On August 7, 1989, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the first National Lighthouse Day in commemoration of the bicentennial date of the founding of the U.S. Lighthouse Service in 1789. Although only an official national holiday for that year, National Lighthouse Day continues to be celebrated on August 7 by aficionados and lighthouse organizations around the country.
It’s a great way to commemorate an important part of America’s rich maritime history and the first public works program undertaken by the newly formed United States government. Historic lighthouses—and the stalwart folks who tended and maintained them—protected our coastlines and guided our sailors to safety for centuries.
Lighthouse groups all along the coast offer public tours, museums, and presentations for those interested in learning more about this important national resource and heritage:
Mass Audubon’s Eastern Point and Straitsmouth Island wildlife sanctuaries offer fantastic opportunities to visit historic lighthouses, though the latter is only accessible via kayak in-season.
Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary offers guided kayak tours of Sandy Point Lighthouse and Barnstable Harbor starting in September.
Even simpler to enjoy, here are five gorgeous photos of lighthouses from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Submit your own photographs of the beautiful nature and scenery of Massachusetts today!
Voting has closed and Lisa Beskin’s remarkable underwater photograph of lilypads was the winner for the month of June! If you’re not already, follow us on Facebook to vote for the next “Facebook Fave” in July!
When summer heats up, it’s time to hit the water! Whether your vessel of choice is a canoe, kayak, sailboat, rowboat, or paddleboard, nothing beats the feeling of the paddle breaking the surface or the wind catching the sail on a sunny, summer day.
Why not check out an upcoming paddling program at a Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary near you, or check with your local sanctuary to see if they offer canoe or kayak rentals (covid regulations may affect availability) for your next amphibious adventure?
And in the meantime, get inspired by these five photos of folks getting out and enjoying the life aquatic from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Don’t forget to take some photos of your next paddle and submit them to this year’s contest by September 30!
Aside from humans, beavers are the only mammal that alters their habitat to meet their needs, which they accomplish by damming streams to form ponds. This behavior actually benefits other species (including people) as well.
Because of the flooding beavers create, trees often die off and the dead “snags” provide nesting sites for Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, Tree Swallows, and other birds. These new ponds and wetlands become homes for amphibians, turtles, fish, otters, muskrats, and other animals.
Beaver-created wetlands also enhance human habitat by storing and slowly releasing floodwater, which controls downstream flooding. They improve water quality by trapping, removing, or transforming excess nutrients, sediment, and pollution. These areas can also recharge and maintain groundwater levels, providing flow to streams even during droughts, which are expected to increase in frequency due to climate change.
If you’re looking to spot an industrious beaver, the best time of day is dawn and dusk, as they are crepuscular animals. To learn more about beavers (including how to tell the difference between beavers and muskrats) and how to handle various beaver-related issues, check out our all about beavers page. If you’ve got some great wildlife shots of your own, we’d love to see them! Enter the Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest today!
The Bald Eagle has been a powerful emblem for not hundreds but thousands of years: Long before it was adopted as the official emblem of the United States in 1782, the Bald Eagle was revered by many Indigenous peoples as sacred for its majesty and strength.
Despite their symbolic significance, Bald Eagles faced near extinction in the 1950s and 1960s due to the widespread use of the pesticide DDT. In 1982, the MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife (MassWildlife) teamed up with Mass Audubon to launch a project to restore the Bald Eagle as a breeding bird in the Commonwealth. There are now more than 70 active Bald Eagle nests in the Bay State, and 2020 saw the first nesting effort on Cape Cod since 1905, a truly remarkable conservation success.
Plentiful and easy to spot, the dragonflies and damselflies that make up the order Odonata are the largest insects you’re likely to see in Massachusetts.
There are more than 5,000 known species of dragonflies, with over 180 recorded in New England alone. They come in a dazzling array of colors, some even appearing iridescent in sunlight. Best of all, adult odonates eat a steady diet of other flying insects, including those pesky mosquitoes and black flies.
Here are five gorgeous photos of “dragons and damsels” from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2021 photo contest is open now, so submit your beautiful photos of the nature of Massachusetts today!
Pollinators are creatures that help plants reproduce by spreading a powdery material called pollen among flowers of the same species when the sticky pollen attaches to their bodies—many pollinators have evolved to be extra “hairy” so even more pollen will stick to them. Animals like bees, butterflies, moths, birds, and bats pollinate a majority of fruits and vegetables (i.e. non-grain crops) used in agriculture. But pollinators don’t just help plants; they rely on plants to survive and reproduce, sourcing critical nutrients from energy-rich nectar and protein-rich pollen.
Meet the Pollinators
There are many different types of pollinators in Massachusetts—bees are best-known for their pollinating prowess, but other insects such as wasps, butterflies, moths, and some flies and beetles, as well as birds like hummingbirds, are important pollinators, too. Nectar-feeding bats also pollinate plants, but are not typically found in Massachusetts—our native bats are mostly insectivores.
Read more about pollinators and what you can do to help them on our website and enjoy these five photos of pollinators that you might spot hovering around the flowers in your neighborhood this summer.
As spring gives way to summer, young ducks that were but mere hatchlings a few weeks ago are growing rapidly. Mallard ducklings remain with their mother after hatching for about 50–60 days until they can fly on their own. Mother Mallards keep their fluffy little ducklings together for protection against predators and favor open water for the same reason, so you’ll often see them paddling along in a cluster or an orderly line.
It takes Mallards over a year to reach full adulthood, but they can begin flying at about three or four months when their wings fully develop and the blue/purple “speculum” feathers on their wings grow in. Not long after that, their bills change color, too, which means they can finally be visually differentiated by sex—males have yellow bills while females’ are black and orange. The plumage is still similar, but by ten months of age, the males will grow into their more vibrant colors: emerald-green heads, white neck rings, reddish breast plumage, and a curly central tail feather known as a drake feather.
Have you seen Mallard ducklings near bodies of water in your community? Can you guess how old they are based on their plumage? Check out our tips for when ducks nest in your backyard and enjoy these five adorable photos of ducklings from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.
The 2021 Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest is now open! We’ll be accepting submissions until September 30 of photos that highlight people in nature, capture the beauty of Massachusetts wildlife, and celebrate our stunning landscapes and habitats.
But remember, photography is a creative art, not a science—that means experimenting is strongly encouraged and rules are meant to be broken!
Rule of Thirds
To achieve a balanced-looking shot, try to imagine that the frame is divided into a three-by-three grid and place your subjects along the dividing lines and intersection points.
You can offset the “visual weight” of your subject by counter-balancing it with another focal point of lesser importance in the same frame. Here, the hummingbird is balanced by the jewelweed flowers it has its eye on.
Use naturally occurring visual lines to draw the viewer’s eye toward a specific point in the distance.
The human eye instinctively gravitates toward symmetry and regular patterns—try focusing on the shape and texture of the subject to best capture this.
Tell a Story
As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” It’s amazing the complexity of stories and emotions you can capture in a single fraction of a second!
A bird as brilliantly colored as the Scarlet Tanager might seem at first to be impossible to overlook. But as it happens, this vibrant forest bird is improbably gifted at evading the birder’s eye, even as it moves sluggishly about the forest canopy, singing its hoarse song as it searches for caterpillars to eat.
During spring migration and summer, look for a flash of red up high in the canopy of mature deciduous forests for a chance to spy a male Scarlet Tanager. The females will be even trickier to spot—this species is sexually dimorphic, so the yellowish-green females are significantly less vibrant than breeding-season males, although the males’ brilliant plumage fades to yellowish-green in the fall and winter.
To somewhat more easily identify both males and females, listen for the loud, distinctive chick-burrr call given by both sexes. Their song is similar to a robin’s, but with a raspier tone.
Enjoy these five photos of Scarlet Tanagers from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest and let us know in the comments if you’ve been lucky enough to spot a Tanager in your area. The 2021 photo contest opens in early June, so keep an eye out for the announcement!