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CAPE ANN WILDLIFE: A YEAR IN PICTURES 2017

CAPE ANN WILDLIFE: A YEAR IN PICTURES 2017

By Kim Smith

Cape Ann provides welcome habitat for a menagerie of creatures beautiful, from the tiniest winged wonder to our region’s top predator, the Eastern Coyote. Last year I posted a Cape Ann Wildlife Year in Pictures 2016 and I hope you will find the wildlife stories of 2017 equally as beautiful. Click on the image to find the name of each species.

WINTER

Winter: Only partially frozen ponds allowed for dabblers and divers such as Mallards, Mergansers, and Buffleheads to forage at the freshwater. Mr. Swan had his usual entourage of quwackers and daily heads to the other side of the pond to get away for his morning stretches. Sightings of Red-tailed Hawks and other raptors abounded. Although photographed in Newburyport, the owl photos are included, well, just because I like them. An Eastern Screech Owl (red-morph) was seen daily perched above a playground and Barred Owl sightings too were reported throughout the winter. Raptors live on Cape Ann all year round but are much easier to see in winter when the trees are bare of foliage.

The beautiful green eyes of the juvenile Double-crested Cormorants were seen wintering at both Niles Pond and Rockport Harbor. And during a warm February day on a snowless marsh a turkey bromance shindig commenced.

SPRING

 

In early spring, a male and female American Wigeon arrived on the scene making local ponds their home for several weeks. In the right light the male’s electric green feathers at the top of his head shine brightly and both the male and female have baby blue bills.

Meadow and marsh, dune and treetop were graced with the heralding harbingers of spring with photos of a Red-winged Blackbird, a pair of Cedar Waxwings, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Kingbird, Tree Swallow, and Grackle included here.

The Great Swan Escape story made the news in Boston as Mr. Swan eluded captors for hours. He had re-injured his foot and someone took it upon themselves to call the animal rescuers, which would have surely meant death for our beloved 27-year old swan if he had been wrangled into captivity.

M is clearly for Migration through Massachusetts and the month-long arrivals and departures did not abate. Short-billed Dowitchers, winsome Willets, Yellow Legs, and Ruddy Turnstones are just some of the migrating shorebirds spied on Cape Ann beaches and marshes. The best news in May was the return of the Piping Plovers. Of the five or six that camped at Good Harbor Beach to investigate potential nesting sites, one pair bonded and built their nest mere yards from the nesting pair of last year. Could it be the same pair? The nesting Piping Plover story took up much of the spring and by early summer four little Piping Plover chicks hatched over Fiesta weekend. Hundreds of photos and hours of film footage are in the process of being organized with a children’s book and documentary in progress.

Piping Plover Courtship Dance

Piping Plover Nest

 

SUMMER

 

OctoPop

The survival of one Piping Plover chick was made possible by a wholesale community effort, with volunteers covering all hours of daylight, along with Mayor Sefatia and her team, Ken Whittaker from the conservation office, Chief McCarthy, and animal control officer Diane Corliss all lending a hand.

Sadly, several Northern Gannets came ashore to die on our Cape Ann beaches, struck by the same mysterious and deadly disease that is afflicting Northern Gannets in other regions. During the summer season they are typically at their North American breeding grounds, which are six well-established colonies, three in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec, and three in the North Atlantic, off the coast of Newfoundland.

An orphaned swan was introduced to Niles Pond, much to the dismay of Mr. Swan. Eastern Point residents Skip and Lyn kept watch over the two while they reluctantly became acquainted.

By mid-July many of us were seeing Monarchs in much greater numbers than recent years. Nearly every region within the continental United States experienced a fantastic Painted Lady irruption and butterflies of every stripe and polka dot were seen flitting about our meadows, fields, and gardens.

The tadpoles and froglets of American Bullfrogs and Green Frogs made for good eating for several families of resident otters, who are making their homes in abandoned beaver lodges. Little Blue Herons too, find plentiful frogs at our local ponds.

In early August we see the Tree Swallows begin to mass for their return migration. They find an abundance of fruits and insects in the dunes, headlands, and beaches. The Cedar Waxwings and Ruddy Trunstones were back again observed foraging on their southward journey, along with myriad species of songbird, shorebird, diver, and dabbler.

Tree Swallows Massing

FALL

 

 

The Late Great Monarch migration continued into the fall as we were treated to a wonderfully warm autumn. Waves and waves of Monarchs came ashore and more butterflies arrived on the scene including new batches of Painted Ladies, Clouded Sulphurs and Common Buckeyes (nothing common about these beauties!).

A pair of Northern Pintails called Cape Ann ponds and coves home for nearly a month while we seem to be seeing more and more raptors such as Red-tailed Hawks, Osprey, Bald Eagles, and Peregrine Falcons. Juvenile herons of every species that breeds on Cape Ann lingered long into the fall—Black-crowned Night Herons, Yellow-crowned Herons, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, and Green Herons.

Just as Mr. Swan and the Young Swan appeared to be warming to each other, the Young Swan, who has yet to learn to fly, became trapped in the ice at Niles Pond. He was rescued by caretakers Lyn and Dan and is now spending the winter at a cozy sanctuary built by Lyn and friends.

Heart-wings Monarch

Thank you to all our readers for your kind comments of appreciation throughout the year for the beautiful wild creatures with which we share this gorgeous peninsula called Cape Ann. If you’d like to read more about a particular animal, type the name of the animal in the search box and the original post should come up

With its expansive marshes and dunes, bodies of fresh clear water, saltwater coves and inlets, and geographic location within the Atlantic Flyway, 2017 has been a banner year for Cape Ann’s wild and wonderful creatures. I can’t wait to see what awaits in 2018!

Snowy Owl “Hedwig” January 2018 Backshore Gloucester

Live from the Women’s March NYC!

Thanks to Liv for sharing photos of the 2018 Women’s March in NYC. Tens of thousands of folks are pouring in from the surrounding boroughs. That’s New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio in the first two photos.

Mr. Swan Update Rescue #2

Angel Swan Sleeping

Thanks to Lyn Fonzo, Dan Harris, Skip Munroe, Skip Hadden, Duncan, Stephanie, Lillian, a bunch more Eastern Point residents, Steve Monell and a pair of “angel” swans, our Mr. Swan has flown off the ice at Niles Pond. As Lyn shared earlier, two Mute Swans flew to Niles Pond, landing precisely at the same spot where Mr. Swan was resting. They must have been very tired because the mysterious swans immediately closed their eyes and took a nap while Mr. Swan watched over the pair. He eventually dozed off, too. After a long rest, all three departed the Pond, circling around and then heading over Brace Cove towards Rockport. Mr. Swan had some difficulty but perhaps encouraged by the presence of companions, he successfully took off.

Cape Ann residents please be on the look out for the three swans!

Without Dan and Lyn’s overnight vigilance against a coyote attack, our daybreak watch, and the angel swans I think it unlikely Mr. Swan would have survived this latest escapade. Our most heartfelt thanks to all who are keeping good watch over Mr. Swan and friends.

Notice the angel swans have black eyes. A friend asked if they could be Mr. Swan’s offspring. Possibly, but most likely not. Mr. Swan has blue eyes, which is not typically seen in these parts.

Mr. Swan is the tiny lump sleeping on the ice, toward the left. We don’t want to see you at Niles Mr. Swan until the Pond thaws!

Mr. Swan Rescue Update and a Pair of Mysterious Swans Arrive at Niles Pond!

Yesterday at mid-morning Mr. Swan flew to Niles Pond. This is an unfortunate occurrence as Niles Pond is frozen.

When temperatures plummeted in December, Mr. Swan moved to one of his favorite winter territories, Rockport Harbor and the adjacent coastline, where the salt water rarely freezes. My theory is that the January thaw we experienced over the past several days drew him to freshwater Niles Pond and I imagine, he expected to find a thawed pond. This is only a theory, but in trying to think like a swan and understand why he would be so uncharacteristically foolish, it is my best assumption.

