When Nature Heroes Come Together

When nature heroes come together, what they can accomplish is simply amazing. They can fight for and get environmental legislation passed. They can protect at-risk wildlife and the habitats they rely on. They can encourage young kids to connect with nature and enable college students to pursue careers in the environment.

Just take a look at a few of the ways Mass Audubon’s 125,000 members made a difference this year.

NATURE HEROES like you helped protect an additional 923 acres of land, bringing Mass Audubon’s total to 38,004 acres of conserved land.

NATURE HEROES like you helped create and maintain 255 miles of trails across 58 wildlife sanctuaries.

NATURE HEROES like you supported 47 scientific research studies that use our sanctuaries as outdoor laboratories to better understand our natural world.

NATURE HEROES like you provided scholarships for 1,211 summer campers attending one of our 19 day camps and Wildwood overnight camp.

NATURE HEROES like you inspired 45 Coastal Waterbird staff who monitor 183 sites over 140 miles of nesting habitat for Piping Plovers, terns, and American Oystercatchers.

Piping Plover chick © Matt Filosa

NATURE HEROES like you advocated for 173 communities to adopt the Community Preservation Act (CPA) since we successfully helped write and pass this legislation 18 years ago.

NATURE HEROES like you attended one of 7 Climate Cafes, a judgment-free, informal environment for people to discuss climate change solutions with their peers.

NATURE HEROES like you submitted 2,054 firefly observations during the inaugural year of Firefly Watch. These reports came from 37 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces.

We recognize that today, more than ever, the stakes are high and that it’s critically important to enlist the help of nature heroes across Massachusetts. Environmental safeguards are being rolled back, conservation is underfunded across the country, and climate change looms large.

But, there is hope. And, that hope is in the people, like you, who can and will do something to ensure a resilient, healthy, and even more beautiful world.

Be a nature hero today … for wildlife, for land, and for people.

Birds 18 and Over Winner © Kim Caruso

Take 5: 2018 Photo Contest Winners (18 and Over)

The votes are in and the judges have made their picks—the 2018 Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest winners are in!

The entries this year were beyond impressive, especially in the oft-overlooked People in Nature category. Your birds, mammals, insects, landscapes, and portraits really wowed us.

See five of the 18 and Over winners from this year’s contest below and browse through all the winners from this year and past years on our website.

Grand Prize/Landscapes 18 and Over Winner © Evan Guarino
Grand Prize/Landscapes 18 and Over Winner © Evan Guarino
Mammals 18 and Over Winner © Victor Zigmont
Mammals 18 and Over Winner © Victor Zigmont
Birds 18 and Over Winner © Kim Caruso
Birds 18 and Over Winner © Kim Caruso
People in Nature 18 and Over Winner © Diana Chaplin
People in Nature 18 and Over Winner © Diana Chaplin
Plants 18 and Over Winner © Matt Cembrola
Plants 18 and Over Winner © Matt Cembrola

What To Do This Weekend: Dec 15-16

Practice yoga, search for owls, try science experiments, go on nature walks, look for winter birds, and more at a wildlife sanctuary this weekend.

Screech owl © Kevin McCarthy

Greater Boston

As part of Yoga and Mindfulness in Nature at Habitat in Belmont, enjoy a 45-minute slow and gentle yoga class indoors and then head outside to explore the trails. (adults, registration required)

During Science Experiments at Boston Nature Center, explore natural wonders. From egg drops to clouds in jars, we have it all. (families, registration required)

Go on an Owl Prowl Adventure under the Moon and Meteors for families and adults at Broadmoor in Natick. Learn about owl calls, behavior, and habitat as we search and listen for resident screech, barred and great horned owls. (families, registration required)

Take a Naturalist Walk at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln to explore and appreciate the world around you. Cover the habitats across the sanctuary from wetlands to uplands as you look for wildlife, trees, and fungi. (adults and children ages 12+)

Join a Sunday Saunter at Moose Hill in Sharon and stroll along the trails to experience nature through the seasons. (adults, registration required)

More in Greater Boston

North Shore

Get an Intro to Tracking Mammals at Ipswich River in Topsfield. Following the indoor introduction, hike the sanctuary to search for tracks, chews, and scat. (adults, registration required)

Search out avian activity in the Newburyport/Plum Island area, one of the best year-round birding locations in the country, as part of Saturday Morning Birding. Beginners and birders of all levels are welcome. (adults)

More on the North Shore

South of Boston

Go on a Winter Wonder Walk at Tidmarsh in Plymouth to search of scat and tracks, look to the trees for roosting owls, and scour the streams for winter water fowl. 

