Category Archives: Project Updates

Photo: Andy Bakinowski

A Long & Winding Boardwalk

If you’ve ever been to Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary and the Bristol Blake State Reservation in Norfolk, you’ve most likely walked the 525-foot-long boardwalk. When this iconic feature, which takes you to Beech Island, was first installed more than 40 years ago it immediately captured the devotion and enthusiasm of people fascinated by the beauty of the wetlands and the diversity of life that could observe from it.

Over the years the boardwalk has been improved in many ways. Railings on both sides were installed, rotten planks were replaced, and pilings were stabilized. In 2010, Mass Audubon partnered with the Department of Conservation (DCR) and the Student Conservation Association (SCA) to do a major overhaul on the boardwalk with improvements being made along its entire length.

Even with all this attention, winter weather ultimately took its toll and an engineering inspection in March 2016 determined that the boardwalk was too dangerous to remain open. DCR closed the boardwalk.

But it wouldn’t be for long. DCR knew the benefits outweighed the cost of replacement and immediately set out to replace the boardwalk. Their strategy was to not only make it safer for people, but also for the wetlands it traverses. By raising it higher off the water and replacing all of the pilings with smaller helical anchors that provide a stronger support, the impact of the boardwalk will be reduced dramatically. An added benefit: visitors get a higher vantage point to view the wetlands.

Aerial view of the boardwalk renovation. Photo: Andy Bakinowski

For months, we anxiously watched and waited. Fast forward to August 7, 2017. After a final visit, State Inspectors gave their thumbs and tore the caution tape down. The boardwalk is now officially open and we are planning a brief ceremony on Saturday, August 26, at 11 am.

Thanks to everyone for your support, patience, and encouragement. Bristol Blake State Reservation and Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary are open daily from sunrise to sunset. We look forward to seeing you out on the boardwalk soon!

Stony Brook’s campers celebrate the opening of the boardwalk.

— Guest post by Doug Williams, Stony Brook’s Sanctuary Director

Exciting News About Tidmarsh!

For the past year, we’ve been working hard to raise enough funds to acquire almost 479 acres of Tidmarsh Farms in Plymouth, land which encompasses restored freshwater wetlands and adjoining uplands. It’s been a remarkable journey and a true community effort.

Today, we’re excited to announce that we achieved our goal of raising $3.6 million! And it’s all thanks to supporters like you.

This means we can now move forward with purchasing the property later this summer. And we hope to see you this fall in Plymouth when we celebrate the official opening of Mass Audubon’s newest wildlife sanctuary!

Thank you for your commitment to land conservation, and for being a part of this important initiative—we could not have done it without your support. We are humbled by the generosity and dedication of our conservation community, and in particular, the people like you who stepped up to make this vision a reality.

There’s Still Time to Save Tidmarsh

A meandering cold water stream, dappled sunlight in a red maple forest, a bald eagle soaring overhead—these are just some of the things that you might see at Tidmarsh Farms in Plymouth. Today, we are working to purchase this property and establish it as Mass Audubon’s newest wildlife sanctuary by early 2018.

Tidmarsh was a working cranberry farm until 2010. When the landowners decided to stop farming, they made a bold decision to restore the land and return it to its natural state. Removing the dams created a spectacular mosaic of habitats, and all the changes are being monitored through their new nonprofit, Living Observatory.

Mass Audubon now has the special opportunity to acquire 479 acres of the property, and to partner with the Town of Plymouth to protect an additional 139 acres.

To do this, and create Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Plymouth, we must raise $3.6 million by June 30, 2017. We need your help to raise the final $125,000 in the next week. And thanks to a matching challenge grant from an anonymous foundation, your gift will be doubled!

You can have an impact on the future of this landscape—you can make a difference. Please consider making a gift to the Campaign for Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary today and be a part of protecting this incredible landscape!


Scenes from Tidmarsh

Great news! Thanks to the amazing support of individuals and foundations, we’ve raised 95% of our fundraising goal to protect Tidmarsh Farms and transform it into a wildlife sanctuary.

You can help get us over the finish line by donating today. Bonus: all new gifts will be matched dollar for dollar!

Need some inspiration? Check out some recent photos and videos taken at Tidmarsh. Better yet, come to an upcoming walk to see if for yourself.

