Late Fall Color: Fruit, not Foliage!

Recent rainy and windy weather may have finished off most of our autumn leaves, but there’s still plenty of color across the Nantucket landscape.

The Science & Stewardship staff at NCF would like to wish you and your family a happy Thanksgiving, and encourage you to enjoy the natural beauty of the island around you. It’s deer hunting season, so be sure to check out information on which NCF properties are open for hunting, and important guidelines for hunters: 2015 Deer Hunting Information. It’s a good idea to wear your own fall color (blaze orange!) while out walking in the fall. Hunting is prohibited on Sundays, making it a particularly good time to get out and enjoy the autumn scenery.

This year has been a particularly heavy fruit production year for many of our native shrub and tree species. Right now, Eastern red cedar and winterberry holly are stealing the show.

2015-10-18 14.36.53

No doubt about it — Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) has a bumper crop of fruit this year. Photo: K.A. Omand.

Eastern red cedar (actually a species of juniper) produces waxy fruits that span a surprising palette — from nearly white to bright cornflower or deep indigo. The branches of these scrappy little trees are especially heavily laden this year. It’s the biggest crop I’ve seen in the eight years that I’ve lived on island. That’s a good thing for our local birds: the National Wildlife Federation describes juniper as one of the “top ten plants for wildlife” since it provides such wonderful shelter and food during the winter months. Cedar waxwings love this fruit so much that, well, they’re named for it!

Interestingly enough, the bright fleshy fruits of junipers are actually cones. Unlike more familiar pine and spruce cones, the scales of a juniper cone are fleshy and fused together, making the whole package edible to a hungry bird. Unlike a woody-scaled pine or spruce cone, which requires a bird to spend time removing individual seeds from between the scales, the juniper cone is truly fast food! So, when you are out driving around the island or enjoying a nature trail or bike path, take a minute to appreciate the bounty of these little trees. That’s a lot of food for birds to be thankful for this year. Cedar may not be a majestic tree, but it contributes a lot to the island ecosystem.


Bayberry (Morella caroliniensis) is very common in many habitats on Nantucket, from dunes to shrublands. Photo: K.A. Omand.

In addition to the wash of blue juniper berries, you may have noticed that a lot of bushes have recently shed their leaves, revealing branches heavily studded with hard fruit that look like waxy gray bucky-balls, aka Buckminsterfullerene. If you don’t know what I mean, take a close-up look at the neatly pixelated surface of a bayberry fruit, and do your Googling. That textured surface, on a bayberry fruit at least, is a mosaic of waxy coating that’s unappetizing to humans, but provides a high-energy food source for migrating birds in the fall.

By late November, the migrating hordes have diminished, but the remaining bayberries provide a welcome food source for our resident birds. Who sticks around in the winter? That should be a subject for another NCF Science & Stewardship blog post!


Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) is our common native holly, found in wetland edges around the island. Photo: K.A. Omand.

Maybe the cool blues and grays of red cedar and bayberry are not your groove, but you just can’t stop admiring the scarlet display of winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) surrounding the island’s ponds? You are not alone. We’re fortunate that winterberry holly is so common here on Nantucket. It’s another tough customer, but one that likes its feet wet. However, it could also find a good home in your yard– it’s a useful landscape plant in moderate conditions, and is readily available from nurseries in a range of colors and growth forms. Just be sure to get some female plants for the bright berries, as well as a male for pollination, if you don’t live near an established patch of winterberry.

Yes, you heard me right: winterberry holly is either male or female, and only the female plants produce fruit. Actually, the same is true of bayberry and red cedar. But both red cedar and bayberry are wind pollinated, while winterberry’s tiny white flowers require insects to visit and carry pollen from plant to plant.

Be sure to get out and explore the natural beauty of the island this fall. Take a moment to consider the value of our protected open landscapes– and the interesting plants and animals that call Nantucket home! Like the birds, we have a lot to be thankful for, too.


View of Stump Pond, Windswept Cranberry Bog, with both Nantucket Conservation Foundation and Nantucket Islands Land Bank Trails for public use. Photo: K.A. Omand.

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative and the Biennial Research Conference!

The Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative is a group built of members of all of the various conservation, research, and ecology groups on Nantucket. For such a small island, there are a lot of different groups interested in and investing in protecting and promoting biodiversity!


First thing: what is biodiversity? You might think it’s a commonly used catch phrase without a clear understanding of what it means – particularly in a place like Nantucket!

From Mirriam-Webster Dictionary: biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals

From the World Wildlife Fund: Biodiversity comprises all the millions of different species that live on our planet, as well as the genetic differences within species. It also refers to the multitude of different ecosystems in which species form unique communities, interacting with one another and the air, water and soil. 1

Biodiversity is explored at three levels:
genetic diversity
species diversity
ecosystem diversity.

