Destination Spotlight: Armenia

Located in the mountainous Caucasus region bordering Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Iran, Armenia has everything you may want in an exotic trip: history, culture, food, and birds. And this September, you can join Mass Audubon naturalist Amber Carr on a 15-day adventure. Here, a snapshot of what you could experience:

Rich History

Armenia has an ancient and complex history. Among the earliest Christian civilizations, it’s rich with historic and religious sites including Khor Virap Monastery (a pilgrimage site near Mount Ararat) and a dormant volcano just across the border in Turkey.

Among the sites you will see is Selim Caravanserai. Built in 1332 by Prince Chesar Orbelian to accommodate travelers between China and Europe, it’s one of the few artifacts left from the Silk Road.

Birds!

Bearded Vulture © Francesco Veronesi

Armenia’s country list includes 349 species of birds. Armenia lies on the main migration route between the Northern and Southern hemisphere, with species flying from as far away as South Africa.

So many of the great birding spots are near historic sites that date as far back as the 8th century BC: you’re likely see raptors near Geghard Monastery (a UNESCO world heritage site) and various species of larks near the Selim Caravanserai. Highlights include: Pied Avocet, Squacco Heron, Red-crested Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, Bearded Reedling, Long-legged Buzzard, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, and Bearded Vulture (aka Lammergeier).

A Varied and Stunning Landscape

© Clay Gilliland

Visit a semi-desert gorge occupied by a colony of Eurasian Griffons; a 500 year old juniper woodland that is home to birds such as Sombre Tit and Fire-fronted Serin; a spectacular canyon of the Azat River where cliffs are formed by basalt columns and called the “Symphony of Stones;” and drive to the highest elevations to see Alpine Accentor and Cinereous Vulture.

Food & Drink

Every day you will taste the delicious fruits grown in Armenia, including grapes, figs, pomegranates, apricots, and apples, as well as vegetables, nuts, and locally produced honey.

A variety of meat dishes as well as breads such as lavash (a thin flatbread) will fill your dinner table. Plus see how Armenian Brandy (the favorite drink of Winston Churchill) is made. You will also learn how Armenian wine is made in Areni, where the tradition dates back 6,100 years.

Adventure!

On her last visit to Armenia, Mass Audubon Council Member and frequent traveler Roxanne Etmekjian recalls one excursion that was so awe-inspiring that it was added to our tour’s itinerary. Waking up pre-dawn, you will head up the alpine mountain of Gndasar in a 4X4 to look for the elusive Caspian Snowcock in the early morning light.

View the full itinerary or contact Mass Audubon’s Travel Team to learn more.

Snowy Owl © Diane Robertson

Take 5: Grumpy Birds

Another snowed-in Monday got you feeling a little blah? These grumpy-looking birds know how you feel. Or, at least, they look like they do. At any rate, here’s hoping they’ll take a bit of the edge off your winter blues.

These photos were all submitted to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. See the 2018 photo contest winners on our website and sign up for alerts when the contest opens again for 2019.

Snowy Owl © Diane Robertson
Snowy Owl © Diane Robertson
Barn Swallows © Sherri Van den Akker
Barn Swallows © Sherri Van den Akker
Red- Tailed Hawk © Brooks Mathewson
Red- Tailed Hawk © Brooks Mathewson
Tree Swallow © Barbara Batchelder
Tree Swallow © Barbara Batchelder
Snowy Owl © David Seibel
Snowy Owl © David Seibel

What To Do This Weekend: March 2-3

Go maple sugaring, attend the Birders Meeting, learn how to raise chickens, go birding, look for animal tracks, and more at a wildlife sanctuary this weekend.

Greater Boston

Get a Behind the Scenes Look at Maple Sugaring at Moose Hill in Sharon Friday night. Try maple syrup, Mead made with our own honey and maple syrup, see our reverse osmosis machine, and get an up close tour of the evaporator in action. (adults, registration required)

As part of Magnificent Mysterious Mammals at Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton, have a close encounter mysterious and sometimes misunderstood resident mammals, the Striped Skunk. There will also be a story and a craft. (families, registration required)

Find out how to raise Backyard Chickens at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln. Topics covered in this hands-on workshop include feeding, checking for egg laying, and any other chicken questions that come up. (adults and children ages 12+, registration required)

Winter is a great time to look for signs of animals as they forage for food and shelter at Broadmoor in Natick. During an Adult and Family program, learn to identify the tracks, chews, scat, burrows and other clues left by many creatures including deer, otter, and coyote.

