Category Archives: Beauty of Cape Ann

AMAZING 68 HOUR GREAT BLUE HERON NONSTOP FLIGHT FROM CHALEUR BAY, CANADA TO CUMBERLAND ISLAND, GEORGIA!!!

Great Blue Herons truly are the Jet Blue of the avian world! The following incredible story is shared with us by reader Chris Callahan and comes from the Heron Observation Network of  Maine.

Harper Wows Us Again!

Harper, an adult female great blue heron outfitted with a solar-powered GPS unit, has just flown nonstop for 68 hours on her southward migration! She spent the summer in New Brunswick, Canada, and the post-breeding season on Chaleur Bay on the border of QC and NB. At around 7pm on October 8th she left this rich feeding area and flew continuously crossing over Nova Scotia and then out over open ocean. She came within 165 miles of Bermuda but turned westward toward the US mainland. At 3:15pm on October 11th, she finally made landfall on the southern tip of Cumberland Island on the Georgia coast. She has since gradually made her way to the Everglades in Florida. Last year she impressed the world by flying nonstop over open ocean for 38 hours. She nearly doubled that duration this year! We will be watching to see if she returns to last year’s wintering area in Guajaca Uno, Cuba, and will post updates on our Facebook Page. For more information on the tracking project, including how to download the data to explore on your own, visit: https://www1.maine.gov/wordpress/ifwheron/tracking-project/.

Great Blue Heron Gloucester Harbor

Great Blue Heron range map

MONARCHS IN DREAMS

Love when able to successfully (not always achieved!) capture the tracing of the Monarch’s wings in movement -the dot, dot dot of the beautiful border patterning.Monarch Butterfly Migration October 2020 – Monarch and wild mustard flowers

JET BLUE COMING IN FOR A LANDING

Chasing Monarchs, and finding other beauties on the wing

Great Blue Heron 

MORAINE

From Nat Geo –

“A moraine is material left behind by a moving glacier. This material is usually soil and rock. Just as rivers carry along all sorts of debris and silt that eventually builds up to form deltas, glaciers transport all sorts of dirt and boulders that build up to form moraines.

To get a better idea of what moraines are, picture yourself with a toy bulldozer on a lawn that has a bunch of dry leaves all over it. When you run the bulldozer through the leaves, some of them get pushed aside, some of them get pushed forward, and some of them leave interesting patterns on the grass. Now think of these patterns and piles of pushed-away leaves—moraines—stretching for kilometers on the Earth.

Moraines only show up in places that have, or used to have, glaciers. Glaciers are extremely large, moving rivers of ice. Glaciers shape the landscape in a process called glaciation. Glaciation can affect the land, rocks, and water in an area for thousands of years. That is why moraines are often very old.

Moraines are divided into four main categories: lateral moraines, medial moraines, supraglacial moraines, and terminal moraines.”

Read More Here

HARBOR SEALS SOCIAL DISTANCING, NATURALLY :)

A bob of five Harbor Seals has spent the past few afternoons lollying about in a socially distant fashion on the rocks at Brace Cove. I write ‘naturally’ distancing not because of coronavirus, but because they prefer some measure of personal space when hauled out. We see both Harbor Seals and Gray Seals at Brace Cove throughout the year although there seem to be fewer during the spring and summer months. I wonder if that is because they are busy breeding and raising young. With the onset of cooler weather their numbers have been increasing once again. On a bright sunny day last winter we counted twenty-nine!

TURTLE ALLEY!

Not the scrumptious chocolately kind that Hallie at Turtle Alley makes, but a wonderful turtle pig pile nonetheless.

A half dozen Eastern Painted Turtles catching the last of the seasons sun rays before heading to the muddy bottom of the pond to hibernate.

You can’t tell by the image, but the Painted Turtle in the above photo was not any larger than two inches long. They look nearly identical, no matter the age.

The Eastern Painted Turtle is our most common native turtle and this beauty was found at Niles Pond, crossing the road heading towards one of several little babbling brooks that flow towards the pond. Perhaps it was planning to hibernate there as it was the last day of October.

Turtles are ectotherms, which means that their body temperature mirrors the temperature of the surrounding water. During the fall, they find a comfy spot in the mud and burrow in. The Painted Turtle’s metabolism slows dramatically and they won’t usually come up for air until spring, although even during hibernation they require some slight bit of oxygen, which they take in through their skin.

