Tag Archives: photo contest

Muskrats © Sylvia Zarco

Take 5: You Musk Be Joking!

While they do belong to the order Rodentia), muskrats are not, in fact, rats at all (i.e. members of the genus Rattus). Plus, they’re actually more closely related to lemmings than they are to their look-a-like cousins, beavers. The latter is a case of what is known as “convergent evolution”—two distinct species that evolve with a similar set of characteristics that just happen to work really well for the environment in which they live, kind of like two people coming up with the same idea at the same time in different locations.

From a distance, it can be difficult to tell muskrats and beavers apart. They are both semi-aquatic rodents with similar body shapes and colors; have bare, fleshy tails; and build lodges for their families. Side-by-side, though, it would be difficult to mistake them. Muskrats average 3–4 pounds each, one-tenth the size of beavers who clock in at a whopping 30–40 pounds, and their tails are long and narrow, not broad and paddle-shaped like a beaver’s. Additionally, beavers are strictly vegetarian while muskrats have a wider, more versatile, omnivorous diet of mostly aquatic plants (such as cattails and yellow water lilies) supplemented with small animals like frogs, crayfish, and fish.

Muskrats are prolific breeders, producing 2–3 litters per year of 6–8 kits each, but each individual only lives about 3–4 years in the wild. This rapid rate of regeneration is a key part of their survival strategy, since muskrats are a popular menu item for many predators, including coyotes and foxes, snapping turtles, weasels and otters, bobcats, owls, and especially minks and raccoons. Young muskrats may even fall prey to larger species of fish such as largemouth bass. As a result of their survival-by-numbers strategy, they occupy a very important role in the native food web.

Your best bet to spot a muskrat in the wild is along water edges and in wetlands at dawn or dusk, as they are crepuscular. Here are five photos of native muskrats from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The deadline to enter the 2020 contest is September 30, so be sure to submit your own amazing nature photography soon!

Muskrat © Janice Koskey
Muskrat © Janice Koskey
Muskrat © Bernard Kingsley
Muskrat © Bernard Kingsley
Muskrats © Sylvia Zarco
Muskrats © Sylvia Zarco
Muskrat © Matthew Watson
Muskrat © Matthew Watson
Muskrat © Yuh Yun Li
Muskrat © Yuh Yun Li
American Goldfinch © Mark Uchneat

Take 5: Go For the Goldfinch

Out of the corner of your eye, a sunny, cheerful flash of bright yellow alights upon your bird feeder and almost certainly means one thing: the American Goldfinch!

Almost exclusively seed-eaters, the so-called “wild canaries” of the Americas are late nesters relative to most of our breeding birds here in Massachusetts, giving them access to nutritious native thistle seeds to feed their young. Known for their energetic seed-harvesting acrobatics, look for them plucking thistle seeds this time of year and listen for their sweet, enthusiastic song, a long, fluctuating string of warbles and twitters. They are also known to make contact calls, often mid-flight, the most common of which bears the mnemonic phrase po-ta-to-chip.

Before you know it, the arrival of cooler weather will turn the vibrant yellow males’ plumage a drab brown until the arrival of spring and the return of the breeding season, so enjoy the cheery colors while they last, but the varied sounds and acrobatic antics of these beloved birds can be appreciated year-round in virtually every part of the state.

Here are five photos of fabulous goldfinches to brighten your day. We want to see your nature photos, too! Enter the Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest by September 30

American Goldfinch © Mike Iwanicki
American Goldfinch © Mike Iwanicki
American Goldfinch © Sarah Keates
American Goldfinch © Sarah Keates
American Goldfinch © Karen Karlberg
American Goldfinch © Karen Karlberg
American Goldfinch © Mark Uchneat
American Goldfinch © Mark Uchneat
American Goldfinch © Anindya Sen
American Goldfinch © Anindya Sen
Belted Kingfisher © Kathy Hale

Take 5: Hail to the Kingfisher

“He may generally be seen sitting on some post or dead branch, near a solitary mill-dam, quietly watching his prey in the element below.”

William Peabody, in his 1839 report to the state legislature on the birds of Massachusetts.