Go Backyard Birding at Boston Nature Center. Learn how to use binoculars, go on a bird hike, and create some seed and fruit art for the birds to enjoy. (families, registration required)

More in Greater Boston

Central Massachusetts

The Birders Meeting is this Sunday in Worcester and the theme is The Beauty of Birds. Among the speakers: Pulitzer Prize-nominated evolutionary biologist and ornithologist Richard Prum. (registration required)

Go on a Saturday Morning Bird Walk at Broad Meadow Brook in Worcester to discover the immense variety of birdlife as you explore its trails with an expert guide. (adults, registration required)

Connect with the natural world in a healing, calming, grounding, and replenishing way through a guided and gentle Forest Breathing Walk at Wachusett Meadow in Princeton. (adults and children, registration required)

More in Central Massachusetts

North Shore

Attend a Sugaring Off Tour on Saturday or Sunday at Ipswich River in Topsfield. Observe tapping and sap collection methods, watch the sap being boiled down in the sugarhouse, and get a sweet taste of the final product. (registration required)

Go Saturday Morning Birding in the Newburyport/Plum Island are — one of the best year-round birding locations in the country. Beginners and birders of all levels are welcome. (adults)

More on the North Shore

Connecticut River Valley

Get an Ecological Update at Arcadia in Easthampton and Northampton to find out what Mass Audubon is doing to protect habitat and how local wildlife populations are affected by our efforts. (adults, registration required)

More in the Connecticut River Valley

South of Boston

Head to Oak Knoll for a Family Habitat Day and explore the different habitats found around the sanctuary. Look for interesting animals, plants, and see what has visited the sanctuary. (families, registration required)

Discover the beauty of tree Buds and Bark in the Winter. Guided by local experts learn to identify local trees by their winter characteristics. (adults, registration required)

More in South of Boston

Meet the TerraCorps Crew

This year, Mass Audubon has been fortunate to welcome four members of TerraCorps to our team. TerraCorps partners with AmeriCorps to pair emerging leaders with land-based organizations in Massachusetts. The TerraCorps service members gain valuable, real-world experience, and Mass Audubon benefits from their energy, enthusiasm, ideas, and hard work.

Say “hello” to the team and read a little bit about what they are working on.

Nick Tepper

Hometown: Stow, MA
College: B.S. in Wildlife Biology from University of Vermont
Interests: Birding, reading, photography, canoeing, and breakfast food.
Working on: Creating an iNaturalist platform for Mass Audubon, estimating deer density via a citizen science camera trapping effort at Moose Hill, normalizing amphibian cover-board monitoring throughout the sanctuaries, and pioneering a window strike initiative for Boston.
Hopes for the position: Hope to make connections, and get experience in my field.
What’s next: Travel to see more of the US/world, and eventually go to grad school

Sam Kefferstan

Hometown: Andover, MA
College: B.S. in Natural Resource Conservation & B.A. in Sociology from UMass Amherst
Interests: Backpacking, fishing, baking, and photography
Working on: Incorporating best practices to facilitate diversity and inclusion at Mass Audubon, leading an Alternative Spring Break program for UMass Boston students, volunteer coordination for sugaring at Moose Hill, developing a boundary monitoring protocol for Mass Audubon sanctuaries, and pioneering a window strike initiative for Boston.
Hopes for the position: Professional networking and exposure to ecological restoration/dam removal efforts in Massachusetts.
What’s next: I would love to live out West for a few years and then serve in the PeaceCorps somewhere in South America.

Sara Semenza

Hometown: Tewksbury, MA
College: University of Rhode Island College: University of Rhode Island
Interests: Spending time outside, birding, running, playing and watching sports
Working on: Helping to standardize Mass Audubon’s nest box data collection,  updating Salt Marsh Science Project data and web content, analyzing losing ground satellite imagery providing by Boston University, and pioneering a window strike initiative for Boston.
Hopes for the position: Gaining real-life experience, setting up a study design, collecting data, and networking. I hope to continue meeting new people and expanding my knowledge of nature and conservation. I am not taking anything for granted and trying to make the most out of my experience here.
What’s next: Work for a couple of years to continue to gain experience. Then go back to school to get my masters, maybe in California. Then head home to New England.

