Category Archives: birds of North America

BEAUTIFUL BANDED MALE PEREGRINE FALCON EATING PREY, ONE OF THE NEWBURYPORT BRIDGE CHICKS!

A very fortunate sighting for me as I am traveling around the region filming predators for several film projects – a stunning Peregrine Falcon perched on an electric pole while devouring prey.

The Peregrine Falcon is a tremendous conservation success story however, species recovery can produce tradeoffs and conflicts. Peregrine Falcons prey upon Least Tern and Piping Plover chicks. The Falcon’s behavior is a source of concern for shorebird monitors nationwide but is it a major conservation concern? Not really, although occasionally, Peregrine Falcons are relocated away from shorebird nesting areas.

What I didn’t realize at the time of filming is that the falcon was wearing leg bands and in one of the still photos you can clearly see the code 07/CB. This tells the falcon’s amazing origins. Falcon 07/CB hatched in 2020 and was one of three male chicks banded at the Gillis Memorial Bridge in Newburyport. His siblings are 06/CB and 08/CB. What’s even more amazing is that his origins can be traced back several generations. Chris Martin, the Conservation Biologist for New Hampshire Audubon shares the following: The chick’s pop is 17/BD, who was banded as a chick in Manchester New Hampshire in 2013. His grandpop at Brady Sullivan in Manchester NH was black/green 6/7 who hatched in 2000 at Cathedral Ledge in Bartlett NH.  And his grandmom was black/green 02/Z who hatched in 2005 in Worcester MA.

Super cool updated information from Andrew Vitz, our Massachusetts State Ornithologist, and Maureen Murray, Director Tufts Wildlife Center  – In 2021, 07/CB crashed into a bird feeder in West Dennis. He was first brought to Wild Care (Eastham) for rehabilitation. 07/CB was given fluids and the wound on his beak was cleaned and bandaged. The following morning he was transferred to Tufts Wildlife Clinic. Maureen shares that 07/CB “had significant trauma to the beak and it took quite a while for the beak to grow back. This bird also had severe trauma to his pectoral muscle on one side. It’s really great to see him looking so healthy!”

07/CB was released at Wayne MacCallum WMA in Westborough.

The photo is courtesy Mass DOT, from the falcon’s webcam nest. They are the three chicks from 2020 of which 07/CB is one of the above. Over the years, a number of chicks have successfully fledged from the Gillis Memorial nest. You can read the full story below at one of the links provided .

From MassWildlife – “Before restoration efforts, the last active peregrine falcon nest in the Commonwealth was documented in 1955. Nesting failures were due mostly to the eggshell thinning effects of DDT and similar pesticides. The peregrine falcon was listed as endangered in 1969 under the federal Endangered Species Conservation Act and the use of DDT in the United States was banned in 1972. Peregrine falcon restoration became MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program first restoration project in 1984 and is its longest running project to date. The first successful nesting pair in Massachusetts occurred in 1987 on the Custom House Tower in Boston. The peregrine falcon was removed from the federal list of Endangered and Threatened Species in 1999. In Massachusetts, the peregrine falcon’s status under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA) has improved over the decades. In late 2019, due to continued conservation efforts, the bird’s MESA status was improved from threatened to special concern.”

https://whdh.com/news/3-falcon-chicks-successfully-fledge-from-nesting-box-on-newburyport-bridge/

https://www.wickedlocal.com/story/regional/2022/06/29/peregrine-falcon-conservation-program-sees-success-massachusetts-newburyport-gillis-bridge/7710474001/

https://www.gloucestertimes.com/news/local_news/trio-of-falcons-banded-on-newburyport-bridge/article_5826589d-8384-58c0-a0d3-04e0ffbfd9dd.html

https://www.eagletribune.com/falcon-chicks-fledge-gillis-bridge-nesting-box/article_8e4192df-d526-515a-bacb-77b197a09313.html

 

NEW SHORT FILM – SNOW BUNTINGS IN THE SNOW!

A captivating flock of Snow Buntings foraging at the Eastern Point salt marsh, set to Debussy’s beautiful flute prelude. LOVE Snow Buntings and their mesmerizing flight pattern! Watch how beautifully they have evolved in their ability to find food in the snowy landscape.

See also a Horned Meadow Lark- I often see the larks foraging along with the Snow Buntings and there was one with the flock.

Royalty and copyright free music from the Internet Archives: Claude Debussy “Prélude À L’apres-midi D’un Faune.”

HANK HERON CATCHES A WHOPPER!

For many months, we lovers-of-Niles Pond have been treated to the presence of a regularly appearing Great Blue Heron. Great Blue Herons are nothing new to Niles Pond, it’s just that this one could be seen daily at one corner of the Pond. The elegant heron was assigned the nickname Hank by my friend Pat Morss. Hank hunted, preened, and rested for hours on end in this one particular spot. Occasionally we would see two Herons, Hank in his location, and the others around the perimeter of the Pond.

The fish in the film clip is the largest i have seen Hank catch. I think it’s a Common Yellow Perch, but if my fishermen friends know differently, please write.

Hank didn’t mind when the Pond briefly froze over as he was still able to find food. He departed after the ice skaters arrived. Of course the Pond is for all to enjoy, I just don’t think Hank felt comfortable sharing. Lately, a solitary GBH that looks alike like Hank has been foraging at the salt marsh at Good Harbor Beach. Hopefully, if it is Hank, he will get the 411 to head south 🙂

It’s not unusual for GBHerons to winter over on Cape Ann however, most do not. Hank will have an easier time of it if he does migrate. The purple shaded areas of the map denote the Great Blue Heron’s year round range.

