Category Archives: Beauty by the Sea

OSPREY LOVEBIRDS, OPSREYS MATING!

Beautiful Osprey are returning to Massachusetts nesting sites. Annie and Squam, Cape Ann’s resident pair, are actively re-establishing their bond, arranging the nest and courting. Their nest is located in the marsh behind Lobstaland and when driving past, you can often catch sight of the pair’s nesting activity. Annie and Squam’s nest is managed by Essex Greenbelt’s director of land stewardship, Dave Rimmer.

Lobstaland Osprey nest

Osprey courtship is wonderfully fun to observe. Pairs typically mate for life and seem to simply enjoy hanging out together in the nest.  They return each year to an established nest site, which is always near water and may be at the top of a dead tree, cliff, rocky outcropping, or manmade structure including Osprey nesting platforms, telephone poles, channel markings, and even church rooftops (see last photos)! By reusing the same nest from year to year a ready-made nest allows for earlier nesting, which generally leads to greater success. And if the first brood fails, there is time to try again.

This past week I had the unexpected joy to observe close up a pair of Osprey reuniting. The two flew to a phone pole adjacent to their established nest after which the male took off, quickly returning with a large stick. He placed the stick on the phone pole near to where the female was perched, repeating this behavior half a dozen times. The pair called to each other frequently during the stick placement bonding, when they both suddenly flew to their nest and mated. Osprey mating is very brief, lasting only seconds. The female positions her self higher on the rim of the nest while the male jumps on her back. During this extraordinarily brief cloacal kiss, sperm is transferred. I have read pairs will mate frequently during the few days before she begins laying eggs, her most fertile time.

After mating, the lovebirds stayed in their nest for several hours, continuing to “talk” to each other, housekeeping, and what appeared to be simply doing nothing more than hanging out together.

I didn’t see the male delivering fish to the female or the Osprey’s famous courtship flight; hopefully another day 🙂

Goin’ to the chapel

How to tell the difference between male and female Osprey. The female of a pair is oftentimes, but not always, larger than the male, by as much as twenty percent in some instances. But unless you see them side-by-side from exactly the same angle, that can be difficult to compare. Females may also have a more prominent ” necklace,” sometimes referred to as “freckling,” around the neck. Her feather necklace patterning is usually more pronounced. You can see the difference in the photo below.

Female Osprey right, male Osprey left

Fun facts about Osprey

Osprey are one of the largest birds of prey, with a wingspan of five feet.

Osprey are found worldwide, in every continent except Antarctica.

The oldest Osprey lived to be 30 years old.

Osprey are recovering from the use of the pesticide DDT, which caused breeding failure from eggshell thinning. DDT was banned in 1972.

Ospreys are piscivorous, with fish comprising 99 percent of their diet.

When an Osprey catches a fish, it arranges the fish head first, reducing aerodynamic drag.

PIPING PLOVER WEEKEND UPDATE FROM BEAUTIFUL GOOD HARBOR BEACH!

Good Morning PiPl Friends!

Our sweet pair of PiPls has been left largely undisturbed this past week. Word is getting out that the dog officers are ticketing. There are fewer dog tracks running through the symbolically roped off areas, which is fantastic.

Mom and Dad are running the length of the beach, as evidenced by their tiny fleur-de-lis imprints in the sand. They are also nest scraping along the length of the beach however, the pair are primarily sticking within areas #1 (Salt Island side) and #3 (Creekside).

I am excited to think about the possibility of an early nest! If this warm, mild weather continues we may be in luck. For our newest Ambassadors and new friends of Gloucester’s Plovers, the earlier in the season that Piping Plovers nest, the greater the chance the chicks have of surviving. We owe tremendous thanks to Gloucester DPW assistant director Joe Lucido and his crew for installing the roping early. I just can’t express how grateful we are for the early action taken.

This past week I was traveling along the Massachusetts coastline documenting other Piping Plover locations for the PiPl film project and came across a duo of banded Plovers from Eastern Canada. I am waiting to hear back from the Canadian biologist in charge and will write more as soon as she writes back. It was wonderfully exciting to see not one, but two, all the way from Canada and I can’t wait to find out more!

Looking forward to working with you all!

xoKim

Piping Plovers foraging Good Harbor Beach April 2021

 

WHY DO BIRDS LAY BLUE EGGS?

Did you ever wonder why some birds, such as Bluebirds and Robins, lay blue or bluish green eggs? And just as interesting why, in some cases, Bluebirds which generally lay blue eggs, a nest may comprise eggs that are almost white?

