Tag Archives: photography

Dark-eyed Junco © Eladi Bermudez

Take 5: Whatcha Gonna Do With All That Junco?

If you enjoy watching birds at feeders, there’s a good chance you have a soft spot for these little darlings of the winter bird feeder crowd: Dark-eyed Juncos.

Although there are juncos to be found in Massachusetts year-round, these “snowbirds” are most recognizable hopping around on the ground or in the snow beneath seed feeders, often in small flocks. These ground-feeding sparrows love to snap up fallen seeds in their cone-shaped pink bills, which contrast sharply with their dark grey or brown upper plumage. Their white outer tail feathers will flash into view when they take flight.

Many juncos spend the breeding season to the North of us, across much of Canada, flying south and spreading out across North America the rest of the year, although some will stay year-round and retreat to the woods or higher elevations as the weather warms.

Enjoy these five photos of Dark-eyed Juncos from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest and look for them on your next winter walk in the woods!

Dark-eyed Junco © Rob Cardinale
Dark-eyed Junco © Rob Cardinale
Dark-eyed Junco © Andy Eckerson
Dark-eyed Junco © Andy Eckerson
Dark-eyed Junco © Dan Harrington
Dark-eyed Junco © Dan Harrington
Dark-eyed Junco © Jim Feroli
Dark-eyed Junco © Jim Feroli
Dark-eyed Junco © Eladi Bermudez
Dark-eyed Junco © Eladi Bermudez
A delicate ice formation © Josh Philibert

Take 5: Ice Art

It seems awfully dark around here these days, doesn’t it? The winter solstice—the day when the northern hemisphere experiences the shortest amount of daylight and the longest night—is just a week away. Next Monday also marks the official beginning of winter and although the colder weather tends to keep us indoors a lot more, there is still so much beauty and enjoyment to be found in nature in wintertime.

Many of the entrants to our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest have found inspiration in one of the most enchanting (but also, often, the most treacherous) hallmarks of winter in New England: ice formations. Here are five of our favorites.

A delicate ice formation © Josh Philibert
A delicate ice formation © Josh Philibert
Ice formations over a stream on Wolves' Den Trail at High Ledges in Shelburne
Ice formations over a stream on Wolves’ Den Trail at High Ledges in Shelburne
Winterberries after an ice storm © Cindy Riley
Winterberries after an ice storm © Cindy Riley
Ice crystals on Lower Mystic Lake in Medford, MA © Brad Edgerly
Ice crystals on Lower Mystic Lake in Medford, MA © Brad Edgerly
Ice formation on West Dennis Beach © Craig Daniliuk
Ice formation on West Dennis Beach © Craig Daniliuk
Snowy Owl © Paul Malenfant

Take 5: Superb Snowy Owls

They’re here! Snowy Owls have arrived from their breeding grounds in the Arctic and can be spotted at Plum Island, Duxbury Beach, and other open, treeless areas near the coast through March—if you make the trip to see Snowy Owls this winter, please protect these beautiful raptors by viewing them from a safe and respectful distance at public sites and do not approach them.

Norman Smith, the former director of Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum, is keeping busy in his retirement by continuing his Snowy Owl rescue and research efforts: The first report of a Snowy Owl at Logan Airport this season came in on November 5, so he hurried down to capture the owl, take some measurements and research notes, and release it at Duxbury Beach.

Norman reports that it was a healthy “hatch-year” bird (meaning it was born this past summer), which suggests there was good breeding this year in the region of the Arctic where this particular owl was born. Historically, since he started with the Snowy Owl Project in 1981, Norman would capture almost all hatch-year birds, but the past several winters saw predominantly adults arriving in Massachusetts, a poor sign for breeding success. Norman says his colleagues in Greenland reported their best breeding year since 1998 this past summer, while others in Barrow, Alaska, reported no breeding at all, so it can vary dramatically by location due to a number of factors, including climate change.

Snowy Owls predominantly feed on rodents called lemmings, so the success of lemming populations affects Snowy Owl populations: when there’s a boom in lemmings, we see a rise in the number of hatch-year owls traveling south. Lemmings are now facing increased pressure from climate change, such as rising temperatures, milder winters, shifting weather patterns, and changes in vegetation, which makes breeding success more difficult. So a decline in hatch-year Snowy Owls can signal climate impacts across entire food chains.

Enjoy these five photos of Snowy Owls from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest, then visit our website to learn how you can support our work to monitor and protect these beautiful birds and where and how to observe Snowy Owls yourself.