 

WINTER ROBINS IN THE HOOD AND BEST PHOTOBOMB!

The “winter” Robins are all about, some in flocks of only Robins; other flocks comprised of Starlings and Cedar Waxwings. Here in Essex County the flocks are traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood, devouring fruits and berries of the winterberry bushes, holly, crabapple, and cedar trees, before moving onto the next smorgasbord.

American Robins and Winterberry

Read more here – Robins in Winter

 

FAR FLUNG NORTHERN LAPWING IN OUR MIDST – AND A PIPING PLOVER RELATION!

This beautiful Northern Lapwing has been residing in Ipswich; it is thought at least since the violent storm of December 22nd.

The Lapwing was so interesting to watch as it foraged in the pasture using the same foot tamping technique that we see Piping Plovers exhibit when hunting for mini mollusks and sea worms at the beach. The Lapwing was using its feet to instead stir up worms in the muddy field.

Also called the Green Plover, the Lapwing is very elegant looking, with glossy green plumage (when caught in the right light), and a fine crest accented with long wispy feathers.  It’s quite a bit larger than the Piping Plover, several inches larger than even a Killdeer.

The adorable chicks look like a cross between Killdeer, PiPl, and Semi-palmated Plover chicks! Chick images courtesy Wiki Commons media

Typically, the wind in the North Atlantic flows in a positive phase from west to east. We occasionally see Lapwing vagrants when the wind in the North Atlantic changes its pattern to a negative east to west flow.

To better understand why New England, Newfoundland, and Labrador are occasionally “invaded” by Northern Lapwings, read this easy to comprehend article by author Amy Davis here:

Lapwing distribution: yellow breeding range; purple wintering range; green year-long resident.

Lapwing distribution: yellow breeding range; purple wintering range; green year-long resident.

The map below shows where Northern Lapwings have been observed in the US and Canada.

Lapwings are sensitive to climate change, which is thought to explain a northward expansion of its range.

December 22nd storm damage to the berm that separates freshwater Niles Pond from the Atlantic Ocean.

NEW SHORT FILM – THE HAIRY WOODPECKER

The wonderful Hairy Woodpecker featured in this short film was seen on a sunny afternoon along the banks of Niles Pond. He spent a great amount of time alternating between excavating a fallen log, foraging for wood boring beetles, and climbing up and down trunks of trees. I’ve been back several times and can usually find him by his funny high pitched squeak that sounds much like a pup’s squeaky chew toy.

Snagging a grub

On that very same day the Hairy Woodpecker was pummeling away at the log, a sweet little Downy Woodpecker and beautiful Red-bellied Woodpecker were also in the neighborhood. And too, there is an elusive golden-winged Northern Flicker flitting about, but he has been a challenge to capture. Hopefully, at some point in the future, we can add him to the short film.

Related Post –

Update from Beaver Pond: A Wonderful World of Woodpeckers!

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

 

WHY NILES POND IS VITALLY IMPORTANT TO CAPE ANN’S ECOSYSTEM AND WHAT IS BEING DONE TO PROTECT THE CAUSEWAY

Repair work to the Niles Pond/Brace Cove berm was completed last week. Severe storms over the past several years had breached the area of the Pond adjacent to the Retreat House. Sand, rocks, popples, and even boulders have been pushed by the pounding surf into the Pond.

Despite the excellent repairs, this corner of Niles Pond continues to remain vulnerable. The causeway needs not only to be repaired, but to also be rebuilt to withstand future storms and rising sea level.

Why not just let nature take its course and let the sea pour in you may ask? Won’t Niles Pond eventually become a saltwater marsh? Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

The answer is a resounding NO!

For readers not familiar, the very narrow strip of land that runs between freshwater Niles Pond and Brace Cove is interchangeably referred to as a berm or causeway. This narrowest bridge of land plays an outsized, yet invaluable, role in preventing the salty sea of the Atlantic from swallowing Niles Pond.

It is believed that long ago Niles Pond was a lagoon, which was sealed off by rising sand and rock. Over time, it became a freshwater pond, fed by springs and rainfall. The detail of the Mason map from 1831 clearly shows the division between the Pond and the Cove.

It can’t be overstated enough how uniquely invaluable is the ecosystem created by the causeway, this juncture where Niles Pond meets Brace Cove. Ponds are widely regarded as ecological “hotspots,” for the diversity of life they support. Nowhere is that more evident than at Niles Pond. The sheer number of species of wildlife supported by Niles Pond is simply breathtaking. To name but a few: Painted Turtles, Snapping Turtles, Spring Peepers, American Bullfrogs, Leopard Frogs, Muskrats, Minks, Red Squirrels, Green Herons, Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Screech Owls and Barred Owls, Cedar Waxwings and songbirds of every tune and color, Honeybees and native pollinators, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Coyotes, Red Fox, White-tailed Deer … the list goes on and on.

Common Buckeye drinking nectar from Seaside Goldenrod, Niles Pond causeway

The Niles Pond ecosystem not only supports myriad species of resident wildlife but also hundreds of species of migrating songbirds, waterbirds, raptors, and insects. Eastern Point is an important stopover and staging area for wildlife traveling the Atlantic flyway. Niles Pond provides essential freshwater while both the Pond and Brace Cove provide much needed sustenance. Berries, wildflower seeds, pond vegetation, and the zillions of invertebrates found at the Pond, in the seaweed, and at the shoreline support a wondrous array of travelers; a small sampling includes herons, Merlins, hawks, songbirds, Monarch butterflies, Bald Eagles, gulls and ducks and geese (rare and common), Snow Buntings, Plovers, Whimbrels, and many more.

