Category Archives: birds of North America

OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVER NEST HAS FOUR EGGS!

Dear PiPl Friends!

Happy News! The nest at Area #3 is complete with four eggs. Based on when I think the last egg was laid, we can expect the chicks to hatch around June 8th or 9th, which is when we begin monitoring full time. The fact that they will be hatching relatively early in the season tremendously increases their chance of surviving. By the time the busiest beach days are upon us, usually beginning around the weekend of July 4th, the hatchlings will be more than three weeks old.

I ‘d like to plan a PiPl ambassador informational meeting on the weekend of the 4th -6th. I thought perhaps 5:00 on Sunday, the 6th would be a good time to meet?  Mainly we’ll discuss any questions and issues along with protocol and our non confrontational roles as ambassadors for the Plovers and representatives of the City.

Saturday morning while checking on the PiPls, a man and a woman walked onto the beach with three unleashed dogs. Fortunately an officer appeared and escorted all off the beach. Way to go Gloucester GPD!!! It takes a community to help endangered and threatened species and without the police helping to enforce the laws, it just makes it all that much harder. We are grateful to the GPD for taking the time to check on the beach and remove the scofflaws!

Dad on nest within the exclosure

Sunday morning I met ambassadors Sally and Jonathan at #3.  Dad was contentedly on the nest while all was quiet at the #2 and #1 areas. Just as we were readying to leave, the new Dad on the scene appeared, calling to the new Mom, the beautiful pale PiPl, and without wasting much time, the pair courted and mated. It was quite a thrill as it was Sally’s first time witnessing courtship and I was thrilled she was able to see!  We were standing a safe distance away, and Sally came well prepared with a strong set of binoculars.

We need volunteers to commit to fill the time periods between 1 to 2pm, 2 to 3pm, and 3 to 4pm. Also, the 9am to 12pm, although we may have someone interested in filling that spot. Are you interested in becoming a Piping Plover Ambassador but don’t see a time slot that works for you? Let me know anyway because if we have two nests, we may be doubling up during the shifts. kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com

Looking forward to PiPl days ahead!

Warmest wishes,

Kim

THREE EGGS!

Three eggs in the Good Harbor Beach PiPl nest this morning -hoping for a fourth tomorrow!

PLOVER BABIES IN THE WEEDS

All four Killdeer Plover chicks that hatched a little over a week ago are all doing remarkably well! They are zooming around the outskirts of Good Harbor Beach and managing to stay out of the way of people and automobiles.

Notice the newborn hatchling’s tiny white dot on the end of its bill. That is the egg tooth it used to pip its way out of the shell. The egg tooth falls off after the first day or so.

I wonder sometimes why Killdeers are so successfully able to reproduce while their smaller cousins struggle so. I think being that much bigger helps a great deal. Killdeer chicks don’t appear to need to thermo snuggle (thermoregulate) nearly as often as do Piping Plover chicks, even on the coldest mornings. And, too, Killdeers are the least beach dwelling Plovers of all and have adapted to nesting in a diverse range of habitats including fields, rooftops, parking lots, gravel pits, and grassy lawns.

My what big feet you have little chick!

The Killdeer Plover family is finding lots to eat amongst the dandelions and weeds at Good Harbor Beach.

 

PIPING PLOVER CHRONICLES CONTINUE – My what a week it’s been at Good Harbor Beach!

Love is in the air! 

First things first though; the Good Harbor Beach Killdeer Plover family that nests every year in nearly an identical spot to the year before, hatched four perfectly healthy and vigorous chicks! Today marks their eight day old birthday and they are all four doing exceptionally well. More about this bundle of adorableness in an upcoming post.

Killdeer Plover Chicks  in dune camo

Mid-week we had a rough morning, with four dogs from the same family. The dogs not only ran through the symbolically roped off area as Mom and Dad were just about to mate, the larger of the four chased Dad. The ACO and DPW have been made aware and they are thankfully managing the situation.

We hear so much gibberish nonsense from scofflaw dog owners. This week, for example, “I thought the date was Memorial Day,” or the sign says “dogs are permitted,” or “dogs are allowed after 5pm,” and my personal favorite, “my dog is special.”

