Author Archives: leahahawthorn

About leahahawthorn

Leah Hawthorn is the public affairs assistant for the Northeast Region. She has a passion for the outdoors and the wildlife that call it home.

Lazy Lawn Mowers Providing Habitat For Bees

Supporting your local bees and bugs at home just got easier. With pollinating insects on the decline, homeowners in western Massachusetts are looking to their own backyards as a way to help boost these populations. And you can too!

Pollinators are essential to the foods we eat and healthy ecosystems, and it’s important we protect them by providing habitat and food resources they need to survive. One way to improve habitat in suburban areas is by changing the way you manage your lawn, something we routinely mow every week without giving it a second thought. With new research, scientists are giving lawns new life.

A bee on clover. Photo by Brad Smith, Creative Commons (

Ecologist, Susannah Lerman at the USDA Forest Service and University of Massachusetts and other colleagues found that taking a “lazy lawn mower” approach to your lawn and mowing less frequently could encourage more bee habitat in suburban areas. Mowing every two weeks instead of weekly allows lawn flowers like clover and dandelions to bloom and gives a variety bees time to utilize them.

Lerman’s team, including Joan Milam at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Alix Contosta at the University of New Hampshire and Christofer Bang at Arizona State University, and her research was supported by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) and Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) program. They discovered that lawns mowed every three weeks had as much as 2.5 times more lawn flowers and lawns mowed every two weeks had the greatest number of bees, though the bee species were less diverse.

Researchers Joan Milam and Laura Hilberg use a sweepnet to sample insects.

There’s other benefits too! Lerman says, “Mowing less frequently is practical, economical and a timesaving alternative to replacing lawns or even planting pollinator gardens.” By helping pollinators, you’re also helping the environment and cashing in on some extra summer R & R.

A bee habitat for solitary bees.

Don’t have a lawn? No worries! You can help in other ways too. Help a local school or community building reduce their mowing or plant a pollinator garden. Reducing your use of pesticides will also help our pollinating critters. Additionally, our native bees enjoy living alone, and bee bundles are the perfect nesting material for solitary bees. Learn how to make one here.

Learn more about this research here.

Inspiring Others Through Art

Today we’re hearing from Logan Sauer, a University of Maine student and former Youth Conservation Corps intern at Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Virginia. Logan shares his love for the outdoors with others through his artwork and culinary skills, and his story is one you won’t soon forget.

Logan is making waves, and certainly enjoying them while studying abroad in Australia. His experience with YCC has influenced his major and his daily life, while his artwork continues to inspire ours. When Logan gifted Potomac River NWR Complex his beautiful painting of native wildlife, it was too good not to share with everyone! We’ve asked him a few questions about his art, his time with YCC, and his connection to the natural world.

What do you enjoy doing most in the outdoors and why?

“I enjoy hiking, creating art, being with family and friends, and traveling. I enjoy hiking because it takes me to places I’ve never been and especially somewhere to escape all the noise. Hiking is a great time to think a lot of things over and it can also provide a place to not think at all and just embrace the beauty of the natural world.

“Whenever I am home for break I always visit the refuge. How could I not? The refuge staff gave me a priceless experience and I felt the need to give back. During the spring semester of my sophomore year I had the idea of creating a painting for the refuge. My initial idea was to create a painting that showcased one major animal from different refuges all across the country, but I felt that this painting needed to be more personal, so I came up with the idea of painting the major fauna that are found within the Potomac River NWR Complex.”

What inspires your art and what is your favorite medium?

“I’ve been interested in art ever since I was little and my artwork developed over time through a variety of mediums.  In grades 6-12 I was more interested in using pencils and I would never want to use any other medium. In grade 10 I got my first set of Prismacolor pencils, which are better at blending seamlessly and that is when my artwork started to transform. Animals and landscapes really inspire me. The natural beauty that we are surrounded by is unlike anything that can be replicated in our world of technology.

“Also, watching the Food Network might have influenced my artistic talents. My mother and I enjoyed watching baking shows together and over time I developed a love for baking.  Baking and cooking and creating art are awesome stress relievers for me. I often stress bake at school before an assignment is due. Both activities require patience and attention to detail which brings me to a calm state of mind. ”

Do you think Youth Conservation Corps has helped shape you or your academic or career choices or strengthened your relationship with the outdoors?

“I definitely think that YCC brought me closer to the outdoors. For most of the day our crew was outside completing our assigned tasks. One thing that our crew was interested in was species identification. We identified many plants, fungi, insects, reptiles, and birds. We even had a Facebook page dedicated to the work we had done on the refuge and the flora/fauna we identified along the way. Knowing what surrounds you in nature feels rewarding instead of just walking down a trail and passing all these amazing organisms.”

What would you tell someone who is interested in trying YCC?

“For anyone interested in trying YCC I would say go for it! I must warn you that not all YCC programs are the same. It was my coworkers and the refuge employees that made my experience enjoyable and worth every minute. I would say go in with an open mind just as with anything in life and try to make the most out of the time while being a part of YCC.

I want to work with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Park Service in the future. I want to do what I love while I search for the perfect workplace family and can recognize that I am happy and that I am in the right place. Only a few places that I have worked have I actually enjoyed but nothing comes close to being in the YCC at the Potomac River  NWR Complex.”

Welcoming Winter Birds to New Haven

It may be the beginning of springtime in New England, but our favorite winter birds can still be found by students in New Haven, CT. For first graders at Conte West Hills Magnet School, urban winter birds have been the focus of winter lessons and a welcomed opportunity to get outdoors and spruce up their schoolyard habitat.

Throughout the winter, students have worked with refuge staff from Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge to learn about migratory birds and began identifying local species that can be found near their school. The students are now able to differentiate between which birds spend time in Connecticut year round versus which ones migrate in search of food and warmer climate.

Students work together to create seed ornaments for local birds.

The student’s favorite local species to identify included the cardinal, blue jay, and goldfinch because of their bright colors, but many also enjoyed learning about the Baltimore oriole and osprey that spend their summers in Connecticut. An “Aha!” moment for students was when they learned that birds are the only organisms with feathers, which they discovered through a fun adaptation guessing game.

While winter took its toll on the schoolyard habitat at Conte West Hills, students kept the birds and squirrels happy by creating seed ornaments to provide food throughout the season. Everyone worked together in small teams to help one another create fun shapes while also learning the importance of wildlife habitat for animals that need it to survive through the winter.

Student show off their finished bird seed ornaments in the schoolyard habitat.

Next steps for these first graders will be a field trip to the local park where they hope to spot tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, and woodpeckers! Additionally, students will be planting native plants at their school and creating more feeders for birds in the spring.