Monarch Butterfly drinking nectar Smooth Asters Niles Pond

Juvenile Wood Stork

Why, even the wildly-rare-for-these-parts White Pelican and juvenile Wood Stork have stopped at Niles Pond to rest and to refuel!

To lose Niles Pond to some misguided notion that it needs to become a saltwater marsh would be tragic beyond measure. Our nation as a whole is losing its freshwater ponds at an alarming rate. Ponds are absolutely critical to the survival of local and migrating wildlife, especially large scale, healthy natural ponds that are located within the four US Flyway zones. Niles Pond has been a great pond for millennia. The accessibility of the fresh water ecosystem found at Niles Pond is part of the instinctual DNA of both resident and migrating wild creatures.

The Association of Eastern Point Residents has assumed responsibility for the maintenance of the causeway. In the future, the Association needs permission to bring riprap in to distribute at the weakest points of the causeway. Every time the topography of the causeway is redistributed to rebuild the corner where the greatest number of breaches are occurring, the vegetation from another part of the berm is disturbed. This is wholly counterproductive because it is in part preventing a natural succession of vegetation to permanently take hold.

Migrating yellow-rumped Warbler Niles Pond

Niles Pond is enjoyed by dog lovers, ice skaters, ice boat sailors, birders, painters, photographers, joggers, walkers, and more. We can all give thanks to the Association of Eastern Point Residents for the stellar job they are doing in maintaining the causeway. Their time and expense is a gift of the greatest kind to the entire community.

This narrowest of causeways plays the critical role in preventing a freshwater dedicated Massachusetts great pond from becoming a salty marsh or lagoon. Cherished greatly by residents and guests alike for the beautiful, peaceful walk it affords along the banks of the Pond, the preservation of Niles Pond benefits all of Cape Ann, her citizens and wildlife. 

With thanks to Karen Gorczyca, John McNiff, and Mike S. for sharing information about preserving the Niles Pond causeway.

American Bullfrog Niles Pond

Cattails Niles Pond

 

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS EATING POISON IVY

All around Cape Ann, from West Gloucester to East, from Cape Hedge to Good Harbor to Cox Reservation, I have been checking out the Poison Ivy patches and sure enough, there are Yellow-rumped Warblers relishing the white waxy fruits at every locale. Who knew it was a thing 🙂 And now I have a new favorite species to add to the long list of beloved wild creatures.

According to Cornell, Yellow-rumped Warblers are the only warbler able to digest the waxes found in Wax Myrtle and Bayberries. This ability to digest waxy fruit allows the Yellow-rumped Warbler to winter as far north as Newfoundland.

Yellow -rumped warblers are versatile foragers. They eat insects in the spring, summer, and when available. You may see them picking at insects on washed up seaweed. During migration and the winter months, their habit is to eat Poison Ivy fruits, grapes, Wax Myrtle, Bayberries, Virginia Creeper berries, dogwood fruits, and Juniper berries. Yellow-rumped Warblers also eat goldenrod seeds and beach grass seed, and if you are fortunate to have them at your feeder, provide Sunflowers seeds, raisins, peanut butter, and suet.

The Yellow-rumped Warblers have been dining on PI fruits for over a month. As autumn has unfolded, I’ve added new clips to the short film below. Filmed from mid-September to mid-October I see no signs of the feast abating as there is still plenty of fruit around. More photos to come when I have time to sort though.

See a story form March of this year, Yellow-rumped Warblers in the Snow.

For more about Poison Ivy, and the myriad species of wildlife this native vine supports, go here:

Leaves of Three, Let it Be

Please join the Town Green and the Save Salt Island Group for what promises to be a fantastic virtual webinar and workshop on the ecosystem of. Good Harbor Beach.

Event: The first of a three-part workshop/webinar series focusing on the Good Harbor Beach ecosystem: Protecting and Preserving the Good Harbor Beach Ecosystem for Current and Future Generations

When: Wednesday, October 26th from 6:30-8:30pm on Zoom (register here) (https://bit.ly/3RBEa3v)

What: An online workshop/webinar with several small group breakout sessions for participants to discuss the issues raised and reflect on the changes that have already happened

Speakers include:

  • Professor Charles Waldheim from the Harvard Graduate School of Design
  • Jayne Knott, TownGreen board member and founder of HydroPredictions
  • Denton Crews from Friends of Good Harbor
  • Mary Ellen Lepionka, local historian

You will learn about:

  • The history of Good Harbor Beach
  • The Good Harbor Beach ecosystem and current climate threats
  • Incremental sea level rise, flooding, ecosystem adaptation, and vulnerable infrastructure
  • The Great Storm scenario based on research from Harvard Graduate School of Design

 The first workshop will be followed by a Good Harbor Beach field trip on October 27th to tour vulnerable areas identified in the workshop. The second and third workshop/webinars will address adaptation options and project planning for the Good Harbor Beach area. The Good Harbor Beach ecosystem workshop/webinar series is a pilot public education program that TownGreen will replicate to focus on climate impacts in Essex, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Rockport.

Jayne F. Knott, Ph.D.

JFK Environmental Services LLC

https://HydroPredictions.com

jfknott@hydropredictions.com

508-344-2831

YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO!