The earliest avian eggshells probably lacked color, or pigmentation. Over time, most likely to protect the eggs from predators, birds evolved a diverse range of colored shell markings from mottled brown, gray and beige to rainbow hues from pure white to pale pink, lavender, yellow, aqua, orange, blue, born and even black.

The molecules that cause pigmentation in bird eggs are biliverdin (the blue-green shades) and protoporphyrin (red and brown colors and speckles) but we can talk about blue eggs without getting too technical.

Basically, blue and blue-green strikes a balance between white and very dark colored eggs. Darker eggs are predicted in moderate light to shield the embryo from intense light, including harmful UV radiation. If when eggs are in an exposed nest and the shells are too dark, it can cause the interior to heat up, similar to a “dark car effect.” Simply stated, blue eggs regulate the effects of sunlight on the developing chick (embryo).

This doesn’t explain entirely why Eastern Bluebird eggs range from white to blue green. Many cavity nester’s eggs are white because the adults need to see the eggs in the dark. Wood Ducks are an example of cavity nesters with white eggs. American Robins generally nest in trees or a semi-exposed site and their eggs are blue, affording both protection from dangerous UV light and low risk from heating up. Eastern Bluebirds are cavity nesters but only about 4 to 5 percent of their eggs are white. Oftentimes when learning about a topic, myriad more questions come to mind!

White Eastern Bluebird Eggs

To read more –

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/298798982_Shedding_Light_on_Bird_Egg_Color_Pigment_as_Parasol_and_the_Dark_Car_Effect

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3184/175815511X13207833399666

In reading about blue eggs I thought readers would enjoy seeing the amazing speckled and pear-shaped brilliant blue egg of the Common Murre, from USFWS

Some birds with blue eggs that nest locally include Red-winged Blackbird, Gray Catbird, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, House Finch, Bluejay, Goldfinch, European Starling, Eastern Bluebird, and American Robin.

American Robin nest at a friend’s home

Both Bluebird nest egg photos courtesy Google image search

 

JOYOUS PIPING PLOVER WEEKEND UPDATE!

Hello PiPl Friends,

Just a brief note to let you know the first nest scrape of the season was spotted in Area #3 (Creekside) and even though the following two days were stormy and windy, the pair scraped in the exact location three days later. They are settling in and it is happy news!

Many have written and phoned about the dogs still on the beach. Please, if you are on the beach, and you see a dog, whether on leash, off leash, large, medium sized, or the tiniest most cutest dog you have ever seen, please call the AC officer. The number is 978-281-9746. If we don’t continue to call, there will be no record of the extent of the disturbances. We are very aware of the problem and trying to solve. Thank you. 🙂

On another note, the Massachusett Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) installed symbolic roping at the same time as did Gloucester. We are right on par with other north shore communities in providing Piping Plover protections! Again, many thanks to Joe Lucido and Gloucester’s awesome DPW crew!

I hope everyone had a joyful Easter. Happy Easter, Happy Spring, Happy Everything <3

Warmest wishes,

Kim

“HOPE” IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS

Happy Spring, Happy Easter dear Friends. To new beginnings for us all as the pandemic hopefully soon recedes. Sending much love and appreciation for your kind comments and friendship throughout the year.

“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.

By Emily Dickinson

 

ROCK ON GLOUCESTER DPW – THANK YOU FOR INSTALLING THE PLOVER FENCE POSTS!!!

Huge shout out to Gloucester’s DPW crew today for installing the metal posts that the rope and signs will attach to. It’s simply awesome that the posts are going up so early in the season! The PiPls thank you, too!

I can’t stress enough how important it is to get the posts, signs, and roping up as early in the season as possible. The earlier the protected areas are in place, the earlier the PiPls will nest generally speaking. The earlier in the season that they nest (when the beach is relatively quieter), the greater the chance the chicks will have of surviving and going on to fledge.

It was so windy on the beach this morning, but I think the gentlemen said their names were Brian, Dean, and Dan, but I could have that completely wrong. It’s so challenging to tell who is who when masks are worn.

Thanks so much again to the DPW crew for the fine job this morning, and many thanks for wearing masks, too.

SUPER EXCITING NEWS – THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS HAVE RETURNED

For the past three years, our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers have returned during the first week of spring. This year they are again right on schedule!! Here is the little duo tucked behind a mini-hummock, keeping out of the path of last evening’s blustery wind.

