Category Archives: Birds

Grand Heron of the Great Marsh: Cape Ann’s Great Blue Herons

Mostly elegant, though sometimes appearing comically Pterodactylus-like, the Great Blue Heron is found in nearly every region of the United States, Mexico, and Central America, as well as the southern provinces of Canada.

Its light weight, a mere five pounds, belies the fact that the Great Blue Heron is North America’s largest heron, with a wingspan of up to six and a half feet and a height of four and a half feet. I write elegant because it truly has a grace unsurpassed when in repose or waiting to strike a fish. Images of Pterodactylus come to mind when you see the bird battling for territory with other herons or flapping about in a tree top; the Heron loses all its sophisticated exquisiteness, transformed into what looks like a great winged beast.

Pterodactylus images courtesy wiki commons media

This summer past was a tremendous year for observing herons and egrets on Cape Ann. Our marshes, ponds, and waterways were rife with Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Green Herons, American Bitterns, and especially Great Blue Herons.

Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets, Cape Ann

At every location Great Blue Herons were foraging either with a flock of mixed herons and egrets, or in a solitary manner. Great Blue Herons hunt day and night and I would often find them at daybreak. They will stand quietly for hours, repeatedly striking the water with lightning speed, and nearly always resurfacing with a fish or frog. Great Blue Herons are survivalists and their diet is wide ranging, including large and small fish, frogs, insects, small mammals, and even other birds. Because of its highly varied diet, the Great Blue Heron is able to spend winters further north than most other species of herons and egrets. Even when waters freeze, we still see them on our shores well into December.

Great Blue Herons are sometimes mistakenly referred to as cranes, which they are not. Cranes are entirely different species. Bas relief at Crane Estate, Ipswich.

Don’t you think it amazing how perfectly these largest of North America’s herons meld with the surrounding landscape?

Here are some moments from this past summer and autumn observing the elegant (mostly) and elusive Great Blue Heron.

Fishing – Great Blue Herons capture small fish and amphibians by plunging into water and then swallowing whole the prey. They also use their powerful bills like a dagger to spear larger fish.

Great Blue Heron range map

Snowy Owl Sighting!

Will the winter of 2018-2019 bring another Snowy Owl Snowstorm similar to the irruption of 2017-2018? It is too soon in the season to know. They have been trickling in, but Snowy Owls typically begin to move southward in greater numbers in mid- to late-November.

The Snowy spotted today is a male, with a beautiful nearly pure white face and neck. Although off in the distance, he appeared to be in good health, with plushy full set of feathers, big furry feet, and tell-tale pinkish hue smudged around his beak (hopefully from a recent catch). He was quietly nodding off until suddenly disturbed by someone approaching too closely. He swooped across the landscape and away from the onlooker to a more remote location, and was hopefully left undisturbed for the remainder of the day.

Grooming and dozing off amongst the tall grasses and dried wildflowers.

On high alert and then flushing after sudden disturbance.

HAPPY AUTUMN DAYS!

Spring Peeper out and about before hibernating for the winter.

Relishing the last of these golden days, we took advantage of Sunday’s delightfully beautiful weather with a hike around Eastern Point. Several female Yellow-rumped Warblers were spotted feeding on seed heads, a lone turtle was basking on a sun-warmed rock, the Harbor Seals were lolling about, and a tiny Spring Peeper was spied in the fallen leaves.

You can see why these sweet birds are called Yellow-rumped Warblers. Note the little flash of yellow on the rump of the warbler flying in the background.

Eastern Painted Turtle

Who me?

Harbor Seals warming in the sun.

MONARCHS AND LADIES – LAST OF THE SEASON’S BUTTERFLIES

While releasing the last Monarchs of the season with Charlotte, one landed on her hair and stayed for few moments, just long enough to catch a minute of footage and to take a photo.

Thank you to Patti Papows for our little straggler. Patti’s chrysalis was attached to a plant in her garden, an aster, which had lost all its leaves. She was worried a predator might eat it, so we scooped up the chrysalis and placed it in a terrarium at my home, where the butterfly emerged on October 17.

Will these last of the season’s Monarchs that are migrating along the Atlantic Coast make it to Mexico? Some will follow a path along the coastline, where when they reach the Delaware Bay, winds will begin to funnel them towards Mexico, between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. Some will continue on down the coast all the way to Florida. Some of these Atlantic Coast Monarchs will live their days out in Florida, and some will cross the Gulf of Mexico on their journey to Mexico.

Please join me on Wednesday, November 7th, from 1:00 to 5:00pm where I am one of three presenters for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society at Elm Bank. I hope to see you there!

Discover new ways to garden, and new plants to select to make your home more sustainable in three presentations that address methods and plantings that you can adopt to improve your local environment and welcome more wildlife to your gardens. Presentations will review methods of ecological landscaping, introduce you to native shrubs, and share what you can plant to support pollinators.

Register Now!

October Monarchs
American Ladies on the wing during the month of October

GREAT BLUE HERON SILHOUETTE IN THE REEDS

Poised to catch a fish, one of a trio of beautiful Great Blue Herons seen recently traveling together on Cape Ann.

Great Blue Heron Times Four

Last week we posted a photo of a group of Great Blue Herons, Cormorants, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, and Great Egrets all foraging together on a rainy morning. The Great Blue Herons are so perfectly camouflaged when perched on the rocky shoreline and we asked how many GBH folks could see. Reader Julie W. saw the most and she even sent the photo back with the Great Blues circled. Thank you Julie for taking the time to do that!!

 

SHORT BIT OF FOOTAGE OF THE ENDANGERED RUSTY BLACKBIRD FORAGING

As I was filming a Great Blue Heron, and standing as still as a tree, the beautiful Rusty Blackbird flew on the scene, not four feet away! My heart skipped a beat and I quickly turned my camera on the little blackbird. It’s foraging habit of flipping leaves to uncover insects and plant matter was fascinating and my only wish was that he stayed longer than a brief minute.

Scientists only relatively recently became aware of the dramatic decline of the Rusty Blackbird. Reports show that the population of the RB has plummeted between 80 and 99 percent.

As is the case with so many creatures the whole earth wide, two of the greatest threats facing the Rusty Blackbird are loss of habitat and climate change. The birds are elusive, nesting in remote areas of the great northern boreal forest and wintering over in the wet woodlands of the southeastern United States. Over 80 percent of their winter habitat in the southeast has been lost to development. Changes in the ecosystem of the boreal forests has affected nesting and foraging.

Without doubt, global climate change is the greatest challenge of our day. All living life as we know it is at risk. Millions of human lives have been directly impacted by the Earth’s warming temperature. We are at risk of losing thousands of species of flora and wild creatures.

In the current political climate, restrictions on drilling and mining are being dramatically loosened in ecologically sensitive areas, not only creating a greater carbon footprint, but irreparably harming wildlife.

Politicians are gutting the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Is your candidate, in more than only words, willing to take a strong stand to address the environmental crisis and wildlife conservation issues? Does your political party fully support renewable energy initiatives such as wind and solar? Or are they ramping up coal, gas, and oil production.

The Monarch Butterfly, Piping Plover, and the Rusty Blackbird are bellwether species that we can see in our own “backyards,” and they are sounding the clarion call loud and clear. Can you imagine Planet Earth without extraordinary and fascinating creatures such as this–and the world of beauty they provide?

Vote with your mind and your heart.Non-breeding Male Rusty Blackbird