If you’ve been spending many of your pleasant summer evenings in a wooded area, perhaps sitting in your backyard or a local park, you may have heard a short, high-pitched trill pierce the stillness and thought, “What on Earth kind of bird is that?!” That’s no bird! It’s the Gray Treefrog.
These minute masters of camouflage clock in at just 1.25″–2.25″ in length, with the females often slightly larger than the males. They can change their color based on their environment, ranging from green to gray to brown, but young frogs are typically bright green.
Found everywhere in Massachusetts except the islands, Gray Treefrogs can be heard (but difficult to spot) around dusk from spring through summer as they look for mates and establish their territories.
Enjoy these five fabulous photos of Gray Treefrogs from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Don’t forget to submit your own nature photography, as the 2020 contest is now open!
Known far and wide for their haunting, eerie calls, Common Loons are true water birds, venturing ashore only to mate and incubate eggs. In monogamous pairs, they raise broods of just 1–2 chicks per year, with a long fledging period of about 12 weeks.
Although loon chicks are capable of diving and swimming within a couple of days of birth, they are easy prey for predators like mink, eagles, snapping turtles, or even other loons. To increase their chances of survival, they often take shelter on their parents’ backs, going for rides around the lake until they are big and strong enough to survive on their own.
Here are five adorable photos from our annual photo contest of loon chicks hitching a “loon-back ride” with one of their parents. The 2020 contest is now open, so submit your beautiful nature photography today!
The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) is one of the most common and easily recognizable butterflies in Massachusetts. Both males and females will have broad, yellow wings edged with black as well as four of their namesake black “tiger stripes” along each of their forewings. Females have an extra swash of shimmery blue along their tales that the males lack. Interestingly, females may also come in an uncommon “black morph” where black or dark gray replaces yellow on the wings—a genetic phenomenon called “dimorphic coloration.”
Tiger swallowtails are large, with wingspans stretching from 3–5.5″. They are typically solitary, but if you’re lucky, you may encounter a vibrant swarm of young males fluttering around a mud puddle or birdbath, drinking the water and absorbing minerals needed for reproduction, a behavior known as “puddling.”
June 22–28 is National Pollinators Week! Habitat loss, pesticide use, and other factors threaten many of the butterfly species we cherish, along with many of our other native pollinators, including bees, bats, birds, and beetles. Learn about creating a pollinator garden and other ways you can help pollinators, including butterflies, on our website.
To honor some of nature’s most colorful and celebrated pollinators, here is a collection of Tiger Swallowtail photographs from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2020 photo contest is now open, so submit your nature photos today!
The most widespread of all snake species in Massachusetts, the Eastern Garter Snake can frequently be spotted out sunning itself on rocks and logs in sunny forest clearings, grassy meadows, backyards, and in freshwater habitats.
While garter snakes are basically harmless, they may release an unpleasant-smelling secretion when they are handled so, as with all wildlife, it’s best to leave them to their business and admire them from afar. Snakes that are sunning may have just eaten, so handling them may cause them digestive problems. Conversely, snakes that are hiding may be getting ready to shed, which can affect their vision, so they may be more defensive if they cannot see well. It suffices to say that it’s better for both snakes and people if we can avoid harassing them by attempting to handle them.
Garters lack fangs or, strictly speaking, venom glands, although they do have a small amount of toxin in their saliva that is only dangerous for amphibians and other small prey animals. Far more interesting than its offensive capabilities is the snake’s chemical defense strategy: Not only are garter snakes resistant to naturally occurring poisons from their toxic prey (including newts and toads), but they can also retain the toxins in their bodies, thereby becoming toxic themselves and deterring potential predators. Amazing!
National Trails Day, the first Saturday in June, is a day to recognizes all the incredible benefits that hiking and walking trails provide for recreation and quality time spent in nature. It’s also an opportunity to thank the many volunteers, land agencies, trail developers, park employees, and property manages who build, maintain, and steward the trails for the enjoyment of all.
We are thrilled that we were able to open trails on many of our wildlife sanctuaries for local visitation last week. Visit our website for information about:
Here are five photos of people enjoying the trails at Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest—which is now officially open for 2020! Not all of these sites are re-opened to the public yet, but we will continue to open more sanctuaries as soon as we are able to safely do so.
