Category Archives: Birds

THE NILES POND YOUNG SWAN RESCUED BY LYN FONZO AND DAN HARRIS

Photos and video courtesy of Lyn Fonzo.

Eastern Point residents Lyn Fonzo and Dan Harris discovered the Young Swan frozen in the ice at Niles Pond early this morning. Dan reached into the water and scooped her up. She seemed relatively tame and did not try to bite Dan as we had imagined would happen. Dan and Lyn carried her to Lyn’s home, where she is currently living in one of Lyn’s chicken coops. Plans are underway to modify the chicken house to make it a bit more swan friendly. Joel Munroe, one of several of Mr. Swan’s caregivers, is also a carpenter and she is planning to help Lyn.

Tremendous shout outs to Lyn Fonzo, Dan Harris, Skip and Joel Munroe, and to Michelle Smith. West Gloucester resident Michelle formerly raised swans and emus on the family farm and she is providing excellent advice on how to care for swans in our New England climate.

New digs for the Young Swan

IS MR. SWAN TRYING TO SCARE THE BEJESUS OUT OF THE YOUNG SWAN?

Doesn’t this scene look brutal? It is a photo of Mr. Swan chasing the Young Swan.

The thing is, we think that this may be Mr. Swan’s way of encouraging the Young Swan to fly. If she is going to survive a New England winter in the wild, she has to move to saltwater coves and harbors. Niles Pond resident Skip Hadden has seen her fly but she seems to have no interest in leaving the Pond. Niles Pond is freezing over, and unless the Young Swan follows Mr. Swan’s lead, she will have to be relocated.

 

Let’s get air borne winged one! #muteswan #cygnusolor #capeann

A post shared by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

WELCOME TO CAPE ANN MAMA AND PAPA PINTAIL!

For over a month our shores have been graced with a pair of Northern Pintails. These beautiful dabbling ducks aren’t extremely rare, but we are at the very northern edge of their winter grounds. And, too, they are a bird listed as in sharp decline by the North American Breeding Bird Survey.

The little duo are tremendously fun to watch. They are exhibiting very different behaviors, in large part I think because the male and female wing patterns are distinctly different from each other.

The female is super spunky. Her coloration is similar to a female Mallards, which makes her easily camouflaged amongst a mixed flock of ducks. She’s not intimidated by territorial behavior on the part of the Mallards and forages alongside the Mallards and American Black Ducks.

On the other hand, the male’s strikingly beautiful and unmistakable wing pattern sets him apart and at risk amongst the flock. He is elusive and if catches sight of a human, he makes a fast beeline to the opposite side of the pond. When feeding in a group, the Mallards and gulls attack him, easily able to latch onto his long elegant pintail and pull him down underwater (very disturbing to observe).

Papa Pintail’s morning stretches.

The female spends alternating time between foraging with the flock at the shoreline edge and dip dabbling with the male in the shallow water. Northern Pintails eat seeds, water bugs, crustaceans, snails, and grains, feeding in a variety of manners, dabbling, filter feeding, eating from the ground surface, and tipping-up in shallow water.

Female Pintail foreground, female Mallard Background

Female Mallards and female Northern Pintails are similar in appearance and it may be difficult to distinguish between the two. Here are some clues to look for:

1) Female Mallards have light orange feet and legs. Northern Pintails feet and legs are gray.

2) The female Pintail has a longer neck.

3) A female Pintail’s bill is solid gray, whereas a female Mallards bill is mottled brown and orange.

4) The female Mallard has a blue stripe on her wing, the Pintail does not.

Notice the beautiful long neck of the female Pintail.

The female Northern Pintail’s bill, legs, and feet are gray in color.

Comparing Duck Butts ~

Note the short stubby tail of the male Mallard in the foreground versus the Pintails long, thin elegant black tail feathers.

Male and female Northern Pintail butts

Papa Pintail has a beautiful buffy orange stripe and below that a forest green bar. 

I hope so much the Pintail pair have chosen Cape Ann for their winter home. More photos to come!

The Phoenix Rises

Mr. Swan is also know as Papa Swan and Buddy to his human friends, and The Boss-of-the-Pond to all avian creatures, from Rockport Harbor to Gloucester Harbor. He will be turning at the very least 28-years-old in 2018. We know this because a gentleman named Skip has been keeping watch over Mr. Swan, along with his first mate, second mate, and cygnets, beginning in the year 1992. A male Mute Swan cannot mate until he is a minimum of two years old and even that age would be considered unusually young.

When Mr. Swan lifts out of the water to stretch his wings as he is doing in the photo below, he reminds me of the story of the Phoenix in Greek mythology. Not only because he has lived a very long life of at least 28 years, which is extraordinary for a wild swan, but because he has an incredible ability to adapt to a constantly changing environment, and to rise from the depths of sorrow. He has survived near capture, physical injuries, boats in the harbors, coyotes, snapping turtles, and the loss of not one, but two mates. He was so deeply distraught after his second mate was killed by a coyote, many of us worried whether or not he would survive. But he has, and magnificently so.