Savannah sparrow on white pine © C. Jackson

Bog white violet © Living Observatory at Tidmarsh Farms

Kingfisher living up to its name. (Click the image to watch the video) © Living Observatory/MIT Media Lab

Silver-bordered fritillary in the flowers of choke cherry

A recent guided walk around Tidmarsh. The next one is Saturday, June 17. © Linda Thorndike

Herring © C. Jackson

The channel at the former reservoir © Living Observatory

Banding Peregrine Falcon Chicks in Boston

IMG_1456_640Norman Smith, Director of Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum, and Tom French, Director of Mass Wildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program, completed another successful banding of Peregrine Falcon chicks in the clock tower of the Marriott Vacation Club Pulse at Custom House in Boston. The duo has been banding falcon chicks in this location since 1987.

The bands provide researchers like Smith and French valuable information about the behavior of these endangered birds. For example, we know that the female “mom” was banded in Providence in 2009 and has been at the Custom House since 2011.

Check out photos from the banding >

About Peregrine Falcons


Peregrine Falcons are the fastest birds on earth, capable of flying up to 242 miles per hour. Their speed and wicked sharp talons make them incredible hunters. They have the unique ability to capture and kill other birds in flight, everything from blue jays to American woodcocks, before returning to the nest.

Upon examining the nesting platform at the Custom House, French found feathers and bones from blue jays, a parrot, a brown creeper among others. Learn more about Peregrine Falcons in Mass Audubon’s Breeding Bird Atlas and MassWildlife’s fact sheet.

A Success Story

Once an abundant breeder in the eastern United States, with a recorded 375 nesting pairs in the 1930s and 1940s, these falcons fell prey to the effects of DDT. The last historical active nest in Massachusetts was in 1955 on Monument Mountain in Great Barrington. According to MassWildlife, the pesticide caused the falcon’s eggs to be too thin and unable to withstand the weight of incubation.

By 1966, not a single nesting pair could be found in the eastern US. After the banning of DDT, an effort to restore the Peregrine population ensued. Dubbed “hacking,” young falcons were raised in captivity in a special way to avoid imprinting (this is when they become used to humans).

After a few attempts of releasing these captive-breed young falcons (including a release at Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln), the first modern falcon nest in Massachusetts was deemed successful in 1987.

Today, there are approximately 30 nesting pairs of Peregrines in Massachusetts. They are found on top of buildings and bridges—the closest thing to the rocky cliffs they once preferred. This year’s Custom House brood will head out on their own, bands intact, in approximately three-to-six weeks. In another two years, they will hopefully breed and thereby ensure the Peregrine population continues to grow.

Watch the Chicks Grow

IMG_0163_640There are live cams set up in several nesting locations, including the Custom House, so that you can follow along with the progress. Watch the live streams:

Another Successful Snowy Owl Release

On Saturday, in the early morning while most of us were sleeping, Norman Smith, Sanctuary Director at Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum, was at Logan Airport. He wasn’t there to catch a flight, though. He was there to catch a snowy owl.

Snowy owls are drawn to the airport due to its tundra-like landscape, which mimics their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic, and plenty of rodents to dine on. Over the last 35 years, Smith has relocated some 700 snowy owls.

Smith left the airport on Saturday with an adult male owl. Upon further inspection, he discovered it had a band, one that Smith placed on the owl in March 2014. (As a side note, last winter Smith captured an owl that he originally banded 23 years ago!)

Norman Smith, with the help of his granddaughters, releases Salisbury.

Norman Smith, with the help of his granddaughters, releases Salisbury.

Before releasing the owl on Sunday at Salisbury Beach State Reservation, Smith gave “Salisbury” a new, high-tech gadget: a solar-paneled transmitter courtesy of Project SNOWstorm. This allows Smith, the researchers at Project SNOWstorm, and the public to track and study the owl as it travels back north to its breeding grounds.

Read about the release in the Boston Globe and find out more about the Snowy Owl Project, including how you can support this important work.

Watch a video of the release

Follow Salisbury via the Project SNOWstorm Transmitter

Be sure to check out the updates via Project SNOWstorm blog.

January 2014 Snowy Owl Update

In case you haven’t heard, this is the winter of snowy owls. And no one knows this better than Norman Smith, snowy owl expert and sanctuary directory of Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton.

For more than 30 years, Smith has been trapping snowy owls at Boston’s Logan Airport and relocating them to a safer, more hospitable environment. Read more about why snowy owls love airports.

Before Smith releases the owls, he attaches a tiny tracking transmitter. These transmitters send data such as location, temperature, and altitude, enabling researchers to learn more snowy owl behavior.

2014 Stats

The first snowy owl sighting in Massachusetts this season was on November 17, 2013. Since then, Smith has captured and relocated 87 snowy owls (70 of those from Logan). Compare that to the 8 he captured last year and a total of 53 during the 2011-2012 winter.