Maneuvering on ice can be extremely difficult. In order to take off for flight, swans run a short distance on top of the water. Trying to gain the traction needed on ice may be nearly impossible.

After spending a good part of the day in the center of the pond, I coaxed him over to the edge where there was a patch of open water. He ate a little bit of corn, although not nearly as much as usual. He appeared to enjoy the freshwater but then at dusk, he half flew-half ran back to the center of the pond.

Extremely concerned about coyotes, Mr. Swan’s caretakers Lyn and Dan checked on him throughout the night. I took the dawn shift and found him alert and preening. He made several attempts to walk, but then would plop down and tuck his head under his wing to sleep and to keep warm. Eastern Point residents Duncan and Stephanie, and ice boat sailor Steven, offered to help while Lyn, Skip Munroe, Lois, and I conferred on the phone. We decided the best plan of action would be to capture him and return him to Rockport Harbor. At 9am Skip and Dan determined that the ice was okay to walk upon. They fearlessly walked onto the pond and at one point Lyn followed with blankets. After first attempting to capture him, they then herded him over near Skip Hadden’s dock. Skip, Skip, and Dan again tried to capture him. He’s a very smart swan, wily and wild, and after several unsuccessful attempts, we decided to not tire him out and try to feed him, and help him as much as he would allow, from Lyn’s little beach.

Mr. Swan at sunrise and trying to negotiate the ice.

Shortly after, and unbelievably, A PAIR OF TRAVELING SWANS flew into Niles, near Lyn’s beach, next to Mr. Swan. At the moment, while writing this post, all three are sleeping peaceably together in a little group!

Newly Arrived Swans!

How to Tell the Difference Between Male and Female Snowy Owls

The winter of 2017-2018 has proven so far to be an irruptive year for Snowy Owls, as was predicted by scientists. In years when there is a lemming population boom, which is a staple of the Snowy’s diet, double, even triple, the amount of Snowy Owl hatchlings survive the summer breeding season. Arctic winter arrives and for whatever reason, either there is less food available or the first hatch year owls can’t hunt as well, a number of Snowies head south, both adults and juveniles, generally though, more juveniles than adults migrate.

Snowy Owls are white birds, with varying degrees of brown, black, and gray feather patterning. They are North America’s largest owl by weight. As with most bird of prey species, female Snowies are larger than the males, by about one pound. That is considerable, knowing that the average weight of a Snowy Owl is four pounds. A male may grow up to 25 inches, a female to 27 inches, and the wingspan of both is about equal. Because females are larger and more dominant, they usually don’t migrate as far south, staking out territory further north. Typically in our area we see first hatch year males, although currently there is thought to be an adult male at Salisbury Beach. The Snowy at Bass Rocks is presumably a female. When out in the field, the hardest to tell apart are the darkest males and the palest females.

In learning about Snowy Owls, I came across several very helpful photos of Snowy Owl specimens. And we have three examples, from Snowies found right here on the North Shore, from which to compare.

In the photo below, you are looking at eight Snowy Owl specimens from the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates. One through five on the left are males; six, seven, and eight are females. Notice how similar, yet different, are five and six (male #5, female #6).

  1. Snowy Owl males are generally whiter.
  2. Snowy Owl females tend to be larger.
  3. Snowy Owl male’s tails have up to three bars, the female’s have from three to six.
  4. Snowy Owl females have wider and darker marks and bars on the back, nape, and tail.
  5. Snowy Owl males have a larger white bib.

Closeup of the intermediary male (five) and female (six).

Underside of the Owls, in the same order.

Comparing the above photos I think we can logically conclude that the Snowy Owl that was at Captain Joe and Sons in 2015 was a young male, with light markings and a large white bib.

Young Male Snowy Owl

The Snowy Owl currently at Bass Rocks, I think it is safe to say, is a female, and most likely a juvenile. She doesn’t have much bib showing and her overall markings are wide and dark.

Female Snowy Owl

We have our own example of an intermediate–is the Snowy Owl recently photographed at Cranes Beach a juvenile male or a female?

Male or female?