Category Archives: birds of North America

CROWS ATTACKING HAWK

Poor little Sharpie didn’t stand a chance of going unnoticed. The Eastern Point Crow Patrol was all over him, cawing vociferously and dive-bombing, alerting every creature within earshot of his presence. The juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk held his ground for a bit, before tiring of the sky guardians and heading for cover into a nearby tree.

CHECK OUT THIS SUPER VIDEO FEATURING GREENBELT’S 2020 ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND OVERVIEW OF BEAUTIFUL PROPERTIES WITH PRESIDENT KATE BODITCH

We in Essex County are so incredibly blessed to have Greenbelt working so hard to conserve beautiful green space throughout the region. Check out this super video to get an overview of just some of the good work that has taken place this past year.

From Greenbelt, “Join Greenbelt President, Kate Bowditch, as she reviews Greenbelt’s challenges and accomplishments this past year. Thank you for your continued support of our organization!”

If you’d like to make a donation in support of Greenbelt, please visit ecga.org/annualfundBluebird nesting box Greenbelt Ipswich

Piping Plover Dad and Marshmallow Good Harbor Beach

Seine Field Gloucester

SO COLD YOU CAN SEE THE GREAT BLUE HERON’S BREATH

The second photo was taken during the last cold snap. I didn’t realize until looking at the photos tonight that you could see his breath. Note the rock he is perched on. For over a month I would find him there sleeping in the morning. In the top photo, the rock has barely any pooh, so funny because after only a month, it’s really sloshing with it.

WHEN SNOW BUNTINGS FILL THE SKIES!

At this time of year flocks of Snow Buntings small and large can be found at our local sandy beaches and rocky coastlines. I am finding them throughout my roaming range, from Plum Island to South Boston.

What is not to love about this sweetly charming tubby little songbird, including its name, Snow Bunting, and nickname Snowflake. I am often alerted to the Snow Buntings presence by their distinct and highly varied social chattering. More than once though I and it have been startled as one flutters away to avoid my footsteps. The alarmed Snow Bunting will call loudly, warning its flock mates of a human, and then they will all lift to the skies in a swirling unison of Snowflakes.

Snow Buntings especially love rocky crevices and outcroppings. They nest in rocky areas of the Arctic tundra and while resting and foraging along Massachusetts coastlines, Snow Buntings go largely undetected in the similarly colored rocks.

The conical -shaped bill of Snow Buntings tells us that they are are seed eaters and in autumn and winter, Massachusetts beaches provide a wealth of seed heads remaining on expired wildflowers and grasses. Beach stones, along with piles of beach debris, trap seeds and I have captured a number of photos where the foraging songbirds pop up between the rocks with a mouthful of seed.

Early morning invariably finds Snow Buntings sleeping amongst beach rocks. It is a joy to watch as they slowly awaken, stretching and floofing, before tumbling out in a burst of black, white, and rusty brown to forage for the day.

Remarkably, Snow Buntings are nocturnal migrants. They are able to detect the geomagnetic field of the Earth for guidance to their breeding and overwinter grounds. The orientation of the Snow Bunting during migration is independent of any visual cue.

The 40 plus year old annual Christmas Bird Count shows a 64 percent decline in the Snow Bunting population. Climate change and neonicotinoids (pesticides) are thought to be the main reason for the decline.

SNOWY OWLS ALERT!

Snowy Owls have returned to coastal Eastern Massachusetts. It’s exciting and wonderful and beautiful to see, but also I find it concerning with so many home, with time on their hands because of the pandemic, that we’ll see even greater crowds flushing the birds. That happened this weekend.Snowy Owl tracks in the sand

SNOWY OWL WATCHING ETIQUETTE: The following are some helpful tips for watching Snowy Owls. You will get better photographs and you won’t stress out the Snowies.

1. Watch from a safe and comfortable distance–comfortable for the bird that is. This is the number one rule. Young birds coming down from the Arctic are especially tolerant of people however crowds attract crows and raptors to their whereabouts and flushing a bird can cause them to fly into traffic.