Every year in late spring and early summer, adult female turtles cross the roads of Massachusetts in search of nest sites. One of the biggest (literally) culprits is the Snapping Turtle.
Found in all sorts of water bodies, from rivers to lakes to marshes, the Snapping Turtle can grow up to 19” long. It has three ridges on its carapace (the top half of its shell), a spiky tail, and a decidedly “dinosaur-ish” look, with good reason—The first turtles appeared over 200 million years ago, making them even more ancient than their reptilian cousins, snakes and lizards.
Many people assume that something is wrong when a turtle is crossing the road. With best of intentions, they mistakenly attempt to return it to water, take it home, or take it somewhere that seems safer to release it. But the best thing to do is leave it alone or, if threatened by traffic, move it to the side of the road in the direction it was already heading. The turtle knows where it wants to go and may have been nesting in the same spot for many years—or even decades.
But remember, Snapping Turtles can be aggressive and have powerful jaws that can deliver a painful bite if threatened (possibly because their small lower shell or “plastron” leaves them vulnerable) and their neck can stretch the length of their shell. Never grab one by the tail—you could seriously injure the turtle. Simply give her space and let her mosey along on her way.
One of the earliest migrant warblers to arrive in Massachusetts (beginning around mid-April), the Yellow-rumped Warbler is also typically the most abundant warbler species seen during migration. It will occasionally overwinter in Massachusetts, but primarily in Barnstable County and the Islands.
There are two subspecies of the Yellow-rumped Warbler, which used to be considered two separate species. The one we see here in Massachusetts is the “Myrtle” warbler. The other subspecies, “Audubon’s” warbler is a western species, which has a yellow throat instead of white, among other subtle differences.
In summer, look for these handsome birds in open coniferous forests, darting about catching insects in midair. Their summer plumage is a striking mix of gray, black, and white, with bright yellow patches on the face, sides, and rump, although the females’ coloring will often appear more muted.
Unsurprisingly, we have a robust collection of beautiful farm landscape photos from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest, so this week we thought we’d share a few of these serene, bucolic shots, along with a special and heartfelt thank you to our local farmers—including those at our very own Mass Audubon farms—who continue to work diligently to nourish our bodies, our spirits, and our communities during this difficult time.
And while we’re at it, a shout-out to all the amazing front-line healthcare workers—you are our heroes!
After a spring rainstorm, it can seem like the forest is carpeted with fiery-orange Red Efts as they emerge from their hiding places under logs and leaf litter. Efts are actually the juvenile, terrestrial stage of the Eastern Newt’s unusual 3-part life cycle: They begin their lives in the water as tadpoles, shed their gills and spend several years on land as Red Efts, and eventually (for reasons that scientists are still trying to understand) return to the water as adults, transformed to an olive green color with a yellow belly. They are said to be capable of living up to 15 years!
Red Efts are not exactly masters of camouflage: Their striking color, which can range from yellow-orange to brick red, is an example of “aposematism” or warning coloration—it sends a signal to potential predators that they don’t make a very good snack, due to their toxic skin secretions.
Although their toxic skin protects them from most predators, it is also very porous, making them susceptible to environmental toxins, including sunscreen and bug spray. So if you happen upon a Red Eft in a vulnerable place and want to move it to a safer spot, avoid touching it directly with your hands.
Spring is a wonderful time of year as we welcome the return of some of our favorite migrant birds from their wintering grounds. One such returning traveler is the Gray Catbird, whose unforgettable feline-like mewing makes it a favorite for beginning birders learning to sharpen their ears.
Catbirds occupy the same family—Mimidae, from the Latin for “mimic”—as mockingbirds and thrashers and, as such, share the ability to imitate the sounds of other bird species and incorporate them into their own songs.
Look for Gray Catbirds in dense shrubs and tangles of vines along forest edges and old fields. From a distance, they may appear to be entirely gray, but actually sport a small black cap on top of their heads and a reddish-brown patch underneath their tails.
Enjoy these five photos of Gray Catbirds from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest and let us know if you’ve spotted (or heard) any catbirds in your neighborhood lately!