   *     *     *

Much of the week was cold and windy but on several mornings, including a slightly warmer today (Sunday), there were EIGHT Plovers! Three females and five males. We are not too concerned about all eight nesting at GHB. This influx seems to happen every year during May, which is peek migration month in Massachusetts. Many species of shorebirds arrive at GHB during May, stopping to rest and refuel before journeying further north. There were also half a dozen Black-bellied Plovers at GHB this past week and I was reminded of the May we had three Wilson’s Plovers show up one foggy morning.

The two new females that have joined the scene are easy to spot, with binoculars or a long lens. Please, please, do not stand at the edge of the roped off area with your cell phone, trying to take cell phone movies of courting and mating behavior. Hovering for long periods is incredibly disruptive to courtship behavior. Trust me, I have seen this disruption during courtship countless times and it only  serves to dramatically slow, or inhibit all together, the nesting season.

Meet our newest female – isn’t she beautiful!

Back to the new girls; they both have very faint headband and collar band markings, one is the palest I have ever seen a PiPl. I am already in love with her, she is feisty and ready for action, no fickle behavior on her part!

The three pairs, plus two odd boys out, are vying for territory. This morning there was a wildly intense smackdown between three of the boys. Repitiously charging, wing flourishing, then retreating, and as usual, no clear victor.

Piping Plover Smackdown. More smackdown photos to follow, when I have a few spare moments to look over the photos.

Dads are nest scraping along the length of the beach; note their little legs going a mile a minute.

Dear Friends, please consider making a tax deductible donation to launching my Monarch Butterfly documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly for distribution to national television. For more information, go here.

To contribute, please go here.

 

 

 

 

COWBIRD THWARTED!

House Finch female and male

What’s going on in this little nest with eggs from two different species of birds?  House Finches love to nest in the eaves of our front porch and every year we host a brood, or two. This year, the pair abandoned their first nest of five eggs and moved to eaves on the other side of the porch. When we checked again on the nest before taking it down, three of the House Finch eggs were missing and in their place, a Brown-headed Cowbird had laid one of its own. I guess Mama Cowbird didn’t get the 411 that no one was home to raise her baby.

Avian brood parasitism, or laying of one’s eggs in the nest of another individual, is a reproductive strategy when parasitic birds, such as the Brown-headed Cowbird, foist the cost of rearing their offspring onto another bird.

Female Brown-headed Cowbird

From wiki –

Brood parasites are organisms that rely on others to raise their young. The strategy appears among birds, insects and fish. The brood parasite manipulates a host, either of the same or of another species, to raise its young as if it were its own, using brood mimicry, for example by having eggs that resemble the host’s (egg mimicry).

Brood parasitism relieves the parasitic parents from the investment of rearing young or building nests for the young, enabling them to spend more time on other activities such as foraging and producing further offspring. Bird parasite species mitigate the risk of egg loss by distributing eggs amongst a number of different hosts.[1] As this behaviour damages the host, it often results in an evolutionary arms race between parasite and host as the pair of species coevolve.[2][3]

The strength of defenses and counter-adaptation rely on the host/parasitic species’ ability to evolve; some host species have very strong rejection defenses resulting in the parasitic species evolving to have very close mimicry. In other species, hosts do not show rejection defenses and as a result, the parasitic species will show no evolved trait (example: egg mimicry).

Male Brown-headed Cowbirds

 

 

PIPING PLOVER UPDATE FROM GLORIOUS GOOD HARBOR BEACH – AND ADDRESSING SENIOR SKIP DAY

There appear to be two pairs of Piping Plovers at Good Harbor however, after another week of super highs tides, powerful winds and heavy rain, our Piping Plover nest scrapes have all but disappeared. Saturday afternoon all four were foraging in the outgoing tide. Two are our original pair, a third is a bossy territorial male, and the fourth wasn’t on the scene long enough to tell. Late Sunday afternoon found all four huddled together behind mini hummocks and divots escaping the whipping wind.

The highest tide of the spring (on the night of April 16), the one that brought in the heap of ghost fishing gear to GHB and a dead Minke Whale to Folly Cove, went straight away up to the base of the dune.  That tide washed away all active nest scrapes.

Storm tide night of April 16th brought ghost gear to GHB and a Minke Whale to Folly Cove

The high tide on the night of April 29th , although not quite as high as the tide two weeks earlier in April, again washed away all active nest scrapes. Hopefully, the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers will catch some better weather in May!

Note- the above update was written Sunday evening. On this mild Monday morning, I found Mama and Papa back to courting and nest scraping! 