Snowy Owl © A. Grigorenko
Snowy Owl © A. Grigorenko
Snowy Owl © Jenny Zhao
Snowy Owl © Jenny Zhao
Snowy Owl © Paul Malenfant
Snowy Owl © Paul Malenfant
Snowy Owl © Sara Silverberg
Snowy Owl © Sara Silverberg
Snowy Owl © Karen Walker
Snowy Owl © Karen Walker
Common Yellowthroat © Jeff Martineau

Take 5: Animal Masks

Wearing masks in public in a great way to protect yourself, protect those around you, and help slow the spread of COVID-19. Since we’re all wearing masks in public for the foreseeable future, we thought it might be fun to highlight a few mask-wearers from the animal kingdom, as well.

While you’re outdoors, safely enjoying our trails, consider these five Massachusetts natives that “wear” their masks 24/7, with photos from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Common Yellowthroat © Jeff Martineau
Common Yellowthroat © Jeff Martineau
Wood Frog © Lucas Beaudette
Wood Frog © Lucas Beaudette
Cedar Waxwing © Sandra Taylor
Cedar Waxwing © Sandra Taylor
Raccoon © Richard Ruggiero
Raccoon © Richard Ruggiero
Peregrine Falcon © Martha Akey
Peregrine Falcon © Martha Akey
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Ken Lee

Take 5: The Littlest King

Small but mighty, kinglets are barely bigger than hummingbirds, weighing less than half an ounce, and yet they are still capable of surviving in remarkably cold environments, in some regions overwintering in places where nighttime temperatures can fall below 0°F. Their preference for the upper canopy of thick stands of tall conifers, especially spruce and fir, coupled with their diminutive size, makes them difficult to spot, but fall migration is likely your best chance.

Both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned kinglets are migrating from northern forests to their wintering grounds and passing through Massachusetts this time of year, but only individuals of the golden variety tend to linger beyond the fall migration period. You’ll need a keen ear to pinpoint the very piercing call of the male Golden-crowned Kinglet, which is so high-pitched that some older birders find that they lose the ability to hear the highest notes as they age.

Here are five photos of “kingly” Golden-crowned Kinglets from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Golden-crowned Kinglet © Ken Lee
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Ken Lee
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Claudia Carpinone
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Claudia Carpinone
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Davey Walters
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Davey Walters
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Mary Keleher
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Mary Keleher
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Nathan Goshgarian
Golden-crowned Kinglet © Nathan Goshgarian
Pumpkins © Beth Del Bono

Take 5: Pumpkin Everything

Pumpkins are the quintessential symbol of fall. Native to North America, pumpkins are believed to have been domesticated for at least 7,000 years, originally cultivated by Mesoamerican peoples for food and medicine. Today, they are grown in incredible quantities around the world, in large part to meet the needs of all the autumn-loving pumpkin carvers and pie-eaters who look forward to this time of year.

Want more pumpkin everything? Check to see if there’s a pumpkin carving program at a sanctuary near you or check out our collection of pumpkin-themed activities for Young Explorers, including stencils for pumpkin decorating, instructions for making your own pumpkin bird feeder, and cool experiments for “pumpkin scientists.” That’s a lot of pumpkins!

And while you’re at it, why not swing by a nearby farm to support the local food movement and pick up your decorative gourds and soon-to-be jack-o-lantern subjects? You’ll be glad you did!

In the meantime, let’s celebrate fall here on the blog with a few pumpkin photos, submitted to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Manchaug Pond, Sutton, MA © Marty Jo Henry
Manchaug Pond, Sutton, MA © Marty Jo Henry
Squirrel munching on a pumpkin in Gloucester, MA © Suzanne Sweeney
Squirrel munching on a pumpkin in Gloucester, MA © Suzanne Sweeney
Pumpkins © Beth Del Bono
Pumpkins © Beth Del Bono
Pumpkins in Bolton, MA © Carmella Kurriss
Pumpkins in Bolton, MA © Carmella Kurriss
Pumpkins at a farm stand in Methuen, MA © Nancy Rich
Pumpkins at a farm stand in Methuen, MA © Nancy Rich
Reflections of Fall at Harold Parker Forest in Andover, MA © Paul Mozell

Take 5: Fall Through the Looking Glass

After a cool, wet spring and a hot, dry summer (ideal conditions for spectacular fall foliage), nature is coming alive with reds, oranges, and yellows as plants gradually cease photosynthesis, lose their green-colored chlorophyll, and enter a dormant phase for the winter.

Many folks, it seems, have noticed that this annual spectacle can be doubly beautiful when reflected on the surface of water, so here are five “impressionistic” photo contest entries of fall foliage viewed “through the looking glass.”