So on Nantucket, the NBI has identified that the biodiversity of our island and surrounding islands, is particularly important. The mission of the Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative (NBI) is to conserve the native biodiversity of Nantucket through collaborative research, monitoring and education.

Since 2006 NBI has been fostering exploration of Nantucket’s unique biodiversity through research grants, Assessment weeks, species lists, and research conferences to bring together all of the various work on Nantucket.

This upcoming weekend – November 13th – 15th will be our 6th Biennial (every other year!) NBI Research Conference and there is a wealth of information to explore! Every event is open to the public although you need to register ahead of time as some events (like our workshops and fieldtrips have caps on participation).


Dr Elizabeth Farnsworth, Senior Research Ecologist with the New England Wildflower Society, will be kicking off the weekend with a workshop on utilizing GoBotany to identify native plants throughout New England. Following that, the upstairs of the Atheneum is open to everyone to hear her talk on:

State of New England’s Native Plants: Challenges and Opportunities for Conserving Coastal Habitats, 7pm at the Atheneum

Saturday is our all day research conference at the Nantucket Hotel ballroom. Come for one talk or all! Each talk is ~20 min and focuses on one research topic such as Bats on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, Scavengers on Nantucket, Sandplain grassland restoration and many many more – Find the day’s schedule on our conference website!

And on Sunday, Peter Brace of Nantucket Walkabout will be taking conference participants into the Middle Moors to explore first hand the unique diversity of the island.

NW_URL_Logo (003)

There will be something for everyone this weekend – so come and enjoy! And if you are interested in researching the biodiversity on Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard or Cape Cod – keep an eye out for our annual grant program which will be opening for 2016 soon.

Posted in Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nantucket Summer: Field Season

by Natalie Pawlikowski, NCF Seasonal Botany Field Research Assistant

Natalie Pawlikowski

Five months on Nantucket have come and past. Most of my days have been spent working with the island’s diverse shrub, grass, and forb species.  Some highlights of the season included seeing  the Turk’s Cap Lilly (Lilium superbum) bloom at Squam Farm, monitoring Broom Crowberry (Corema conradii) in the Middle Moors, and observing the uniquely wind-twisted and multi-trunked trees at Squam Swamp.

Turk's Cap Lily

Turk’s Cap Lily

However, I have also have had the opportunity to assist with several wildlife projects. I helped trap crabs, insects, and looked for snails at Medouie. But in particular, I found the results of monitoring bats very exciting.  Together with Kaitlyn, the other botany technician, and Danielle (NCF’s Research Technician/Field Supervisor), we periodically checked “bat boxes” across the island and throughout the season to assist with research conducted by Zara Dowling, a graduate student at UMass-Amherst. A bat box is a small box with a microphone and recording equipment. We download the data, sent it to be analyzed for bat calls, and it turns out, that we have red and hoary bat species on Nantucket!

Scaling a tree to check a bat box!

Scaling a tree to check a bat box!

Overall, I had the opportunity to participate in a wide range of research projects. I enjoyed exploring the various coastal habitats, familiarizing myself with the islands’ flora, and working alongside some great people. Though I don’t know exactly where I am headed next, I am certain this position has provided me with skills and experience that will help me pursue a career in conservation.


The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions, and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us!


Posted in Field Season | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

My Summer Work on Nantucket!

By: Kaitlyn Evans, NCF Seasonal Botany Field Research Assistant

This summer I had the privilege of working on Nantucket as seasonal botany/ecology field assistant. I was able to participate in many different projects within the science department. These projects included vegetation monitoring, rare plant surveys, invasive plant management, a salt marsh food web study, bat acoustic surveys, horse shoe crab surveys, and occasionally assisting the shorebird monitors. Because of the variety of projects, I was able to work on many different parts of the island. Squam forest was always an interesting place to work because of the diversity of plants there.

Indian Pipe, Photo Credit: Kaitlyn Evans

Indian Pipe, Photo Credit: Kaitlyn Evans

Even the trees in Squam forest are unlike any trees that I have seen before. Beech, Oak and Red Maple, which are very common and grow mostly straight and tall elsewhere, take on an amazing variety of forms in Squam swamp. They aren’t able to grow straight and tall on Nantucket because of the high winds experienced on the island. Although, everywhere that we worked seemed to have its own unique beauty. One of my favorite parts of the job was getting to see places that most people visiting Nantucket probably don’t get to see. There are a lot of beautiful, hidden little places with their own interesting flora and fauna that could easily be overlooked. Since most of the work that I did focused on botany, I was able to learn a lot of new plants and to have a greater appreciation for the diversity of the plant life on the island. If you really look closely there are a lot of very interesting things that you would likely miss otherwise.

