Category Archives: Birds

NARY A BERRY AFTER THE ROBINS DESCEND!

A large flock of American Robins, often times mixed with European Starlings, arrives annually on Cape Ann round about mid-winter. Over the past several weeks they have been devouring tree fruits all around Eastern Point and East Gloucester. Yesterday our ‘Dragon Lady’ holies were bursting with brilliant red frutis, today, nary a berry!

Please write if you have seen the Robins in your garden or local wooded walks 🙂

Our garden is a postage stamp but we have planted it richly for the songbirds. The pair of ‘Dragon Lady’ holly trees hold their berries for the Robins, the crabapples have yet to be sampled, the winterberry is still ripe with fruit, and the tiny rosehips of the climbing white rose are beckoning.

We’re fortunate that on Cape Ann many American Robins nest and migrate along our shores, having several different habits for surviving winter. There are year round resident robins that breed throughout Cape Ann during warmer months and also spend the winter here. Some Robins arrive in springtime, having spent the winter further south in parts warmer. A third group, the ones I like to call winter Robins, arrive in mid-winter, from parts further north. We are like their Bermuda. They are very hungry and thirsty and are here to feed on wild fruits and berries, as well as small fish fry and fingerlings, and mollusks.

In early spring, Robins begin to disperse from flocks. The ground thaws and worms, insects, and snails once again become part of the Robin’s diet. In early spring, too, is when we begin to hear the beautiful liquid notes of the male robin. He is singing to attract a mate. The robin’s song is one of the of most beloved and it is his music with which we associate the coming of spring.

Be sure your bird baths are filled with fresh, accessible water.

With several edits and updates since I first wrote the following article, I think you’ll find the information helpful in knowing what to feed and to plant for the robins.

Food for the American Robin

During the winter months Cape Ann often becomes home to large flocks of robins, and we have had the joy of hosting numerous numbers in our garden. I can’t help but notice their arrival. Their shadows descend, crisscrossing the window light, followed by a wild rumpus in the ‘Dragon Lady’ hollies. This pair of hollies is planted on opposing sides of the garden path, alongside my home office. I have learned to stealthily sneak up to a window, as any sudden activity inside startles birds that are investigating our garden, and they quickly disperse. Dining not only on berries of the ‘Dragon Ladies’, but also the ‘Blue Princess’ Meserve holly and winterberry bushes, I find dozens of noisy, hungry robins.

These winter nomads flock to trees and shrubs that hold their fruit through January and February, feasting on red cedar, American holly, Meserve hollies, chokecherries, crabapples, sumac, and juniper. Robins traveling along the shores of Cape Ann also comb the shoreline for mollusks, and go belly-deep for fish fry. Depleting their food supply, they move onto the next location. Gardens rife with fruiting shrubs and trees make an ideal destination for our migrating friends.

Year round resident robins will call your garden home when provided with trays of chopped fruit and raisins, supplemented with meal worms.

What to Plant for Robins

The garden designed to attract nesting pairs of summer resident robins, as well as flocks of winter travelers, would be comprised of trees and shrubs for nest building, plants that bear fruit and berries that are edible during the summer and fall, and plants that bear fruits that persist through the winter months. Suburban gardens and agricultural areas provide the ideal habitat, with open fields and lawns for foraging insects as well as trees and hedgerows in which to build their nests.

The following plants, suggested with robins in mind, will also attract legions of songbirds and Lepidoptera. The list is comprised primarily of indigenous species with a few non-native, but not invasive, plants included.

Trees for nesting ~ American Holly (Ilex opaca), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida).

Summer and autumn fruit bearing trees, shrubs and vines for robins ~ Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Blackberry (Rubus spp.), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Gray Dogwood (C. racemosa), Red-osier Dogwood (C. sericea), Silky Dogwood (C. amomum), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Apple (Malus pumila), Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana), Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), Wild Grape (Vitis spp.).

Trees and shrubs with fruits persisting through winter ~ Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana), Crabapple (Malus spp.)Sargent’s Crabapple (Malus sargentii), American Holly (Ilex opaca), Meserve Hollies (Ilex meserveae), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra), Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina).

GREAT VIDEO OF CAPE ANN OSPREYS, FROM EGG TO FLEDGING!!!