MONARCH BUTTERFLY MIGRATION ALERT FOR CAPE ANN, NEWBURY, IPSWICH, PLUM ISLAND!

Monarchs are currently migrating, albeit in small numbers, throughout the North Shore. The butterflies arrived several days ago and because of the rainy weather, they are in a holding pattern. When the sun reappears, look for Monarchs on any still-blooming  garden favorites such as zinnias, as well as wildflowers. Please send an email or comment in the comment section if you see Monarchs in your garden or while outdoors over the weekend and upcoming week. Thank you!

Many species of asters and goldenrods have finished flowering; instead the Monarchs are fortifying for the long journey by drinking nectar at Black Mustard flowers, and even Dandelions.

Although not native to North America, Black Mustard (Brassica nigra) is beneficial to bees and butterflies for late season sustenance. Don’t you love its lemony golden beauty in the autumn sunlight?

Black Mustard is not the easiest nor most efficient plant for Monarchs to draw nectar from. I never see the butterflies on Black Mustard unless it is very late in the migration and there are few other choices available.

The ray flowers of asters provide a convenient landing pad for butterflies. Panicle-shaped flowering plant, such as goldenrods, also provide a convenient landing pad while supplying a smorgasbord of nectar rich florets. Black Mustard provides neither. You can see in several photos in an upcoming post that the Monarchs are nectaring with their legs gripped tightly around the base of the flower.

Black Mustard is an annual plant native to Eurasia and North Africa. Cultivated widely as a condiment, medicinally, and vegetable, it came to North America via the early colonists. The plant is in bloom from May through October, or until the first hard frost, and grows well in disturbed man-made sites.

Black Mustard is a member of the Brassicaceae, also classically called the Cruciferae (Latin, meaning ‘cross-bearing’) in reference to its four ‘crossed petals’, which is commonly known as the mustard family. Black Mustard is related to cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, kale, turnips, and watercress.

SHORELINE MAYHEM – HERONS, CORMORANTS, AND GULLS AMASSING!

Life at the Edge of the Sea- Double-crested Cormorant Feeding Frenzy!

A note about the photos – for the past five years I have been photographing and filming the Cormorants massing. The photos are from 2016 – 2019, and most recently, from 2020. Some of the earliest ones were taken at Niles Beach in 2017. In 2018, my friend Nina wrote to say that the massing also takes place in her neighborhood on the Annisquam River. Several weeks ago, while hiking on the backside of Sandy Point, facing the Ipswich Yacht Club, the Cormorants were massing there, too. Please write if you have seen this spectacular event taking place in your neighborhood. Thank you so much!

Massing in great numbers as they gather at this time of year, Double Crested Cormorants, along with many species of gulls and herons, are benefitting from the tremendous numbers of minnows that are currently present all around the shores of Cape Ann.

Waiting for the Cormorants early morning

At inlets on the Annisquam and Essex Rivers, as well as the inner Harbor and Brace Cove, you can see great gulps of Cormorants. In unison, they push the minnows to shore, where gulls and herons are hungrily waiting. The fish try to swim back out toward open water but the equally as hungry Cormorants have formed a barrier. From an onlooker’s point of view, it looks like utter mayhem with dramatic splashing, diving, and devouring. In many of the photos, you can see that the birds are indeed catching fish.

The Double-crested Cormorants are driving the feeding frenzy. I have seen this symbiotic feeding with individual pairs of DCCormorants and Snowy Egrets at our waterways during the summer, but only see this extraordinary massing of gulls, herons, and cormorants at this time of year, in late summer and early autumn.

Cormorants catch fish by diving from the surface, chasing their prey under water and seizing it with the hooked bill.

Double-crested Cormorants

Double-crested Cormorants are ubiquitous. When compared to Great Cormorants, DCCormorants are a true North American species and breed, winter over, and migrate along the shores of Cape Ann.

Nearly all the species of herons that breed in our region have been spotted in the frenzy including the Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron, and Black-crowned Night Heron.

After feeding, the herons often find a quiet place to preen before heading back in the late afternoon to their overnight roosting grounds.

 

Double-crested Cormomrant range map

Thank you Film Friends!

Dear Friends of Beauty on the Wing,

Thank you all so very much for taking the time to respond to my ‘survey’ question about how you view films. Wow, what a variety of answers. I am working on a plan for Everyone to view!