Experience a Twilight Owl Prowl Allens Pond in South Dartmouth by walking 1 mile without flashlights in order to hear the three species of owls that nest on the sanctuary. (adults, registration required)

Explore Oak Knoll in Attleboro after dark by going on an Owl Prowl. Start off indoors with an interactive presentation and owl pellet dissection. Then head outside for a night hike to listen for evidence of our feathery friends. (adults and children ages 7+, registration required)

More in South of Boston

Cape Cod

Go Birding on a Winter Beach in Eastham to search for snow buntings, horned larks, sea ducks, loons, and snowy owls. (adults, registration required)

More on Cape Cod and Islands

Students Take Action On Climate

Climate change is the defining issue of our time. Perhaps no generation is more at risk to the impacts of this issue than those who are in school today. 

In a study presented to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2016, a survey revealed that 40% of Generation Z reported climate change as their top priority. This beat out topics like terrorism, poverty, the economy, and unemployment.

All across the country, we can see examples of youth coming together and calling for action on this global problem, including students in Western Massachusetts. Last month, students from six high schools participated in a Youth Climate Summit hosted by Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary and the Hitchcock Center for the Environment.

Youth participating in the climate summit.

The Summit’s two days of learning sought to empower 50+ high school students, supported by 10 local college students, teachers, and workshop leaders, to take action on climate in their schools and communities.

Presentations and workshops were led by environmental educators, an ecologist, a self-described “bicycle-maniac,” and a hip-hop artist who sings about sustainability and climate action. The workshops focused on topics such as climate change communications, civic engagement, sustainable agriculture, biking, and more.

Creating Youth Leaders

The goal of the summit is not only to educate students about climate change, but also help students realize they can lead their schools, homes, and communities towards effective climate action. Giving students the tools to advocate for real change allows them to recognize the power of their own voices.

One participant noted: “I didn’t really know the best ways to advocate for and participate in climate change prevention, and I feel like I have those skills now.” 

This summit’s impact reached beyond those in attendance. One young student, who read about it in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, was inspired to speak out about the importance of climate action at all levels of government by writing her own letter-to-the-editor.

Learning and Growing

This Youth Climate Summit expanded on last year’s one-day summit, allowing student teams to develop a Climate Action Plan for their school, including direct actions and proposals for addressing climate change drivers and impacts. The Climate Action Plans included a wide range of strategies such as increasing climate education at a younger age, removing bottled water from their school and installing water refill stations, organizing a zero waste week, and even installing an array of solar panels in the school’s parking lot.

Thanks to support from the several local businesses, Northampton Education Foundation, and donations from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (B & E Youth Futures Fund, Edwin P. & Wilbur O. Lepper Fund and Joan Walker Memorial Fund) the summit was able to give $500 to each group for implementation of their Climate Action Plans.

In addition to the fun opportunity to connect with other climate-minded peers, students reported their participation increased their comfort levels with climate change as indicated by pre- and post-surveys. 

Mass Audubon hopes to expand this program by launching similar Summit’s across the state in 2019.

Dark-eyed Junco © Andy Eckerson

Take 5: So Many Sparrows

Sparrows have a reputation for being a bit tricky for beginning birders to identify. Thankfully, the colder months are a good time to get some practice in, with several common species overwintering here in Massachusetts, including American Tree Sparrows, White-Throated Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos (yes, they belong to the sparrow family!). Most sparrows are primarily seed-eaters and are often seen feeding on the ground, so a good place to look for them is on the ground beneath your bird feeders where the seed naturally falls.

A great way to hone your sparrow-identification skills is to spend time with more advanced birders and learn on-the-fly (pun absolutely intended). See a list of upcoming birding programs at our sanctuaries to find a trip near you and enjoy these five diverse photos of sparrows from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Savannah Sparrow © Phil Doyle

Savannah Sparrow © Phil Doyle

Song Sparrow © Mike Shachook

Song Sparrow © Mike Shachook

Dark-eyed Junco © Andy Eckerson

Dark-eyed Junco © Andy Eckerson

White-Throated Sparrow © Katherine Sayn-Wittgenstein

White-Throated Sparrow © Katherine Sayn-Wittgenstein

Fox Sparrow © Alberto Parker

Fox Sparrow © Alberto Parker

What To Do This Weekend: Dec 8-9

Look for seals, go on a holly walk, make a wreath or ornament, watch a documentary, search for birds, and more at a wildlife sanctuary this weekend.