2. Please keep children from throwing rocks towards the Snowy or anywhere within the vicinity of the Owl.

3. Please do not allow dogs to play near Snowies.

4. Slamming doors, radios blasting, barking dogs, and loud mufflers all stress Snowies.

5. Please do not try to take a selfie with the Snowy.

When Snowies are perching quietly, it’s not for our enjoyment (although beautiful) but because they are either resting or on the look out for their next meal.  After all, if they have a good hunting season and survive the winter, perhaps they will return the following year.

Below is an excerpt from a five part series about a beautiful Snowy Owl nicknamed Hedwig. The series was designed for kids especially and is free to educators to share with students. To see all five parts visit the Snowy Owl Film Project here

A Snowy Owl Comes to Cape Ann

 

 

 

AN EAR-FULL OF CEDAR WAXWINGS! ALONG WITH MERLINS AND HAWKS ON THE HUNT

During the last weeks of summer, I was blessed with the great good fortune to come across a flock of Cedar Waxwings. Everyday I followed their morning antics as they socialized, foraged, preened, and was even “buzzed” several times when making too quick a movement or crunched on a twig too loudly for their liking. They were actually remarkably tolerant of my presence but as soon as another person or two appeared on the path, they quickly departed. I think that is often the case with wildlife; one human is tolerable, but two of us is two too many. 

The Cedar Waxwings were seen foraging on wildflower seeds and the insects attracted, making them harder to spot as compared to when seen foraging at berries on trees branches. A flock of Cedar Waxwings is called a “museum” or an “ear-full.” The nickname ear-full is apt as they were readily found each morning by their wonderfully soft social trilling.  When you learn to recognize their vocalizations, you will find they are much easier to locate.

These sweet songbirds are strikingly beautiful. Dressed in a black mask that wraps around the eyes, with blue, yellow, and Mourning Dove buffy gray-brown feathers, a cardinal-like crest atop the head, and brilliant red wing tips, Cedar Waxwings are equally as beautiful from the front and rear views.

Cedar Waxwings really do have wax wings; the red wing tips are a waxy secretion. At first biologist thought the red tips functioned to protect the wings from wear and tear, but there really is no evidence of that. Instead, the red secondary tips appear to be status signals that function in mate selection. The older the Waxwing, the greater the number of waxy tips. Birds with zero to five are immature birds, while those with more than nine are thought to be older.

Waxwings tend to associate with other waxwings within these two age groups. Pairs of older birds nest earlier and raise more fledglings than do pairs of younger birds. The characteristic plumage is important in choosing a mate within the social order of the flock.

By mid-September there were still seeds and insects aplenty in the wildflower patch that I was filming at when the beautiful Waxwings abruptly departed for the safety of neighboring treetops. Why do I write “safety?” I believe they skeedaddled because a dangerous new raptor appeared on the scene. More falcon-like than hawk, the mystifying bird sped like a torpedo through the wildflower patch and swooped into the adjacent birch tree where all the raptors like to perch. It was a Merlin! And the songbird’s mortal enemy. Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks, too, had been hunting the area, but the other hawks did not elicit the same terror as did the Merlin.

Merlin, Eastern Point

Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks

A small falcon, the Merlin’s short wings allow it to fly fast and hard. The Merlin is often referred to as the “thug” of the bird world for its ability to swoop in quickly and snatch a songbird out of the air. The day after the Merlin appeared, I never again found the Waxwings foraging in the wildlflowers, only in the tree tops.

Within the sociable ear-full, Waxwings take turns foraging. Some perch and preen, serving as sentries while flock-mates dine. Cedar Waxwings mostly eat berries and they love a wide variety. The first half of their name is derived from one of their favorite fruits, the waxy berries of cedar trees. During the breeding season, Waxwings add insects to their diets. Hatchlings are fed insects, gradually switching to berries.

Juvenile Cedar Waxwing with adult Waxwings

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

Dogwood, Juniper, Chokecherry, Cedar, Honeysuckle, Holy, Crabapple, Hawthorn, Serviceberry, Mulberry, Raspberry, Grapes, and Strawberry. Cedar Waxwings are becoming increasingly more prevalent in backyards because people are planting more ornamental flowering and fruiting trees.