Nantucket Pond, Photo Credit: Kaitlyn Evans

Nantucket Pond, Photo Credit: Kaitlyn Evans

One of the projects that was very interesting to me, for this same reason, was the salt marsh food web study. We did this study at salt marshes in Medouie and on Eel Point. We looked at all of the plant and animal life in these marshes, everything from the tiniest insect up to birds. We did vegetation surveys to record all plant species found in the parts of the marsh that we were surveying. We looked in the grass for different species of snails; we used a bug net to catch a variety of insects. We also got to use a bug vacuum which is basically a leaf blower, but in reverse. This allowed us to collect a very diverse sample of insects in the marshes. We set up pitfall traps throughout the marsh which were used to trap fiddler crabs. We found two different species of fiddler crabs, mud and sand fiddler crabs and purple marsh crabs. We also set up fish and crab traps. We caught blue crabs, some green crabs, mummichogs and killifish (small minnow-like fish) and the occasional eel. Many of the things that we were finding were totally new to me which made for a very interesting project!

Operating the bug vacuum!

Operating the bug vacuum!

I truly enjoyed my summer on this beautiful island and am very grateful to have had this incredible experience.

The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions, and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us!



Posted in Field Season | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s New In Nature: Flowering Goldenrods

Field of flowering goldenrod and little bluestem grass at Tupancy Links.

Field of flowering goldenrod and little bluestem grass at Tupancy Links.

Once the yellow of the goldenrod flowers begins popping up in Nantucket’s grasslands and through the road edges in the Middle Moors fall weather is not fall behind. Goldenrods are in the Asteraceae plant family – the largest plant family including sunflowers, daisies, thistles to name a few.

Chain Dot Geometer feeding on goldenrod Photo Credit: KA Omand

Chain Dot Geometer feeding on goldenrod Photo Credit: KA Omand

On Nantucket, there are an estimated 20 different species of goldenrod, primarily Solidago and Euthamia species such as Seaside goldenrod, Flat-top goldenrod, and many more. These goldenrod species can be very difficult to tell apart although you can use online resources like GoBotany to try your hand at!

Elliot's goldenrod

Elliot’s goldenrod

Goldenrods are often mistakenly accused of causing a spike in fall allergies but the real culprit is usually the less noticeable ragweed (Artemesia sp). Ragweed is wind pollinated, filling the air with pollen in early fall but goldenrod pollen is heavier and stickier,  typically needing insects to move it around! So enjoy the gorgeous fall color across the island!

Gall on the stem of a goldenrod plant

Gall on the stem of a goldenrod plant

Goldenrods also provide food and shelter over the winter to various insect larvae which can cause the goldenrod stem to form a gall, as seen above. Galls can be many shapes and sizes, with each insect species creating its own unique gall style. Parasitoid wasps will often lay eggs on these larvae and some birds have learned to peck the galls open for food. Goldenrods are at the center of a whole small food web and make a great teaching lab for exploring ecology! Check these website for guides to using the goldenrod and its galls in our outdoor exploration:

Goldenrod Gall Flies

Goldenrod Gall Size and Natural Selection


Prepared by: Jennifer M. Karberg, NCF Science and Stewardship Staff

The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions, and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us!


Posted in What's New In Nature | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Island Solitaire: A Ranger’s Summer on Coatue

By Neil Foley, Coatue Ranger and Shorebird Monitor

4th of July

4th of July 2015 from Coatue Point

Another Nantucket summer is coming to a close along with a successful shorebird breeding season on Coatue.  The landscape changes from Juno and the stormy winter have been noticeable to the NCF team, but our birds are adept at nesting and raising families in an ecosystem marked by constant change.  Even with people in the mix.  This year’s chicks have taken flight on their newly grown wings and are quickly bulking up for their migratory journey.  It has been an incredible summer to live and work in such a remote and biodiverse location. Thank you to all of the people who have come out to enjoy Coatue this season, bringing great questions, observations, and enthusiasm for this beautiful part of the Island and the organisms that share it with us.

A Day on Coatue

A typical Coatue day. A truck bed filled with invasive plants and a scenic view of the harbor.

Coatue is one of the best spots on the island for American Oystercatchers to nest.  The abundance of quiet shoreline and intertidal marshes are excellent habitat for this charismatic bird.  Piping Plovers often get a bad rap, but I usually hear people say “Well I like those Oystercatchers!” As do I.  To those Oystercatcher fans, it has been a banner year for these birds on Coatue and the Haulover.  15 nesting pairs raised a total of 20 fledged chicks.  With the help of the incomparable Edie Ray, we have put field readable leg bands on 13 of those 20 chicks from this year.  These bands will help us keep track of these birds throughout the year and let us know if they return to Nantucket in a few years to raise chicks of their own.  For more information on Oystercatchers and the use of bird bands, visit the American Oystercatcher Working Group Website.