© Jim Sonia

Greater Boston

Go on a Family Bird Walk to learn how to use binoculars to search for the most common birds found at the Boston Nature Center. Mini-activities along the hike will include singing like a bird, a bird food hunt, and a closer look at feathers, nests, and other bird related artifacts.

Kids can whip up some Winter Lotions and Potions at Stony Brook in Norfolk. Make some Fizzy Bath Bomb Cupcakes, lotion fish, and more as we get into the holiday spirit. (children ages 6-16, registration required)

Watch the documentary Straws at Broadmoor in Natick. Actor and Director Tim Robbins narrates a colorful history of man’s origins and obsession with using straws and marine researchers, citizen activists and business owners discuss how they’re making a sea of change…one plastic straw at a time. (adults, registration required)

Celebrate the start of the holiday season by creating a beautiful and unique wreath to take home during the Wreath Making Workshop at Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton. During the workshop, we’ll learn about evergreens and their adaptations to winter. (adults, registration required)

More in Greater Boston

North Shore

This year, the Geminid Meteor Shower reaches maximum activity on the night of December 13, when as many as 120 shooting stars might be seen each hour under clear skies. Meet at Ipswich River in Topsfield days ahead to discuss the nature of meteor showers, their origins, and the best ways to observe them. (adults and children ages 10+, registration required)

Search out avian activity in the Newburyport/Plum Island area, one of the best year-round birding locations in the country, as part of Saturday Morning Birding. Beginners and birders of all levels are welcome. (adults)

More on the North Shore

South of Boston

Take a Seaside Seal Stroll family hike on Gooseberry Island in Westport that is focused on learning about and looking for harbor and grey seals. Learn about their lives, what brings them to our area and proper etiquette for viewing these protected species in their natural habitat. (families, registration required)

More in South of Boston

Cape Cod and Islands

Go on a Holiday Holly Hike at Ashumet Holly in Falmouth. Learn about the natural history of the sanctuary’s 50 original hollies propagated by former property owner and Massachusetts’s first Agriculture Secretary, Wilfred Wheeler. (adults and children ages 12+, registration required)

Celebrate Christmas in Edgartown. Felix Neck will host a pop-up natural history museum with live animals, exhibits, and hands-on activities.

More on Cape Cod and Islands

Central Massachusetts

Head to Broad Meadow Brook in Worcester for the Holiday Nature Crafts Open House  to view our tree decorated with imaginative ornaments handcrafted from natural materials, and then make your own.

More in Central Massachusetts

Evening Grosbeak © MDF (CC BY-SA 3.0)

An Epic Winter For Nomadic Finches

Every few winters, several bird species abandon their normal wintering areas to our northwest, and move into Massachusetts by the thousands. While distantly related, redpolls, siskins, and grosbeaks all rely on food sources that go through boom and bust cycles, peaking and crashing every 3-6 years. When conifer and birch seeds are scarce in Canada’s boreal forest, these loosely-related species irrupt southwards in search of food.

The core group of these birds are collectively called “winter finches,” and this year will be huge for them!

Species On The Move In 2018:

Evening Grosbeaks

Evening Grosbeak © MDF (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Evening Grosbeak © MDF (CC BY-SA 3.0)

This year, these sunset-yellow, black and white-patterned finches are the stars of the show. It’s been a few years since Massachusetts saw any wintertime movement of Evening Grosbeaks into the state, and the last major irruption was in the 1990s.

Unlike many winter finches, Evening Grosbeaks seem equally happy feeding on several food types—both fruits and large seeds. They’ll come to feeders, but their bulky size means that they prefer large platform feeders and will avoid tube feeders. Their fruit-eating tendencies means that they often move south with two other frugivores, Bohemian Waxwings and Pine Grosbeaks, which may show up in smaller numbers this year.

Common Redpolls

Common Redpoll © Simon Pierre Barrette

These finches specialize in eating birch catkins, and birches are the best place to look for them. Ornithologists predict a big redpoll incursion into the northeast this winter. Redpolls got a slow start in Massachusetts this year, but are starting to show up in larger numbers, especially in the Northern and Western parts of the state.