Check out this fantastic video created by Dave Rimmer, Essex Greenbelt’s Director of Land Stewardship and Osprey Program. The footage was taken last summer from Greenbelt’s OspreyCam. Watch highlights of the 2020 Osprey season captured from Annie and Squam’s nest in Gloucester. Annie and Squam fledged three chicks, Vivi, Rusty, and Liz, and you can watch their development from egg to fledging.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND A STRANDED SEABIRD ON THE BEACH

Hello Friends,

It’s that time of year again when we occasionally find stranded seabirds on our beaches. Seabirds, also known as marine birds and pelagic birds, are birds that spend most of their time on the ocean, away from land. Ninety-five percent of seabirds breed in colonies. During the nesting season is the only time you will see them on land. Common Murre, Thick-billed Murre, Dovekie, Puffin, and Northern Gannet are examples of marine birds.

Seabirds can become stranded for several reasons. Possibly they are sick, injured, or starving.  Seabirds are also generally clumsy when on land. Sometimes they are stranded for no other reason than they can’t make their way back into the water.

If you find a stranded seabird first check to see if it is injured. If the birds appears uninjured and relatively healthy, approach from behind, gently pick up, and place in the water.

Dovekie, the Little Auk

Thick-billed Murre

Northern Gannet

 

If the bird is injured, follow the guidelines provided by Tufts Wildlife Clinic:

Protect yourself

Wear gloves. When dealing with waterfowl, a thick pair of work gloves can prevent personal injury. A net is very useful for capturing animals that will try to flee or fly. If a body of water is nearby, get between the water and the animal. If the bird is not flighted, you can try to herd it towards an area like a wall or bush where you can more easily catch it.

Prepare a container

A large crate or large box with air holes, lined with newspaper or a sheet/towel will work for most large birds.

Put the bird in the box

Cover the bird’s head with a towel, keep the wings tucked into the body, and always be careful of its bill and wings. Immediately close the box.

If you can’t transport it immediately

  • Keep the bird in a warm, dark, quiet place.
  • Do not give it food or water. Feeding an animal an incorrect diet can result in injury or death. Also, a captured animal will get food and water stuck in its fur/feathers potentially leading to discomfort and hypothermia.
  • Do not handle it. Leave the animal alone. Remember human noise, touch and eye contact are very stressful to wild animals.
  • Keep children and pets away from it.

Transport the Bird

Transport the bird to a wildlife rehabilitator or to Tufts Wildlife Clinic during clinic hours M-F 8am-5pm and Sat, Sun, & Holidays 9am-12pm. 508-839-7918

Tufts Wildlife Clinic 
50 Willard St.
North Grafton, MA 01536

During transport, keep the bird in the box or crate, keep the car quiet (radio off).

If you need help

If you need help capturing an injured or sick wild animal, the following are good resources for you to reach out to.

BLACK-HEADED GULL AND RING-BILLED GULL SMACKDOWN!

The rarely seen Black-headed Gull continues to make his home in Gloucester waters this winter. It’s super fun to watch his troublemaking antics, which include trying to snatch morsels of food from other gulls. Here he is getting into a smackdown with a Ring-billed Gull.

Black-headed Gull lost this round but after flying away briefly and dusting himself off, he jumped back into the fray.

 

A BOSSY QUARRELSOME FELLOW IS THAT RARE BLACK-HEADED GULL!

I have returned several times more to see that rare and beautiful little Black-headed Gull. He wasn’t alone but was feeding in a mixed flock of gulls and ducks. All seemed perfectly peaceful at first. Before too long, he was squawking noisily, barking orders, and flying aggressively toward any other gull that crossed his path. Very comical actually, as he was smaller than all the others nonetheless, they took orders readily and moved aside.

Black-headed Gull vs. Ring-billed Gull Battle 

Wonderfully animated surf dancer!

Bonaparte’s Gull left, Black-headed Gull right

A friend wrote wondering if I was sure what we are seeing is a Black-headed Gull. He, as was I initially, wondering if it was a Bonaparte’s Gull. Bonaparte’s have black bills, whereas the Black-headed Gull has a black-tipped red bill, along with red feet and legs. I found this terrific image showing the progressive molting stages of a Black-headed Gull while looking up Black-headed Gulls.

By the way, the head feathers of the Black-headed Gull in breeding plumage are really not black, but chocolate brown. Then again, there is an actual Brown-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus). Whoever gave name to these gulls!!
Black-headed Gull in breeding plumage, photo courtesy Google image search

CAPE ANN WILDLIFE 2020: THE YEAR IN PICTURES, MOVIES, AND STORIES

Several years ago my husband suggested I write a “year end” wildlife review about all the creatures seen over the preceding year. That first review was a joyful endeavor though daunting enough. Over the next several years the reviews became more lengthy as I tried to cover every beautiful, wonderful creature that was encountered on woodland hikes, beaches, dunes, marshes, ponds, and our own backyards and neighborhoods. 2020 has been a very different year. There were just as many local wildlife stories as in previous years however, the pandemic and political climate have had far reaching consequences across geographic regions around the world, touching every living creature in the interconnected web of life we call our ecosystems.