What was that flash of brown and white that whizzed by? Too large to be a sparrow and hoping to learn what it was, I watched quietly as it stayed motionless in the tree branches, well hidden, except for its bright white breast. I think it was watching me and didn’t budge for a good fifteen minutes. I crept a little closer to try to get a better view. What was this pretty, with a lovely curved bill, soft Mourning Dove grey/brown wing feathers and white breast? Could it be a Yellow-billed Cuckoo bird? YES!!

I had only ever seen them in books and was thrilled to catch a glimpse, however brief. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are not necessarily rare I don’t think, but they have a reputation for being illusive, and this one surely was. I sure wish I could have gotten a clear glimpse of its tail feathers, which look polka dot when see from below.

Yellow-billed Cuckoos are long distant travelers. They breed in our area before heading to parts much further south, some as far as Argentina.

LEAVES OF THREE, LET IT BE

In thinking about our community’s efforts to Save Salt Island from deforestation and development, I wanted to share evidence that the vines and shrubs on the island are an important source of food for a host of small mammals and birds.

One of the most reviled of plants, Poison Ivy, is an excellent food plant for wildlife and will not cause the itchy uncomfortable rash if you do not touch the leaves, stems, fruits, and roots. Poison Ivy can either look like a shrub or a vine. Regardless of the shape, the leaves are easily identifiable in that they are always arranged in three; two leaves opposite one another, and between them the third leaf is borne on a stem growing at a right angle from the two shorter leaves.

Common Bonnet Fungi and Poison Ivy

Out on Eastern Point there are large patches of Poison Ivy that grow smack on the edge of very well traveled pathways. They have grown that way for decades, yet no one bothers the Poison Ivy and the Poison Ivy bothers no one. The spring blooming greenish yellow clusters of flowers are beloved by bees and myriad pollinators, while the vitamin rich white waxy berries are relished by resident and migrating songbirds alike.

In autumn, the plant’s glossy green leaves turn a brilliant red, which acts as a “red flag” to hungry songbirds. The long list of birds that dine on Poison Ivy fruits include Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Bluebirds, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Mockingbirds, Song Sparrows, Gray Catbirds, Bobwhites, and many, many more.

Poison Ivy Tips – If you come in contact, rinse the area with cold water, not soap, as soon after contact as possible. Ocean water works well when near to the beach. If you have Jewelweed growing handily nearby, smear the juice of the stem on the exposed skin. Never burn Poison Ivy. With burning,  urushiol (the poisonous oil in Poison Ivy) becomes volatilized in the smoke and you can get it in your lungs, which is very dangerous and can even lead to death.

Yellow-rumped Warbler and Poison Ivy

PIPING PLOVER MIGRATING THROUGH CAPE ANN! #ploverjoyed

Very late  in the day Thursday, September 29th, while checking on Monarchs, and other travelers, a new friend pointed out a Piping Plover foraging in the seaweed at Brace Cove. I zipped down to the beach and sure enough, there was a very shy PiPl foraging alongside Semipalmated Plovers and sandpipers of several different species. He/she had a fairly steady gait so I am certain it wasn’t Hip Hop, although it was a little challenging to see in the super thick seaweed. And, too, this PiPl was extremely skittish of larger birds flying overhead, displaying an usual way of crouching its upper body and holding its tail end up high, a behavior not shared with Hip Hop.

I returned to Brace Cove early the following morning and the traveling PiPl had departed overnight.

I am posting this information especially for fans of Hip Hop to show that it is not unheard of for stragglers to have not yet left our region. It’s evolution and nature’s way for creatures to remain and depart over a period of time, to ensure survival of the species. If all the Monarchs and all the PiPlovers migrated at precisely the same time, one storm could wipe out the entire species.

Safe travels to all our little migrating friends. Hopefully they are finding shelter from the storm.

“BIRDS AND POETRY” WITH AUTHOR AND BROOKLINE BIRD CLUB DIRECTOR JOHN NELSON!

You are invited to join Brookline Bird Club director John Nelson at 7-9 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24 for a walk around Gloucester’s Eastern Point–the opening event of the Dry Salvages Festival 2022: A Celebration of T. S. Eliot.

We will look for birds around Eliot’s childhood patch, with commentary about Eliot’s bird poems.

The event is free and open to the public. Free parking at the Beauport lot at 75 Eastern Point Blvd. Participation limited. Registration by email is required: tseliotfestival@gmail.com.

Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”

T. S. Eliot Four Quartets

John Nelson is  the author of Flight Calls: Exploring Massachusetts Through Birds

Photos of Eliot on boat, view of harbor from Eliot house

Some wild creatures you may see on your walk –

PIPLS IN THE GLOUCESTER TIMES – BEST YEAR EVER!

Good morning PiPl Friends!

Please check out today’s Gloucester Times for a terrific article about our GHB PiPls, written by Ethan Forman. https://www.gloucestertimes.com/news/best-year-ever-for-plovers-at-good-harbor-beach/article_cba646a6-32d4-11ed-ba55-1fc4ad06ff8b.html

Ethan, Paul Bilodeau (the Times photographer), and I met last week at GHB. PiPl Ambassador Susan was out looking for HipHop that morning, too, and she stopped by during the interview. Ethan mentioned years ago he had written articles about the Plovers on Plum Island. He asked lots of great questions about our GHB Plovers and he’s such an excellent writer, I felt very good about the interview. Carolyn Mostello, our Massachusetts state waterbird biologist, provided a very thoughtful quote for the article. I was hoping to show Ethan and Paul Hip Hop that day, but he was doing his invisible act. Everyday I am hopeful he has departed however, as of yesterday, he was still here.