The Phoenix Rises 

Swan Lake

Fleeting few beautiful moments as Mr. Swan traversed Niles Pond at daybreak, moving from shadowy hues of violet to lava red.

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

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

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

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

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

The young swan softly crying.

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

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

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

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

Nodding off in close proximity to Mr. Swan

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

CHASING MONARCHS ~ WHIRLWIND TRIP TO STONE HARBOR AND CAPE MAY PART TWO

See Part One Here
Google maps sent me back to Cape May via a different route and I did not again pass the one gas station that appeared to be open for business. Concerned though that the Jetty Motel’s office would close for the night before I had checked in, I headed straight there, passing several closed gas stations along the way.  Not looking good in the refueling department. I arrived just in time, moments before the front desk closed, and was helped tremendously by the receptionist. She pointed me in the direction of the one and only gas station open and provided great advice for dinner, The Lobster House, located on Schellengers Landing Road, Fisherman’s Wharf at Cape May.

My dinner of chowder and oysters was fabulous! I met a super nice guy  at the bar and he shared lots of information about the area. He is marine biologist on one of the local whale boats, which is actually a schooner! He was headed the next morning to the Keys to help a friend rebuild his campgrounds.

The Lobster House is open seven days a week, all year round, and includes several restaurants, a coffee shop-lunch counter style diner, fish market, and dining on the Schooner American, which is moored dockside. The commercial fishing fleet at the Lobster House offloads millions of pounds of seafood and supplies much of the fresh seafood on the Lobster House menu.

The following morning I had checked out by daybreak, filled with anticipation to return to Stone Harbor Point to see the Monarchs departing the trees at first light. First though I headed to the beach across from the hotel for a very quick glimpse. The wide sandy beach has a perfect view of the Cape May Lighthouse. You can walk along the beach and through the trails of the Cape May State Park for direct access to the Lighthouse.

At the shoreline were poised to cross the Bay a great flock of Black Skimmers. Overnight the wind had picked up tremendously and the flock were aligned in perfect soldier-like order, all facing into the strong gusts. Oh how I wished I could have spent more time there exploring this area so rich in fabulous creatures and wildlife. Most definitely on my next visit!

Notice the amazing lower mandible of the Black Skimmer. While flying, the Skimmers use their bill to skim small fish along the surface of the water. The Skimmers pictured here are mostly young Black Skimmers in plumage mottled brown and white.

I arrived at Stone Point Harbor just as the butterflies were awakening. When butterflies roost in trees, they will often situate themselves so that the eastern light of the early morning sun rays warm their wings. They will also typically (but not always) choose overnight sleeping areas that are out of the way of the of the prevailing winds.

Because of the strong winds, instead of leaving the trees all at once, as I have often observed, the Monarchs would take off, have difficulty navigating the wind, and then return to the trees. These attempts lasted several hours as the Monarchs tried again and again to negotiate the harsh wind.

In the mean time, the Monarchs that weren’t as intuitive as the ones that were roosting in trees had roosted overnight on the dried out stalks of wildflowers. They were having an extremely tough time, clinging with all their strength to the stalks or getting pulled down to the sand. This was challenging to observe as there was nothing that could be done to help the butterflies expending so much energy to stay grounded.

Monarchs Clinging to Dry Stalks of Seaside Goldenrod and Beach Grass in the Sand

Time was spent between the trees and the dunes. After several hours there were still a number of butterflies warming in the trees, barberry bushes, and wildflowers when I had to leave Stone Harbor Point to return to Cape May Point to check on butterflies that may have been there.

Female (left) and Male Monarch Butterfly warming their wings on a barberry bush.

None were roosting at the Cape May Lighthouse and few were on the wing.  With the wind blowing in precisely the opposite direction for safe travel across the Delaware Bay, the Monarchs were waiting yet another day to take the next leg of their journey. Looking towards a nine hour drive ahead of me, I couldn’t stay a moment longer. Except to grab a bowl of chowder at the Lobster House and have a quick glimpse in the daylight hours at the Fisherman’s Wharf at Cape May.

Sea Bass fishing season was open and fisherman Jim is cutting up squid for bass bait.

Monarchs began arriving in Angangueo several days ago. And in much greater numbers than have been seen in recent years. Barring any huge weather events, this late, great batch of migrants will make it too. Friends are reporting that there are Monarchs in their gardens still, and I have one of Patti Papows caterpillars in its chrysalis, yet to emerge.

Eggs, caterpillars, chrysalides, and butterflies that would have been killed by more seasonable colder temperatures are able to survive in the unusually warm weather we are experiencing on the East Coast. However, most of the wildflowers that provide fortification to the Monarchs on their southward journey have withered. You can help late stragglers by keeping nectar producing flowers in your garden going as long as possible. In our garden, it is the old passalong Korean Daisy that is providing nectar to bees and butterflies, and it will bloom until the first hard frost.

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

DONATE HERE

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

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

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

Thank you so very much for your help.

With gratitude,

Kim