The two are foraging together and are communicating, piping softly, yet audibly, to each other, which makes me believe they are a couple. At the end of the day, they were found together resting in the sand.

The pair were first spotted in the fog on the morning of March 26th.

We have a great bunch of Piping Plover Ambassadors signed up and have covered almost all shifts. There are several openings in the afternoon, the 1 to 2pm, 2 to 3pm, and the 3 to 4pm shifts. Our goal is to help educate the public about the life story of the Plovers in a kind, friendly, non-confrontational, and informational manner. If you would like to join us, we would love to have you! There will be an informational meeting when the Plovers begin laying eggs and we can at that time provide a time frame of the weeks Ambassadors will be needed. If you would like to volunteer one hour a day for the six weeks the Plovers need our help, please email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you!

A hound dog unfortunately chased one of the Plovers up and down the beach and the pair became separated for a period. I do so hope dog owners recall that dogs are not permitted on the beach after March 31st. Today was a beautiful day and there were many dogs off leash at Good Harbor Beach even though it is an on leash day. Folks really seem to struggle with understanding Gloucester’s leash laws. A friendly reminder that it is a federal and state crime for owners to allow their dogs to harass threatened and endangered species, whether a leash day or not.

For everyone’s general information – In 2016 the pair arrived in mid-May; in 2017, early May; in 2018 in mid-April; in 2019 on March 25th; in 2020 on March 22; and this year, 2021, overnight between March 25th and March 26th.

Too windy for Mom

WELCOME HOME PIPING PLOVERS! AND CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS

Hello Friends of Gloucester’s Plovers!

I hope everyone is doing well. Great news! Piping Plovers are arriving at our local north of Boston beaches. Attached is a photo from this morning, a lone male having a quiet moment above the wrackine. He was a joy to see!!! <3

Our GHB pair have not yet arrived but I imagine it will be soon. If we are so very blessed as to have a family nesting again this year, we will again need Ambassadors. We are requesting volunteers to commit to one hour a day, everyday, for the roughly six weeks of Piping Plover chick rearing At this point we don’t know exactly when that will be but after the nest is established, we can provide a time frame. The hour long time slots are filling, so please let me know if you are interested. We would love to have you! You can get in touch through commenting in the comment section of this post, email me kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com, or through Facebook or Instagram

Please note that Ambassadors are welcome to share a time slot with a friend if that works best for you. 

Just a kind note, we don’t need “floaters,” ie folks with some prior experience who show up now and then. We really need Ambassadors to commit to a time slot. I realize how great a commitment is an hour a day for six weeks during the summer and am so grateful to all of you who have volunteered in the past and are planning to be Ambassadors again this year.

Our message of super positivity, as well as focusing on education, was a great success last year and we are again continuing with these goals at the fore. You’ll meet a terrific bunch of people and if you have never volunteered for anything like this, you will learn so much about the life story of beautiful shorebirds nesting at a New England coastal beach.

I look forward to hearing from you.
Warmest wishes,
Kim

Welcome Home Dad Plover!

WIGEON LOVEBIRDS!

For over a week, American Wigeons have been spotted along our shores. They spend most of the day foraging on sea lettuce and seaweed. One pair appear particularly fond of each other. They share meals, preen simultaneously, and occasionally come onto shore together. In the photo you can see the two lovebirds sharing their sea lettuce dinner.

Both male and females have beautiful baby blue bills. The females feathers are softly hued in shades of brown while the male has a brilliant white “bald” spot atop his head, earning him the not widely used common name “Baldpate.” The males also sport a brilliant eye patch that in certain light flashes emerald green or may appear coppery bronze.

Cape Ann is a stopping over point for the dabbling American Wigeons on their journey north. Pairs form at their wintering grounds and the two will stay together during incubation. The males practice a low bow and sings a soft whistle during courtship. Both times I tried to record it was too windy. You can find a recording of the males courtship calls here: American Wigeon sounds. The first two recordings are the sounds they are currently making.

Between the years 1966 and 2015, the American Wigeon population fell by approximately 2 percent per year, resulting in a cumulative decline of 65 percent over the 49-year period (Cornell). During 2012-2016, hunters took approximately 650,00 Wigeons per year. USFWS monitors duck hunting, limiting the number of ducks killed based on population. The population decline is also attributed to drought as well as loss and degradation of wetland habitat.Male courtship bow

Preening together

A male Gadwall has also joined the sceneMale Gadwall, fore ground, and Male Wigeon

American Wigeon range map

EARLY SIGNS OF BEAUTIFUL SPRING SURROUND

Blessedly warmer weather has made it all that much more enjoyable to spend time outdoors. Beautiful birds are arriving on our shores, some to rest and refuel for their journey further north and some will call Cape Ann home for the spring and summer nesting season.

