Tag Archives: volunteer

Barbara and her husband Nick with a cold-stunned Loggerhead sea turtle

In Your Words: Barbara Brennessel

Barbara Brennessel is a long-time volunteer at Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, where her work includes cold-stunned sea turtle rescue.

Barbara and her husband Nick with a cold-stunned Loggerhead sea turtle
Barbara and her husband Nick with a cold-stunned Loggerhead sea turtle

My husband Nick and I have volunteered at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary for more than 15 years. In the spring, we survey and tag Horseshoe Crabs in Wellfleet Harbor.
Later in the summer, I monitor and protect Diamondback Terrapin nests, an interest sparked by attending a Cape Cod Field School program at Wellfleet Bay.

Barbara Brennessel measuring a Diamondback Terrapin
Barbara Brennessel measuring a Diamondback Terrapin

The highlight, by far, is how we mark the end of each year by volunteering to rescue cold-stunned sea turtles on Wellfleet and Truro beaches. These turtles get trapped in Cape Cod Bay’s cooling waters, especially when it gets below 50 degrees F; they become cold-stunned and thus lose the ability to swim south into semi-tropical and tropical areas.

We keep our phones handy so we can respond to calls from Wellfleet Bay’s Turtle Rescue Team. When the wind is howling from a westerly direction, we anticipate
being called to walk along a specific stretch of beach to look for turtles. We prepare for the cold, the wind, and a good sandblasting.

Our gear is always ready near the front door: boots, down parkas, hats, gloves, and headlamps for night patrols. This past year, we included face masks to our supplies so that we could adhere to COVID protocols. Our sled for transporting turtles from the beach is in the trunk of our car, along with a banana box or two in case we are asked to bring a turtle to the sanctuary.

Barbara during a Cape Cod Field School program on Diamondback Terrapins
Barbara during a Cape Cod Field School program on Diamondback Terrapins

We have seen some spectacular sunrises and sunsets while on turtle patrol. It is quite eerie yet also amazingly beautiful to be on a beach in the middle of the night. If you see a headlamp headed your way, who else could it be but another sea turtle volunteer!

Most of the two dozen or so turtles we rescued in 2020 were Kemp’s Ridleys, but the last few were loggerheads. Every live, rescued turtle has the potential to contribute to future generations of these endangered reptiles. It is tremendously satisfying to know that these rescued turtles have a chance to live a longer life, mature, and produce baby turtles.

In Your Words is a regular feature of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter. Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares their story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email [email protected]  to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue! 

volunteer planting a tree at Arcadia

Planting a Forest with the Climate in Mind

More than 50 volunteers turned out in the last days of a mild October to help restore a floodplain forest at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Northampton. Together, these nature heroes planted around 1,500 of the 2,000 trees and shrubs going in the ground before winter.

Volunteer planting a tree at Arcadia
Volunteer at Arcadia

In this first phase of the project, 8.5 acres of field that is unproductive for both farming and grassland bird habitat will be turned back into land dominated by trees—including pin oaks, silver maples, and even American elm.  

Floodplain forests are uncommon in Massachusetts, hosting rare plants and wildlife habitat, storing stormwater during floods, and, like all forests, keeping carbon out of the atmosphere. 

But visitors to Arcadia who walk the Fern Trail are lucky to be able to see the large shagbark hickories and tulip trees, that make up one of the best examples of this natural community in the state. The restoration project will significantly expand Arcadia’s protection of this special forest type. 

Climate Implications 

This is a climate adaptation project, preparing us for the impacts that have already begun and will be continuing through the coming years and decades. 

Like all living things, trees have optimal conditions where they grow and reproduce. As temperatures continue to rise because of climate change, tree species’ ideal habitats are shifting northward; however, natural movement rates over generations of trees are generally too slow to keep up with rapid warming.  

This restoration project assists the trees’ northward migration in two ways.  First, for some of the species native to the Connecticut River Valley, saplings are being sourced from nurseries further south so they go into the soil already better adapted to warmer climates.  

Second, volunteers are planting trees that currently don’t occur in the wild in Massachusetts, such as sweet gum, a tree that exists in floodplain forests further south, up to southern Connecticut. These choices increase the likelihood that the forest will flourish in the future, since Massachusetts’s climate is projected to become comparable to the climate of the south between 2070 and 2100.  

The Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration has selected this restoration for Priority Project designation and have been a key partner in the process. Mass Audubon is also partnering with the Nature Conservancy’s Christian Marks, who has planted his Dutch-elm-disease-tolerant American Elms on the site. 

— Jonah Keane, Arcadia’s Sanctuary Director

Jeanne Li - Volunteer at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

In Your Words: Jeanne Li

In Your Words is a regular feature of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter. Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares his or her story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email [email protected] to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue! 

Jeanne Li - Volunteer at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary
Jeanne Li – Volunteer at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

I have always enjoyed the outdoors and science. When I went to college at Vassar in the 1960s, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and other writings started me thinking about a career in ecology. I wrote to government agencies asking about job opportunities; the replies were not encouraging. So I switched my focus from zoology to chemistry and spent my working life in laboratories—indoor places. In my free time, I went hiking, skiing, sailing, and birding, and had many other outdoor adventures around central Pennsylvania.

When I moved to Massachusetts in 1984 and began looking for places to hike, I discovered Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries. In 2000, a move to the North Shore put Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield just 10 minutes away. I wanted to give back and help the environment but my job did not permit donating much time. So I helped with special events and did trail monitoring while I hiked, reporting any problems I found to the property manager.

Boardwalk choked by Glossy Buckthorn
Boardwalk choked by Glossy Buckthorn – May 2012

As retirement approached, I began looking for new ways to fill my time. I spoke to the staff at Ipswich River about volunteering to do some type of outdoor work related to ecological management and they asked if I would help restore a field by removing an invasive plant, Glossy Buckthorn. That fall, I successfully cleared a small patch with the guidance of Richard Wolniewicz, the property manager, and Lou Wagner, the now-retired regional scientist.

Unfortunately, the buckthorn grew back the following spring. To permanently eradicate it, we would need to take a targeted approach, individually cutting and applying herbicide to each plant by hand. Today, the fields contain more grasses and wildflowers and fewer invasive plants, which is very satisfying to see. With the help of other volunteers, student interns, and staff, we have extended the work to remove buckthorn along the wetland trail edges, as well.

Clearer views and healthier native plants after Glossy Buckthorn removal - Winter 2019
Clearer views and healthier native plants after Glossy Buckthorn removal – Winter 2019

This volunteer work has provided opportunities to meet and work with people from many different backgrounds, to learn botany and ecology, to present at Mass Audubon’s annual Staff Natural History Conference, to drive a tractor, and to keep physically fit. As a bonus, I observe birds, mammals, amphibians, and insects as I work. I am honored to be a part of Mass Audubon’s effort to conserve our natural world.

Jeanne Li is a volunteer at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield.

John Burk © Stan Sherr

In Your Words: C. John Burk

In Your Words is a regular feature of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter. Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares his or her story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email [email protected] to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue! 

John Burk © Stan Sherr
John Burk © Stan Sherr

I arrived in Northampton on Labor Day weekend in the fall of 1961. I was 25 and unmarried. My second-floor apartment looked out on a parking lot and then beyond to the Mill River.

Sometime over that weekend I decided to explore and followed the Mill River down through the meadows. Crossing the bridge where the river flows into the oxbow and trying to return back on the opposite side, I encountered signs that informed me I was entering Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary. Not wanting to trespass, I turned around and retraced my earlier route into town.

I had been newly hired by the Botany Department at Smith College to teach, among other subjects, plant ecology. I wanted to take my students on a field trip and wondered whether I could take them to the wildlife sanctuary since the state’s woodlands were closed due to drought and a threat of forest fires.

We drove out that Friday afternoon to the white farmhouse that serves as Arcadia’s offices and knocked on the door. The person who answered was Ed Mason, the sanctuary director. He graciously welcomed us. We walked down the trail to the Mill River and its marshes, the first of many such expeditions through the years for class field trips and an assortment of independent research projects.

John Burk © Kai Jensen
John Burk © Kai Jensen

I learned that a colleague was serving on the sanctuary advisory committee, and she eventually asked me to replace her. It was an obligation I happily took on.

In the five decades since, I have focused my volunteer activities on issues of ecological management. I’ve worked with students and sanctuary staff to document the plant life of the area and identify patterns of vegetation and its responses to outside forces, such as oil ollution in the marshes, invasion by aggressive non-native species, and a changing climate.

Carefully documenting these changes over time provides important data that can help inform and guide conservation efforts. As a period of accelerated climate change becomes increasingly likely, I hope that my work with students and staff will better position us to meet the challenge.

