Monday, June 8, 2009

Pitcher Plant

Here's A Pitcher Plant in full flower located within easy walking distance of Newton. This magnificent plant can digest insects and other invertebrates in its "pitcher."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bird Nesting Season

Mid-May through June is a great time to observe nesting birds. Here is a photograph of a female Robin collecting mud in my garden to construct its nest. The weather had been dry, so the bird was "crazy" for mud. It flew within 3-5 feet of me, stayed for some time collecting mud, and returned repeatedly.

Here are two additional photographs of nests I observed recently outside of Newton, but in eastern Massachusetts. The first photograph is of an Eastern Towhee nest. This species nests directly on the ground.
The next photograph is of a Veery nest in a low shrub. The blue eggs belong to the Veery, while the speckled egg belongs to the parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird. This species is a threat to many native neotropical migrants in our area. I don't know if either of these species currently nest in Newton. It would be great to do a breeding bird atlas for our City...

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Followers of this blog may recall that I have special fondness for roadkill. Here is a female Northern Oriole in good condition found dead on a Newton Road last May. I also found an American Goldfinch that month. Birds may be more likely to get hit during early Spring as they return from migration and settle unfamiliar territories? Spring and Fall are also good times to check for window collisions. My best find in Newton is pictured here. Now is an excellent time to be looking for live birds as well as spring migration has peaked. Nahanton Park and Mount Auburn Cemetery are excellent spots to visit within the next few days.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Eastern Newt

Here's a photograph of an Eastern Newt from south Newton. As far as I can tell this salamander species which is common in Massachusetts is rare in Newton. If you have seen this species here, please let me know.

Most salamander species in our area have aquatic larvae and terrestrial adults, aside from some stream-dwelling species. In contrast, adult Eastern Newts are typically aquatic, and inhabit permanent ponds with fish. Interestingly, juveniles spend several years as terrestrial "efts" before returning to ponds as adults. Eastern Newts have been shown to be sensitive to forest loss, which helps to explain their relative rarity in Newton. Eastern Newts sometimes inhabit semi-permanent ponds (vernal pools), and at these sites adults seem to emerge from the ponds in the fall and overwinter in the forest, only to return to the pond in the spring.

Here's a link to a picture of two other local salamander species. How many amphibian species occur in Newton? Help me find out by reporting your sightings to me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bluegills for Breakfast

Just renewed my fishing license and caught these Bluegills at Crystal Lake today. Should make for an excellent breakfast.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Turtles of Newton

Here are photos of an adult and juvenile Spotted Turtle taken recently in southeastern Massachusetts. Several years ago I discovered this species within the Brook Farm Historic Site just south of the Newton border. This species almost certainly occurs in Newton in the Wells Avenue Charles River Path area. Although it was likely more widespread in the past, it is unlikely that the Spotted Turtle still occurs elsewhere in Newton.

Until fairly recently, the Spotted Turtle was listed as a species of Special Concern, protected by the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. Although the species was determined to be somewhat more widespread than previously thought, Spotted Turtles are vulnerable to road traffic and other threats, and are likely declining in Massachusetts.

It is interesting to explore which species manage to persist in urban and high density suburban landscapes such as Newton. The other native turtle species occurring in Newton are the Painted Turtle, Snapping Turtle, and Musk Turtle. It is likely that Eastern Box Turtles and Wood Turtles historically occurred in Newton, but have been extirpated. In April and May look out for basking turtles and in June look for nesting turtles. Here's a closeup photo of a hatchling Painted Turtle from Bullough's Pond.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Vernal Pool Certification

In Massachusetts, citizens can submit data to the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program in order to certify vernal pools. Certification provides enhanced regulatory protection under state law and under local bylaws in some cases.

Involving children in the certification process can be a marvelous experience for all.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Here are a Snapping Turtle and a Painted Turtle from a Vernal Pool in Nahanton Park today. The Snapper was about 15 inches long.

Unfortunately, turtles in Massachusetts are increasingly vulnerable to road traffic.

For information about turtle conservation in Massachusetts, click here.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Peepers Mating

Here are some photos of Spring Peepers in amplexus in Hammond Woods earlier today. They are actively calling at locations such as Hammond Woods and Nahanton Park right now.

Most of Newton's vernal pools have been certified, but I am working on certifying the remaining pools. If you are interested in helping out, please contact me.

Monday, March 30, 2009

On the move

Here's a picture of a large gravid Spotted Salamander as well as the rare Blue-spotted Salamander taken in Newton earlier this week. These vernal pool breeding species have been on the move with the recent rain. The Blue-spotted Salamander is listed as a species of Special Concern in Massachusetts and is protected pursuant to the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. This species has a fascinating and bizarre means of reproduction which will I will describe in a future posting. I am collaborating with other researchers across the state in collecting tissue samples from this species this spring for a genetics study.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Mourning Cloak

First butterfly of the season over Washington Street. The Mourning Cloak overwinters as an adult, and can sometimes be seen flying in late winter.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Like Clockwork

February 26, 2009 - Red-winged Blackbird singing at Bullough's Pond.