Gadwall

A lone Gadwall, along with several American Wigeons, are hungrily consuming great quantities of sea lettuce to feast upon before embarking on the next leg of their migration. Black-crowned Night Herons flew in over the weekend, the Killdeers arrived over week ago, and the American Pipits have returned.

Killdeer

Black-crowned Night Herons

Resident Cardinals and Song Sparrows are chortling from the tip tops of budding Pussy Willows and Bluebirds are moving into their nesting boxes and tree holes. The woods are alive with rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat – Downy, Red-bellied, and Northern Flicker are drumming their woodpecker rhythms.

Crocuses, squill, fiddleheads, and snow bulbs- the Snowdrops and Snow Glories -are poking through slowly awakening soil. My friend DB wrote to say she noticed a Mourning Cloak butterfly over the weekend. Mourning Cloaks are typically the earliest butterflies on the wing because they winter over as adults, safely tucked in the cracks and crevices of tree bark. Mourning Cloaks generally do not drink nectar but feed on tree sap in the spring and rotting fruit in autumn. The females will soon be depositing their eggs on leaves of deciduous trees including hackberry, willow, elm, poplar, rose, birch, aspen, cottonwood, and mulberry.

Oh Happy Spring!

PLEASE JOIN ME TONIGHT FOR “THE POLLINATOR GARDEN” VIRTUAL PRESENTATION FUNDRAISER FOR MASS POLLINATOR NETWORK

If you are looking to be inspired by creatures and colors of the upcoming season, and what to plant to make your garden a welcoming haven for wildlife, please join me tonight at 7pm. I am super excited to be presenting “The Pollinator Garden” for the Mass Pollinator Network. Because it is a Keynote presentation, I was able to add and collage many more photos. The presentation looks great and is chock full of ideas for your pollinator paradise. I hope to see you there!

Please join me Wednesday evening, March 17th, at 7pm for “The Pollinator Garden” presentation, via Zoom, for the Massachusetts Pollinator Network.

From early spring through winter, I will take you on a journey of understanding the beautiful creatures found in your gardens and how you can create a welcoming haven by planting trees, shrubs, vines, native wildflowers, and non-invasive ornamentals. Some of the wild creatures covered include Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, moths and butterflies, bees, Baltimore Orioles, and much, much more.

This lecture is the second in a three part fundraising series. For more information and to register please go here: MA Pollinator Network: The Pollinator Garden with Kim Smith and please consider making a donation to MA Pollinator Network. Donations of any amount are welcome.

Thank you!

SCREECH OWL LOVEBIRDS

This beautiful pair of Eastern Screech Owl lovebirds has made its nest in the cavity of an ancient maple tree. The tree is on the property of a kindly and very tolerant gent, Ron, who always has a nice word or humorous comment for the many observers and photographers that have visited.

According to neighborhood lore, this is not the first year the pair has nested here. What makes these lovebirds especially wonderful to see and fun for comparing life forms is that one is a gray morph (or phase) and the other a rufous (red) morph. The color has nothing to do with the sex of the owl. There are rufous males and rufous females, and vice versa. There is also a brown morph. The gray and brown morphs are thought to have evolved to better blend with deciduous trees such as maples and oask, whereas the rufous morph is better camouflaged in pine trees.

Rufous Screech Owl at daybreak

Eastern Screech Owls in maple tree

With this pair of lovebirds I am still unsure of who is who. Sometimes you see only the red Screechie sitting in the fore, more often the gray lately, and very rarely now, the pair together. As I suspected, and as was confirmed by Mass Audubon, the male will roost with the female during nesting, which also makes it challenging to determine one from the other. The females are larger but when they are sitting side by side snuggled up against each other as they were at the beginning of courtship, it doesn’t help much in determining size.

Gray Screech Owl

My best guess is the red is the female and the gray the male, because it is the gray one I have seen heading out at night to hunt.