John Burk is Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at Smith College and a longtime volunteer at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton and Northampton.


In Your Words: Libby Herland

In Your Words is a regular feature of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter. Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares his or her story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email [email protected] to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue! 

Libby Herland - Canoe Meadows

Libby Herland – Canoe Meadows

Mass Audubon is a golden thread—no, a circle—that has run through my entire life. It started back in 1971 when I was able to get a city-sponsored summer job. Awakened by the Earth Day movement, I asked to work outdoors. Mass Audubon agreed to host a precocious and completely “green” (in more ways than one) 16-year- old at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox. I cleaned the museum and gift shop, fed and occasionally wore the boa constrictors (much to the delight or fear of our visitors), and helped with the nature camps.

After studying as a biologist and earning my BS in Marine Biology from the University of West Florida in Pensacola, I worked in various roles to protect water, wetlands, and wildlife for almost 40 years. I am profoundly grateful for and proud of the opportunities I had to serve at the regional, state, and federal level, but the last 29 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were the most rewarding.

I had the great privilege to manage national wildlife refuges in the Northeast, including eight in Eastern Massachusetts. There, working with wonderful staff, volunteers, friends, and conservation partners, including Mass Audubon, we managed and restored wildlife and habitat on 17,000 acres of land and water and provided opportunities to learn about and connect with nature to more than half a million visitors per year.

Libby Herland

Libby Herland

Now in retirement, I find myself connected to Mass Audubon in a different but still deeply rewarding way. As a volunteer at Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Pittsfield and at Pleasant Valley, I have led trail maintenance projects, developed a volunteer trail steward program, pulled invasive garlic mustard plants, and helped with special events, to name just a few of the projects I have worked on.

As a member of the Berkshire Sanctuaries Advisory Committee, I provide input on policies and programs. I am thrilled that my expertise and experience is helpful to a place that I love with all my heart. Coming back to Mass Audubon feels like a symbolic closing of the circle of environmental protection that began here almost 50 years ago and has enriched my life in so many ways.

Libby Herland is a Berkshire Wildlife Sanctuaries Advisory Committee Member and volunteer.

Statewide Volunteer Day is Saturday!

Statewide Volunteer DayConnect with nature and have fun while helping one of 15 wildlife sanctuaries around the state spruce up and get ready for spring during our Statewide Volunteer Day. No special skills required—just a desire to make a difference while having fun.

Here are just a few good reasons to join us on Saturday, April 27, from 9 am to noon.

Working for wildlife is worthwhile.
Last year more than 750 volunteers helped us restore trails, prepare garden beds for spring planting, haul brush, battle invasive species, pick up trash, build raised garden beds, and plant trees. Projects this year include spreading wood chips on the trails, sprucing up the scarecrows, pruning shrubs and orchard trees, clearing an area for turtle nests, staining picnic tables, spring cleaning, and more.

It’s not all work, though!
Volunteers of all ages participate in a variety of engaging educational programs, nature walks, and other fun activities provided by the sanctuaries. Last year’s volunteers went on a hayride, met a great horned owl up close, toured our “green building” facilities, were led on guided nature walks, and observed a bald eagle catching a fish.

Work up an appetite!
Snacks are provided and volunteers are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch and spend time exploring the sanctuary property after the work is done. Last year, several sanctuaries sliced up pizza, grilled hot dogs and veggie burgers, and hosted a BBQ for their volunteers.

Learn more about this year’s projects and register online. Invite your family and friends to come along and see what a difference one morning can make for the wildlife of Massachusetts.

Participating Sanctuaries

Canoe Meadows, Pittsfield

Cape Cod and the Islands
Felix Neck, Edgartown
Long Pasture, Barnstable
Wellfleet Bay, Wellfleet

Connecticut River Valley
Graves Farm, Williamsburg
Laughing Brook, Hampden

Greater Boston
Blue Hills Trailside Museum, Milton
Boston Nature Center, Mattapan
Drumlin Farm, Lincoln (almost full)
Habitat, Belmont (almost full)

North of Boston
Ipswich River, Topsfield (full)

South of Boston
Allens Pond, Dartmouth
Moose Hill, Sharon
North River – South Shore, Marshfield
Oak Knoll, Attleboro

Volunteering with the New England Patriots

View a slideshow of the event

Over the years, we’ve had all sorts of people volunteer with us—scouts, corporate groups, schools, families, etc. But on Tuesday, October 16, we officially added a new group to our roster: professional football players!

