Category Archives: Birds of New England

IS THE YOUNG SWAN AT NILES POND A BOY OR A GIRL?

Is the young Mute Swan at Niles Pond a male or female? Based on outward appearances, the simple answer is we don’t know yet. Notice that there is no pronounced black knob, or protuberance, at the base of the young swan’s bill. Our young swan only hatched in the spring of this year and has not reached puberty. The knob becomes prominent at about three years of age.

After swans reach maturity, it is easier to distinguish between the two sexes when they are side by side. The male’s knob, also called a blackberry, is larger than the female’s blackberry, and too, his neck is thicker.

In case you were wondering, the swan’s bill will begin to change color at eight to ten months and it will not turn completely orange until the swan is at least one year old.


Compare the difference between the male and female swan in the photo above. Mr. Swan, on the left, has a larger blackberry, thicker neck, brighter orange bill, and is overall larger. He is with is his second mate, Mrs. Swan, and the last cygnet they hatched together.

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$22,765.00!!! RAISED FOR BEAUTY ON THE WING DOCUMENTARY! THANK YOU KIND DONORS!!!!!!!!!!!

WITH THE GREATEST APPRECIATION FOR OUR COMMUNITY OF FRIENDS AND SPONSORS, I AM OVERJOYED TO SHARE THAT TO DATE WE HAVE RAISED $22,765.00 FOR THE DOCUMENTARY FILM “BEAUTY ON THE WING” ONLINE FUNDRAISER!!!

Friends of the Monarch Butterfly: If you would like to help towards the completion of the documentary film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, please consider making a tax deductible donation here:

DONATE HERE

Donors contributing over $5,000. will be listed in the credits as a film producer.

For more information, visit the film’s website here: Monarch Butterfly Film

For an overview of the film’s budget, please go here: Budget

Thank you so very much for your help.

With gratitude,

Kim

MY DEEPEST THANKS AND GRATITUDE TO LAUREN MERCADANTE (PRODUCER), SUSAN FREY (PRODUCER), NEW ENGLAND BIOLABS FOUNDATION, BOB AND JAN CRANDALL, MARY WEISSBLUM, SHERMAN MORSS, JAY FEATHERSTONE, MARION F., ELAINE M., KIMBERLY MCGOVERN, MEGAN HOUSER (PRIDES CROSSING), NANCY MATTERN (ALBUQUERQUE), DONNA STOMAN, PEGGY O’MALLEY, JOEY C., CATHERINE RYAN, JOEANN HART, JANE PAZNIK BONDARIN (NEW YORK), ROBERT REDIS (NEW YORK), NUBAR ALEXANIAN, PETER VAN DEMARK, PATRICIA VAN DERPOOL, FRED FREDERICKS (CHELMSFORD), LESLIE HEFFRON, JIM MASCIARELLI, DAVE MOORE (KOREA), LILIAN AND CRAIG OLMSTEAD, JOHN STEIGER, PAT DALPIAZ, AMY KERR, BARBARA T. (JEWETT, NY), ROBERTA C. ((NY), MARIANNE G. (WINDHAM, NY), PAULA RYAN O’BRIEN (WALTON, NY), MARTHA SWANSON, KIM TEIGER, JUDITH FOLEY (WOBURN), PATTI SULLIVAN, RONN FARREN, SUSAN NADWORNY (MELROSE), DIANE LINDQUIST (MANCHESTER), HEIDI SHRIVER (PENNSYLVANIA), JENNIFER CULLEN, TOM HAUCK, AND ANONYMOUS PERSONS FOR THEIR GENEROUS HELP.

UPDATE ON MR. SWAN AND THE YOUNG ONE–COULD THEY POSSIBLY BE WARMING TO EACH OTHER?!?

After a summer of what appeared to be a not-so-happy pairing between Mr. Swan and the new one, the two seemed to have turned some kind of corner. Whether the truce is temporary or not, this morning the pair were observed preening within mere feet of each other and the young swan, actually nodded off, with Mr. Swan nearby.

For the sake of this story and in case a romance blossoms, we’ll call her a she. Friends of Mr. Swan have been reporting that he was either very aggressively biting and flying at her, chasing her into the reeds on the far side of the pond, or possibly chasing her to teach her to become airborne.

