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MassWildlife Monthly June 2018

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Remembering Bill Byrne

For over four decades, the spectacular photographs taken by MassWildlife Senior Photographer Bill Byrne have brought sportsmen and women and other conservationists, up close and personal with countless wildlife species from across the Commonwealth. Bill's stunning images ranging from breaching humpback whales, foraging black bears, and secretive piping plovers to urban peregrine falcons, majestic Quabbin moose, and elusive timber rattlesnakes have opened a window to the wilds of Massachusetts and the fascinating residents therein.

Sadly, Bill's life ended suddenly and unexpectedly in May. He literally spent his last moments doing what he loved: being outdoors, honing his skills as a photographer, and talking photography and wildlife with colleagues and friends.

After a military tour in Vietnam, where, as a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, he taught soldiers how to rappel from helicopters, Bill graduated with a Wildlife Biology degree from the University of Maine in Orono. He started working with MassWildlife in 1971 as an assistant on white-tailed deer and waterfowl management projects. He transitioned to Wildlife Photographer within a year and used his education and skills as a hunter and naturalist to enhance his success with his camera.

Byrne is best known for his striking images of bald eagles, moose, black bears, shorebirds, waterfowl, deer, wild turkeys, and many other species, thousands of which have appeared on the cover of Massachusetts Wildlife magazine and other agency publications. MassWildlife staff relied on Bill to make their public presentations come alive complementing their data and other information. His prints grace the walls of the Richard Cronin Field Headquarters building in Westborough and are enjoyed on a daily basis.

Curious about wildlife and wildlife behavior from his youth as an explorer scout, Bill was an accomplished biologist, birder, tracker, and observer, with a keen eye and strong attention to detail. Working day and night to get the shots he needed, he could be found in ground, tree or water blinds, boats or trucks. Other times he would be waist deep in swamp water, perched on a bridge or building with falcon nests or snowshoeing into the remote and wild corners of Massachusetts. Bill never stopped learning about wildlife or photography. His career spanned the era of developing black and white film in a cramped dark room to the instant gratification of color digital imagery and editing.  Bill successfully tackled the challenge, making the shift from film to digital imagery with energy and enthusiasm.

Bill was an avid and successful deer and turkey hunter. In 2017, he connected three times during the Massachusetts and Connecticut deer seasons. During one particular archery hunt, despite having two buck tags in his pocket, Bill put down his bow and picked up his camera to photograph an inquisitive 6-point buck because he liked the way the deer presented itself through the lens! It's unlikely that many other archers would have been able to exercise similar restraint and discipline.

In a recent Massachusetts Wildlife magazine issue, Bill presented a photo essay of fish-eating creatures, including bald eagles, ospreys, double-crested cormorants, great blue herons, red-tailed hawks, minks, and common terns. For the two mink shots alone, Bill invested tens of hours, patiently sitting and walking the Cape Cod Canal looking for the opportune moment. These and his other images are lasting testimony to Bill's incredible patience, knowledge, and skills. Bill’s wildlife legacy will continue through his beautiful images, inspiring and educating us all for years to come.

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Endangered turtles released back to the wild

Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) officials, cooperating partners, and members of the public participated in a release of 25 Northern Red-bellied Cooters, a turtle listed on both federal and state endangered species lists, at the Burrage Pond Wildlife Management Area in Hanson today. Last fall, cooter hatchlings were removed from the wild and paired with partnering educational and scientific facilities from across the state as part of a program called headstarting. Raising the turtles in captivity for several months greatly accelerates growth and reduces the likelihood of death from predators during a turtle’s first year of life.

“As of 2017, over 4,000 headstarted hatchlings have been released into ponds and waterways in southeastern Massachusetts since the first release in 1985,” said Dr. Jon Regosin, MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage Chief of Conservation Science. “When the Headstart Program began, the estimated population was only 300 cooters in Massachusetts.” Regosin noted that in the past three years, MassWildlife has documented that released headstarts have a very high annual survival rate (more than 95%). Additionally, in several ponds where they have been released in earlier decades, headstarted turtles are now successfully laying eggs.

As part of the program, cooperating partners from schools, nature centers, and museums raise the turtles in warm aquarium environments. The turtles are presented with unlimited food, allowing them to grow faster and making them less vulnerable to predations when they are finally released.

Developing partnerships in the conservation community helps to ensure the future of fish and wildlife and their habitats for people to enjoy for generations to come. “The Cooter Headstart Program is just one good example of how MassWildlife works successfully with conservation partners,” said Mark Tisa, MassWildlife Acting Director.

Before releasing the Northern Red-bellied Cooters, MassWildlife biologists spoke about how turtles are individually identified with implanted microchips for research purposes. They also offered useful tips on how people can help turtles in their neighborhoods or communities.

Representatives from the following organizations, schools, and colleges partnered with MassWildlife on the Cooter Headstart Program this year: Bristol County Agricultural High School, Dighton; Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, Brewster; Clinton High School; Dighton Middle School; Eagle Hill School, Hardwick; Essex Technical High School, Danvers; Gibbons Middle School, Westborough; Hingham Middle School; Holbrook High School; Mass Audubon Long Pasture, Barnstable; Minuteman Regional High School, Lexington; Museum of Science, Boston; National Marine Life Center, Bourne; New England Aquarium, Boston; Narragansett Regional High School, Templeton; Norwood High School; Plymouth Department of Marine and Environmental Affairs; Quincy High School; South Shore Science Center, Norwell; Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance, Plymouth, Southeastern Regional High School, Easton; Upper Cape Technical High School, Bourne; Watertown High School; Weymouth School; Worcester State University.

The Cooter Headstart Program is part of MassWildlife’s overall turtle conservation effort. MassWildlife is working to raise awareness about turtles, explain the threats to native turtle populations, describe turtle conservation projects, and provide information on ways property owners, neighborhood residents, educators, and conservationists can help turtles in their communities.

