It has been quite a year, to say the least. Many folks use Thanksgiving as a time to reflect on the past year and give thanks for the goodness in their lives, especially in challenging times. While 2020 has certainly been challenging, we have also seen more people than ever getting outdoors at our sanctuaries and discovering the powerful benefits that time in the outdoors brings to our physical and mental well-being. So what better way to give thanks and give back than spending more time in nature?
This year, Mass Audubon is encouraging as many people as possible to get outside and hike with us the weekend after Thanksgiving during Hike-a-thon 2020. Anyone can join Hike-a-thon from anywhere, and all types of hikes are encouraged, from a stroll around the neighborhood to trying out one of our universally accessible All Persons Trails to taking on a challenging summit hike. You can even join a naturalist-guided walk hosted by one of our sanctuaries!
And since it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without some wild turkey photos, here are five shots of turkeys out for a “Turkey Trot” of their own from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.
They’re here! Snowy Owls have arrived from their breeding grounds in the Arctic and can be spotted at Plum Island, Duxbury Beach, and other open, treeless areas near the coast through March—if you make the trip to see Snowy Owls this winter, please protect these beautiful raptors by viewing them from a safe and respectful distance at public sites and do not approach them.
Norman Smith, the former director of Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum, is keeping busy in his retirement by continuing his Snowy Owl rescue and research efforts: The first report of a Snowy Owl at Logan Airport this season came in on November 5, so he hurried down to capture the owl, take some measurements and research notes, and release it at Duxbury Beach.
Norman reports that it was a healthy “hatch-year” bird (meaning it was born this past summer), which suggests there was good breeding this year in the region of the Arctic where this particular owl was born. Historically, since he started with the Snowy Owl Project in 1981, Norman would capture almost all hatch-year birds, but the past several winters saw predominantly adults arriving in Massachusetts, a poor sign for breeding success. Norman says his colleagues in Greenland reported their best breeding year since 1998 this past summer, while others in Barrow, Alaska, reported no breeding at all, so it can vary dramatically by location due to a number of factors, including climate change.
Snowy Owls predominantly feed on rodents called lemmings, so the success of lemming populations affects Snowy Owl populations: when there’s a boom in lemmings, we see a rise in the number of hatch-year owls traveling south. Lemmings are now facing increased pressure from climate change, such as rising temperatures, milder winters, shifting weather patterns, and changes in vegetation, which makes breeding success more difficult. So a decline in hatch-year Snowy Owls can signal climate impacts across entire food chains.
Wearing masks in public in a great way to protect yourself, protect those around you, and help slow the spread of COVID-19. Since we’re all wearing masks in public for the foreseeable future, we thought it might be fun to highlight a few mask-wearers from the animal kingdom, as well.
Small but mighty, kinglets are barely bigger than hummingbirds, weighing less than half an ounce, and yet they are still capable of surviving in remarkably cold environments, in some regions overwintering in places where nighttime temperatures can fall below 0°F. Their preference for the upper canopy of thick stands of tall conifers, especially spruce and fir, coupled with their diminutive size, makes them difficult to spot, but fall migration is likely your best chance.
Both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned kinglets are migrating from northern forests to their wintering grounds and passing through Massachusetts this time of year, but only individuals of the golden variety tend to linger beyond the fall migration period. You’ll need a keen ear to pinpoint the very piercing call of the male Golden-crowned Kinglet, which is so high-pitched that some older birders find that they lose the ability to hear the highest notes as they age.
The Northern Saw-whet Owl is an small, elusive creature. It clocks in at no more than 4 ounces and is about the size of a robin, but is still a fearsome hunter of small mammals (and occasionally small birds). Nocturnal and secretive, it is rare to spot one in the wild, but ongoing banding and tracking efforts have shown they are far more abundant than they seem.
Wondering about the name? It comes from the sound they make, which early birders like John James Audubon compared to the sound of a saw blade being sharpened (“to whet” is to hone or sharpen a blade).
While many saw-whets overwinter in Massachusetts, a good number also migrate south for the winter, and usually around this time of year and into early November. Keep an eye on cedar trees or dense thickets for owls roosting during the day, and you might just get lucky, but in the meantime, here are five photos of saw-whet owls you can enjoy right now.