Nicole Wilhelmi

Hometown: Grafton, MA
College: Becker College
Interests: Travel, hiking, and photography
Working on: Nature Lovers Trivia Night at Central Sanctuaries, Climate Cafe, Butterfly upcycle art project.
Hopes for the position: To make an impact to my community.
What’s next: Continue my contribution within another local nonprofit.

Gray Squirrel and Red-Tailed Hawk © David Morris

Take 5: Great Timing

There is a tremendous amount of skill that goes into capturing a great photo: lighting, exposure, composition, depth of field, and so much more. But any wildlife photographer will tell you it also takes a good deal of luck.

Here are five examples of great timing in photography—just the right balance of skill, luck, and being in the right place at the right time with the right equipment to capture an unusual shot. These photos were all submitted to our annual nature photography contest, Picture This: Your Great Outdoors. You can see the winners of past photo contests and signup to be notified when this year’s contest opens on our website.

Gray Squirrel and Red-Tailed Hawk © David Morris
Gray Squirrel and Red-Tailed Hawk © David Morris
Mallard Ducklings © Nathan Goshgarian
Mallard Ducklings © Nathan Goshgarian
Cedar Waxwing © Kim Nagy
Cedar Waxwing © Kim Nagy
White-breasted Nuthatch © David Baake
White-breasted Nuthatch © David Baake
Eastern Bluebirds © William Hottin
Eastern Bluebirds © William Hottin

What To Do This Weekend: February 23-24

Go for a nature walk, build a nestbox, look for tracks, learn how to work with wool, tap a maple tree, attend a climate cafe, and more at a wildlife sanctuary this weekend.

Eastern Bluerbird

Berkshires

During the hands-on Build a Bluebird Nestbox Workshop at Pleasant Valley in Lenox get crafty while finding out where and how to place the boxes in ideal habitats. (adults and children, registration required)

More in the Berkshires

Connecticut River Valley

Get a perfect introduction to nature during a First Child in the Woods Walk at Arcadia in Easthampton/Northampton. This one-hour hike will enable your child or children to gently discover the natural world around them and give you skills to confidently lead explorations of your own. (families, registration required)

More in the Connecticut River Valley

Central Massachusetts

Learn to identify Wildlife Tracks at Wachusett Meadow in Princeton. Get techniques and track and trail patterns while exploring the sanctuary’s diverse habitats. (families, registration required)

More in Central Massachusetts

North Shore

The theme of this week’s Sunday Morning Science at Joppa Flats in Newburyport is Papermaking & Nature Journals. Meet live creatures and design something “green.” (children ages 7-11, registration required)

Focus on Seabirds on Cape Ann. Look for many species of sea ducks, loons, grebes, and gulls as they feed and seek shelter in the cape’s many coves, inlets, and protected harbors. (adults, registration required)

More on the North Shore

Greater Boston

During the Wonders of Wool class at Drumlin Farm, get familiar with basic needle felting tools and techniques. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you catch on as you create and personalize a felted creation of your own! (adults and children ages 12+, registration required)

Celebrate Maple Sugaring at Boston Nature Center. Tap, collect, and boil down sap from the Maple trees found at the sanctuary. Enjoy a tasty maple treat as well! (adults and children, registration required)

Head to the Museum of American Bird Art in Canton to view works from young artists, part of the juried Taking Flight Exhibition.

Have fun with Animal Footprints at Broadmoor in Natick by looking for tracks and signs of otters, rabbits, deer, coyote and many other animals. (families, registration required)

More in Greater Boston

South of Boston

Attend a free Climate Cafe in Middleborough for an informal conversation on climate change and renewable energy sources . Enjoy some drinks and snacks, share your ideas, engage with your fellow community members, and learn how to how to take action! (adults and children, registration required)

Go Birding by Van with a Tutor in Marshfield. Learn the basics to set you up for a lifetime of birding adventures! (adults, registration required)

Enjoy a Family Adventure Day at Tidmarsh in Plymouth. We may read a story, make a craft, or sing songs but we will always explore the outdoors and have fun! (families, registration required)

More in South of Boston

Crowdsourcing Nature Sightings

Have you ever asked a friend for the ID of a plant or animal you didn’t recognize? Are you the friend who gets asked? Do you ever snap a photo of something you don’t recognize to research later, but you never get to it? Do you have hundreds of pictures on your phone or computer of plants and animals that you wish could be of use to someone? If you answered yes to any of these questions, consider joining iNaturalist!