Belted Kingfishers are widespread not only in Massachusetts but across North America. Still, you’d do well to learn to recognize their call, as you are far more like to hear one before you see it: They periodically utter a dry, metallic rattle that’s evocative of either the Predator, for fans of science-fiction/action movies, or one of those spinning, ratcheted noisemakers popular at New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Kingfishers favor lower elevations near waterways of all kinds, where they can dig their burrows to nest in earthen banks and mounds with little vegetation. If you’re looking to spot one on your next walk or hike, aim for trails along calm waters, where they dive to capture fish and crayfish in their long, straight bills. They love a good perch overlooking a wide river or lake, favoring branches or dead tree snags that give them a literal birds-eye view of their prey in the placid waters below.

An interesting point of note: Belted Kingfishers are one of the few bird species in which the female is more brightly colored than the male. Although both sexes sport a rakish-looking, ragged crest, males have a single, grey-blue band across their white breasts, while females have both a blue and a chestnut band.

Enjoy these five photos from the annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest, and remember to submit your own nature photography to the 2020 contest soon—the September 30 deadline is fast-approaching!

Belted Kingfisher at Daniel Webster © Edmund Prescottano
Belted Kingfisher at Daniel Webster © Edmund Prescottano
Belted Kingfisher at Wellfleet Bay © Sherri VandenAkker
Belted Kingfisher at Wellfleet Bay © Sherri VandenAkker
Belted Kingfisher at Horn Pond in Woburn © Jim Renault
Belted Kingfisher at Horn Pond in Woburn © Jim Renault
Belted Kingfisher at Wellfleet Bay ©Susan Wellington
Belted Kingfisher at Wellfleet Bay ©Susan Wellington
Belted Kingfisher © Kathy Hale
Belted Kingfisher © Kathy Hale
Turkey Vulture © Beth Finney

Take 5: The Strength to Carrion

This week, we’re speaking up for an invaluable member of the avian class: the Turkey Vulture. Sure, their diet of carrion (dead animals) is pretty unappetizing to us, but they are amazing birds and serve a vital function as a member of nature’s cleanup crew. A wake of Turkey Vultures (yes, even their collective name is a little morbid) can clean a carcass down to the bone in a matter of a few days!

There’s still a lot we don’t know about Turkey Vultures, but we do know they have adaptations that together allow them to take advantage of a food resource that would sicken or kill most other animals:

  • Their keen sense of smell (the strongest of any bird, in fact) helps them find food.
  • Their heads are naked so that they can dive right into a carcass without yucking up their feathers.
  • In order to digest rotting tissue and protect themselves from pathogens like salmonella, botulism, and anthrax, they have specialized gut biomes that contain a potent cocktail of gastric enzymes, acids, and bacteria.
  • Their primary defense mechanism is to vomit putrid meat onto would-be attackers.
  • Unrelated to their diet, but still interesting: To keep cool in hot weather, they will defecate on their feet and legs.

And with an average wingspan just under 6 feet, Turkey Vultures are truly awesome birds. On a clear day, look for kettles of Turkey Vultures soaring on rising thermals with barely a flap of their wings, smelling for the faintest whiff of their next meal.

From April to November, you can observe one or more Turkey Vultures at Drumlin Farm’s Bird Hill exhibit, where injured or human-habituated animals that cannot survive in the wild are tended to by the Wildlife Care team—in captivity, Turkey Vultures often have inquisitive personalities and seem to enjoy interacting with different enriching stimuli provided by the caretakers. At the annual Halloween events at Drumlin Farm, one vulture has the important job of sitting on a whale bone “acting scary” and munching on a rat. Here are five photos of magnificent Turkey Vultures from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Turkey Vulture © Beth Finney
Turkey Vulture © Beth Finney
Turkey Vulture © George Ann Millet
Turkey Vulture © George Ann Millet
Turkey Vulture © Nigel Cunningham
Turkey Vulture © Nigel Cunningham
Turkey Vulture © Dennis Durette
Turkey Vulture © Dennis Durette
Turkey Vulture © Brad Dinerman
Turkey Vulture © Brad Dinerman
Onset, MA © Dean Martin

Take 5: Down By the Sea

The coastal towns of Massachusetts are an artist’s dream: historic fishing villages, picturesque lighthouses, sandy beaches, rocky coastlines, and harbors brimming with boats of all shapes and sizes make for postcard-perfect scenes, accompanied by the vibrant culture and deep history of the region.