Red-breasted Nuthatches

Red-breasted Nuthatch © Richard Alvarnaz

While technically not a winter finch, this species is nearly as nomadic, and this year is big for them. Their relative, the White-breasted Nuthatch, is a year-round resident and common backyard bird.

Red-breasted Nuthatches made a very early southward movement this year, with many appearing as early as late summer, heralding a major incursion of wandering finches later in the season.

Pine Siskins

Pine Siskin © Terri Nickerson

Siskins are showing up in abundance right now! These small finches with yellow-streaked wings love small seeds. Hang up feeders filled with nyjer or thistle seeds to take advantage of their incursion.

Where To Look

In addition to feeders, groves of spruce trees can be great places to look for seed-eating winter finches like siskins and crossbills. Redpolls are drawn to birch catkins. Fruit-eating finches often take well to ornamental varieties of crabapples, which bear fruit through the winter, so look for grosbeaks and waxwings anywhere large groves of these have been planted—which sometimes means office parks, parking lots, and gardens.

Feeders Up!

Last year was an excellent year for cone crops in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, leading to increased reproduction for seed-eating birds. This means that while spruce seeds, birch catkins, and mountain-ash berries are scarce in Ontario and Quebec, there will be loads of hungry birds looking for them—and moving into the US in search of food.

Birdfeeders do help birds survive harsh winters when food is scarce (though there’s a some This is a great time of year to put out black-oil sunflower seeds and nyjer seeds—two of winter finches’ favorite staples at birdfeeders.

For a more in-depth look at this year’s incursion of Evening Grosbeaks and their shifting distribution in New England, check out our birding blog.

Digging in to the Latest Climate Report

This year, Thanksgiving weekend was filled with more than just food, football, friends, and family. On Black Friday, the Trump Administration released the Fourth National Assessment on Climate Change (NCA4), Volume 2.

The report, authored by a team of more than 300 federal and non-federal climate experts, focuses on climate change impacts, risks, and adaptations occurring in the U.S. It breaks down the variability of climate impacts across 10 regions, including the Northeast, and looks at 18 national topics, with particular focus on observed and projected risks under different mitigation pathways.

Like previous climate research, NCA4 emphasizes what we already know. Climate change is real, human- caused, and happening now. At this point, we also know a certain amount of warming is likely “locked in,” so adaptation strategies are crucial to the health of our ecosystems and communities. Nevertheless, the faster we reduce emissions from fossil fuel-emitting sources, the less risk we will face.

Changes in the Northeast

The Northeast is unique for many reasons. It’s home to diverse landscapes that support numerous industries, tourism, and ecosystems. It’s also considered the most densely populated region, as well as the most heavily forested region in the United States. Quintessential New England is characterized by beautiful coastal beaches, spectacular fall foliage, and a robust winter recreation industry along our snowy mountains.

Climate change is altering this picture.

Here are the top five takeaways from NCA4 for the Northeast region:

  1. Changing Seasons: Expect milder winters and earlier spring conditions in the coming years. These changes will alter forests, wildlife, snowpack, and streamflow, leading to cascading effects for our region’s rural industries. By 2035, the Northeast is projected to be more than 3.6°F warmer on average than during the preindustrial era. This would be the largest temperature increase in the contiguous United States.
  2. Changing Coasts: Our coasts support commerce, tourism, and recreation — serving as critical economic drivers. Warmer ocean temperatures, sea level rise, and ocean acidification are all expected as a result of climate change. Sea level rise in our region is expected to be the highest in the country.
  3. Urban Areas at Risk: The Northeast’s urban centers are important hubs for cultural and economic activity. Northeast cities and towns are threatened by strong and more frequent extreme weather events and sea level rise, leading to negative economic impacts and the need for extensive financial investment.
  4. Human Health Threatened: More extreme weather, warmer temperatures, lower air and water quality, and sea level rise will lead to increased emergency room and hospital visits, additional deaths, and lower quality of life. These impacts will be felt most heavily by our most vulnerable populations including the elderly and low income residents.
  5. Adaptation is Key & Underway: Communities across the region recognize the severity of climate change and are proactively planning and implementing actions that will reduce the risks posed by climate change. In the past, adaptation efforts have emerged at the microscale, but communities are increasingly seeing a need for larger-scale, multi-benefit adaptation projects.

Massachusetts Leading the Way

Recently, legislation was passed at the State House that helps protect public health, public safety, and the economy from the impacts of climate change, and allows communities to more readily adapt to the changes they are already seeing.