Screech Owls don’t create their own nests; they use abandoned woodpecker homes and other natural cavities.The Screech Owl’s nest is merely the cavity. They don’t add sticks or twigs or any nesting material and simply lay eggs on the substrate. The female lays between three to eight eggs. The male does the better part of hunting for both during incubation. After approximately 26 days the eggs hatch. The owlets grow quickly and will begin to stretch their wings at about one month old.

Screech Owls are nocturnal and are seen hunting mostly in the first hours after nightfall. They eat just about anything they can catch, from small mammals such as mice, bats, squirrels, moles, shrews, and voles to small birds such as finches, as well as doves and quail. Other prey include large insects, earthworms, toads, lizards, snakes, spiders, centipedes, and crawdads.

I haven’t heard this pair make the “screeching” sound for which they are famous, instead they make the most beautiful gentle tremolo trilling at dusk. I tried to record it and if it came out well and when I have a few spare minutes, I will post.

The tree provides food and habitat for many species of songbirds. All these birds photographed are aware of the owl’s presence and some, like the Tufted Titmice, Bluejays, and Nuthatches make it their business to harass on a daily basis.

Eastern Screech Owl range map

JOIN ME WEDNESDAY NIGHT FOR MY VIRTUAL POLLINATOR GARDEN PROGRAM TO BENEFIT THE MASSACHUSETTS POLLINATOR NETWORK

Please join me Wednesday evening, March 17th, at 7pm for “The Pollinator Garden” presentation, via Zoom, for the Massachusetts Pollinator Network.

From early spring through winter, I will take you on a journey of understanding the beautiful creatures found in your gardens and how you can create a welcoming haven by planting trees, shrubs, vines, native wildflowers, and non-invasive ornamentals. Some of the wild creatures covered include Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, moths and butterflies, bees, Baltimore Orioles, and much, much more.

This lecture is the second in a three part fundraising series. For more information and to register please go here: MA Pollinator Network: The Pollinator Garden with Kim Smith and please consider making a donation to MA Pollinator Network. Donations of any amount are welcome.

Thank you!

BEAUTIFUL RED-TAILED HAWK IN THE MORNING SUN – BUT PLEASE DON’T EAT THE BLUEBIRDS!

Good Morning beautiful Red-tail, but Please, leave my Bluebirds be!Red-tail swooped in and frightened all the songbirds out of the perching tree

CEDAR ROCK GARDENS OPENING FOR THE SEASON APRIL 14TH :)

Opening for the season:
April 14th, 2021!
Starting April 14th, we will be open for you to come shop the nursery for all the early spring – cold weather seedlings.

We have posted all the Flower, Herb and Vegetable varieties we are growing this year on our website for you to check out and get excited for!
We will be opening this season for you to come shop the nursery in person. We will be adhering to Covid safe policies with social distancing requirements while shopping. Please wear a mask while shopping with us at this time.

We will not be doing online orders the same way this season. We are however offering a few “Garden Kits” of pre-selected plant varieties that you can pre-order for pick up when we open. These kits are a basic collection of easy to grow varieties that are great for the early season garden and are also great for a beginner garden. These kits are not customizable – if you would like to pick your own plants or have certain varieties in mind please come shop with us during business hours.

If you can not shop in person due to health concerns please call or email and we will happily facilitate you. We will not be accepting pre orders, all orders must be for plants that are currently available.
-Thank you for understanding

VISIT CEDAR ROCK GARDENS HERE

 

Mark your Calendars: Warm Weather seedlings will begin to be available
May 12th!

This includes Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant, basil, loads of flowers and so much more!

GLOUCESTER’S BEAUTIFUL OUR LADY OF GOOD VOYAGE NEEDS OUR HELP!

Our Lady of Good Voyage’s iconic and beautiful blue carillon bell towers are in urgent need of repairs. The monster wind last week tore off a large section of the tin siding. The emergency roofing crew called to the scene  to remove dangling pieces advises that both towers need a new roof. This emergency could not come at a worse time for the parish as they are already struggling greatly due the pandemic. 

“Donations for the repairs to Our Lady of Good Voyage Church can be made online, placed in the collection basket, dropped off at the rectory or parish office, or mailed to Our Lady of Good Voyage Parish, 74 Pleasant St.

If you have questions or need more information about how you and your family can support the parish, please contact the Rev. James Achadinha at frjim@ccgronline.com”

READ the full story here in an article by Taylor Ann Bradford in today’s Gloucester Times

 

 

 

BLUEBIRD LOVEBIRDS! – DO BLUEBIRDS MATE FOR LIFE?

Love is in the air!