Such a disappointingly light Monarch migration through Cape Ann this autumn but the shift in wind direction at the beginning of the week produced a tiny sprinkling of butterflies. Friends along the New Jersey coast are reporting good numbers the past few days. You can see on the map from Journey North how few overnight roosts have been recorded on the East Coast. Typically the map is much more densely colored: Monarch Butterfly Overnight Roosts 2020 Hopefully the migration will strengthen in the central part of the country

Stay well and take care,
Very best wishes,
Kim

Migrating Monarch in the garden fattening up on nectar at the pink New England Asters

GIANT NORTH AMERICAN DRAGONFLY- THE SWAMP DARNER!

Life at the Edge of the Sea – Darners and Dragonflies on the Move

This ginormous beauty caught my attention as she was seen hovering, and then flying into the edge of a field of wildflowers and grasses. She appeared to have plucked an insect from the air. On closer inspection, she was hanging vertically from a stalk and eating a small black bug with wings. We know she is a female because she lacks the brilliant blue eyes of the male.

Darners and dragonflies are on the move and Swamp Darners are seen along the East Coast in the fall. Swamp Darners, less frequently called called Wandering Gliders (don’t you prefer this name) can grow to almost four inches in length!

The Swamp Darner is even larger than the more typically seen Common Green DarnerCommon Green Darner

For more information on migratory species of North American dragonflies check out this terrific field guide –

Field Guide to Migratory Dragonflies

HANDSOME YOUNG BUCK

Life at the Edge of the Sea – Young White-tailed Deer Buck

Late yesterday afternoon Charlotte and I encountered this frisky young buck. I was curious to learn if you could tell the age of a deer by its antlers and found this growth chart on the Animal Diversity Web. Judging by the chart, he appears to be older than six months but younger than 11 months.

BEAUTY ON THE WING RECEIVES OUTSTANDING EXCELLENCE AWARD AT THE WOMEN’S INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

With gratitude to WRPN Women’s International Film Festival for this honor

Monarch passing through on Tuesday

BEAUTY ON THE WING ON AMERICAN PUBLIC TELEVISION WORLD WIDE!

Hello Friends,

So proud and excited to share – here are several screenshots and a link to my listing for licensing on American Public Television World Wide. APTWW Program: Beauty on the Wing:Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly

If you would like to license Beauty on the Wing or would like more information, please follow the  above link and click on the Contact Us box. Thank you!

For more information about the documentary Beauty on the Wing and the Monarch Butterfly migration, visit the film’s website here: Beauty on the Wing

 

BUTTERY YELLOW SULPHUR BUTTERFLIES ON THE WING!

Look for these delicate beauties in your garden, fields, meadows, and marshes. They too are on the wing, along with Monarchs, Common Buckeyes and the Ladies, both Painted and American.Clouded Sulphur

SNOWBIRDS – WE LOVE YOU, BUT PLEASE GO BACK FROM WHERE YOU CAME!

Life at the Edge of the Sea- Dark-eyed Juncos arrive September 19th

Over the very last remaining days of summer a sweet flock of Dark-eyed Juncos has been spotted on Eastern Point. Beautiful Song Sparrow-sized birds feathered in shades of gray and white, Dark eyed Juncos purportedly arrive in mid-October and are thought to presage the coming of winter.

Really little ones, you are much TOO EARLY.

Nicknamed Snow-bird in New England days of old, in fact Dark-eyed Juncos actually nest in Massachusetts, primarily in the western part of the state. Mostly Dark-eyed Juncos breed further north and migrate to warmer climes in the fall. Does their early arrival in the eastern part of the state portend of an early winter? The weather prediction for the winter of 2020 – 2021 is much more snow compared to last year’s nearly snow-less season, along with the possibility of a blizzard in mid-February (Farmer’s Almanac).

 

Study in shades of gray

TINY KALEIDOSCOPE OF MONARCHS PASSING THROUGH

Winds from the north brought a tiny kaleidoscope of Monarchs to our shores over  the weekend. Isn’t that a wonderful official word for a group of butterflies! A bunch of caterpillars is officially called an army.

Will there be more waves of Monarchs passing through? Time will tell. Along the Atlantic Coast Flyway, we’ve seen far fewer butterflies so far this year, especially when compared to last year’s numbers. Keeping my hopes up though 🙂Dancing Monarch

Soaring Monarch

GREAT EGRET MORNING FLOOFING

 Beautiful juvenile Great Egret morning feather floofingSoon Great Egrets will be heading south for the winter. I know we are all going to miss seeing these grand beauties that grace our local ponds, marshes, and shorelines. Great Egrets travel as far as the West Indies and southern Central America.