What is iNaturalist?

iNaturalist is an online platform designed to connect people like you to an entire community of nature enthusiasts). Here, users share sightings of plants, fungi, and animals and in return get identifications on what’s in their images (or audio files). ID’s are consensus-based. This means other users can see your observations, and either agree or disagree with your identifications based on their own knowledge.

An observation becomes “research grade” when the majority of identifiers reach a species-level consensus about the plant, animal, or fungi in your picture. If you think your photo of an insect in your yard isn’t important enough to post, think again! All research grade observations on iNaturalist get added to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, and can then be used in scientific research and publications.

How to Use iNaturalist

One of the best parts about iNaturalist is that everyone can use it–you don’t need to be a scientist or a professional naturalist. All you need is a computer or smartphone and an interest in the natural world around you.

To get started, create a free account at iNaturalist.org or via the smartphone app. Then, upload identifiable pictures or audio with a location and a date and give it your best ID (if you have no clue, the platform will often suggest what it thinks is in your photo). Within minutes or hours, other users will see your observation and will help to identify it.

iNaturalist and Mass Audubon

Mass Audubon is launching an iNaturalist initiative to compile a catalog of the biodiversity present at our wildlife sanctuaries. All of our sanctuaries are now a “Project” that you can contribute to. Make sure to scroll through the leaderboard to see the standing of your favorite sanctuary. Then get outside, enjoy the outdoors, and start observing!

— Nick Tepper, TerraCorps

Eastern Screech-Owl © Amy Powers-Smith

Take 5: Owl Things Considered

It may still be cold and wintery outside, but things are heating up for our breeding owl species. Late winter is the height of the courtship and mating season for most owl species so there’s a good chance you may hear a “hoo’s hoo” of mating calls (although not all owls make “hoo” sounds!) on your next stroll through the forest. Great Horned Owls, for example, are one of our earliest breeders and begin hooting to attract mates as early as December.

Many owls roost in tree cavities during the day and those that do will also lay their eggs in tree cavities, although a roosting cavity is not necessarily also a nesting cavity. Lots of nature photographers love to capitalize on this fact to capture some wonderful photos of “owl peek-a-boo”. Here are five great shots of owls in tree cavities that were entered into our annual photo contest. For your own chance to glimpse one of these gorgeous raptors, join one of the dozens of Owl Prowls happening at our sanctuaries this time of year.

Eastern Screech-Owls © Peter Bartholomew
Eastern Screech-Owls © Peter Bartholomew
Eastern Screech-Owl © Richard Cuzner
Eastern Screech-Owl © Richard Cuzner
Barred Owls © Fred Harwood
Barred Owls © Fred Harwood
Eastern Screech-Owl © Amy Powers-Smith
Eastern Screech-Owl © Amy Powers-Smith
Eastern Screech-Owl © Jeff Martineau
Eastern Screech-Owl © Jeff Martineau
Red Fox Pups © Janet MacCausland

What To Do This Weekend: Feb 16-17

Look for wildlife after dark, go on a nature walk, learn about animal tracks, see a nature documentary, and more at a wildlife sanctuary this weekend.

Red Fox Pups © Janet MacCausland
Red Fox Pups © Janet MacCausland

Greater Boston

Head to Broadmoor in Natick for a Full Moon Family Owl Prowl to search and listen for our resident Screech, Barred and Great Horned Owls. (families, registration required)

Travel with Trailside Director and raptor researcher Norman Smith to several Massachusetts locations in search of Winter Raptors. (adults, registration required)

Take a Naturalist Walk at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln to explore the sanctuary’s different habitats. (adults and children ages 12+)

Go on a Winter Nature Walk at Boston Nature Center to observe the tracks left by animals and spot birds in their wintering plumage. (families, registration required)

More in Greater Boston

South of Boston

Once dusk has settled take a Snow Moon Hike at Tidmarsh in Plymouth. Stop, look, and listen for creatures that awaken with the setting of the sun. (adults and children ages 10+, registration required)

More in South of Boston

Cape Cod

Watch the PBS Nature film Fox Tales In Wellfleet for an intimate views of red foxes’ lives–from inside a den with fox kits; young foxes wrestling for dominance; and even the view from inside a garbage can as a fox makes a raid. (tickets required)

