Category Archives: Stuff We Love

The Great American Eclipse

On Monday, August 21, beginning at 1:30 pm, people in North America can witness a solar eclipse. While you won’t see a total eclipse here in Massachusetts, you can expect to see 60-70 percent totality, Here, Stephanie Majeau, Education Coordinator at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, shares her first experience witnessing an eclipse and what we can expect on Monday.

The dim, eerie midday light stands out the most in my memory. Beginning from its typical blue hue, the sky darkened to an unusual golden-purple glow. Surrounded by 50 or so of my fellow students on a clear May day in 1994, I excitedly placed a box over my head that I had constructed into a pinhole projector so I could safely view my first partial solar eclipse.

This was one of those rare, magical, and quirky experiences that made me fall in love with science and now, for the first time in my lifetime, a total solar eclipse will pass across the United States on Monday, August 21, from coast to coast.

Annular Solar Eclipse © Takeshi Kuboki

Annular Solar Eclipse © Takeshi Kuboki


What Is an Eclipse?

Once viewed as an ill-omen or a portent of bad luck, solar eclipses, especially total solar eclipses, are one of the most spectacular sites you can view in the sky. Still, many people don’t completely understand why eclipses happen, so let’s unpack some of the science.

Due to their relative distances from earth, both the moon and the sun appear to be equally sized when viewed from our planet’s surface. Both the earth and the moon cast shadows from the sun’s light into space and as the earth-moon system orbits the sun, the shadow of one will occasionally fall on the surface of the other. For a solar eclipse, the moon has to be between the sun and the earth, much like it is during the monthly new moon, when we see only the moon’s dark side.

So why don’t we have a solar eclipse every month? Because the moon’s orbit around the sun is tilted. The plane of the earth’s orbit around the sun is called the “ecliptic”; the moon’s orbit is tilted 5º from the ecliptic and only intersects that plane along two lines called nodes. So in order to see a total solar eclipse, a new moon has to happen at the same time the moon is crossing the ecliptic. (A cloudless day is also helpful, of course.)

Total Solar Eclipses

The “path of totality” is where the darkest part of the moon’s shadow (the umbra) passes over the earth. Surrounding the edge of the umbra is the lighter part of the shadow called the penumbra. Stand in the path of the umbra, and you’ll see a total eclipse. Stand in the path of the penumbra and you’ll see the sun partially obscured in a partial eclipse. While some parts of the United States will see a total eclipse, Massachusetts will pass through the penumbra and witness a partial eclipse next Monday.

Eclipse Viewing at Arches © NPS Photo by Neal Herbert

Eclipse Viewing at Arches © NPS Photo by Neal Herbert

Protect Your Eyes

It is important to remember that the only safe time to directly observe the sun with unprotected eyes is during the totality of a total eclipse, when the sun is completely blocked by the moon. To safely view the entire eclipse event, you can make a “pinhole projector” to indirectly view the sun, get a pair of eclipse glasses that are certified ISO 12212-2 “filters for direct observation of the sun” (many public libraries have these available), or use a telescope outfitted with proper filters for direct sun viewing. Improper eclipse viewing can lead to permanent eye damage.

Solar and lunar eclipses occur two to five times a year, but a solar eclipse passing over your corner of the globe is rare. If you are unable to travel to the path of totality, fear not— another total solar eclipse is only seven years away. The path of totality of the next eclipse will cross portions of northern New England on Monday, April 8, 2024.

Young Explorers Coloring Contest: Warblers by Number

In the spring issue of Explore member newsletter, we asked kids to fill in a color-by-numbers page of native warblers and send us a picture of themselves with their completed coloring sheet. One lucky artist will win a copy of the Sibley Birds Coloring Field Journal, signed by David Sibley himself, and the entries have been pouring in!

Here are a few of the entries we have received so far. It’s hard not to love seeing all these smiles! If you haven’t already, it’s not too late to enter the contest. Simply download and print the Warblers By Number activity sheet from our website and send us a picture of you with your completed coloring page. The winner will be chosen on April 14, so don’t delay!

Most Popular Facebook Posts of 2016

No surprise, but our most popular Facebook posts of the year involved wildlife in one form or another. Enjoy this top 10 and do let us know in the comments what you would like to see more of in the coming year!

1. A Dove in the Cloud

2. Snowy Owl Release

3. Turkeys at HQ

4. Hummingbird Eggs

5. A Moose at Habitat

6. An Albino Hummingbird

7. Big Night

8. Snowy Owl Video

9. Turtle Crossing

10. Banding Falcons

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!

Lighting Up the Pru

31nol_logo_2016_bThe Pru will turn blue—Mass Audubon blue, that is—this Wednesday, December 21, at 5 pm! We’ve been selected to be part of this year’s 31 Nights of Light, hosted by the Prudential Center.

This special event was created in 2009 as a way to bring awareness to nonprofit organizations during the holidays. Each night, the top of the Prudential Tower is lit a different color in support of that night’s partner.

Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton will be on site along with Boston Nature Center (BNC) Director Julie Brandlen and BNY Mellon YouthLeaders to give some remarks before flipping the switch on behalf of Mass Audubon.

In or around the Pru thisWednesday? Stop by to say “hello” during the lighting ceremony, and meet some of Boston’s young conservation leaders!

Looking for the perfect gift? Think outside the box!

Gift Memberships

This holiday season give the gift of rivers, forests, marshes, and meadows. For a limited time, Mass Audubon gift memberships are just $32—half off the regular rate!

Members enjoy free admission to more than 50 wildlife sanctuaries, and many other great benefits, including Explore, our quarterly newsletter, and member-only discounts on walks, talks, classes, and camps.

And membership is the gift that will keep on giving, as your purchase will help protect wildlife and wild lands in Massachusetts.

Learn more about all the great benefits of Mass Audubon membership, and purchase your gift memberships today for half off the regular rate.

Gift Memberships will be delivered with a personal note from you. An e-card notification to your gift membership recipient is available for memberships purchased online.

Offer valid through November 30, 2016, for new members only.

20% Off – Cyber Monday Sale in the Audubon Shop

20% Off Cyber Monday Sale in the Audubon Shop Online







For 24 hours only, receive 20% off online purchases in the Audubon Shop.*

Be sure to check out our 2016 Holiday Gift Guide, loaded with ideas for the birders, nature lovers, and outdoors enthusiasts on your list.

*Offer valid only on Monday, November 28. Some exclusions apply. Online sales only.

Audubon Shop Online Gets a Makeover

We are thrilled to officially announce the launch of the newly redesigned Audubon Shop online store!

The new Audubon Shop web store is now responsive and mobile-friendly with a clean, fresh look that we think you’ll love.

We hope you find the new site easy to navigate and simple to use. Take a look around and let us know what you think in the comments. Suggestions for improvement? We are all ears!

Audubon Shop Screen Capture