At several of the other beaches that I am filming at, the nests and scrapes have not been disturbed by the tides. Here you can see this beautiful nest with three eggs as it was thankfully spared.

Senior Skip Days This past week there was reportedly a tremendous gathering of kids on Good Harbor Beach, for senior skip day. Thursday morning I was on the beach when about twenty or so arrived. We had several friendly conversations. They are good kids and were there simply to enjoy a fun day with their friends, something that we did not see much of last year because of the pandemic.

I was not in the least concerned for the safety of the Plovers. Because of the super high tides and as of this writing, there are currently no nests scrapes, no nests, and no chicks on the beach. Adult Plovers fly away if a person gets too close.

Later that afternoon, after reading the reports of hundreds of kids trashing the beach I stopped by again at GHB. There were again only about twenty kids. It had become so unpleasantly windy I didn’t stay long and can’t imagine the kids stayed much later. The following morning after another high tide there was only a smattering of cans and bottles half buried in the sand. I have to say, we see much, much worse harmful plastic pollution and garbage left behind on the beach by adults and families, especially after sporting events and parties, and of course, there is the ever present dog poop in plastic.

Party remnants after kid’s senior skip day – not great but we’ve all seen much, much worse…

such as the adult’s dog poop mess left at Wingaersheek Beach, May 1, 2021 

Our community has done a fantastic job in restricting pets from GHB, beginning April 1st, which makes the beach safer and cleaner for all. Joe Lucido and the Gloucester DPW are amazing in installing the symbolic roping to coincide with the Plovers arrival. These actions are the two most essential in helping Piping Plovers get off to a good start.

We are still in the midst of a global pandemic. So many of us have been isolated from our friends and family for many, many months. There will be tens of thousands of visitors to our shores this summer enjoying summer fun. People flock to Good Harbor Beach because they recognize it is a very special place. From daybreak til day’s end, everything about Good Harbor Beach is magnificent! The way the tides and wind change the landscape daily, the most glorious sunrises and rosy pink sunsets, views of the Twin Lighthouses, families strolling, sunbathing, surfing, kite flying, picnicking, volleyball playing, hikes to Salt Island, swimming (especially kids in the tidal creek!), dunes teaming with life, and the wild creatures attracted.

Once the chicks hatch, Plover Ambassadors will be on the beach throughout the day offering insights about the Plovers. I know we can all be tolerant and respectful towards each other and the wild creatures that find safe harbor at Good Harbor. I think it’s going to be a fantastic summer!

Piping Plover Ambassadors 2020

HUMMINGBIRDS HAVE ARRIVED IN MASSACHUSETTS!

On the afternoon of 25th, we had just refilled our newest hummingbird feeder when while cooking dinner a little whirr appeared at the window. He made several trips around the garden, alternately sipping sweetened sugar water at the feeders and nectar from the Japanese flowering quince ‘Toyo-nishiki.’  Like clockwork, for the past several years the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have arrived to our garden in April, while the quince is in bloom.

Hummingbird feeder recipe: To one cup warm water add 1/4 cup pure cane sugar (4 parts to1 part). Dissolve thoroughly. Please don’t put up feeders if you don’t have the time to change the water frequently, and even more frequently in warmer weather.

Over the past few days there has been a burst of Hummingbird sightings coming from around the state. Hang your feeders if you haven’t already done so and remember to change the sugar water often, every few days. Hummingbird feeders are a terrible idea if you are not willing to provide fresh water frequently. Hummingbirds get a fatal fungal infection on their tongue, called hummers candidiasis when folks don’t change the water, or when honey, or any sweetener other than pure white cane sugar is used. And never add red food coloring. The bird’s tongue becomes terribly swollen, they can’t retract it, and without medical attention will starve to death.

Japanese flowering quince ‘Toyo-nishiki.’

I love this newest feeder and purchased it with Charlotte in mind. It’s positioned at her eye level and suction cupped to the window she likes to stand at to look into the garden. The small feeder was modestly priced and bought at Smiths Hardware in Rockport.

Hummingbird feeders serve the purpose of providing sustenance especially during the time of year when there is a lull in blooms however, the very best gift you can give hummers is to provide their favorite plants, and there are many, including trees, shrubs, vines, perennials and annuals.