More on the Cape & Islands

North Shore

Go Saturday Morning Birding in the Newburyport/Plum Island are — one of the best year-round birding locations in the country. Beginners and birders of all levels are welcome. (adults)

More on the North Shore

Central Massachusetts

During the Nature of Your Backyard at Broad Meadow Brook in Worcester, meet some common animals such as a fisher, skunk, turtle, fox, or even a flying squirrel. (families, registration required)

More in Central Massachusetts

Connecticut River Valley

Go on a Winter Nature Walk for Families at Arcadia in Easthampton and Northampton to look for animal tracks and signs and play a few games to learn about winter wildlife survival. (families, registration required)

During Tracking and Animal Signs at Laughing Brook in Hampden learn to read the tracks and signs left by animals that live in our area. (families, registration required)

More in the Connecticut River Valley

Berkshires

Strap on snowshoes (or microspikes, depending upon conditions) and enjoy a Snowshoe Hike at Pleasant Valley in Lenox. Track wildlife and watch for animal activity around ponds, streams, meadows, and woodlands. (adults, registration required)

More in the Berkshires

Barn swallows © Mark Landman

It’s Time To Talk About Climate Change

Let’s talk about why we need to talk about climate change. Recent surveys from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication show that Americans understanding that climate change is happening and is human caused are at an all-time high. Yet, people are still so hesitant to talk about this important topic for a variety of reasons.

Barn Swallows © Mark Landman

Reason 1: You Think You Don’t Know Enough About The Science

We know most people aren’t climatologists and trying to know all the facts and figures is just overwhelming. However, our lack of confidence has led to a silent culture and that’s a real problem. When 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening and is caused by human activity, we actually don’t need more people getting into the weeds on the data. The scientific consensus is there, and frankly if that was all we needed, this problem would have been solved a long time ago.

What we need are people focused on solutions. As odd as it sounds, scientific data alone doesn’t change people’s minds, but talking about shared values and personal observations can help people connect and understand an issue. The more you are able to tell a story that resonates with your audience, the easier the conversation will be.

Reason 2: You Think Talking About Climate Change Is Depressing

Most of the time, the news on climate change is all doom and gloom and that can cause people to shut down. Not to mention, human beings don’t like change, and what we are seeing today are growing changes that threaten our communities, livelihoods, and natural areas that we love. Constantly delivering bad news is an exhausting position to be in.

BUT! Remember what we said? People need to hear about solutions, not data infused with fear. You can’t scare people into caring. Solutions to this problem do exist and often times lead to many other co-benefits: job creation, improved health, and increased geo-political stability. Those are all good things, so focus your attention there and avoid blaming or shaming people.

Reason 3: You Don’t Like Talking About Politics

There is actually a lot more consensus on climate change than people presume. As we know, the most renowned scientists have been in agreement for a while, as demonstrated through the recent IPCC report. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of Americans even know about that overwhelming scientific consensus.

Plus, while liberals are generally more conscious of climate change, there is still bipartisan consensus at all levels of our government. Last November, in Congress, there was bipartisan legislation introduced for the first time in a decade to reduce carbon pollution and spur innovative solutions. At the state and local levels, the examples of bipartisan action are even more prolific. The only way to bring this issue to the forefront of all political debates is by talking about it more often with lots of different people.

Reason 4: You Aren’t Sure You Can Actually Make A Difference With a Problem This Big

Climate change is a global problem with local solutions. The truth is, there are many things you can do to reduce your own carbon footprint, and even help increase policies that lead to more collective action. If you are looking for one thing you can personally do to address climate change after reading this, the answer is probably fairly obvious- talk about it!

By talking about this topic with people you care about, you’re increasing awareness and socially validating climate change as a worthwhile topic. Adding your voice to the conversation, driven by your values (whatever they are), helps people find comfort in numbers.

Ready to Talk?

Follow these tips, and you’re well on your way to a successful conversation:

  • Meet people where they are, not where you think they should be
  • Stay out of the details and focus on solutions
  • Shared connections and values matter- people make decisions with their heads AND their hearts
  • Talk in the present tense- people understand the here and now
  • The goal is to have a conversation, not decide who is right or wrong
  • Be kind and remember you are speaking to another human being

Need more information? Check out these resources:

Sign the Pledge

Take the pledge to talk about climate change and let others know that we have solutions to address this challenge. Sign the pledge >