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Brown Trout study begins on the upper Deerfield River

MassWildlife has launched a project to study Brown Trout in the upper Deerfield River. This spring, all 1000 hatchery-raised Brown Trout stocked in the upper Deerfield were marked by clipping their adipose fins. These marked fish were stocked in their usual locations from Buckland o the Fife Brook Dam. This is the first phase of the project that will eventually mark all hatchery-raised fish in that section of the river. Marking of hatchery fish, together with other elements of the Deerfield River Brown Trout Study, will continue for several years. Anglers should note that for the next few years, there may be holdover hatchery-raised Browns in the system that have not been marked.

This project to learn more about both the hatchery-raised and wild Brown Trout populations took shape through a collaborative process involving MassWildlife, Trout Unlimited (in particular, the Deerfield River Chapter and the Massachusetts-Rhode Island Council), and included input and assistance from a number of other interested parties and individuals from UMass Amherst, US Geological Survey, local Deerfield River fishing guides, and local watershed groups. The study will yield important population metrics including abundance, mortality, and growth rates of individual fish. MassWildlife will use this information to better manage the upper Deerfield River Brown Trout fishery.

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Report wild turkey sightings

Sportsmen and women, birders, and other wildlife enthusiasts are encouraged to assist with MassWildlife’s Annual Wild Turkey Brood Survey.

MassWildlife conducts a  Brood Survey from June 1 through August 31 each year to estimate the number of turkeys in the state. The brood survey helps our biologists determine productivity and compare long-term reproductive success while providing an estimate of fall harvest potential. Turkey nesting success can vary annually in response to weather conditions, predator populations, and habitat characteristics. Citizen involvement in this survey is a cost-effective means of gathering useful data, and can be a fun way for people to connect with nature. Record sightings of hens, poults (newly-hatched turkeys), and males (both juvenile and adult). For help identifying male and female turkeys and determining if a male is a juvenile (jake) or an adult (tom), please click here. Be sure to look carefully when counting turkey broods, the very small poults may be difficult to see in tall grass or brush. MassWildlife is interested in turkey brood observations from all regions of the state, including rural and developed areas.

2 ways to participate:

**If you’ve submitted your observations online, please do not mail in duplicate observations.

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Newton North High School wins 2018 Envirothon

Two hundred students from 27  Massachusetts communities converged at the Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park in Uxbridge  on Friday, May 18th to compete in the 31st annual Massachusetts Envirothon. At the event, teams presented what they’ve learned about watersheds, water infrastructure and the impact of recent damaging storms in their community, and formulating steps their local leaders can take to protect land and water ecosystems in the watershed and tested their knowledge of the area’s soils, forests, water, and wildlife. Top honors went to a team of students from Newton North High School.

At the outdoor field competition event, teams rotated through four “ecostations” where they answered written questions and engaged in hands-on activities such as soil analysis, wildlife habitat assessment, tree identification, and water quality measures. Each team had up to 10 participants and split into specialized sub-teams during the competition, each focusing their efforts at different ecostations.

At the fifth station, the Current Issue, each team gave a 15 minute presentation to a panel of judges about their research into “Partnering with Nature in Watershed’s” in their own community. Each panel of judges included concerned citizens and environmental professionals from government agencies, non-profit organizations, academia and private industry. Teams were asked to assess water infrastructure resources and needs, identify an important partnering opportunity, and make specific recommendations for action.

For more information on the Massachusetts Envirothon visit

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Linking landscapes for Massachusetts wildlife

Just under 7 million people share roughly 7 million acres of land and water with wildlife in Massachusetts. Roadways crisscross much of the landscape, impacting both people and wildlife. The most obvious impacts are vehicle collisions. Less obvious—but perhaps more influential to wildlife populations—is habitat fragmentation and degradation caused by roads.

MassWildlife and MassDOT have partnered since 2008 to provide safe passage for both wildlife and people, and to address the conservation needs of vulnerable species listed under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. This partnership helps incorporate the needs of fish, wildlife, and plants that might have been ignored otherwise during the planning process and maintenance of roadways.

The partnership also has a website where you can report animals you see on the road. If you see roadkill, or a turtle or amphibian crossing the road, please consider visiting to submit information. To submit your findings, click the major project that best fits what you see: reducing turtle roadkill, mapping amphibian crossings, or mapping wildlife roadkill. Fill out the short survey, with detailed location information. There is a Google Map at the bottom of the survey that can be zoomed in and panned to a specific location. The information provided on the website helps MassWildlife and MassDOT determine priority areas to mitigate wildlife-human interactions and how best to manage them.

Another way you can help wildlife on the road is to be an alert driver!

  • If you see a turtle crossing a road—and if it’s safe to assist—move the turtle in the direction it’s going. Don’t put it where you think it should go.
  • Slow down if you see a moose or deer on the side of the road or crossing the road. If the animal is crossing the road, don’t swerve around it. Wait patiently for it to cross.

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News briefs

  • Women in the Outdoors event
    WITO offers over 30 interactive seminars and activities for women aged 13+ including trap-shooting, wilderness survival, fishing, birdwatching, and more! The 2018 WITO will be on July 28 in Princeton. Get more information and register.
  • Little brown bat study continues.
    Your help is needed again this year. If there is a colony of 10 or more bats on your property, please report colonies here. Colonies may be found in trees, buildings, attics, barns, sheds, or other outbuildings. This information will be used to help conserve the state’s endangered population of little brown bats.
  • Do you know what to do if you find a fawn or young bird?
    Please remember, finding a young animal alone does not mean it’s abandoned; the best thing you can do for young wildlife is to leave them alone. Learn more.

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