Author Archives: Kim Smith

About Kim Smith

Documentary filmmaker, photographer, landscape designer, author, and illustrator. Currently creating films about the Monarch Butterfly, Gloucester's Feast of St. Joseph, Saint Peter's Fiesta, and Piping Plovers. Visit my websites for more information about film and design projects at kimsmithdesigns.com and monarchbutterflyfilm.com. Author/illustrator "Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden"

Grand Heron of the Great Marsh: Cape Ann’s Great Blue Herons

Mostly elegant, though sometimes appearing comically Pterodactylus-like, the Great Blue Heron is found in nearly every region of the United States, Mexico, and Central America, as well as the southern provinces of Canada.

Its light weight, a mere five pounds, belies the fact that the Great Blue Heron is North America’s largest heron, with a wingspan of up to six and a half feet and a height of four and a half feet. I write elegant because it truly has a grace unsurpassed when in repose or waiting to strike a fish. Images of Pterodactylus come to mind when you see the bird battling for territory with other herons or flapping about in a tree top; the Heron loses all its sophisticated exquisiteness, transformed into what looks like a great winged beast.

Pterodactylus images courtesy wiki commons media

This summer past was a tremendous year for observing herons and egrets on Cape Ann. Our marshes, ponds, and waterways were rife with Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Green Herons, American Bitterns, and especially Great Blue Herons.

Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets, Cape Ann

At every location Great Blue Herons were foraging either with a flock of mixed herons and egrets, or in a solitary manner. Great Blue Herons hunt day and night and I would often find them at daybreak. They will stand quietly for hours, repeatedly striking the water with lightning speed, and nearly always resurfacing with a fish or frog. Great Blue Herons are survivalists and their diet is wide ranging, including large and small fish, frogs, insects, small mammals, and even other birds. Because of its highly varied diet, the Great Blue Heron is able to spend winters further north than most other species of herons and egrets. Even when waters freeze, we still see them on our shores well into December.

Great Blue Herons are sometimes mistakenly referred to as cranes, which they are not. Cranes are entirely different species. Bas relief at Crane Estate, Ipswich.

Don’t you think it amazing how perfectly these largest of North America’s herons meld with the surrounding landscape?

Here are some moments from this past summer and autumn observing the elegant (mostly) and elusive Great Blue Heron.

Fishing – Great Blue Herons capture small fish and amphibians by plunging into water and then swallowing whole the prey. They also use their powerful bills like a dagger to spear larger fish.

Great Blue Heron range map

Snowy Owl Sighting!

Will the winter of 2018-2019 bring another Snowy Owl Snowstorm similar to the irruption of 2017-2018? It is too soon in the season to know. They have been trickling in, but Snowy Owls typically begin to move southward in greater numbers in mid- to late-November.

The Snowy spotted today is a male, with a beautiful nearly pure white face and neck. Although off in the distance, he appeared to be in good health, with plushy full set of feathers, big furry feet, and tell-tale pinkish hue smudged around his beak (hopefully from a recent catch). He was quietly nodding off until suddenly disturbed by someone approaching too closely. He swooped across the landscape and away from the onlooker to a more remote location, and was hopefully left undisturbed for the remainder of the day.

Grooming and dozing off amongst the tall grasses and dried wildflowers.

On high alert and then flushing after sudden disturbance.

HAPPY AUTUMN DAYS!

Spring Peeper out and about before hibernating for the winter.

Relishing the last of these golden days, we took advantage of Sunday’s delightfully beautiful weather with a hike around Eastern Point. Several female Yellow-rumped Warblers were spotted feeding on seed heads, a lone turtle was basking on a sun-warmed rock, the Harbor Seals were lolling about, and a tiny Spring Peeper was spied in the fallen leaves.

You can see why these sweet birds are called Yellow-rumped Warblers. Note the little flash of yellow on the rump of the warbler flying in the background.

Eastern Painted Turtle

Who me?

Harbor Seals warming in the sun.

MONARCHS AND LADIES – LAST OF THE SEASON’S BUTTERFLIES

While releasing the last Monarchs of the season with Charlotte, one landed on her hair and stayed for few moments, just long enough to catch a minute of footage and to take a photo.

Thank you to Patti Papows for our little straggler. Patti’s chrysalis was attached to a plant in her garden, an aster, which had lost all its leaves. She was worried a predator might eat it, so we scooped up the chrysalis and placed it in a terrarium at my home, where the butterfly emerged on October 17.

Will these last of the season’s Monarchs that are migrating along the Atlantic Coast make it to Mexico? Some will follow a path along the coastline, where when they reach the Delaware Bay, winds will begin to funnel them towards Mexico, between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. Some will continue on down the coast all the way to Florida. Some of these Atlantic Coast Monarchs will live their days out in Florida, and some will cross the Gulf of Mexico on their journey to Mexico.

