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CAPE ANN WILDLIFE 2020: THE YEAR IN PICTURES, MOVIES, AND STORIES

Several years ago my husband suggested I write a “year end” wildlife review about all the creatures seen over the preceding year. That first review was a joyful endeavor though daunting enough. Over the next several years the reviews became more lengthy as I tried to cover every beautiful, wonderful creature that was encountered on woodland hikes, beaches, dunes, marshes, ponds, and our own backyards and neighborhoods. 2020 has been a very different year. There were just as many local wildlife stories as in previous years however, the pandemic and political climate have had far reaching consequences across geographic regions around the world, touching every living creature in the interconnected web of life we call our ecosystems.

This first year of the global pandemic has had a profoundly negative impact on wildlife and their habitats. In urban areas in developed countries, perhaps the economic slowdown afforded wildlife a break, with less pollution, less air travel, and some wild animals even reclaiming territory. Though the true downside of Covid-19 is that the pandemic has had an extraordinarily harmful impact on wildlife in rural areas and in less developed countries People who are dependent upon tourism, along with people who have lost jobs in cities and are returning to rural areas, are placing increasing pressure on wildlife by poaching, illegal mining, and logging. As mining and logging destroy wildlife habitats, animals are forced into ever shrinking areas, causing them to become sick, stressed, and to starve to death. These same stressed wild animals come in contact with people and farm animals, creating an ever increasing potential to transmit horrifically deadly illness, diseases such as Covid-19.

There are many, many organizations working to protect wildlife and conserve their habitats. I am especially in awe of one particular grass roots non-profit organization located in Macheros, Mexico, previously featured here, Butterflies and Their People. Co-founded by Ellen Sharp and Joel Moreno Rojas, the work they are doing to both protect the butterfly’s winter habit and provide employment for the forest’s guardians is outstanding.

All the butterfly sanctuaries (their winter resting places), are closed this year due to the pandemic. Dozens of people in the tiny town of Macheros are wholly dependent upon the income received by the work they do protecting the butterfly trees from illegal logging, as well as income from the tourist industry.  Ellen, Joel, and their team of arborists have come up with a wonderfully creative way to bring the butterflies to you. For a modest fee, you can sign up to “Adopt a Colony” to receive monthly newsletters and video tours of the Monarchs at Cerro Pelon. The newsletters are written by Ellen, who writes beautifully and clearly about the month-by-month current state of the butterflies in their winter habitat, as well as human interest stories drawn from the community. To subscribe to “Adopt a Colony” from Butterflies and Their People, go here.

We can be hopeful in 2021 that with a new administration, a much greater focus will be paid by our federal government to stop the spread of the virus in the US as well as around the globe. Not only is there hope in regard to the course correction needed to battle the pandemic, but the Biden/Harris administration has made climate change and environmental justice a cornerstone of their platform, including measures such as stopping the environmental madness taking place along our southern border and reversing many of the previous administration’s mandates that are so harmful to wildlife and their habitats.

Around the globe, especially in less developed countries, the pandemic has set back environmental initiatives by years, if not decades. We are so fortunate in Essex County  to have conservation organizations such as Greenbelt, MassWildlife, The Trustees, and Mass Audubon; organizations that protect the sanctity of wildlife and recognize the importance of protecting habitats not only for wildlife but equally as important, for the health and safety of human inhabitants.

The following are just some of the local images and stories that make us deeply appreciate the beauty of wildlife and their habitats found on Cape Ann and all around Essex County. Each picture is only a brief window into the elusive, complex life of a creature. Every day and every encounter brings so much more to observe, to learn, to enjoy, and to love.

To read more, each image and story from the past year is Google searchable. Type in the name of the creature and my name and the link to the story and pictures posted on my website should come right up.

Some Beautiful Raptors of 2020 – Red-tailed Hawk, Short-eared Owl, American Bald Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, Merlin, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Osprey, and Snowy Owls

 

Essex County Greenbelt’s Osprey pair, Annie and Squam, successfully fledged little River (nestling photo courtesy ECGA)

 

The Snowy Owl Film Project was completed in March, with the objective of providing pandemic- virtually schooled kids a window into the world of Snowy Owls in their winter habitat (see all five short films here).

 

Spunky Mute Swan Cygnets

Utterly captivated by the winsome Red Fox Family

A tiny sampling of the beautiful songbirds that graced our shores in 2020 – Cedar Waxwings, Baltimore Orioles, Catbirds, American Robins, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Snow Buntings, American Pipits, Horned Larks, and Eastern Bluebirds

 

A new favorite place to film is at my friend Paul’s wonderfully fun sunflower field in Ipswich, School Street Sunflowers. Beautiful Bobolinks, Common Yellowthroat Warblers, and Bluejays were just some of the songbirds seen feasting on the expiring seedheads  of sunflowers and wildflowers growing amongst the rows of flowers.

