned, with a high of nearly 150 in 2012.   


STATUS: Threatened  
Green turtles are named for the green color of their body fat. Juveniles can weigh anywhere from 5-25 pounds, and adults can reach an impressive 400 pounds.   


STATUS: Endangered  
These are the largest turtle species in the world. Leatherbacks are also the only sea turtle whose body temperature can rise above the temperature of the surrounding water, due to a number of unique physical adaptations. Thanks to these adaptations, leatherbacks don’t cold-stun. But they can still be severely injured or killed by boat strikes, fishing gear entanglement, and ingesting plastic. Full-grown adult leatherbacks can reach up to eight feet in length and weigh 1,500 pounds!   

Atlantic Hawksbill   

STATUS: Endangered  
This species rarely leaves tropical water, making it the least common sea turtle found off Cape Cod. Only one or two cold-stunned individuals have ever been recorded. The hawksbill is listed as “Endangered” in Massachusetts and at the federal level. Adults can reach up to 180 pounds.   

Learn more  

Find out more about sea turtles and how you can get involved at