The numbers will only grow as snowy owls usually stick around until early April. Some have been known to linger; the latest date recorded was July 7.

Get Involved

Want to be a part of the snowy owl action this season? Here’s how you can help:

Report Cards for Our Birds

killdeerConservation is a gamble on the future. While a complex array of drivers act on our natural systems to cause rapid changes in the landscape and the species we have come to love, we need to quickly adapt to make the best choices to preserve our natural heritage. That is not easy.

How do we make plans for protecting the most vulnerable species in the state? How can we ensure that we are making the right choices when we advocate for land acquisition and management? How can we be sure that our grandchildren will have the same opportunities to find wonder and solace in the Nature of Massachusetts?

One of the actions Mass Audubon took 10 years ago to help us prepare for the changing world we face today was to get a real inventory of the changes we had seen over the previous 35 years, and us that to help set priorities for our actions for the next 10 years. That inventory was the Massachusetts Breeding Bird Atlas 2.

From 2007 to 2011, more than 650 of your friends and neighbors joined Mass Audubon to conduct the massive Breeding Bird Atlas 2. We combed every bit of the Commonwealth, from Williamstown to New Marlboro, and from Nantucket to Salisbury in search of breeding birds. We compared the results of that work to work done in the 1970s and the results are amazing.

BBA2We have two reports for you to dig into to learn all about the changes in the 222 species that nest in the state. First, we have the Massachusetts Breeding Bird Atlas 2—available as an eBook at iTunes, on our website species-by-species, and, coming soon, a print-on-demand book.

Next, we have a summary of this work, State of the Birds 2013, which gives you the highlights of the Atlas project, and walks you through the planning process of designing recovery plans for declining species.

These documents are a milestone for Mass Audubon and for our members. Join us by reading, glancing through, browsing or devouring these document, then join us for discussion about what these data mean for the state and the region, and for our plans to continue to be the leader in protecting the birds of the state. Start the journey right here.

– Joan Walsh, Director of Bird Monitoring

Snowy Owls & Airports: How You Can Help

NormanSmithSnowyOwlThere has been a lot of news coverage in regards to snowy owls at airports, highlighting the fact that Norman Smith (of Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum) has been safely trapping and releasing snowy owls at Boston Logan Airport for more than 30 years.

Norman was featured on CBS Boston, the Today ShowNY Daily NewsBoston Magazine, among others.

You can help support Norman Smith’s work by making a donation to the Snowy Owl Project.

Read more about this year’s snowy owl irruption in our Snowy Owl Update.

A Stream Set Free

After months of preparation—and a nail-biting pause during the government shutdown—Mass Audubon and its partners have removed a deteriorating bridge and dam at Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Pittsfield. Now Sackett Brook flows wild and free, alongside a newly planted forest. The project is good news for wildlife, and it’s also fun to watch:

About the Dam

The dam at Sackett Brook was built in the 1930s to make a private reservoir for swimming and fishing. The altered streamflow eroded riverbanks in places, and caused sediment to build up in others, impairing the quality of the brook for plants and animals.

Fast-forward to recent years; the dam was now obsolete and the bridge was in poor condition, and, said Berkshire Wildlife Sanctuaries director René Laubach, these structures had “disrupted habitats for 80 years”. It was time to set Sackett Brook free.

Restoring the Stream

Removing a dam—even a little one—is no small task. To complete the Sackett Brook Restoration Project, Mass Audubon worked with state and local partners, and funding was provided by the City of Pittsfield. Timing was important: the structure had to be removed before wood turtles, a state-listed rare species, settled into the brook to overwinter.

The project was planned for October 2013. In late September, the final federal permit was on the way. But then came the government shutdown. Mass Audubon and its partners waited nervously; the window of opportunity was rapidly closing. Fortunately, the Army Corps of Engineers came through in time to begin the project in earnest. Heavy construction was done by October 29, and a new streamside forest was planted in early November.

Benefits for Wildlife—and Beyond

The restored brook and forest will provide habitat for birds and other wildlife. It’s hoped that the free-flowing water, shaded by new trees, will support a healthy population of wood turtles, and enable the brook to stay cooler even as the climate changes.

The project helps fisheries, too. Sackett Brook has several trout species, including native brook trout. With the dam gone, these species can now travel freely throughout the watershed. White sucker, slimy sculpin, and small fish like dace will also benefit from this new freedom.

It’s a big win for students, too. Mass Audubon also worked with nearby schools to use the project as a teaching tool. Elementary students explored the stream’s ecology, and high school students recorded before-and-after footage. Armed with newfound knowledge, they will help encourage a healthy future for all our waterways.