Pumpkins are the quintessential symbol of fall. Native to North America, pumpkins are believed to have been domesticated for at least 7,000 years, originally cultivated by Mesoamerican peoples for food and medicine. Today, they are grown in incredible quantities around the world, in large part to meet the needs of all the autumn-loving pumpkin carvers and pie-eaters who look forward to this time of year.
Want more pumpkin everything? Check to see if there’s a pumpkin carving program at a sanctuary near you or check out our collection of pumpkin-themed activities for Young Explorers, including stencils for pumpkin decorating, instructions for making your own pumpkin bird feeder, and cool experiments for “pumpkin scientists.” That’s a lot of pumpkins!
And while you’re at it, why not swing by a nearby farm to support the local food movement and pick up your decorative gourds and soon-to-be jack-o-lantern subjects? You’ll be glad you did!
After a cool, wet spring and a hot, dry summer (ideal conditions for spectacular fall foliage), nature is coming alive with reds, oranges, and yellows as plants gradually cease photosynthesis, lose their green-colored chlorophyll, and enter a dormant phase for the winter.
Many folks, it seems, have noticed that this annual spectacle can be doubly beautiful when reflected on the surface of water, so here are five “impressionistic” photo contest entries of fall foliage viewed “through the looking glass.”
Check out our fall foliage guide for great hikes and fall activities, the science behind fall foliage, and even fall photography tips for great shots like these. The 2020 Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest is officially closed, but now is a great time to get your landscape shots in for next year’s contest!
“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”
The Song Sparrow is a welcome visitor to fields, farms, parks, and gardens throughout Massachusetts. One of the first birds that many novice birders learn to identify by sound, the aptly named Song Sparrow may be heard singing its bright and cheery song from sunup to sundown from spring to fall.
The Song Sparrow took home the title of “most widely distributed bird” in Massachusetts in both of our Breeding Bird Atlas surveys. While many sparrow species are struggling to maintain their numbers, the irrepressible Song Sparrow seems to be holding its own. Its massive breeding range, adaptability, and ready use of almost any open or semi-open habitat have helped the species remain practically ubiquitous even in the face of suburbanization and other major landscape changes. Still, despite the stability of its breeding footprint, the Song Sparrow has demonstrated significant declines in overall abundance over the last half-century, suggesting a need for continued monitoring and conservation efforts.
While Song Sparrows can be found in Massachusetts year-round, you may see an uptick in their numbers in the fall as migrants pass through from their northern breeding grounds on their way to warmer places to over-winter. Look for a streaky sparrow perched on low shrubs in open, scrubby, often wet areas, pumping its tail in flight as it flits from bush to bush, and listen for the clear, crisp notes of the colorful repertoire of songs for which it is named.
This is your last chance to enter the 2020 Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest! The deadline for entries is September 30, so enjoy these five submissions from past years and send us your own nature photography today!
“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily…is wasteful and ridiculous excess.”
William Shakespeare, King John Act 4, Scene 2
The quote above seems fitting for this week’s featured creature: the lovely Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui). As if the vibrant flowers they grace in search of nectar were not gorgeous enough, Painted Ladies seem to adorn them even further with a near-excessive beauty.
Found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica, Painted Ladies were once known as Cosmopolitan butterflies for their wide distribution, the widest of any butterfly in the world. What’s more, they are extremely adaptable and can be found in a variety of settings from the suburbs to the mountains and everywhere in between. More than 100 host plants have been identified for them, but they love thistle in particular.
You may have spotted iconic Monarch butterflies passing through Massachusetts on their way south, but they’re not the only orange migrating butterfly: Painted Ladies are also heading southward, following the seasonal availability of food sources. They breed year-round, and many successive generations are spawned along their migratory routes, but they don’t overwinter in cold climates—adults must migrate to warmer, more agreeable breeding conditions through the winter or will perish when freezing temperatures set it.
Here are five photos of beautiful Painted Ladies form our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Only two more weeks to enter the 2020 photo contest, so submit your beautiful nature photography today!
Over the course of the 2020 Photo Contest, we will be highlighting 5 photos from the previous month’s entries on Facebook and asking fans to select their favorite. This is just a fun way of sharing some of the amazing entries and doesn’t have to do with the official judging process.
You can pick your favorite by “liking” it on Facebook. Not a Facebook user? Let us know your top pick in the comments. And, there’s still time to enter the contest—the deadline is September 30!