Mr. Swan has spent nearly the entire summer at Niles Pond, and he may never again return to Henry’s after the terrible debacle of his attempted capture. The day before the recent southeaster wind and rain event, Mr. Swan took off to Rockport Harbor and was seen there by his friends Lois, Joel, and Paul.

Paul St. Germain, via Lois, shares the above photo of Mr. Swan drinking water from a boat at Rockport Harbor.

The young swan softly crying.

I looked for the young swan at Niles Pond the day after the storm and much to my surprise she seemed very lonely. She was softly crying over and over again in much the same manner as I have filmed Mr. Swan when his mate was killed by a coyote several years ago. Her cries were quieter than his, but she definitely appeared to be searching, calling, and distressed.

Yesterday, Niles Pond resident Lyn reported that Mr. Swan had returned to Niles Pond. I’ll relate exactly what I observed this morning. The young swan was at the water’s edge, busily preening. Although she does not yet know how to fly, she certainly knows how to groom and maintain her flight feathers for future flying. Mr. Swan caught sight of me and began to swim straight towards us, with his feathers all busked out. She began to swim away from him as he was approaching and made it about thirty feet. He then flew directly towards her, but this time not in an aggressive way, but in a manner that herded her back to the shoreline. I was honestly very happy and relieved to see this because I really did not want to witness Mr. Swan attacking her again.

The soft colors of the first hatch year feathers matched the soft colors reflected off the water in the early morning light.

Both were now at the shoreline and both began to preen, only several feet apart, as if they had been doing this their whole life and it was the most normal interaction between them imaginable. I filmed them for a bit when the young swan grew tired of preening and fell asleep, with Mr. Swan keeping an eye out towards the water. Eventually Mr. Swan took off towards his friend Skip’s dock. She then awoke, but stayed behind near the shore.

Nodding off in close proximity to Mr. Swan

Are they becoming more comfortable with each other? Is the young swan a girl or a boy (too soon to tell from outward appearances)? Will the young swan ever learn to fly, or is there something wrong with her wings? So many questions and only time will tell. I hope so much both will survive the winter without coyote attack (or some other tragedy befalls them) and we will be able to observe as this new chapter in Mr. Swan’s life unfolds.

Minnow Hullabaloo

What is happening here? A hungry swim of cormorants have pushed a stream of bait fish towards the shallow shore waters. The minnows are met by equally as hungry Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets waiting on the rocks. I’ve watched many egrets eat prey and they often toss it about in the air for half a minute before swallowing whole, I think to line it up so the fish or frog goes straight down its gullet. At that very moment when the egrets are adjusting their catch, the gulls swoop in and try to snatch the minnows from the egrets.

This scene was filmed at Niles Beach. My friend Nancy shares that she has observed the egret and cormorant feeding relationship many mornings over by where she lives on the Annisquam River.

It’s a Frog’s World!

Upcoming film projects and studying the life story of our beloved Mr. Swan led to learning more about the life story of many creatures found at our local ponds. Frogs in all their myriad incarnations I soon discovered were the keystone species, playing starring roles as both predator and prey. American Bullfrogs are by far the most common, but I also filmed Green Frogs and Wood Frogs. I shot hundred (perhaps thousands) of photos of frogs, and hours of footage too, and have only begun to organize, but here is a small sampling.

American Bullfrog Snatching a Bee Mid-air

Young Bullfrogs lay in wait for bees and other insects drinking nectar from the pond lilies. They’ll sit stone still for half an hour and in some cases, even much longer, for the perfect moment. The smallest Bullfrog can leap several feet across the water and lily pads to snatch an insect mid-air.

Waiting for a Bee-breakfast.

Half tadpole, half frog, froglets are outgrowing their tadpole stage, but are not yet fully fledged frogs.

When the hunter is hunted. Birds and otters feast on tadpoles, frogs, and froglets. Larger Bullfrogs are cannibalistic and eat smaller versions of themselves. First hatch-year Little Blue Herons (pictured) eating a frog in the above photo and a froglet in the photo below.

More about pond life coming soon!