BONAPARTE’S GULLS AND BRACE COVE SUNRISE

Beautiful Bonaparte’s dancing in the waves at sunrise, Brace Cove

PIPING PLOVER ADORABLENESS OVERLOAD

This past week I have been reorganizing and adding new photos to my presentation about Piping Plovers. I came across these sweet scenes that were in my photo library from the past summer. There are so many photos that never see the light of day! Next week I will be presenting the PiPl program to the Junior League of Boston and it is the first time doing this program virtually. We’ll see how it goes.

Tender moments

There’s a lot going on in this nest! A twelve hour old chick, a chick that is a few hours old, a minutes-old newborn hatchling (still wet and with its leg akimbo), and an egg beginning to crack.

Last night I gave my first virtual film screening for BotWing. There were some initial glitches, but all in all, the screening went very well!

We all are frustrated by this new virtual reality. People are sociable beings. It’s much more meaningful and enjoyable to give programs in person and to create live events. Thank goodness though for virtuality because there just is no other safe way of doing things. I am just grateful to be alive and have immense hope for when the pandemic is truly under control we can come out and see our friends and loved ones. Stay strong friends, it’s going to be a  long winter. 

Station break #4, brought to you by a handsome Red-tailed Hawk hanging in our trees!

Interrupting your election news coverage to bring you PlumStreet Wild Kingdom chronicles:

What a luxuriously warm early morning and late day for photographing wild creatures – GBHeron, Blue Jays, a herd of White-tailed Deer (8!), Snow Buntings – and right in our own backyard, just at the moment our little Red Fox slipped behind the fence, a Red-tailed Hawk flew into a neighboring tree.

I wonder if he was attracted to the cacophony created by the Crows harassing the Fox. I never would have seen the Hawk if not for the Red Fox. The Hawk perched in the tree and then flew to my neighbor MJ’s towering and stunning Larch Tree (the tallest tree in the neighborhood). He stayed there for sometime before tiring of the Crows and swooping off.

Lift-off #1

Second flight

Station break #3 – Blue Jays in the Sunflower Field!

Expiring sunflower seed heads provide nourishment for flocks of songbirds, including Blue Jays. A Blue Jay’s diet consists mostly of insects, seeds, nuts, and grains. And they love acorns, too (yet another reason to plant oak trees!).

Blue Jays are year round residents throughout their range however, thousands do migrate along the Atlantic Coast and Great Lakes. Their migration is a bit of a mystery and one thought is perhaps that juveniles are more likely to migrate than the adults. The flock visiting the sunflower field this morning was about twenty or so in number.
Blue Jay range map

We interrupt your nail-biting election results newsfeed to bring you BUFFLEHEADS!

A brief break from election coverage –

Buffleheads may be the tiniest diving duck found in North America; they are also the spunkiest, and quite possibly the cutest. Buffleheads, along with their waterside courtship antics, have returned in full force to Cape Ann’s shores, having spent the breeding season in central Canada. Some will migrate as far south as central Mexico and lucky for us, we will have a population that remains all winter.Male Bufflehead

The English name is a combination of buffalo and head, referring to the bulbous head shape. This is most noticeable when the male puffs out the feathers on his head, greatly increasing how large his head appears to competing males and potential mates.

The genus name, Bucephala, is derived from Ancient Greek boukephalos, “bullheaded”, from bous, “bull ” and kephale, “head”, again a reference to the bulbous head shape of the species. The species name albeola is from Latin albus, white.

HOPE IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS – VOTE FOR PIPING PLOVER PROTECTIONS!

Look for a surprising number of chicks in this clip 🙂

Baby chicks need safe habitat. Please share and Vote the Blue Wave to continue protections afforded under the Endangered Species Act.

 

“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.

 -Emily Dickinson

 

VOTE FOR SNOWY OWLS!