Graceful White-tailed Deer herd of adult females and youngsters

Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and juvenile Little Blue Herons delight with their elegance, beauty, and stealth hunting skills. Included in the montage is a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron that spent the winter at Niles Pond

A fraction of the different species of Shorebirds and Gulls seen on Cape Ann this past year – Dowitchers, Killdeers, Black-bellied Plovers, Common Tern, Least Tern, Laughing Gulls, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Glaucus Gull, and rarely seen Dovekie, or”Little Auk.”

Cecropia Moth life cycle unfolding in our garden, from mating, to egg laying, to caterpillar, to adult.

 

Dozens and dozens of orb spider webs draped a small patch of wildflowers. The dream catchers were attracting Cedar Waxwings to feast on the insects caught in the webs. The following day I returned after a rainstorm. The webs had melted away in the downpour and the Waxwings had vanished into the treetops.

Harbor and Gray Seals hauled out on the rocks at Brace Cove, as many as 28 were counted on a winter’s day!

Piping Plovers and Marshmallow Montage

In 2020, our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair fledged one chick, nicknamed Marshmallow. Despite the global pandemic, a group of super dedicated Piping Plover Ambassadors worked tirelessly from sunrise until sunset to help ensure the safety of the Piping Plover family and to help educate beachgoers about the beautiful life story of the Plovers unfolding on Gloucester’s most popular beach destination. We worked with Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, the Gloucester DPW, and Gloucester City Councilor Scot Memhard, with much appreciated advice from Mass Wildlife Coastal Waterbird Biologist Carolyn Mostello.

Read more about Marshmallow, the Ambassadors, and the Piping Plover Film Project here.

Piping Plover Marshmallow Montage, from egg to thirty-eight days old. Filmed at Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester, Massachusetts.

MONARCHS!

It has been a wonderful, exhilarating, infinitely educational, and beautifully challenging journey creating my documentary, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterflies. The film was released in February 2020, but because of the pandemic, was not seen by the public until August, when it premiered (virtually) at the New Haven Documentary Film Festival. Beauty on the Wing has gone on to win honors and awards at both environmental and children’s film festivals, including the tremendous honor of Best Documentary at the Boston International Kids Film Festival. I’ve just received the very attractive award in the mail and have not had time to post a photo yet.

Beauty on the Wing portrays Cape Ann in the most beautiful light and I think when we are ever able to have a live premiere in this area, local friends will be delighted at the outcome. Joyfully so, Beauty is now being distributed to schools, libraries, institutions, and the travel industry through American Public Television Worldwide.

Beauty on the Wing continues to be accepted to film festivals and I will keep you posted as some are geo-bloced to this area, including the upcoming Providence Children’s Film Festival.

 

Last but not least, our wonderfully wildy Charlotte, little adventurer and nature-loving companion throughout the year

 

 

 

 

 

 

“HOPE” IS THE THING WITH WINGS

With a stroke of a pen, President Biden signed executive orders canceling the Keystone XL pipeline, pausing border wall construction, rejoining the Paris climate accord, and directing agencies to review and reverse more than than 100 TR actions taken against the environment.

January 20, 2020 marks a glorious day for our nation. I imagine many are, as am I, still processing all, though wasn’t it magnificent to wake up this morning and not worry in what manner the former president had harmed our nation and it citizens, whether racially, environmentally, pandemic related, or on the world stage. There is still much to set right again, to repair, to restore, to rebuild, and ultimately to move forward with. In thinking about these profound changes and how a stroke of the pen puts pause to the insane wall construction, how this simple act will help people, communities, butterflies, and myriad species of wildlife along our border with Mexico, I am reminded of ED’s “Hope” is the thing with feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

-Emily Dickinson

FILMING “BENEATH THE GRASS” WITH WILL BERMUDEZ AT SEINE FIELD

Fillmmaker Will Bermudez and his ‘bubble’ crew from Pratt were at Seine Field in Gloucester today working on Will’s short film Beneath the Grass. Local girls (our) Charlotte and Meadow Anderson were cast as sisters. It’s a full circle moment for my family- Will’s Mom, and my dear friend Claudia, featured our daughter Liv in a children’s film twenty-five years ago, when Liv was about Charlotte’s age.

RED FOX SLEEPING IN THE MORNING SUN

Little Red Fox found a sunny, albeit super windy, spot to soak in some morning rays. Fox use their tails to snuggle in for warmth.

MAGNIFICENT ATMOSPHERIC LIGHT DEPARTING STORM BACKSHORE, TWIN LIGHTS, GOOD HARBOR BEACH MARSH FLOODED, TEN POUND ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE, CITY SKYLINE, SANDERLINGS, AMERICAN PPIPIT, AND ANOTHER DEAD BABY SEAL

Look what the storm brought in its wake – great waves, marsh flooding, and dreamy atmospheric skies, along with Sanderlings, Gulls, and an American Pipit feeding at the shoreline.

