Maria Mitchell’s Attic
I Found Some Birds

Still cleaning books and processing archives … Look what I came across the other day rolled up in a big box with many different plans associated with the MMA’s buildings from across the ages of renovations, additions, and master plans.

This is a chart of North American birds published by the Massachusetts Audubon Society in 1898.  The twenty-six life sized bird images were created by, I believe, Louis Agassiz Fuertes and it was printed by none other than the Milton Bradley Company of Springfield, MA.  Considering how and where it was stored over the last fifty years or so it is in quite good shape except for the dirt and grime of time, a large water stain at the bottom and a small tear over the body of one bird.

Yet another treasure unearthed in my work!


Burn it to save it?

Nantucket’s globally (yes, globally!) rare sandplain grassland habitat is disturbance dependent, meaning without fire, mowing, or sheep grazing, it becomes dense with shrubs and oak trees.  Once it is grown over in shrubs, it can no longer support the rare species that use it like New England blazing star, sandplain blue-eyed grass and northern harriers. 

A very effective and the most natural disturbance technique is prescribed fire, or controlled burning.  This involves carefully burning sections of open land (a few to many acres) to reduce shrubs and encourage the growth grasses and flowers.  This preserves the open vistas and great walking areas on Nantucket.  Maria Mitchell sponsors me to help with prescribed burning. 

I went through a 40 hour training in safety techniques and now head out with the “burn crew” whenever the conditions are right.  We wear protective suits made of Nomex, along with helmets, radios, thick boots and glasses.  There is a Burn Boss as well as several crew members who have extensive experience with fire both on and off island.  The burn crew here is supported by the Nantucket Land bank Commission and the Massachusetts Audubon Society and we focus on land managed by those organizations.

Prescribed burning on Nantucket has evolved from a casual affair in the 1980’s (jeans, sneakers, and tennis shoes) to the very serious and important habitat management tool that it is now. 

If you smell heavy smoke this fall or spring, it’s probably us carefully “blacking out” a section of heathland.  In the spring visit recently burned areas around the Miacomet Golf Course to see the amazing resurgence of green plants that emerge from the ashes.