Prince Charming

If you would like to help towards the completion of my documentary film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, filmed in the wilds of Cape Ann and Angangueo, Mexico, please consider making a tax deductible donation here:

DONATE HERE

Donors contributing over $5,000. will be listed in the credits as a film producer.

For more information, visit the film’s website here: Monarch Butterfly Film

For an overview of the film’s budget, please go here: Budget

Thank you so very much for your help.

With gratitude,

Kim Smith

Coyote Clan

Stopping on my way home from a job site in Boston late this afternoon, I met up with a beautiful immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron. While photographing and filming, out from the woods appeared a pack of coyotes, two youngsters and two adults, I think. Then the heron that I was filming flew low and toward the coyotes; please don’t do that I said to nobody but myself. Up he then flew into the trees above and you can see one of the adult coyotes looking up toward the heron.

The canids took a few sips of water from the pond’s edge before stealing back into the brush. A few seconds later there was a series of loud growling and yelping. I was tired and shaky from a long day with no lunch, a little spooked that the coyotes were so close and didn’t wait to see what would happen next.  With both cameras in hand, I did manage to film the scene (and record audio of the ferocious growling!) and here are a few snapshots.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Immature

YIKES! SEAGULL SWALLOWS A WHOLE LOBSTER!

Photographing shorebirds early today and this Homie arrives on the scene, loudly announcing his catch. Before I could turn on my movie camera, he swallowed the whole lobster, in one big gulp! You could see the sharp edges of the lobster as it went down his gullet. I predict a Homie with a tummy ache.

The tremendous variety of seaweed currently covering Pebble Beach captures a wealth of sustenance for migrating shorebirds (and Homies).

Sanderlings, Sandpipers, Semiplamated Plovers, and one Snowy Egret at Pebble Beach today, September 12, 2017.

HOW DO HURRICANES AFFECT MIGRATING SHOREBIRDS LIKE LITTLE CHICK

We can hope our Little Chick is taking his time migrating southward. Perhaps he has traveled only as far as Cape May, New Jersey, or maybe he has already migrated as far as Cape Lookout, North Carolina. Migrating shorebirds often travel shortly after a low pressure system and hurricanes are a part of the environment to which wildlife like Piping Plovers have adapted. However, no wildlife has in the recorded history of the world had to cope with a storm the magnitude of Hurricane Irma.

Piping Plover foraging, building fat reserves for the southward migration. The above PiPl was one of four of a small flock traveling in Gloucester, spotted on August 24, 2017.

Extraordinary weather events can push endangered species over the brink. High winds, storm surges, and wave action destroys coastal habitats and flooding decreases water salinity. Songbirds and shorebirds are blown far off course away from their home habitats, especially young birds. A great deal of energy is expended battling the winds and trying to return to course. Songbirds have it a little easier because their toes will automatically tighten around a perch but seabirds and shorebirds are the most exposed.

Shorebirds like Piping Plovers feet have evolved to run over sand easily and do not grip well with their toes.

Numerous Piping Plovers winter over in the low-lying Joulter Cays, a group of sandy islands in the Bahamas, and one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Irma. Perhaps migrating PiPl sensed the pending hurricane and held off before crossing the Atlantic to reach the Bahamas and other Caribbean Islands. The flock of nine PiPl in the above photo were seen last year at the end of August in Gloucester (August 29, 2016.)

One famous shorebird, a Whimbrel named Machi, who was wearing a tracking device, became caught up in the eye of a powerful storm but made it through to the other side of the storm. Tragically, he was subsequently shot dead in Guadeloupe. Many migrating birds like Whimbrels know to avoid places like Guadeloupe where unbridled shorebird hunting is allowed, but Machi had no power over where he made landfall. Sea turtles too are severely affected by the loss of barrier beaches. Staggering loss of life has been recorded after recent powerful hurricanes–fish, dolphins, whales, manatees, baby crab and lobster estuaries, insects, small mammals, all manner of birds–the list is nearly as long as there are species, and nothing is spared.

A pair of Whimbrels at Brace Cove in July 2015

If you see rare or an unusual bird after a storm or hurricane, please let us know and we can contact the appropriate wildlife official.