A newly banded American Oystercatcher chick.


Banding a chick on First Point.

AMOY chicks

Two day old Oystercatcher chicks trying to blend in.

AMOY Generations

Banded Adult Oystercatcher (left) with its banded offspring (right).

Piping Plovers had a decent year on Coatue as well.  In 2014, all plover nests were lost to the 4th of July hurricane and depredation by crows and gulls.  However, this year we were able to fledge 2 plover chicks.  Each fledged chick is a small victory for a population on the rebound.  These birds typically don’t do very well on Coatue due to habitat overlap with nesting gulls.  We can only hope that next year builds on the success we had this season.

PIPL chicks

A hatching Piping Plover nest.

The Double-crested Cormorant  colony on the north side of Coatue has been an interesting thing to watch this year.  For some reason, the cormorants decided to abandon the nesting site that they have been using for at least 2 years.  They ‘picked up shop’ and moved eastward down the Sound Side beach to a previously uncolonized location.  This move could be for a number of reasons, including washover of the old colony site by winter storms, an attempt to escape neighboring gulls that depredate and parasitize the cormorant eggs and chicks, or to get further away from an area of high human disturbance.  Whatever may be the case, the new colony has about the same number of birds as last year and encounters much of the same hazards.  Some late nesting gulls set up territories very close to the cormorants, some within 5 feet of a cormorant nest!   All indications point to this colony continuing to grow and move, making it necessary for us to keep observing and understanding its impact on the north side beach.

DCCO chick

The first Cormorant chick of the year! Eventually the colony was filled with over 150 begging chicks.

DCCO Fledge

A Cormorant juvenile testing out its newly grown wings.

Birds aren’t the only focus of our work on Coatue.  The conservation and monitoring of native plant communities is always a priority.  Projects on Coatue this year included aging windswept Eastern Red Cedars, continued removal of invasive Yellow Horn-poppy, diagnosing pathogens in native tidal plain species, and documenting the flowering of native species like Pink Lady’s Slipper, Eastern Prickly-pear Cactus, Sea Lavender, and more.  Blooming with color and life, many of these plants thrive off the beaten path and away from the bustle of downtown.  Sometimes, a trip by boat, 4×4 or kayak is needed to experience the little wonders that this island has to offer.

Prickly Pear

The vibrant bloom of a native Prickly-pear Cactus in July.

Sea Lavender

Sea Lavender: A collection of tiny, yet colorful flowers blooming in August.

Lady Slipper

Seen in late May, these Pink Lady’s-slippers are only visible for a short time.

With a second summer as Coatue Ranger under my belt, I feel that I have only begun to understand the complex relationships at play.  People, plants, birds, and so much more; all enjoying the same shifting patch of sand and soil.  With dynamic change comes a constant need to maintain peaceful coexistence and manage this land for the enjoyment of humans and the continued survival of the species that were here before us.  There is no end to what we can learn from an ecosystem like Coatue, but the end of the summer season means that we must wait till next year to witness the vivid display of life bursting out in all directions.  I look forward to returning for it.


The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions, and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us!


Posted in Field Season | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What’s New In Nature: Osprey

Osprey, (Pandion haliaetus)

Juvenile Osprey Photo Credit: Jin Hong

Juvenile Osprey Photo Credit: Jin Hong

Osprey, also known as fish hawks, are one of Nantucket’s most iconic birds of prey. They nest predominantly on platforms erected adjacent to beaches and ponds. Although dead trees can serve as naturally-occurring nest sites, this species seems to prefer artificial structures such as nest platforms, cell phone towers, channel markers and utility poles. Recently on Nantucket, Osprey have been observed ground nesting on some of our beaches. Because these birds breed in such highly visible locations and are mostly tolerant of people being nearby, they are well known and and easy to observe!

Present on Nantucket: Spring – Fall

Photo Credit: Vern Laux

Photo Credit: Vern Laux

Osprey feed almost exclusively on fish harvested from our harbors and ponds. They have talons that are uniquely adapted to holding their prey aerodynamically in-line with their bodies to reduce drag in flight. Because of their preference for one type of prey, their populations were severely impacted by high concentrations of DDT (a pesticide that was widely used in 1950 – 1970) accumulating in the food chain. This chemical caused eggshell thinning and corresponding poor hatching success. Since DDT was banned in 1972, osprey populations have made a remarkable comeback and they are no longer considered an endangered species.

Some of the best places to observe osprey are in Sanford Farm and Ram Pasture as well as the UMASS Boston Nantucket Field Station.

Prepared by: Karen C. Beattie, NCF Science and Stewardship Staff


The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions, and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us!


Posted in What's New In Nature | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment