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!
It’s springtime, which means the parade of cute, fluffy baby animals is about to really take off! This week, we’ve got five adorable photos of Canada Goose babies, or goslings as they’re properly called.
The Canada Goose (not Canadian Goose!) is the only species of goose that breeds in Massachusetts, although a few others may be spotted passing through outside the breeding season. They don’t typically migrate, either, instead moving to areas where the water isn’t frozen as the temperatures drop in winter.
The female Canada Goose selects the nest site, usually a slightly elevated spot near the water. The nest is a shallow depression made with plant material and lined with down. She lays a total of 4–7 eggs—only one per day—and does not begin to incubate full-time until the clutch is complete.
The male stands guard and may show aggression if the nest is threatened, so be sure to maintain a respectful distance. The goslings hatch after 25–28 days and are born precocial, meaning that they are able to walk, swim, and feed themselves almost immediately after hatching. The young stay with their parents through the first year of life.
A welcome and colorful sign of spring, Painted Turtles are already out sunning themselves after a long, cold winter spent buried under the mud at the bottom of ponds and lakes across the region.
Each fall, as water temperatures drop, Painted Turtles, like many other reptiles, will enter a deep sleep known as brumation—the cold-blooded equivalent of hibernation in mammals—in order to survive the winter. Growth stops, their heart rate slows to a few beats per minute, and their body temperatures drop to conserve energy. For months, they rely on built-up stores of glycogen, a special type of sugar, for the little bit of energy they need to stay alive during brumation.
Unlike warm-blooded hibernators that are slow to rouse in the spring, it’s often much easier for brumaters to wake up as the weather warms, so it’s not uncommon to see a Painted Turtle out basking as early as February if there has been a warming spell or particularly mild winter.
Visit our website to learn all about the ten native species of turtles (plus one invasive) that can be found in Massachusetts as well as what to do if you find a turtle crossing the road and enjoy these five photos of Painted Turtles soaking up the sunshine from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Have you seen any Painted Turtles out on your springtime walks and bike rides? Let us know in the comments!
While any amount of time spent in nature has been shown to boost your mood, reduce stress levels, and improve overall health and wellbeing, there is something particularly soothing about the gentle, continuous babbling of a forest stream. Close your eyes and picture a quiet spot in the woods somewhere, with moss-covered rocks and warm sunlight filtering down through the canopy, dappling the water and leaf litter with a haphazard checkerboard of verdant light.
Getting outside to enjoy special places like these can be challenging right now, so here are five gorgeous photos of babbling brooks from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest for you to enjoy. We hope that imagining yourself in the gentle repose of these scenes will bring you a moment of peace, serenity, and clarity.
Many a novice birder have heard a soft, mournful cooing in their back yard and made a mad dash to their window expecting to see an owl, only to find instead a portly, long-tailed Mourning Dove dressed in shades of soft brown and grey, pecking about for seeds that have fallen from feeders.
On the ground, Mourning Doves often look plump and dainty, walking with mincing steps and bobbing their heads as they look for food. In flight, however, they are entirely different birds. Remarkably swift and agile, they fly straight and fast on whistling wings.
A common sight year-round, Mourning Doves are generally unbothered by humans. When they’re not breeding or nesting, they frequently form large flocks and are often found perching on telephone wires and lamp posts in groups of a dozen or more. They are able to mate throughout the year but typically do so from spring to fall. Breeding pairs are often seen gently preening each other’s necks as a sweet bonding behavior. And while they typically make their nests in bushes and trees, they’ve been known to take advantage of any horizontal surface, such as the back of a wicker patio couch or the upturned head of a push broom left outside!
Here are five fantastic photos of Mourning Doves from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest—let us know in the comments if you’ve seen any in your neighborhood, particularly any wacky nesting sites!
“Solemnity is what they express—fit representatives of the night.”
—Henry David Thoreau
The shy but stocky Barred Owl does indeed cut a solemn figure, with its soulful, dark brown, almost black eyes and stripes of mottled brown and white crossing its body.
Many nighttime travelers in the New England woods have been asked, who cooks for you, who cooks for you all? by a Barred Owl. Its deep, resonant voice carries well in the moist, forested woodlands that the species prefers during the breeding season. They prefer natural tree cavities and human-made nest boxes for their nesting sites, preferably high enough up to avoid predators like weasels and raccoons.
Barred Owls are quiet and elusive, but since they don’t migrate at all, they don’t tend to move around all that much, generally adhering to a territory of no more than a few square miles their entire lives. Although their territories may sometimes overlap, Barred Owls do their best to avoid their cousins, Great Horned Owls—their greatest predator.