Please join me on Wednesday, November 7th, from 1:00 to 5:00pm where I am one of three presenters for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society at Elm Bank. I hope to see you there!

Discover new ways to garden, and new plants to select to make your home more sustainable in three presentations that address methods and plantings that you can adopt to improve your local environment and welcome more wildlife to your gardens. Presentations will review methods of ecological landscaping, introduce you to native shrubs, and share what you can plant to support pollinators.

Register Now!

October Monarchs
American Ladies on the wing during the month of October

SNEAK PEAK NEW LUXURIOUS COUNTRY VENUE AND RESTAURANT – THE BRIAR BARN INN – OPENING DECEMBER 1ST!

Recently Briar Forsythe, my friend and proprietor of the North Shore’s newest inn and special events venue, the Briar Barn Inn, invited me to again visit the property and photograph their progress. You can see photos from April here.

Proprietor Briar and architect Gerald Fandetti

You will simply be knocked out by the beauty of the architecture and exquisite interior details. The buildings perfectly meld with the pastoral landscape, paying lovely homage to the area’s agricultural roots.

Some of the details will melt your heart. For example–architect Gerald Fandetti and designer Charlotte Forsythe, many, many years ago, rescued the gorgeous arching windows you see pictured here. The windows have been incorporated into the architecture of the Barn and will flank the entryway vestibule. Imagine storing these huge unwieldy windows for decades, not knowing if they would ever find a new life.

People love farmhouse style weddings–mostly because they want the feeling of at-home, relaxed, and down-to-earth entertaining. At Briar Barn Inn, you will find the perfectly idealized setting for your dream down-home wedding, along with every imaginable modern luxury.

More sneak peaks to come!

Briar Barn Inn is located in Rowley on the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway at 101 Main Street (Route 1). For more information about the Inn visit the Briar Barn Inn website here. To book your stay call 978-653-5323.

Message from the Briar Barn Inn team:
BRIAR BARN INN IS NOW BOOKING: December 2018 and beyond!
We’re so excited to be opening our Inn just in time for the holiday season – on December 1st, 2018! We want our friends and neighbors in Essex County to be among the first to enjoy our cozy rooms, so we are offering an introductory rate of 20% off your entire stay! So if you’re looking for a local getaway in December 2018 – March 2019, or want to host your family or friends for a wintertime visit, we invite you to celebrate a new tradition in our 30-room Inn. Each room features a fireplace, luxurious bathrobes, and an alcove soaking tub! We’ll also include a special in-room gift for our guests in December to celebrate our very first month in business.

The opening of our Restaurant and Spa will follow shortly after our December 2018 Inn opening, so this introductory rate is the perfect way to get a preview of all our property will offer.

Visit our reservation website (linked below) to book your stay! After selecting the dates of your stay, enter the code “LCAL” under the area that says “Rate Options”, and hit the “Apply” button to get 20% off your entire stay for visits between December 1st, 2018 and March 31st, 2019. Or call and mention “Local Love” to experience our very first season at Briar Barn Inn!

BOOK YOUR STAY TODAY!

Breathtaking Sunrise at Good Harbor Beach

Glorious light and colors at Good Harbor Beach Monday morning. 

A (RARELY SEEN) FOX SQUIRREL IN GLOUCESTER MASSACHUSETTS??

Rare for Massachusetts that is. This afternoon a very unusual colored squirrel briefly stopped by our garden. He sat atop the fence post, had a quick snack from our neighbor’s black privet berries, then departed as quickly as he arrived. At first glance I thought he was a Red Squirrel, but he was much, much too big. Next thought, perhaps a melanistic Gray Squirrel. Or perhaps a Gray and an American Red (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) had interbred, but that isn’t possible. However, I did learn a Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) and a Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) can interbreed. But possibly what we have here is an actual Fox Squirrel, which would be quite uncommon for Massachusetts. I am still researching this. If any of our readers has seen a Fox Squirrel in Massachusetts, please write and let us know. Thank you in advance.

Eating privet berries

Fox Squirrels are diurnal, which means they feed during the day. This little guy stopped by for a snack at about 1:30 in the afternoon. Conversely, Eastern Gray Squirrels are crepuscular, which means they are more active during the early and late hours of the day.

In this year of tree squirrel super abundance, I wonder, too if that could possibly be an explanation for an appearance by a Fox Squirrel; perhaps expanding its territory in search of food.

The coat of a Fox Squirrel comes in many colors, from nearly all black to rust, tawny gold, and gray combinations–like a fox. Gray Squirrels are mostly gray with white bellies. The average size of a Gray Squirrel is 9.1 – 12 inches; the average size of a Fox Squirrel is 10 to 15 inches.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Mystery visitor