Check out our fall foliage guide for great hikes and fall activities, the science behind fall foliage, and even fall photography tips for great shots like these. The 2020 Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest is officially closed, but now is a great time to get your landscape shots in for next year’s contest!

Reflections of Fall at Harold Parker Forest in Andover, MA © Paul Mozell
Reflections of Fall at Harold Parker Forest in Andover, MA © Paul Mozell
Autumn Reflection on South Natick Dam © Ilene Hoffman
Autumn Reflection on South Natick Dam © Ilene Hoffman
Fall Foliage Reflections at Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary © Cheryl Rose
Fall Foliage Reflections at Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary © Cheryl Rose
Impressionistic Autumn Color in Rutland, MA © Kimberly Beckham
Impressionistic Autumn Color in Rutland, MA © Kimberly Beckham
Fall Color at Bottomless Pond in Sudbury, MA © Bryan Gammons
Fall Color at Bottomless Pond in Sudbury, MA © Bryan Gammons
Song Sparrow © Thomas Kilian

Take 5: A Song in Your Heart

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

Maya Angelou

The Song Sparrow is a welcome visitor to fields, farms, parks, and gardens throughout Massachusetts. One of the first birds that many novice birders learn to identify by sound, the aptly named Song Sparrow may be heard singing its bright and cheery song from sunup to sundown from spring to fall.

The Song Sparrow took home the title of “most widely distributed bird” in Massachusetts in both of our Breeding Bird Atlas surveys. While many sparrow species are struggling to maintain their numbers, the irrepressible Song Sparrow seems to be holding its own. Its massive breeding range, adaptability, and ready use of almost any open or semi-open habitat have helped the species remain practically ubiquitous even in the face of suburbanization and other major landscape changes. Still, despite the stability of its breeding footprint, the Song Sparrow has demonstrated significant declines in overall abundance over the last half-century, suggesting a need for continued monitoring and conservation efforts.

While Song Sparrows can be found in Massachusetts year-round, you may see an uptick in their numbers in the fall as migrants pass through from their northern breeding grounds on their way to warmer places to over-winter. Look for a streaky sparrow perched on low shrubs in open, scrubby, often wet areas, pumping its tail in flight as it flits from bush to bush, and listen for the clear, crisp notes of the colorful repertoire of songs for which it is named.

This is your last chance to enter the 2020 Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest! The deadline for entries is September 30, so enjoy these five submissions from past years and send us your own nature photography today!

Song Sparrow © Amanda Altena
Song Sparrow © Amanda Altena
Song Sparrow at Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary © Charlene Gaboriault
Song Sparrow at Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary © Charlene Gaboriault
Song Sparrow © Thomas Kilian
Song Sparrow © Thomas Kilian
Song Sparrow © Lucy Allen
Song Sparrow © Lucy Allen
Song Sparrow © Cristina Hartshorn
Song Sparrow © Cristina Hartshorn
Painted Lady © Gillian Henry

Take 5: To Paint the Lily

“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily…is wasteful and ridiculous excess.”

William Shakespeare, King John Act 4, Scene 2

The quote above seems fitting for this week’s featured creature: the lovely Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui). As if the vibrant flowers they grace in search of nectar were not gorgeous enough, Painted Ladies seem to adorn them even further with a near-excessive beauty.

Found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica, Painted Ladies were once known as Cosmopolitan butterflies for their wide distribution, the widest of any butterfly in the world. What’s more, they are extremely adaptable and can be found in a variety of settings from the suburbs to the mountains and everywhere in between. More than 100 host plants have been identified for them, but they love thistle in particular.

You may have spotted iconic Monarch butterflies passing through Massachusetts on their way south, but they’re not the only orange migrating butterfly: Painted Ladies are also heading southward, following the seasonal availability of food sources. They breed year-round, and many successive generations are spawned along their migratory routes, but they don’t overwinter in cold climates—adults must migrate to warmer, more agreeable breeding conditions through the winter or will perish when freezing temperatures set it.

Here are five photos of beautiful Painted Ladies form our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Only two more weeks to enter the 2020 photo contest, so submit your beautiful nature photography today!

Painted Lady © David Perkins
Painted Lady © David Perkins
Painted Lady at Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester © Belia Buys
Painted Lady at Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester © Belia Buys
Painted Lady © Don Bullens
Painted Lady © Don Bullens
Painted Lady at North River Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield © Irene Coleman
Painted Lady at North River Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield © Irene Coleman
Painted Lady © Gillian Henry
Painted Lady © Gillian Henry
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