 

PEARL CRESCENT – YET ANOTHER REASON TO GROW ASTERS (as if we needed one!)

Life at the Edge of the Sea – Pearl Crescent Butterfly

Seen throughout the summer, the beautiful female Pearl Crescent on the asters is from my garden just a few days ago. Pearl Crescents drink nectar from a great many flowers. On the smaller side, with a wing span of about 1.5 inches, they are not always easy to identify because their wing patterning is highly varied. The composite photograph below is from wiki and shows some of the many variations.

Grow Native! Pearl Crescents are found throughout North America, wherever asters grow. Asters are the caterpillar’s food plants and according to Mass Audubon the species of asters they are known to feed on in New England are: Heath Aster (Aster pilosus), Many-flowered Aster (A. ericoides), Bushy Aster (A. dumosus), Calico Aster (A. lateriflorus), Whorled Aster (A. acuminatus), Smooth Aster (A. laevis), Panicled Aster (A. simplex), Purple-stemmed Aster (A. puniceus), and New England Aster (A. novae angliae). Female Pearl Crescent

Pearl Crescent Caterpillar – image courtesy wikicommons media

BABY CEDAR WAXWINGS IN THE HOOD!

Life at the Edge of the Sea – Cedar Waxwing Baby Masked Bandits

For over a month I have been filming a flock of Cedar Waxwings. Exquisitely beautiful creatures, with their combination of soft buffy and brilliantly punctuated wing patterning, along with graceful agility, it’s been easy to fall in love with these birds and they have become a bit of an obsession. 

I filmed some wonderful scenes and will share the photos and story as soon as there is time but in the meantime I wanted to share these photos of a juvenile Cedar Waxwing so you know what to look for. Waxwings are often found high up in the treetops. They are most easily seen on limbs bare of leaves. Their repetitious soft trilling song gives them away and if you learn the sound you will begin to see Cedar Waxwings everywhere. They have an extended breeding period in our region and because it is so late in the season, this juvenile may be one of a second brood.

While I was shooting for my short short story, the Waxwing flock was mostly on the ground in a wildflower patch devouring insects. Cedar Waxwings are more typically berry-eating frugivores. During the summer they add insects to their diet and I think it may have to do with keeping the hatchling’s bellies filled. It wasn’t until they moved back up into the treetops that this little guy began appearing amongst the flock. He has the same masked face, but the breast is softly streaked. You can see the yellow feathers tips beginning to grow in.

Juvenile Cedar Waxwing

Adult Cedar Waxwing

TREE SWALLOW, BARN SWALLOW, OR CLIFF SWALLOW?

Life at the Edge of the Sea – Swallows of Massachusetts

Lovely large flocks of Tree Swallows continue to gather, gracing our shores with their chattering cheery chirping. But these flocks aren’t only comprised of Tree Swallows, often seen in the mix are Barn Swallows, too.Barn Swallow left, female Tree Swallow right

Male Tree Swallows

There are six species of Swallows that breed in Massachusetts and they are Tree, Barn, Cliff, Purple Martin, Northern Rough-winged, and Bank Swallows. Tree Swallows are the most abundant breeders, with Barn Swallows coming in second. Cliff, Northern Rough-winged, Bank, and Barn Swallows are all in decline.Male and female Tree Swallows

Male Tree Swallows wear brilliant iridescent greenish blue feathers, with a sharply defined face mask. The females are a duller brownish, but they too have some blue iridescence in their plumage. Both have white chins and predominantly white breasts.Barn Swallow

Male Barn Swallows are a beautiful cobalt blue with rusty red forehead and red feathers below their bills. Their bellies vary from buffy tan to cinnamon colored.

Tree Swallows breed in the wetlands and fields of Cape Ann. Their name comes from the species habit of nesting in tree cavities. Tree Swallows have benefited tremendously from efforts to help save the Eastern Bluebird because they also nest in the nest boxes built specifically for the Bluebirds.

Juvenile Barn Swallow

Barn Swallows build their nest cups from mud and they prefer nesting sites such as the rafters, eaves, and crossbeams of barns, stables, and sheds. They also chose the undersides of wharves and bridges.

Acrobatic aerialists, both Tree and Barn Swallows twist and turn mid-flight to capture a wide variety of insects including flies, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, beetles, and wasps. We on Cape Ann especially love swallows because they eat the dreaded Greenhead.

Life at the Edge of the Sea – Good Afternoon Little Green Heron!