Hip Hop eleven weeks old September 12

I couldn’t find Hip Hop this morning feeding with the Semipalmated Plovers and Killdeers at the Creek, or at the front of the beach. The wind was blowing in great gusts and he knows where all the best locations are to get out of the wind. Hoping for the possibility that he joined the many travelers during last night’s massive migration

Semipalms at the Creek this morning

Thank you to all our super Ambassadors. We could not have had our “Best Year Ever” without each and every one of you and your tremendous gifts of time and patience. 
Have a super day and enjoy this exquisite weather!
xxKim

‘Best year ever’ for plovers at Good Harbor Beach

Efforts to protect piping plovers nesting at the popular Good Harbor Beach this summer paid off: Between two pairs nesting, there were seven eggs. Of those, six chicks hatched, and five chicks fledged.

“It’s our best year ever,” said Kim Smith, who heads up the group Piping Plover Ambassadors at the beach.

And the success here of the piping plovers — a threatened species — this summer revolved around the storyline of two handicapped shorebirds, a mom who had lost her foot but still successfully hatched a clutch of four eggs, and her chick dubbed “Hip Hop”, who had a lame right foot and was slow to develop.

FIND THE COMPLETE ARTICLE HERE

https://www.gloucestertimes.com/news/best-year-ever-for-plovers-at-good-harbor-beach/article_cba646a6-32d4-11ed-ba55-1fc4ad06ff8b.html

LA LUNA, THE CALICO BLUE HERON

If you have seen a congregation of white herons at Niles Pond, chances are they were not Snowy Egrets or Great White Egrets, but Little Blue Herons.

During the summer of 2022, we had an extraordinary wildlife event unfolding at Niles Pond. In an average year we only see a handful, if any, Little Blue Herons at Niles. Amazingly, on any given evening in August of this year, I counted at a minimum two dozen; one especially astonishing evening’s count totaled more than 65!

Little Blue Herons are an average-sized wading bird, smaller than Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets but larger than Little Green Herons and Black-crowned Night Herons.

Little Blues in their first hatch summer are often confused with Snowy Egrets because they are similar in size and color. A Little Blue Heron, despite its name, is mostly pure white its first hatch summer (the wings are tipped in slate gray).  Their bills are pale greyish blue at the base and black at the tip, with yellowy-green legs.By its third summer, Little Blue adults have attained the two-toned rich moody blue body plumage and violet head and neck feathers.

It’s the Little Blue’s second hatch year, in-between juvenile and adult, when it shows a lovely bi-color, calico pattern that is the most enchanting. The feather patterning is wonderfully varied as the bird is losing its white feathers and gaining its blue and violet feathers. The patterning is so interesting, on one of our many visits to check on the herons, Charlotte dubbed the Niles Pond calico, La Luna.

Little Blue Herons – first hatch summer

Little Blue Heron – second summer (Luna)

Little Blue Heron – adult

Little Blue Heron adult and first hatch summer juvenile

The Little Blue Herons have begun to disperse and I have not seen Luna in over a week. They will begin migrating soon. I am so inspired by the presence of Luna and her relations at Niles Pond I am creating a short film about New England pond ecology, starring Luna!

Food for thought – Because of the drought, the water level at Niles has been lower than usual. The lower water level however apparently did not effect the American Bull frog population and that is what the Little Blues have been feasting on all summer. By feasting, I literally mean feasting. In our region, Little Blue Herons are “frog specialists.” During the first light of day, I witnessed a Little Blue Heron catch four American Bullfrogs, either an adult, froglet, or tadpole. They hunt all day long, from sunrise until sunset.  If at a bare minimum, a typical LBH ate 20 frogs a day times 60 herons that is a minimum 1200 frogs eaten daily over the course of the summer.

American Bullfrog

Here in New England, we are at the northern edge of the Little Blue Heron’s breeding range. Perhaps with global climate change the range will expand more northward, although Little Blue Herons are a species in decline due to loss of wetland habitat.

Luna in early summerSnowy Egret (yellow feet) in the foreground and Great Egret (yellow bill) in the background

Compare white Little Blue Heron first hatch summer to the Snowy Egret, with bright yellow feet and black legs and bill to the Great White Egret with the reverse markings, a bright yellow bill with black feet and legs.

BIRDS AND POETRY

Please join John Nelson at 7-9 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24 for a walk around Gloucester’s Eastern Point–the opening event of the Dry Salvages Festival 2022: A Celebration of T. S. Eliot.

We will look for birds around Eliot’s childhood patch, with commentary about Eliot’s bird poems. The event is free and open to the public. Free parking at the Beauport lot at 75 Eastern Point Blvd. Registration by email is required: tseliotfestival@gmail.com.

For more information about the Dry Salvages Festival visit the T.S. Eliot website here

 

The view over Gloucester Harbor from the Eliot summer-house, built at Eastern Point in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Photo of Niles Pond on Eastern Point by Kim Smith.

ELEGANT RARITY AT PARKER RIVER – THE AMERICAN AVOCET!

Far, far outside its normal range, the elegant American Avocet has once again made Parker River National Wildlife Refuge a stop over point on its migratory route. Recent records indicate the American Avocet was photographed at Plum island in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019, and now 2022. According to local photographer friends, the American Avocet has been here for over a month. When it first arrived, the Avocet still had much of its orangish neck and breast breeding plumage. Today, you can only very faintly see the orange hue in its breast feathers.