Unfortunately, climate change is threatening our coastal communities. Rising ocean temperatures cause water to expand, and with global glaciers and land ice melting (adding more water to our ocean), we’re experiencing a phenomenon called sea level rise.

These five photos of coastal scenes from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest show just what’s at stake. Take one of our climate pledges to commit to reducing your greenhouse gas emissions and help share what makes the nature of Massachusetts so important by entering your photos in the 2020 contest today!

Onset, MA © Dean Martin
Onset, MA © Dean Martin
Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary © Michael Le
Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary © Michael Le
Rockport, MA © Jessica Speece
Rockport, MA © Jessica Speece
Gloucester, MA © Adam Doyon
Gloucester, MA © Adam Doyon
Chatham, MA © Carol Duffy
Chatham, MA © Carol Duffy
Ovenbird © Asli Ertekin

Take 5: One in the Oven

“There is a singer everyone has heard, / Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird, / Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.” —Robert Frost, “The Oven Bird”

An unassuming warbler more often seen than heard, the Ovenbird’s loud “tea-cher tea-cher tea-cher tea-cher” song is prevalent in forests across nearly all of Massachusetts, except for Nantucket. Unlike most warblers, which spend their time flitting about in the canopy, Ovenbirds are more often found foraging on the ground and in leaf litter for insects and other invertebrates, their preferred diet.

The name “Ovenbird” comes from the unique, dome-shaped nests they build on the ground, resembling old-fashioned, outdoor Dutch ovens covered with leaves and other vegetation. Despite the female Ovenbird’s architectural prowess, nesting on the ground can leave her eggs and fledglings more susceptible to predators than above-ground nests. When hungry snakes, Blue Jays, Brown-headed Cowbirds, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, weasels, and even chipmunks approach the nest looking for a meal, the female will perform a “distraction display,” feigning injury to lure the predator away from the nest.

Because they rely on large, uninterrupted tracts of forest to breed successfully, they are quite sensitive to forest fragmentation by human activity (development, logging, agriculture and other activities that divide forested areas into smaller sections), and also to nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Here are five photos of Ovenbirds from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Submit your nature photography to the 2020 photo contest today!

Ovenbird © Asli Ertekin
Ovenbird © Asli Ertekin
Ovenbird © Joel Eckerson
Ovenbird © Joel Eckerson
Ovenbird © Arav Karighattam
Ovenbird © Arav Karighattam
Ovenbird © Matt Watson
Ovenbird © Matt Watson
Ovenbird © Francis Morello
Ovenbird © Francis Morello
Gray Treefrog © Allison Bell

Take 5: Gray Treefrogs

If you’ve been spending many of your pleasant summer evenings in a wooded area, perhaps sitting in your backyard or a local park, you may have heard a short, high-pitched trill pierce the stillness and thought, “What on Earth kind of bird is that?!” That’s no bird! It’s the Gray Treefrog.

These minute masters of camouflage clock in at just 1.25″–2.25″ in length, with the females often slightly larger than the males. They can change their color based on their environment, ranging from green to gray to brown, but young frogs are typically bright green.

Found everywhere in Massachusetts except the islands, Gray Treefrogs can be heard (but difficult to spot) around dusk from spring through summer as they look for mates and establish their territories.

Enjoy these five fabulous photos of Gray Treefrogs from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Don’t forget to submit your own nature photography, as the 2020 contest is now open!

Gray Treefrog © Allison Bell
Gray Treefrog © Allison Bell
Gray Treefrog © Aimee Grace
Gray Treefrog © Aimee Grace
Gray Treefrog © Francis Morello
Gray Treefrog © Francis Morello
Gray Treefrog © Anne Whitaker
Gray Treefrog © Anne Whitaker
Gray Treefrog © Bryan Gammons
Gray Treefrog © Bryan Gammons
Common Loons © Peter Christoph

Take 5: Loon-back Rides

Known far and wide for their haunting, eerie calls, Common Loons are true water birds, venturing ashore only to mate and incubate eggs. In monogamous pairs, they raise broods of just 1–2 chicks per year, with a long fledging period of about 12 weeks.