As part of the New England Patriots Celebrate Volunteerism campaign, three Patriots players (Zoltan Mesko, Ryan Mallett, and Danny Aiken) joined our regular volunteers from HMEA (an organization committed to working with people with developmental disabilities) at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Norfolk. The task at hand: spreading wood chips at the future site of Stony Brook’s new Nature Play Area. The project is especially meaningful to Dan White, of Wrentham Boy Scout Troop 131, who is leading the charge of creating the play area as a way to earn Eagle Scout status.

The crew was able to accomplish a tremendous amount during the 45-minute work session. In between hauling and raking wood chips, there was plenty of time for laughs and a chance to learn more about Mass Audubon. Mesko was especially enthralled with all that the organization is doing in the realm of solar power, emphasizing how important it is to be proactive in conservation. “Mass Audubon is an organization that is leading the way.”

The day was capped off with the Patriots announcing their “Difference Maker of the Week” —our very own Ruth Connaughton, a 15-year Wellfleet Bay volunteer. Among the many volunteer ‘hats’ Ruth has worn are Trail Naturalist, Front Desk Greeter, and Nature Center Docent. As a former teacher, she is a natural interacting with visitors of all ages two afternoons a week, and she shares their excitement as they discover the natural world around them—one bird, fish, plant, fiddler crab, or turtle at a time.

Ruth says, “Seeing the enthusiasm and excitement of our visitors is the reason I love what I’m doing.” It is volunteers like Ruth that make the Wellfleet Bay a favorite destination for residents and visitors to the Outer Cape.

We were so honored to be selected by the New England Patriots to spread the word about volunteerism and grateful for the players hard work. We hope to see them again soon! Go Patriots!

Ospreys Up Close

Have you ever seen a hawk-like bird swoop down in the water, diving for fish? Chances are it’s an Osprey. These raptors once dubbed “fish hawks” are in a family all by themselves and can be found on six of the seven continents (both in fresh and salt water).

In Massachusetts, you will start seeing them in late March, reclaiming or finding new nesting platforms. By September 15, they’re on their way south again. And while the state now has an abundance of ospreys, this wasn’t always the case. A look back:

Ancient History
Think of what hadn’t happened by 1620. The land hadn’t been cleared for agriculture, so waterside nesting possibilities (on dead trees) were endless. And fish populations hadn’t been decimated, so food sources (an Osprey’s diet consists of 99 percent fish) were abundant.

Twentieth Century
We know Osprey nests remained in Massachusetts by 1900. Swansea chicken farmers had learned that Ospreys would vehemently protect their nests from hawks, so they coaxed them to nest on their lands. The sphere of protection thus created protected the chickens.

By mid-century, pesticides began causing nest failures, dropping the statewide population to 11 pairs. The banning of such chemicals and a nest platform construction program on the South Coast led to the rejuvenation of the Osprey population in Massachusetts. As of 2011, there were more than 200 Ospreys in Massachusetts.

Locating Ospreys
The best places to see Ospreys in Massachusetts are along the South Coast, Cape Cod, and the Islands. Here, many of our wildlife sanctuaries run Osprey monitoring programs including Allens PondWellfleet Bay, Long Pasture, Felix Neck, and the South Shore Sanctuaries. Volunteer monitors are asked to report on the “phenology” of the birds: the timing of the events of their lives. When do they return to the nest? How long do they take to build or strengthen their nests? When do the eggs hatch? When do we see the first youngsters? When do the little ones fledge?

Learning More
In order to really understand the Osprey, Mass Audubon staff members band Osprey chicks every July. Banding involves placing harmless metallic bands around the lower portions of the legs of the young birds with unique tracking numbers so we might learn more about the individual life of the bird, and more generally about the species in total. Often, monitors are invited to the banding, and get the opportunity to meet “their” Ospreys face-to-face. It’s a remarkable moment.

Get Involved
Most Osprey monitoring projects are low-impact, opportunistic affairs, although protocols vary from sanctuary to sanctuary. We really just need to continue gathering as much data as possible so that we can continue to learn about these wonderful birds. Get involved today by contacting one of the wildlife sanctuaries mentioned above.

Learn more about Ospreys at one of these upcoming programs or by following Mass Audubon’s Westport Osprey Blog.