American Avocets have an usual technique for fishing. They capture aquatic invertebrates by swishing their long, up-curved bill from side to side, a signature behavior called scything. American Avocets eat a wide variety of invertebrates including midges, beetles, flies, fairy shrimp, amphipods, and small fish. They also eat the seeds from aquatic plants.

If you plan to see the Avocet, this exquisite beauty is easy to spot. Go to parking area #6, opposite Stage Island. If you don’t see a bunch of photographers to point the way, you can usually find it at the far curve, foraging at the Stage Island Pool, to the left side of the causeway to the Island.  You can’t miss its striking black and white plumage as it is foraging in a mixed bunch of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. The crowds of birders and photographers are not in the least phasing the shorebirds as there is quite a good distance from where you are permitted to observe and where the birds are feeding and resting.

American Avocet Range Map

 

Photo of American Avocet in breeding plumage by  Dan Pancamo – originally posted to Flickr as Quintana June 2nd 2010 courtesy wikicommons media

PPP (POSITIVELY PRO PLOVER!) AND PIPING PLOVER HIP HOP UPDATE

Tree Swallows currently coming in waves and massing at Good Harbor Beach

Good Morning PiPl Friends!

Our little Hip Hop is still present at Good Harbor Beach. We’re hopeful that he will depart to begin his southward migration at some point soon but in the mean time, please know that he is foraging with great gusto, finding lots and lots of good food at the various habitats at GHB. In addition to his usual PiPl diet, the storm last week brought in great amounts of seaweed and that has become one of his favorite foraging locations. Piping Plovers eat a wide range of invertebrates, including insects, mini mollusks, and sea worms.

Piping Plover Hip Hop turned nine weeks old on Monday. Here he is at 60 days old.

Where do Plovers go in winter? is a question often asked of we Ambassadors. We know from banding programs at the University of Rhode Island that many Plovers from southern New England first head to the barrier beaches at Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras. Here they will stay for about 45 days, foraging and storing up their lipid reserves for the next leg of the migration. Most will then continue on to the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and remote islands in the Caribbean, where they will stay until early March.

Thank you to all in our community who have taken the time to write and to call in support of the Plovers, to our PiPl Friends and to new friends who have been prompted to write. We so very much appreciate your kind words and good wishes for the Plovers. We’d like everyone to understand how vulnerable is this tiny threatened bird however, not all people have the capacity nor vision to see the beauty and joy in conserving our wild creatures and wild spaces, for the protection of life on Earth as we know it, and for future generations to come.

We are keeping our messaging PPP – Positively Pro Plover! 

CELEBRATING FIVE CHICK’S FIVE WEEK BIRTHDAY MILESTONE! #ploverjoyed

Dear PiPl Friends,

Happy five weeks old to our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover chicks! Today marks the day that all five are now five weeks old. The four Plover chicks from area #3 turned five weeks on Monday and the singleton from the Salt Island area #1 turns five weeks today. This is a milestone for both the Plovers and for the Cape Ann community!

The two Plover families have combined forces, or I should say the chicks are a unit; Super Dad is still reminding One Dad who is boss.

Hip Hop spends much of his time alone on the beach foraging. This is nothing new; we just have to keep our eyes peeled because Dad isn’t around quite as much to voice piping commands for him to get out of the way of foot traffic.

How long will the family stay together as a little unit? I have seen at other locations where I am filming, at the most, 49 days. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if they did stay, or at least Super Dad, because it would surely give Hip Hop a better chance of surviving.

The Squadron

Every year we have high hopes to successfully fledge chicks. This is most definitely our best year ever however, next year could be a complete bust. We know some things that contributed without a doubt to this year’s happy story. A tremendously dedicated group of round-the-clock Piping Plover Ambassadors is at the top of the list. If you see one of these kind-hearted PiPl Ambassadors, please let them how much you appreciate their efforts – Susan Pollack, Paula and Alexa Niziak, Marty Coleman, Jennie Meyer, Ann Cortissoz, Mary Keys, Sharen Hansen, Deb Brown, and Sally and Jonathan Golding. We also have a group of dedicated substitutes who are always willing to step in, even on a moment’s notice – Jill Ortiz, Barbara Boudreau, Duncan Hollomon, Karen Thompson, Lisa Hahn, Sarah Carothers, and Duncan Todd.

Working with our partners and PiPl Friends has provided a safe habitat for the Plovers.  Mark Cole and the DPW’s early actions in symbolically roping off nesting areas, placing important signage, and the decision not to rake the beach certainly contributed to this year’s success. Allowing the wrack to remain creates an abundance of foraging opportunities. Thank you to the entire DPW beach crew for keeping eyes on the chicks while working on the beach and for your always friendly demeanors  and interest in the Plover’s development.

Daily diligence and ticketing on the part of Gloucester’s Animal Control Officers Jamie Eastman and Tegan Dolan helped keep dogs off the beach after the March 31st date. We also want to thank the GPD and Mayor Verga for temporarily placing the large flashing light sign at Nautilus Road to let people know to keep pets off the beach, and the fine levied if caught.

Many thanks to Dave Rimmer, Essex County Greenbelt’s Director of Land Stewardship. For the past seven years, on a volunteer basis, Dave and his assistants have installed the wire exclosures that protect the Piping Plover’s eggs from avian and mammalian predation.