That’s Rick and Roman Gadbois enjoying the scene in several of the Back Shore photos.

Very sadly though, another dead baby Harbor Seal was washed ashore, this one at Niles Beach.

 

THANK YOU GLOUCESTER DAILY TIMES GAIL McCARTHY AND ANDREA HOLBROOK FOR THE “LOCAL ARTISTS EARN ACCOLADES” FILM UDATE!!

Lovely update from the Gloucester Daily Times Gail McCarthy for Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. So many thanks to the Times for their continued support for BotWing. I am so grateful and appreciative!

AROUND CAPE ANN: Local artists earn accolades

  • January 14, 2020

Gloucester’s Kim Smith, who boasts a love of nature, photography and all things art, has found growing recognition for her film “Beauty on the Wing,” about the life of the monarch butterfly and its intercontinental migration from Canada to Mexico.

Smith spent more than eight years researching and documenting the natural phenomenon, whose more than 3,000 miles includes Cape Ann.

This fall, her documentary was accepted into the Boston International Kids Film Festival, where it earned an award for best documentary.

More recently, “Beauty on the Wing” received an Award of Excellence from the Nature Without Borders International Film Festival and was accepted as an official selection to the Providence Children’s Film Festival, which takes place in February.

“I am overjoyed that ‘Beauty on the Wing’ is finding acceptance at both children’s and conservation festivals; that jurors see it as it was meant to be, a conservation film for people of all ages,” Smith said.

She noted that “Beauty on the Wing” also appears on the American Public Television Worldwide website in its catalog of science and nature programming at aptww.org/program/Beauty-on-the-Wing-Life-Story-of-the-Monarch-Butterfly.

Rockport artist wins Texas honor

Rockport artist Susan Lynn won the grand prize at the EnPleinAirTEXAS competition with her painting titled “Peace on the River.”

“It was overwhelming to get the grand prize because there is a stellar group of painters in that competition every year,” she said. “It was humbling, and I was very honored to be recognized in that group.”

READ MORE HERE

The GMGI Science Hour with OceanX’s Dr. Vincent Pieribone on 1/21 – Register Now!

We are thrilled to kick off the 2021 Science Hour talks with Dr. Vincent Pieribone, Vice Chairman of OceanX!

Please join us on Thursday, January 21st at 7:30pm via Zoom to hear Dr. Pieribone discuss the fascinating adventures of OceanX and what it means for the future of Ocean Science. Register today!

Dr. Pieribone is currently a Professor of Cellular & Molecular Physiology and Neuroscience at Yale School of Medicine, and is a Fellow and Director of the John B. Pierce Laboratory at Yale University.

Did you miss the news about our collaboration with OceanX? Read all about our new partnership that will pair our cutting-edge genomic capabilities with OceanX’s incredible exploration and storytelling abilities.

If you have already registered for this talk, you will have received a confirmation email from Zoom with login information.

Please reach out to ashley.destino@gmgi.org with any questions.

A BOSSY QUARRELSOME FELLOW IS THAT RARE BLACK-HEADED GULL!

I have returned several times more to see that rare and beautiful little Black-headed Gull. He wasn’t alone but was feeding in a mixed flock of gulls and ducks. All seemed perfectly peaceful at first. Before too long, he was squawking noisily, barking orders, and flying aggressively toward any other gull that crossed his path. Very comical actually, as he was smaller than all the others nonetheless, they took orders readily and moved aside.

Black-headed Gull vs. Ring-billed Gull Battle 

Wonderfully animated surf dancer!

Bonaparte’s Gull left, Black-headed Gull right

A friend wrote wondering if I was sure what we are seeing is a Black-headed Gull. He, as was I initially, wondering if it was a Bonaparte’s Gull. Bonaparte’s have black bills, whereas the Black-headed Gull has a black-tipped red bill, along with red feet and legs. I found this terrific image showing the progressive molting stages of a Black-headed Gull while looking up Black-headed Gulls.

By the way, the head feathers of the Black-headed Gull in breeding plumage are really not black, but chocolate brown. Then again, there is an actual Brown-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus). Whoever gave name to these gulls!!
Black-headed Gull in breeding plumage, photo courtesy Google image search

Someone Etched ‘TRUMP’ on a Florida Manatee

From the New York Times – Wildlife authorities are investigating and said that the harassment of the manatee is illegal under state and federal laws.

Credit: Hailey Warrington

The sighting in Florida this week of a manatee with “Trump” etched in block letters on its back has prompted an investigation and a plea for help from a nonprofit conservation group.

The Center for Biological Diversity said it was offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to a conviction “for the cruel and illegal mutilation” of a threatened manatee in the Homosassa River in Citrus County, on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

“It’s heartbreaking that this manatee was subjected to this vile, criminal act,” Jaclyn Lopez, the center’s Florida director, said on Monday.

