Category Archives: Birds of New England

HELLO LITTLE DECEMBER SNOW BUNTINGS!

Sunday afternoon while walking along Brace Cove I by chance met up with my friend Michelle. I was showing her where to look for the Lark Sparrow when Michelle spotted a beautiful male Snow Bunting, and then we spotted a second! They were pecking at the sand looking for seeds caught between the granules.

Also called “Snowflakes,” their arrival on our shores seems appropriate enough for the pending snowstorm 🙂

An interesting note about Snow Buntings – Male Snow Buntings look very different in their breeding and non-breeding plumage. Not due to molting, but because they rub their bellies and heads in the snow, wearing down brown feather tips to reveal pure white feathers beneath.

ENCHANTING ENCOUNTER WITH THE BEAUTIFUL AMERICAN BITTERN

Taking advantage of whatever sunshine can be had at this time of year, I took Charlotte to Plum Island for the day this past Thursday. We began at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and were immediately enchanted with an American Bittern stealth hunting in the marsh, a regal buck, Pintail Ducks, and hawks. Next we made sand castles at Sandy Point and then spent a great deal of time exploring a seemingly abandoned bulldozer in the parking lot there.

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Our little sponge ❤️

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Lunch was a shared lobster roll from Bob’s Lobster Shack, which is located on the causeway heading out to Plum Island. We then stopped at the refuge headquarters to see the Snowy Owl, Piping Plover, and Monarch displays.

Charlotte’s day was made perfect when we learned that homemade cupcakes could be found at the Buttermilk Baking Company.

Last stop was one of my favorite shops for wonderfully unique and vintage home decor, The Barn at Todd Farm. The shop is decorated beautifully for the holidays and is bursting with Christmas gifts and treasures.

The American Bittern hunting in the marsh at Parker River was not at first easy to locate. Not only do the brown and buff colors of their feathers meld perfectly with the surrounding vegetation, but this heron has adapted an additional, highly effective method of camouflage. The Bittern stands motionless with its neck tilted upward, mirroring the tall reeds where the bird forages for fish, crustaceans, amphibians, insects, reptiles, and even small mammals.

The Bittern was beautiful to watch, perfectly poised in striking mode and waiting for the exact moment to attack. He wasted not an ounce of energy and did not miss a single strike.

American Bitterns breed in our region however, they generally migrate further south for the winter to regions where the water does not freeze. Managed wetlands such as those found within Parker River Wildlife Refuge play an important role in the survival of the American Bittern, especially during migration and the winter months.

 

HAWK-ON-THE-HUNT JOINS US AT CAPT. JOE’S FOR THE GMG PODCAST

Perched on the lobster traps, I only had a fleeting moment to take a photo pulling into the parking lot at Captain Joe’s. While getting my camera out, the Hawk appeared to pop into a lobster trap. He popped back out, I took a snapshot under cover of car, then off he flew.

Raptors such as Sharp-shinned Hawks and Peregrine Falcons are attracted to lobster pots because the traps often house songbirds such as sparrows. The smaller birds eat the crusty tidbits found on the pots and the larger birds have learned to find a tasty meal there.

Sharp-shinned Hawk Range Map

Several years back when there was a male Snowy Owl at Captain Joe’s, a Peregrine Falcon flew on the scene, defending his territory by repeatedly dive bombing the Owl. The Falcon disturbed him so much so that the Snowy eventually departed.

NOT ONE, BUT TWO, SUPER RARE BIRDS SPOTTED AT EASTERN POINT TODAY – A LARK SPARROW AND A WESTERN KINGBIRD —

A very rare-for-these parts Lark Sparrow was spotted by numerous birders today and yesterday at Niles Pond. The beautiful little songster kept either close to the ground foraging on tiny seeds or well camouflaged in the crisscrossing branches of trees and shrubs.

Lark Sparrow Niles Pond Gloucester Massachusetts

Song Sparrows Gloucester and Ipswich

We mostly see Song Sparrows around Niles at this time of year. Compare in the above photos how plain the breast of the Lark Sparrow is to that of the heavily streaked Song Sparrow’s underparts. I write rare-for-these-parts because the Lark Sparrow is entirely out of its range as you can see in the first attached map below.

A second rare bird has been spotted on Eastern Point, a Western Kingbird. It was a rough day for photographing, too overcast, so here is a photo from wikicommons media so that if you are around the Point, you will know what to look for. The Western Kingbird is also far outside its range.

GOOD MORNING MR. BUFFALO-HEAD!

Ponds and waterways are filling up with one of the smallest ducks found on our shores, the Buffleheads. A most striking of winter residents (and feisty, too), the male is sharply feathered in black and white, with iridescent purple and green head feathers. The Buffleheads will be here through the winter, with most departing in early spring.

The name Bufflehead is derived from the name Buffalo-head, and they are so named because of the male’s puffy-shaped head. Another common name for this diminutive diver is Butterball.

The male’s head feathers are shaded with a beautiful rainbow sheen, while the female is a much plainer sort.

Two male Bufflheads

THE SMALL FLOCK OF FOUR BEAUTIFUL SWANS IS SETTLING IN

The flock of Mute Swans that arrived just about two weeks ago at Niles Pond is settling in. They are finding plenty to eat and spend their days foraging at pond vegetation, preening, napping, and occasionally stretching their wings for a flight around the pond.

Mute Swans migrate from body of water to body of water within a region. Will they stay in our area or is Niles Pond only a temporary home? When Niles Pond, and all other freshwater ponds and waterways freeze this winter, they will have to move to saltwater coves and harbors.

The absence of Mr. Swan has allowed this small flock to live peaceably at Niles Pond. Mr. Swan and his previous mates spent the winters at Rockport and Gloucester Harbors. Perhaps our Niles Pond flock will do the same. We can tell by the lack of gray in their feathers that they are at least two years old, which means they have managed to survive at least one winter in our region. That is no small feat!

Romance is in the air with these two!

MONARCHS AND PAINTED LADIES STILL ON THE WING AND WHY I ENCOURAGE YOU TO BE LAZY AND NOT TIDY UP YOUR GARDEN!

Monarchs, Painted Ladies, American Ladies, and Yellow Sulphurs are still migrating through Cape Ann–Massachusetts, New England, the mid-Atlantic states, and all along the East Coast for that matter. There isn’t much in the way of nectar plants available at this time of year. If you have anything at all blooming in your garden, even a Dandelion, it will help butterflies and bees on the wing.

This newly emerged Painted Lady was scrounging around at all the dandelions in and around Eastern Point. You can see why if the deadly herbicide Roundup had been applied to this lawn, there would be nothing for the butterflies.

The above Monarch butterfly was drinking nectar from what appeared to be a dried out stalk of Seaside Goldenrod. Although it may seem of no use to you and I, the Monarch was probing deeply into the florets and finding sustenance.

If you have to tidy up your garden, wait until after Thanksgiving, and go cautiously. Bees burrow into dried flower stalks, songbirds find nutrition in the seed heads, and the caterpillars of many species of butterflies, such as those of the Great Spangled Fritillary, winter over in leaf litter at the base of plants.It is not beneficial to pollinators to invite them to your garden, and then decimate the over wintering species with zealous tidying-up. Take a break, be lazy for the sake of the pollinators 🙂

Monarch dispute over a Dandelion