We’d also like to thank Carolyn Mostello, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Coastal Waterbird Biologist, for her thoughtful actions and continued excellent advice.

We are grateful for the help and timely actions taken by City Councilors Jeff Worthley and Scott Memhard who have taken an active interest in the Plovers and also Good Harbor Beach in general, particularly in the case of the contaminated Creek and getting swimmers out of the water.

We are so appreciative of the time and care Coach Lattof and the Gloucester Fishermen football team take in their attitude toward the Plovers. It has been a great teaching moment for the kids and the Coaches have developed and fully encouraged the kids’ tremendous positive outlook toward the birds.

Hip Hop and sibling, five-weeks-old

We also want to give a shout out to the GHB volleyball players who without fail, every evening pause their games to give the chicks the space they need to migrate back to their nighttime sleeping quarters.

We are so appreciative, too, of all the help given by the Plover’s community of well wishers, the early morning walkers including Pat and Delores, John Burlingham, Jan Bell, and Betty, to name only some, and who always jump in to lend a hand when needed. Thank you also to the Good Harbor Beach residential neighbors Sue and Donna who are always on alert, watching over the Plovers and sharing their concerns from their perspective as local residents.

The new beach reservation system has helped the Plovers in an unexpected way. Good Harbor Beach does not fill up as early and as frantically as it has on hot summer days in previous years. Early morning is an essential time of day for birds. They are extra hungry after the night long fast and need lots of space to forage undisturbed.

A heartfelt acknowledgement to all our PiPl Ambassadors, partners, and friends. The “it takes a village” adage has never been more true than in the case of Piping Plovers nesting at Cape Ann’s most popular seaside destination. Thank you!

xxKim

HIP HOP CATCHING UP! #ploverjoyed

Tiny handicapped Piping Plover chick Hip Hop, although developmentally challenged in comparison to his siblings, is nonetheless steadily growing. You can compare in the photos and video footage that he looks to be at about the same stage of development as were his siblings two weeks ago. His wings muscles are gaining in strength and fluffy tail feathers are beginning to grow.

Hip Hop is also wonderfully independent and forages far and wide along the length of the beach. If you see him on the beach, please remember that Hip Hop can’t yet fly to escape danger as can his siblings. Please give him lots and lots of space and please don’t try to take a close-up photo with your cell phone. The more he is able to forage without being disturbed, the more quickly he will grow.

This morning a scofflaw dog owner brought her dog to Good Harbor Beach. Fortunately, early morning daily GHB walkers P and D caught up with her to remind her of the dog ordinance. Hip Hop was only a few feet away, hunkered down in a divot, and could have so very easily been squished by a bouncy, enthusiastic off leash dog. Thank you P and D for your help this morning <3

Hip Hop’s sibling, photo taken about two weeks ago.

Hip Hop today

STARTING YOUNG – OUR LITTLE WILDLIFE ADVOCATE

So proud of Charlotte this morning! She rose early with me to catch her first ever sunrise and to watch the Plovers. Rising in a dramatic fiery red ball, the sun was all that it could be for a first-ever sunrise experience.

We found the chicks foraging along the water’s edge, while she stood back as still as a statue to give them lots of space. She kept eyes on all four and helped herd a seagull away from my canvas beach bag, but not in the direction towards the chicks. She added more seashells and discarded “sand-shapers” to her collections and was most enamored of all our early morning friends.

The four thirty-day-old chicks at area #3, plus Dad, were all present and accounted for this morning. Little Hip Hop is still undersized, but quite independent.

Hip Hop and sibling at twenty-nine-days old

So very unfortunately, we lost one of the two chicks at area #1 over the weekend. Tomorrow, the one remaining area #1 chick attains the wonderful four week old milestone. Both Moms departed over a week ago so we have five chicks plus two Dads. The five chicks occasionally all forage together, while the Dads stay ever vigilant in watching over their respective chicks (and duking it out between themselves over “foraging rights.”)

HAPPY FOUR WEEKS OLD TO OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVER PLUMPLINGS! #ploverjoyed

Hello Piping Plover Friends,

Today we are celebrating a milestone for our Piping Plover chicks at area #3, their four-week-old milestone. In one more week, the Plover chicks will be fully fledged. The three normally developing chicks are taking brief lift offs several feet above ground. We hope tiny Hip Hop won’t take too long to catch up to his siblings before he too is showing signs of flying.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all our wonderful friends and partners who have worked with us to reach this important milestone of FOUR four-week-old chicks. Thank you Mark Cole and the Gloucester DPW beach crew, thank you to ACO officers Teagan and Jamie, thank you to City Councilors Scott Memhard and Jeff Worthley, thank you to the Gloucester football practice kids and coaches, thank you to the GHB volleyball players, and thank you to all the local residents and beachgoers who are watching out for the Plovers when they are at GHB enjoying a beach day. 

Hip Hop and sibling – you can compare in the photos how much more well-developed are the wings of Hip Hop’s siblings. Hip Hop is making great strides though and we have high hopes.

On a more difficult note, our area #1 family has become more elusive and with recent talk about eating Plovers we are concerned that we may be missing a chick after this weekend’s truly unnecessary “stirring the pot.” People don’t understand this kind of cruel talk encourages people to torment and to kill Plovers. They don’t get that this is a thing and that there is a well-documented history of grown men and women killing Plovers and destroying their nests and habitat because they were threatened by the presence of a tiny bird. Many of us hope this way of relating to wildlife died out in the previous century. I believe the great majority has evolved in how we think about protecting wild creatures, particularly in the case of safe guarding threatened, endangered, highly vulnerable and the smallest amongst us.