A Little Green Heron crossed my path, flying in low and fast. Stealthily hunting along the water’s’s edge, he had an uncanny ability to make himself nearly flat before striking.

The light was at first overcast but when the sun poked through the clouds, everything turned all golden orange.

Green Herons eat a wide variety of fish and small creatures including minnows, sunfish, catfish, pickerel, carp, perch, gobies, shad, silverside, eels, goldfish, insects, spiders, crustaceans, snails, amphibians, reptiles, and rodents. Although found throughout the US but, it is a species in decline in most regions, except California, where the bird appears to be increasing. Green Herons breed in Massachusetts coastal and inland wetlands.

My days are full, full to overflowing sometimes, with taking care of Charlotte and family, film, and design projects. Though there isn’t day a day that goes by that I don’t think of my life as a gift. Daily I try to fit in a walk, always with a camera slung over each shoulder. How blessed are we on Cape Ann, especially during the pandemic, to have such beauty for our eyes to see and our hearts to travel.  I can’t keep up with sharing footage and that will all go towards larger projects anyway, and I am behind with sharing photos. Perhaps I should make these walk photos a series – ‘life at the edge of the sea,’ or something along those lines.

 

ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SCENTS ON ALL OF CAPE ANN – ‘SAILOR’S DELIGHT’ SUMMERSWEET

Clethra alnifolia is more commonly known by its many descriptive names of Summersweet, Sweet Pepperbush, and Honeysweet. In an old book on fragrance, written by Louise Beebe Wilder, she writes that in Gloucester of old it was described as ‘Sailor’s Delight.’ During the 19th and early 20th century, as told by Wilder, the sailors entering the harbor on homebound ships would reportedly delight in its fragrance wafting out to see.

Much of Niles Pond road is to this day lined with great thickets of ‘Sailor’s Delight.’ Wild Clethra growing on Cape Ann blooms during the month of August.

The following is an excerpt from a book that I wrote back in 2004-2007, which was published by David R. Godine in 2009. The book is about designing landscape habitats for wild creatures and for people, titled Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities: Notes from a Gloucester Garden, and all that I wrote then, still holds true to day.

“Summersweet bears small white florets held on racemes, and depending on the cultivar may be shaded with varying hues of pink to rose-red. The tapering spires of fragrant blossoms appear in mid to late summer. Clethra has a sweet and spicy though somewhat pungent aroma, and when the summer air is sultry and humid, the fragrance permeates the garden, Summersweet is a nectar food attractive to bees and a wide variety of butterflies, notably the Silver-spotted Skipper.” See more at Oh GardenMyriad species of bees and butterflies, along with Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, are attracted to Clethra for its sweet nectar, while American Robins, Goldfinches and warblers dine on Summersweet’s ripened berries.
Clethra fruits ripening

BEAUTY ON THE WING OFFICIAL SELECTIONS FOR THE WILDLIFE CONSERVATION AND NATURE WITHOUT BORDERS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVALS

Deeply honored to be included in the Nature Without Borders International and Wildlife Conservation Film Festivals

Kim Smith Interview with NHDocs

New Haven Documentary Film Festival presents a Q&A w/Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly director Kim Smith.

A Q&A, , moderated by NHdocs festival supervisor Karyl Evans, which accompanied the virtual screening of the feature documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly at the 7th annual edition of NHdocs: the New Haven Documentary Film Festival in August 2020.

For more information: www.NHdocs.com

With thanks and gratitude to New Haven Documentary Film Festival director Gorman Bechard and interviewer Karyl Evans for this interview. I am so appreciative of the support given to filmmakers by these two, filmmakers themselves. The festival was beautifully organized and I have received so much positive feedback. What an honor to be accepted!

GOOD MORNING FROM GOOD HARBOR!

Despite the pandemic heartbreak, along with the social and economic hardships so many are experiencing, the summer of 2020 been a beautiful season of sunrises and sunsets. This one is from several days ago.I’m so behind in posting local wildlife stories while trying to prepare all the ancillary materials needed to send my film to APTWW, a huge back log of stories really. But I did want everyone to be aware that there is a a great flock of juvenile Laughing Gulls on our shores right now. They are fishing feeding with juvenile Herring Gulls as well as with adult Laughing Gulls. The Laughing Gull juveniles are smaller than the Herring Gulls and have a very distant scallop pattern on their flight wings. Will try to post some more photos later today 🙂Laughing Gull juvenile