Global climate change is not a HOAX as has been declared by the current administration. Recognizing that climate change exists and addressing the devastating effects on wildlife is imperative to insuring a richly diverse Planet Earth for our children and children’s children. Fifty-two percent of the world’s raptors are in decline and with the Arctic warming at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, the Snowy Owl faces a frosty future. The Snowy Owl population is especially at risk having declined by 64% since 1970.

The challenges we face because of climate change have been with us for decades. Administrations prior to the current administration have been working in the right direction and the Biden-Harris team plans to lead the world to address the climate emergency. Read more here:

THE BIDEN PLAN TO BUILD A MODERN, SUSTAINABLE INFRASTRUCTURE AND AN EQUITABLE CLEAN ENERGY FUTURE  [https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/]

Vote the Blue Wave!

Snowy Owl Film Project

https://www.ecowatch.com/snowy-owls-climate-change-2623954976.html

https://www.owlresearchinstitute.org/climate-change-and-snowy-owls

https://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/news/snowy-owl-faces-frosty-future-classed-vulnerable-first-time

VOTE FOR BUTTERFLIES!

For all our winged wonders,

For the birds, the butterflies, the bees,

And mostly

For the future of the littlest human wonders that we so cherish.

Excerpt from Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly

Music by Jesse Cook “Fields of Blue.”

VOTE the Blue Wave –

Vote for Science

Vote for the Environment

Vote for Racial Justice

Vote for a Woman’s Right to Choose

Vote for Wildlife

Vote for an Economy that Works for All

Vote for Fiscal Responsibility

Vote to End Voter Suppression

Vote to Educate All

Vote for Jobs

Vote for Infrastructure

Butterflies for Biden!

 

 

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

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

Harper Wows Us Again!

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

Great Blue Heron Gloucester Harbor

Great Blue Heron range map

JET BLUE COMING IN FOR A LANDING

Chasing Monarchs, and finding other beauties on the wing

Great Blue Heron 

SHORELINE MAYHEM – HERONS, CORMORANTS, AND GULLS AMASSING!

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

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

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

Waiting for the Cormorants early morning

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

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

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

Double-crested Cormorants

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

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

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

 

Double-crested Cormomrant range map

Maine’s Piping Plovers Had Another Record Nesting Season

Thanks to Piping Plover Ambassador Deborah Brown for sharing the following story. Way to go Maine!

For the third consecutive year, Maine saw a record number of nesting piping plovers and fledglings despite greater traffic at some beaches as people looked to get outside during the pandemic.

There were 98 nesting pairs and 199 fledglings at the 25 beaches where the birds are monitored, up from last year’s mark of 89 nesting pairs and 175 fledglings, said Laura Minich Zitske, the plover project director at Maine Audubon, which runs the program for the state. Zitske attributes the banner year to the work of hundreds of volunteers who helped educate the public – such as at Higgins Beach, where there were 40 patrolling, and in Wells, where 40 volunteers helped at three beaches.

“I do think the big year is unrelated to the pandemic. We expected to have a lot of birds back after last year’s record year,” Zitske said. “But we did have a lot of pandemic-related problems. Birds nested right next to paths when the beaches were closed. And some people struggled to follow rules. Some people left common sense behind. You definitely could see that to a degree.”

READ the full story here

BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS

The very last thing I expected to see on this morning’s trek were Bluebirds. So many shades of blue in those beautiful wings – Egyptian Blue, Azure, Cerulean, Lapis lazuli, Coblat, Ultramarine -simply astounding! More to come when I have time to sort through photos this weekend 🙂 Eastern Bluebird Male

BOBOLINKS AMONGST THE SUNFLOWERS!

Life at the Edge of the Sea -Bobolinks! 

Part One

Recently I asked my friend Paul Wegzyn, owner of School Street Sunflowers, if I could poke around his sunflower field after it had closed for the season. The field had not yet been turned over to prepare for planting a winter cover crop and with all the expiring flowers, I thought perhaps it might be a wonderful place to photograph. He is so kind and said surely, no problem.