As has stated been countless times, the mission of the Piping Plover Ambassador program is to share the shore, to keep the beaches open for people and for shorebirds.

If you would like to be a Piping Plover Ambassador next year, please email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Our ambassadors are a wonderful group of kind hearted, funny, sweet, and dedicated people and we have become friends through our stewardship. We have tremendous support from most in the community however, a small handful have labeled us elites and silly bird watchers (not that there is anything wrong with bird watching!). Nothing could be further from the truth. We are an assemblage of hardworking professionals, artists, writers, poets, designers, to name but a few of our careers, who came together to take time out of our professional lives to care for a tiny endangered species that began calling Cape Ann home seven years ago. You don’t need prior “bird watching ” skills to join our Piping Plover Ambassador program and we would love to have you.

Four-week-old Plover plumplings

NEW SHORT VIDEO – OSPREY FISHING!

The Osprey are finding the shallow water rich with fish. The fish hawk seen here had no luck the first try. After circling around and giving a signature call, he/she quickly made a second dive and had himself an excellent catch. The large fish pulled him back down toward the water for a few moments, but then he righted himself. I thought the Osprey was heading in the opposite direction of where I was standing, but then he flew almost directly over me. It was a thrill to see an Osprey so close up with a fish in its talons . Toward the end, he looks like he is surfing with the fish.

Osprey eat almost exclusively fish, yet despite that fact, every time an Osprey flies over our local beaches, all the shorebirds run for cover.  According to Cornell, captured fish measure on average form 6 to 13 inches long and weigh one-third to two-thirds of a pound, although the largest fish caught on record was 2.5 pounds.

HIP HOP ON THE BEACH – INJURED PLOVERS SURVIVING GOOD HARBOR

Please, if you see this little one on the beach, please give him lots of space to forage and to move around. This is our smallest chick, so nicknamed Hip Hop because his right foot does not work well, which causes him to do a sort of hop run. Despite the injury he is growing and moves with much independence, all around the beach.

Parents of young children, do not allow your child to chase the Plovers, any Plover, adult or chick. If you see a Plover on the beach, hold your child’s hand so they don’t lunge toward the bird and then both watch from a quiet distance. You will see so much more, and the bird may even approach you if you are standing still.

Community members, if you see a person(s) chasing Plovers, please alert a Plover Ambassador. Thank you!

Comparing two three-week-old siblings – Because of Hip Hop’s foot injury, he is growing at a slower pace however, he is robust, which gives us hope he will eventually fill out.  Normally developed three-week-old chick stretching its wings

Interestingly, both Super Mom and Hip Hop have right foot handicaps; Mom has lost her foot and Hip Hop sustained an injury approximately during his first week of life.

PIPING PLOVER TERRITORY DISPUTES

Good morning PiPl Friends!

Thank you Jonathan for the addition of new signs in all these prominent locations, so very much appreciated! And thank you Sally for last night’s lovely evening story, and to all our ambassadors for your thoughtful updates and wonderful information provided throughout the day.

Regarding drones, I was reminded by daily early morning beach walker John Burlingham, a former game warden, and the person who saved the day the other morning with the hostile drone family, that our own sign in the kiosk  at the entrance to the footbridge states clearly that drones are not allowed near the Plovers. It gives the distance and I will check on that tomorrow because I don’t recall precisely what it said, but if you have a problem with a drone operator, please feel free to point out the sign in the kiosk.

Regarding the PiPl smackdowns we have all been witnessing –

When Piping Plovers arrive in early spring they begin almost immediately to establish a nesting territory. The males fly overhead piping loud territorial calls and chase and/or attack intruders including songbirds, Crows, gulls, and even members of their own species. The attacks on each other are brutal and can end in injury, or even worse, death.

Typically, the battles subside for a time while the mated pairs are brooding eggs and when the chicks are very young. The exception to that is when an unattached male, or disrupter, is circulating about the beach.

Later in the season, as the chicks are gaining independence and roam more freely, the youngsters will eventually cross into “enemy territory.” The males resume fighting to both protect their chicks and their turf. We are seeing these little dramas play out at Good Harbor Beach. One reason why I think the older pair at #3, our original pair, are so successful is because Super Mom will also often join in the battle (even with her foot loss), putting herself between the attacker and her chicks, and they will both go after the intruder, whether another Plover or a seagull. In the video, you can see Mom has positioned herself on the left, while Super Dad circles the other male, biting him during the scuffles, then leaping over and then chasing him out over the water. This was yesterday’s battle and today finds all six chicks and all four adults present and accounted for, with no visible injuries.

Happy three-week-old birthday to our area #3 chicks. Truly a milestone for the chicks and for the Good Harbor Beach community of Piping Plover friends and advocates. On Thursday, the twins at Salt Island will also be three weeks old. Imagine! I am trying not to get too excited because last year a gull swooped in and flew off with a 24 day old chick. The following day, we lost a 25 day old chick for the same reason. We’ll just keep hoping and working toward fledging all these six beautiful little babies 🙂 And finally, today for the first time, I saw Hip Hop stretch his wing buds! He is still not putting much weight on his right foot. I don’t think it was a problem at birth because in looking at all the early footage, no chicks had an obvious foot deformity.

Hip Hop, 20 days old, with right foot injury

Have a super July summer day and thank you for all you are doing to help the GHB PiPls!

xxKim