HOW TO ATTRACT HUMMINGBIRDS (AND KEEP THEM COMING) TO YOUR GARDEN

https://vimeo.com/281869646

PIPL WEEKLY UPDATE AND HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SANDERLING AND A PIPING PLOVER

Earlier in the week, our PiPl pair were zooming  up and down the beach nest scraping hither and thither. They appear to be a bit calmer the past few days. Perhaps they are settling on a nesting location?? Wouldn’t that be wonderful!

Dad taking a much needed siesta

Our hope is Mom and Dad will have an early nest, which will give their babies the greatest chance of surviving. A second family of Plovers that I am documenting this year has laid their second egg. This pair arrived in Massachusetts the same day as did our GHB pair. It will be interesting to compare and contrast as the season progresses.

Please note – The eggs pictured are NOT at Good Harbor Beach, just making sure everyone understand this 🙂

Sanderlings are migrating northward and there are many currently foraging along our local beaches. Folks often confuse Sanderlings with Piping Plovers. The above sanderling is in non-breeding plumage, with somewhat similar coloring to Piping Plovers. You can faintly see some of the rusty breeding plumage coming in. Sanderlings have much longer bills and both bills and legs are black.Piping Plovers in breeding plumage have stout, orange bills that are tipped black, striking black collar and neck bands, a yellow orange ring around the eye, and orangish legs. As the PiPls plumage fades later in the season, from a distance especially it can be hard for people to to tell the two apart.

Sanderlings foraging

CEDAR WAXWING LOVEBIRDS

Here my love, have a yummy bug for breakfast – (notice the bug poised on the tip of the Waxwing’s bill).

Within a recent flock of visiting Cedar Waxwings one pair was courting. Touching bill to bill and animatedly sharing insects and torn off bits of budding trees, we observed the same behavior last spring. It’s very sweet to see. I wish it hadn’t been so hazy but still lovely.

Here is this spring’s pair of lovebirds –

 

Cedar Waxwings are frugivores (fruit-eaters) and they subsist mainly on fruit, although they eat plenty of insects, too. Reportedly, they are becoming increasingly more prevalent in backyards because people are planting more ornamental flowering and fruiting trees.

A courting pair in 2020 –

A beautiful thing to see – Cedar Waxwing male and female pair courting. They were feeding each other, hopping through the branches and passing insects and fruits back and forth.

If you would like to attract Cedar Waxwings  to your garden below is a handy list that I compiled of some of their most favorite fruits and berries –

What to plant to attract Cedar Waxwings to your landscape

Dogwood (Cornus florida, C. alternifolia)
Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontals)
Common Juniper (Juniperus communis)
Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
Holy (Ilex opaca)
Crabapple (Malus sp.)
Hawthorn (Crataegus sp.)
Tall Shadblow (Amelanchier arborea)
Smooth Shadbush (Amelanchier laevis)
Canadian Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)
Mulberry (Morus rubra)
Winterberry (Ilex verticilata)
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Raspberry
Blackberry
Wild Grape
Strawberry

FIRST PLOVER EGG OF THE SPRING!

Although not photographed at Good Harbor Beach but at one of the many locations where I am documenting Piping Plovers, the egg is noteworthy because the pair of Plovers that laid this egg arrived in Massachusetts the same week as did our Good Harbor Beach pair.Precious wildlife eggs symbolizing new life and fresh beginnings, glowing pearlescent and arrestingly beautiful in myriad sizes and colors. Piping Plover egg laid April 20, 2021

BEAUTIFUL BOY OSPREY IN THE MARSH

Dad Osprey taking a break from nesting duties

GREENBELT’S LIVE OPSREY CAM IS UP AND RUNNING!

Dave Rimmer, Osprey Program Director writes the following-

2021 Nesting Season Updates

Please send any questions to dwr@ecga.org)

Update Early April 2021 – Annie and Squam (at least we thought at first it was him) returned to the nest earlier this year – probably around April 5-7. The webcam went live on April 13 and new nesting materials had been brought to the nest. However, we have observed a banded Opsrey at the nest on April 13 and 14, which would not be Annie or Squam. So we will have to watch and wait to see what unfolds here.

Update April 15, 2021 – Watching the Osprey pair on the webcam now for the past few days, we have noticed that the male Osprey has a US Fish and Wildlife Service aluminum band on his right leg. I have banded over 200 Osprey chicks in the past 5-6 years and all on the right leg. Squam was not banded and it is highly unlikely he would have been banded during migration. Plus, this banded male is a large Osprey who appears almost equal in size to the female, who looks very much like and we believe is Annie. Squam was noticably smaller than Annie. About noontime today, the banded male attempted to copulate with Annie. Since then there has been a third Osprey around the nest and much commotion, including a lot of chasing and calling.