“It’s clear that whoever harmed this defenseless, gentle giant is capable of doing grave violence and needs to be apprehended immediately,” she added.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began investigating after the manatee was discovered on Sunday with scarring in the form of the president’s name, the center said. The discovery was reported by the Citrus County Chronicle.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that manatee did not appear to be seriously injured “as it seems the word was written in algae on the animal’s back.”

Patrick Rose, the executive director of the nonprofit Save the Manatee Club, said he had seen the photos of the manatee earlier on Monday and was disturbed.

“This is a type of a molestation of an imperiled species,” he said on Monday from Gainesville, Fla. He added that the manatee appeared to be an adolescent.

HOUSE REPRESENTATIVE ANN MARGARET FERRANTE WRITES WITH TREMENDOUS NEWS FOR CAPE ANN

It was past 4 am this morning when we voted on the Commonwealth’s Economic Development Bill, which I wrote as the House Chair of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies.

This bill contains more than $600 million in investments in cities, towns, small business and workers. For Cape Ann specifically there’s $3 million for UMass to repair the Annisquam Marine Station and to establish a Seafood Processing Center of Excellence on Gloucester Harbor… Now at 10:00 am, I am preparing to be sworn in as your Representative.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve you and to work with you to move Cape Ann forward, to rebuild and grow our economy and jobs.

Representative Ann Margaret Ferrante with City Council President Steven Leblanc

BEAUTIFUL LOBSTER TRAP TREE IN THE FALLING SNOW

Pretty snowfall along with mixed rain off and on throughout the day. 

HORNED LARK THREESOME!

Three brownish songbird sorts flew on the scene. Feeding along the pond’s edge at this time of year the brown birds we mostly see are Song Sparrows, but they are more solitary and I don’t usually see them flying around together in a group. Hoping for a bunch of beauties, I approached the trio very quietly, one baby step at a time, and was delighted to see not one but three Horned Larks! I wish the sun had been shining so you can see how beautiful is the male’s lemony yellow throat.

Several weeks ago there was one, possibly two, feeding with American Pipits and a Snow Bunting. What a treat to see three!

Two appeared to be male and one female. The easiest way to tell the male from the female is by looking at the facial markings. The female lacks the black eye patch.

Male and female Horned Larks foraging on seeds

A LOLLYGAGGING SEAL GOOD MORNING TO YOU!

Good Morning!

STARTING THE NEW YEAR OFF ON A HAPPY BUT MELANCHOLY NOTE

As was the case for so many, New Year’s Day was joyful but bittersweet, too. I drove Liv to the airport at dawn for her return trip to LA. She can work remotely and was able to travel home in early December, before the second surge. When she arrived home she quarantined, taking a Covid test prior to, and again after arriving. Liv extended her visit an extra week so that she did not have to fly back last weekend. It’s nerve wracking dropping her off at the airport but she has had to fly occasionally for work during the pandemic and Delta is only allowing at most 50 percent capacity. She flies at odd times so the planes are mostly empty, and she is often allowed to upgrade to first class for free, as she was on this flight. All that being said, with the surge on top of the surge and the new strain running rampant, praying and hoping she will remain safe and Covid-free.

Having both adult children home, along with our darling Charlotte here with us full time, we are having more fun as a family – cooking together, playing card games, laughing, joking, and telling stories. This family time together has been the silver lining to the pandemic and the part I will choose to remember.

I stopped on the way home to watch the planes taking off and snap a photo of the first sunrise of 2021.

After returning from the airport, Charlotte and I took one of our mini nature walks around Eastern Point. The very first creature we encountered was a young Double-crested Cormorant. He was attempting to cross the berm. We almost walked right into him! For some reason we couldn’t quite understand, he didn’t care to fly from Brace Cove to Niles Pond, but was on foot.

After we stood very quietly for several minutes (no small feat for a three-year-old) he decided we weren’t a threat and crossed our path, not three feet away!

Continuing on our mini trek, we spotted the rare Black-headed Gull bobbing along in the cove (see yesterday’s post).

To top off our day, a young Cooper’s Hawk flew overhead and landed in a nearby tree.

Wishing you a healthy New Year Friends!

RARE BLACK-HEADED GULL IN GLOUCESTER!

At first glance I thought the gull feeding offshore was a Bonaparte’s Gull, but after taking a second look, I believe this is a Black-headed Gull in non-breeding plumage. The black-tipped red bill is the surest way to id when on the water, along with his cute little red legs and feet.

Common throughout Eurasia, they are rarer on this side of the Atlantic; the first sighting north of Mexico was recorded in 1930 in Newburyport. When Black-headed Gulls are spotted in the US, they are most likely seen along the Massachusetts coastline.