Although loon chicks are capable of diving and swimming within a couple of days of birth, they are easy prey for predators like mink, eagles, snapping turtles, or even other loons. To increase their chances of survival, they often take shelter on their parents’ backs, going for rides around the lake until they are big and strong enough to survive on their own.

Here are five adorable photos from our annual photo contest of loon chicks hitching a “loon-back ride” with one of their parents. The 2020 contest is now open, so submit your beautiful nature photography today!

Common Loons © Peter Christoph
Common Loons © Peter Christoph
Common Loons © Brad Dinerman
Common Loons © Brad Dinerman
Common Loons © Michael Phillips
Common Loons © Michael Phillips
Common Loons © Michael Goodman
Common Loons © Michael Goodman
Common Loons © Michael Goodman
Common Loons © Michael Goodman
Garter Snake © Larry Manning

Take 5: Gutsy Garter Snakes

The most widespread of all snake species in Massachusetts, the Eastern Garter Snake can frequently be spotted out sunning itself on rocks and logs in sunny forest clearings, grassy meadows, backyards, and in freshwater habitats.

While garter snakes are basically harmless, they may release an unpleasant-smelling secretion when they are handled so, as with all wildlife, it’s best to leave them to their business and admire them from afar. Snakes that are sunning may have just eaten, so handling them may cause them digestive problems. Conversely, snakes that are hiding may be getting ready to shed, which can affect their vision, so they may be more defensive if they cannot see well. It suffices to say that it’s better for both snakes and people if we can avoid harassing them by attempting to handle them.

Garters lack fangs or, strictly speaking, venom glands, although they do have a small amount of toxin in their saliva that is only dangerous for amphibians and other small prey animals. Far more interesting than its offensive capabilities is the snake’s chemical defense strategy: Not only are garter snakes resistant to naturally occurring poisons from their toxic prey (including newts and toads), but they can also retain the toxins in their bodies, thereby becoming toxic themselves and deterring potential predators. Amazing!

Here are five photos of our amazing official state reptile from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2020 photo contest is now open, so submit your beautiful nature photography today!

Garter Snake © Larry Manning
Garter Snake © Larry Manning
Garter Snake © John Gounarides
Garter Snake © John Gounarides
Garter Snake © Brendan Lynch
Garter Snake © Brendan Lynch
Garter Snake © Pamela Kelly
Garter Snake © Pamela Kelly
Garter Snake © Amy Severino
Garter Snake © Amy Severino
Walking the trails at Wellfleet Bay © Amanda Simon

Take 5: National Trails Day

National Trails Day, the first Saturday in June, is a day to recognizes all the incredible benefits that hiking and walking trails provide for recreation and quality time spent in nature. It’s also an opportunity to thank the many volunteers, land agencies, trail developers, park employees, and property manages who build, maintain, and steward the trails for the enjoyment of all.

We are thrilled that we were able to open trails on many of our wildlife sanctuaries for local visitation last week. Visit our website for information about:

Here are five photos of people enjoying the trails at Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest—which is now officially open for 2020! Not all of these sites are re-opened to the public yet, but we will continue to open more sanctuaries as soon as we are able to safely do so.

Birding at Marblehead Neck © Maili Waters
Birding at Marblehead Neck © Maili Waters
Walking the trails at Wellfleet Bay © Amanda Simon
Walking the trails at Wellfleet Bay © Amanda Simon
Enjoying the universally accessible All Persons Trail at Broad Meadow Brook © John Nault
Enjoying the universally accessible All Persons Trail at Broad Meadow Brook © John Nault
Kids walking at Daniel Webster © Kylie Palomba
Kids walking at Daniel Webster © Kylie Palomba
Taking in the evening hush at Ipswich River © Kalvin Janik
Taking in the evening hush at Ipswich River © Kalvin Janik