It will take more time to determine what is going on here. Are two males competing to be Annie’s mate. Did something happen to Squam or did this larger male just outcompete him? These are all possible scenarios that will unfold in the coming days. Stay tuned!

Don’t miss this TWIST OF EVENTS – READ THE MOST RECENT UPDATES HERE

SUPPORT THE OSPREY PROGRAM HERE

Greenbelt’s OspreyCam is located in Gloucester on Greenbelt salt marsh near LobstaLand Restaurant.

2020 OSPREY PRGRAM YEAR IN REVIEW

PIPING PLOVER STORMY WEATHER WEEKLY UPDATE

Dear Friends of Cape Ann’s Plovers,

Again this past week, our dynamic duo has been busily bonding, nest scraping, and mating up and down the full length of the beach. However, the extremely high tide that rose to the base of the dunes washed out the pair’s nest scrapes and temporarily put the kibosh on all things romantic. The two disappeared for a full day after the storm departed, with no spottings anywhere, not even tell tale PiPl tracks.

Super high tide through the spray zone

My heart always skips a beat after a day or two of no “eyes on the PiPls,” but I am happy to report Mom and Dad are back to the business of beginning a new family, seemingly unfazed. The storm and super high tide left in its wake lots of great bits of dried seaweed and sea grass which will in turn attract tons of insects, one of the PiPls dietary mainstays. There is a silver lining to every storm cloud 🙂

Just a friendly reminder if you would please, if you see the PiPls at the edge of the symbolic rope line or foraging in the tide pools, please do not hover. Hovering will distract the Plovers and delay courtship. And hovering attracts gulls and crows to the scene. Step back at least 50 to 60 feet and give them some space. Bring binoculars or a strong lens if you would like to observe the PiPls from a comfortable distance, comfortable to them that is. Thank you much!

Take care and Happy Spring!

xxKim

Mom’s also dig out the nest scrapes

High stepping Dad, courting Mom

Nest scrape

Dad taking a moment to preen after courting

 

BANDED PIPING PLOVERS FROM THE CANADIAN MARITIMES, BY WAY OF ABACO BAHAMAS, NORTH CAROLINA, AND MASSACHUSETTS!

On Friday I spotted two banded Piping Plovers and wrote the following day to Dr. Cheri Gratto-Trevor, who is a research specialist with the Canadian government and also the point person for reporting sightings of banded Piping Plovers from Canada. Plovers with white or black bands, and metal bands on the opposite tibia, are from Eastern Canada. Many thanks to Cheri for responding so quickly with with some fascinating information!

Cheri writes, “White 6U is band 2651-85405, banded as an adult male on 30 May 2018 at Big Merigomish Island in N Nova Scotia.  He nested in that general area (James Beach) in 2019 and 2020.  His black flag was faded so replaced with white flag 6U in the summer of 2020 (see, it was worth the effort in a pandemic, Julie!).  He winters in the Bahamas (Man of War Cay, Abaco).  The only other time he was reported from migration was fall 2018 in NC (South Point Ocracoke).

Black flag UU (terrific to get such a good photo of the faded code – you’ll have to go after her this summer, Julie) is band 2231-06500, banded as a chick on 19 July 2018 at Pomquet Beach, also N NS.  She nested at East Beach, PEI in 2019, but then returned to nest at Pomquet Beach NS in 2020.  She has never previously been reported from the non-breeding season, so we don’t know where she winters.

It will be interesting to see if they mate together in N NS this summer!  (Normally pairs just meet up on the breeding grounds, so it’s probably unlikely).

Very much appreciated!!  (and no, we don’t name our birds).

Cheri

Now we can add Massachusetts to their migration route!

On April 16th in 2019, a banded Piping Plover from Cumberland Island Georgia was spotted at Good Harbor Beach. We learned that only five days prior to arriving at GHB, he had been seen at Cumberland Island, approximately 1,140 miles away. If any of our readers are so fortunate as to spy a banded Plover, here is the link with color coded guidelines: Great Lakes Piping Plover Color Band Information. And link to the GHB-Cumberland Island PiPl:

FUN 411 UPDATE ON ETM, THE CUMBERLAND ISLAND BANDED PLOVER

The black banded Plover was very tricky to photograph because the white painted letters had worn away. I tried my best to take a photo with the band in full light, not shaded, so we could see the engraved code.
I wish there was a more comprehensive map that clearly labels Canadian, American, and Bahamian PiPl locations and am thinking about making one.