And the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program fosters climate adaptation practices at the local level and supports communities’ ability to prioritize actions and create a more resilient future. Learn more about what Massachusetts is doing to address climate adaptation here.

What Can You Do?

You can be part of the solution by reducing your own carbon footprint. The top five actions you can take are:

  • Switch to clean, renewable energy sources. Find out how >
  • Reduce the amount of time you spend in a single-occupied vehicle
  • Alter your diet so you are less reliant on energy-intensive animal products
  • Talk about it! The more we talk about climate change, the more we can build capacity in our community to address the problems we are already facing.
  • Help your community develop plans to adapt to the greatest impacts of climate change via the MVP process, the local planning board, or your conservation commission

The old adage is true: Decisions are made by those who show up. It’s on us to show up and fight for climate action now!

— Alexandra Vecchio, Mass Audubon’s Climate Change Program Coordinator

Woodchuck © Alyssa Mattei

Take 5: Where Did All the Woodchucks Go?

Woodchucks (also known as groundhogs) are among the few “true hibernators” found in Massachusetts. In late summer they begin to put on weight in preparation for the move to their winter dens, often located in wooded areas. From October through March, woodchucks settle in for a long snooze and turn their metabolisms waaaaay down to burn as little energy as possible. While hibernating, a woodchuck’s body temperature drops from 99°F to 40°F, and its heartbeat drops from 100 beats per minute to 4 beats per minute! Visit our Nature & Wildlife pages to learn more about woodchucks.

They may not be conscious to appreciate it, but here are five photos of woodchucks from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest for you to enjoy.

Woodchuck © Alyssa Mattei

Woodchuck © Alyssa Mattei

Woodchuck © David Zulch

Woodchuck © David Zulch

Woodchuck © Diane Lomba

Woodchuck © Diane Lomba

Woodchuck © Ronald Vaughan

Woodchuck © Ronald Vaughan

Woodchuck © M Leach

Woodchuck © M Leach

 

What To Do This Weekend: Dec 1-2

Go on a hike, brush up on your photography, draw hawks, search for birds, learn about feathers, and more at a wildlife sanctuary this weekend.

Eastern Bluebirds

Eastern Bluebirds

Greater Boston

Go on a Saturday Morning Hike at Moose Hill in Sharon. Along the way, find out about the changing season, local geology, conservation at Moose Hill, and Mass Audubon Quests. (adults and children, registration required)

Get the Most of Your Digital Camera at Broadmoor in Natick. This workshop is designed to help you understand the features of digital cameras, and, if nature allows, use the sanctuary to practice techniques to help improve your photography. (adults, registration required)

During Winter Backyard Birding and Crafts at Boston Nature Center learn how to use binoculars, identify different bird species, and create seed and fruit art for the birds to enjoy. (families, registration encouraged)

Help with an Autumn Cleanup at Habitat in Belmont by raking, cutting firewood, hauling brush, and using hand tools, (adults and children, registration required)

Draw Hawks and Falcons at the Museum of American Bird Art in Canton. See hawks and falcons close up and discover more about these birds of prey while you learn to draw them from life with pencil and paper. (adults, registration required)

More in Greater Boston

North Shore

As part of Fascinating Feathers at Ipswich River in Topsfield, discuss molt, pigmentation, and different feather types and function. Following an indoor presentation, walk the sanctuary looking for few feathers on the ground to identify. (adults, registration required)

Search out avian activity in the Newburyport/Plum Island area, one of the best year-round birding locations in the country, as part of Saturday Morning Birding. Beginners and birders of all levels are welcome. (adults)

More on the North Shore

South of Boston

Go on a Twilight Owl Prowl at Allens Pond in South Dartmouth. Hear the three species of owls that nest on the sanctuary on a one mile walk without flashlights. (adults, registration required)

Explore the different habitats found around Oak Knoll in Attleboro as part of a Family Habitat Day. Look for interesting animals, plants, and see what has visited the sanctuary. (families, registration required)

Head to the Holiday Open House at North River in Marshfield for cider and snacks while shopping for unique and locally handmade gifts! Plus, watch woodturning and bird carving demonstrations by local artisans.

More in South of Boston

Connecticut River Valley

Enjoy the woods and meadows found at Arcadia’s 700-plus acres in Easthampton and Northampton as we explore the sanctuary at a relaxed pace during a Signs of the Season Walk.

More in the Connecticut River Valley