Consistently when out in fields, I see Bluebird pairs that appear strongly committed to each other. I wondered, do Bluebirds mate forever? In our region, we see Eastern Bluebirds. Ornithologists found from a long term study of Western Bluebirds  that the great majority stay together for life. No such studies exist for Eastern Bluebirds however, field observations suggest that about 95 percent mate for life when both are still alive.

Eastern Bluebird female, left, male, right

Interestingly though, mating for life does not exclude extra pair copulations. Genetic studies of broods show that about twenty percent of nestlings are sired by more than one male.

Pairs softly warble to each other early in the morning, the male brings nesting material to a chosen site, and once she has entered his nesting cavity, she will begin to bring nesting material and he will bring food to her to “seal the deal.” In our north of Boston region, you can see the courtship behavior beginning as early as February and March.

Eastern Bluebirds re-mate with another partner if one dies.

In the photos below, it’s very easy to see the difference between a male and female Bluebird. The female’s blue is a more subdued grayish hue while the male’s blue feathers are brilliantly hued.

Bluebird nest with eggs, courtesy wikipedia

MONARCH BUTTERFLY POPULATION CRASHING

For a second year in a row, the Monarch numbers are plummeting.

“World Wildlife Fund Mexico in collaboration with CONANP and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) announced the total forest area occupied by overwintering monarch colonies today. Nine (9) colonies were located this winter season with a total area of 2.10 hectares, a 26% decrease from the previous season (2.83 ha).” – Monarch Watch

Call to Action! Create wildlife sanctuaries by planting flowering native trees, shrubs, vines, and wildflowers that bloom throughout the growing season.

For nearly two decades I have been sharing information on how we can all help all pollinators, not just Monarch Butterflies. Learn more by joining me virtually on March 17th for my program “The Pollinator Garden” that I am presenting to the Massachusetts Pollinator Network.

To register, click here

For Monarchs specifically, we in the northeast need plant milkweed for Monarch caterpillars and asters and goldenrods for the southward migrating adult butterflies. Creating habitats for Monarchs has a cascading effect that helps myriad pollinators and songbirds. 

All along the Monarch’s migratory corridors, climate change, loss of habitat, and the use of pesticides are the greatest threats to the butterflies. Because of climate change, the life cycle of wildflowers are often out of synch with the time the butterflies are traveling through a region. Examples include last September’s drought in the Texas Funnel (2020) and the cold Arctic blast in Texas this past February (2021). When the Monarchs migrated through Texas last fall, there were few if any wildflowers still in bloom to help fuel their journey. Followed by the unusually deep freeze in Texas that killed emerging milkweed shoots (food for the next generation’s caterpillars), this double whammy of sorts does not bode well for this year’s already reduced population traveling along the Monarch Highway. 

 

BEAUTIFUL SNOWSHOEING AND SLEDDING SNOW BUNTING SNOWFLAKES

I have so loved filming and photographing Snow Buntings this winter, finding small and medium sized flocks from Sandy Point to Cape Ann, and further south, all along the coast of Massachusetts. The flocks I have been filming are becoming smaller; male Snow Buntings have already begun their long migration north. Don’t you find all migrating species of wildlife fascinating? Especially a tiny creature such as the Snow Bunting, which breeds the furthest north of any known land-based bird. From the shores of Massachusetts Snow Buntings migrate to the high Arctic where they nest in rocky crevices.

The range shown in orange is where Snow Buntings nest

What has been especially fun to observe is when the Snow Bunting uses its feet as snowshoes and belly like a sled when traversing snow covered beaches. Oftentimes that’s how you can find them, with their unique step-step-slide-tracks. Snow Buntings seem to forage nearly non-stop, perching while shredding grassy seed heads and leaves, and pecking on the ground for seeds caught between sand, stones, and snow.  To get from one clump of vegetation to the next, they hop lightly over the surface, snowshoeing along, and then slide along on their bellies. Snow Buntings must gain 30 percent of their body weight before beginning their journey.

Snowshoeing and Sledding

Lively disagreements over food ensue, usually nothing more than a mild spat.

Males typically depart the northeast for their nesting grounds earlier than do the females, arriving three to six weeks ahead of the females. Snow Buntings migrate entirely at night, following the geomagnetic field of the Earth, independent of any type of visual clue!

Notice in several of the photos you can see their “feathered pantaloons,” providing extra protection against freezing temperatures.

Snow Bunting eggs and nest in rocky crevice, images courtesy Google image search