Suffice it to say, Paul’s field far exceeded my expectations for dreamy “expiring” beauty. The sunflowers not only provide myriad species of wildlife with seeds, but the tall, sturdy heads and leaves make for an outstanding songbird perch. The Song Sparrows use the sunflower heads to both forage and groom, the warblers for cover as they are hunting insects, and the most ingenious of all is how the Bobolinks make use of the seed heads. The grass that grows in and amongst the sunflowers is nearly as tall as the flower heads. The Bobolink lands on the sunflower and after thoroughly eyeballing the surrounding landscape for danger (hawks, I imagine), she slides a mouthful of grass seeds down the stalk and into her beak.

Over a period of several days I counted between half a dozen to a dozen Bobolinks, all females and immatures, not a single adult male amongst the flock. I wonder if the males migrate earlier than the females and immatures or if this was just a fluke. The males are striking in their crisp coat of black, white, and yellow, while the female’s feathers look nothing like the male’s wing patterning. (Thank you to author John Nelson for the positive bird ID!)

Male and female Bobolink, image courtesy The Bobolink Project

School Street Sunflowers has been providing a fantastic source of fuel for this super long distant migrant. At this time of year Bobolinks eat seeds and grains, switching over to insects during the breeding season.The Bobolink’s journey is an impressive 6,000 mile trek and they can fly 1,100 miles in a single day. Each year Bobolinks fly approximately 12,500 miles round trip and during the course of an average Bobolink’s life span, they will have traveled a distance equal to circumnavigating the earth four to five times.

Bobolinks are, as are many species of grassland birds, in overall decline. In some areas of New England they are recovering, due in large part to the success of The Bobolink Project. Because Bobolinks nest on the ground and because hay fields are typically planted and mowed earlier than in previous decades, the nest, eggs, and nestlings are churned up in plowing. The Bobolink Project is non profit organization that pays farmers to plant and to mow a little later in the season, which allows the birds to mature to fledge.

 

Note how well hidden is the Bobolink nest

Above photo gallery courtesy The Bobolink Project

Because of habitat loss, the use of neonicotinoids, and global climate change, grassland species need our help. Like other charismatic species of wildlife–Monarchs, Snowy Owls, and Piping Plovers come to mind–perhaps the Bobolink can be that grassland flagship species that people get excited about. Understanding a wild creature’s life story and lending a helping hand also provides habitat conservation for other species of wildlife as well.

Bobolinks at School Street Sunflowers

To learn more about The Bobolink Project go here.

To donate to The Bobolink Project (your donation helps pay the farmers) go here.

If you are a farm owner and would like to apply to The Bobolink Project go here

More reading:

Grassland Birds: Fish and Wildlife Habitat Management Leaflet

American Bird Conservancy: Bobolink

Grassland bird decline tied to neonicotinoids

History of Grassland Birds in Eastern North America

Bobolink Range MapGoblin Story

SMILEY FACE SUNFLOWERS

Smiling Sunflowers – Paul W of School Street Sunflowers and local kids have been having fun with the sunflower seed heads.

What a special place is School Street, and special owners – more tomorrow!

ATTENTION BIRD LOVING AND PHOTOGRAPHY FRIENDS – RUN, DON’T WALK, TO PARKER RIVER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE!

According to Rangers at Parker River, the 2020 fall migration at Plum Island is the best they have ever seen, with over 180 species on the current list (last ten days).

Perhaps the lessened human activity across North America has allowed for many species of birds to flourish.

Female Bobolink (more about beautiful Bobolinks in an upcoming post)

I was filming at a location nearby at dawn or I would have gone at my usual daybreak time, which I find is the best time to observe birds, and wildlife of all sorts. Mid-day is not the best time to go, but it was my one and only chance and I wanted to check it out. Plum Island is gorgeous whenever you go. Autumn hues are beginning to show (especially the brilliant purple-red of PI), there are great swaths of goldenrods in full bloom, and there is a wealth of bird food, berries and seed heads, for the birds to forage upon. Stage Island and Hellcat are two current hotspots for bird sightings.

When you drive up to the kiosk where you show your membership card, ask for the species list of birds seen recently. Or click this link here:

Recent Bird Sightings from Plum Island

Stage Island, Plum Island

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

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

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