OSPREY LOVEBIRDS, OPSREYS MATING!

Beautiful Ospreys 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 egg laying, which generally leads to greater success. And if the first nest fails, there may be 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

 

THREE PLOVERS AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH! AND A NEST SCRAPE!

A third Piping Plover has joined our original PiPls! The trio sometimes feed together although the newcomer is often chased away by both Mom and Dad.

Wednesday morning our little pair were intently courting. Papa was doing his fanciful high stepping and calling for Mama to come inspect his teacup saucer sized nest scrape. The Instagram is of one of Papa’s nest scrapes, which is located just outside the roped off area. A nest scrape is a shallow bowl dug mostly by the male. The male and female toss in bits of shell, dried beach grass, tiny pebbles, whatever is handily available.

Papa PiPl

Mama PiPl

Today’s colder temperatures will slow courtship. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a mild spring and few dogs disturbances on the beach. The combination of the two, along with the fact that the area has been roped off early in the season, will greatly increase the likelihood of a successful nesting season!

 

BEAUTIFUL BLUEBIRD “WING-WAVING!”

Bluebird courtship is as beautiful as is the bird! Last week my daughter Liv joined me on a film scouting mini adventure. She loves learning about wildlife and living in Southern California as she does, Liv is surrounded by beautiful wild creatures and wild lands. We had a fantastic morning of it. Brant Geese, Piping Plovers, Great Egrets, Tree Swallows, and Eastern Bluebirds were just some of the creatures we observed.

The Eastern Bluebirds were especially stunning in the crisp early morning sunshine. One particular gent had not yet secured his partner’s affections. From tree branches adjacent to nesting boxes, he sang softly and flashed his glorious blue wings to a female that had flown in on the scene.

At first we thought he was preening, but no, the bachelor was clearly enticing his lady friend with lapis lazuli flags, gesturing with quick up and down lifting movements. Called wing-waving, these gestures are part of Eastern Bluebird courtship.

The male first sings loudly from treetops. If a female shows interest, he further shows off his skill sets with wing-waving and soft warbles. He then entices her to join him at a nesting box or cavity, he entering first. After he flies out of the box and if all goes well, she enters the cavity, a sure sign the pair are hitting it off!

Male Eastern Bluebird Wing-waving

The lucky female

 

 

THANK YOU TO GLOUCESTER TIMES MICHAEL CRONIN AND ANDREA HOLBROOK FOR GETTING THE WORD OUT ABOUT OUR GHB PIPING PLOVERS!!

Thank you so very much to Gloucester Times Editor Andrea Holbrook and staff writer Michael Cronin for sharing about the fence post installation and the great information provided for the public. We are so appreciative of the ongoing support given by the community and the Gloucester Times.

GLOUCESTER TIMES

By Michael Cronin

Photo by Paul Bilodeau

March 29, 2021

Part of Good Harbor Beach is fenced off to protect some tiny seasonal visitors.

A crew of Public Works personnel began fencing out an area of the beach on Monday to protect migrating piping plovers. The first pair of the threatened shorebirds reportedly landed this weekend.

“They put up the posts today,” said Kim Smith, a local documentarian and advocate for the piping plovers. “The roping will come next and then they’ll put up the signage telling people what’s going on. This is super that they’re doing it early this season. The earlier it goes up, the earlier the chicks hatch which gives them a better chance of survival as the beaches aren’t so busy yet.”

According to Smith, the piping plovers that visit Good Harbor typically nest in the same spot each year.

“One year they nested out in the parking lot because they were pushed out by the dogs on the beach,” she recalled. “But once the ordinance was put in place they were able to return to their usual spot.”

Dog are banned from Good Harbor Beach between April and September. Wingaersheek will remain open to canines on odd numbered days until April 30.

Smith said she’s waiting for the birds to lay their eggs. Once they do, members of the Essex County Greenbelt Association will encapsulate the nest with wire netting.

“Dave Rimmer of Essex County Greenbelt has been guiding us since 2016,” said Smith. “He’s the first one I call when the first egg is laid. The holes in the cage are big enough for the birds to enter and leave, but small enough to keep predators out.”

READ THE COMPLETE ARTICLE HERE

 

 

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.

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