This first year of the global pandemic has had a profoundly negative impact on wildlife and their habitats. In urban areas in developed countries, perhaps the economic slowdown afforded wildlife a break, with less pollution, less air travel, and some wild animals even reclaiming territory. Though the true downside of Covid-19 is that the pandemic has had an extraordinarily harmful impact on wildlife in rural areas and in less developed countries People who are dependent upon tourism, along with people who have lost jobs in cities and are returning to rural areas, are placing increasing pressure on wildlife by poaching, illegal mining, and logging. As mining and logging destroy wildlife habitats, animals are forced into ever shrinking areas, causing them to become sick, stressed, and to starve to death. These same stressed wild animals come in contact with people and farm animals, creating an ever increasing potential to transmit horrifically deadly illness, diseases such as Covid-19.

There are many, many organizations working to protect wildlife and conserve their habitats. I am especially in awe of one particular grass roots non-profit organization located in Macheros, Mexico, previously featured here, Butterflies and Their People. Co-founded by Ellen Sharp and Joel Moreno Rojas, the work they are doing to both protect the butterfly’s winter habit and provide employment for the forest’s guardians is outstanding.

All the butterfly sanctuaries (their winter resting places), are closed this year due to the pandemic. Dozens of people in the tiny town of Macheros are wholly dependent upon the income received by the work they do protecting the butterfly trees from illegal logging, as well as income from the tourist industry.  Ellen, Joel, and their team of arborists have come up with a wonderfully creative way to bring the butterflies to you. For a modest fee, you can sign up to “Adopt a Colony” to receive monthly newsletters and video tours of the Monarchs at Cerro Pelon. The newsletters are written by Ellen, who writes beautifully and clearly about the month-by-month current state of the butterflies in their winter habitat, as well as human interest stories drawn from the community. To subscribe to “Adopt a Colony” from Butterflies and Their People, go here.

We can be hopeful in 2021 that with a new administration, a much greater focus will be paid by our federal government to stop the spread of the virus in the US as well as around the globe. Not only is there hope in regard to the course correction needed to battle the pandemic, but the Biden/Harris administration has made climate change and environmental justice a cornerstone of their platform, including measures such as stopping the environmental madness taking place along our southern border and reversing many of the previous administration’s mandates that are so harmful to wildlife and their habitats.

Around the globe, especially in less developed countries, the pandemic has set back environmental initiatives by years, if not decades. We are so fortunate in Essex County  to have conservation organizations such as Greenbelt, MassWildlife, The Trustees, and Mass Audubon; organizations that protect the sanctity of wildlife and recognize the importance of protecting habitats not only for wildlife but equally as important, for the health and safety of human inhabitants.

The following are just some of the local images and stories that make us deeply appreciate the beauty of wildlife and their habitats found on Cape Ann and all around Essex County. Each picture is only a brief window into the elusive, complex life of a creature. Every day and every encounter brings so much more to observe, to learn, to enjoy, and to love.

To read more, each image and story from the past year is Google searchable. Type in the name of the creature and my name and the link to the story and pictures posted on my website should come right up.

Some Beautiful Raptors of 2020 – Red-tailed Hawk, Short-eared Owl, American Bald Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, Merlin, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Osprey, and Snowy Owls

 

Essex County Greenbelt’s Osprey pair, Annie and Squam, successfully fledged three chicks, Vivi, Rusty, and Liz (nestling photo courtesy ECGA)

Dave Rimmer video from the Osprey cam at Lobstaland

The Snowy Owl Film Project was completed in March, with the objective of providing pandemic- virtually schooled kids a window into the world of Snowy Owls in their winter habitat (see all five short films here).

 

Spunky Mute Swan Cygnets

Utterly captivated by the winsome Red Fox Family

A tiny sampling of the beautiful songbirds that graced our shores in 2020 – Cedar Waxwings, Baltimore Orioles, Catbirds, American Robins, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Snow Buntings, American Pipits, Horned Larks, and Eastern Bluebirds

 

A new favorite place to film is at my friend Paul’s wonderfully fun sunflower field in Ipswich, School Street Sunflowers. Beautiful Bobolinks, Common Yellowthroat Warblers, and Bluejays were just some of the songbirds seen feasting on the expiring seedheads  of sunflowers and wildflowers growing amongst the rows of flowers.

Graceful White-tailed Deer herd of adult females and youngsters

Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and juvenile Little Blue Herons delight with their elegance, beauty, and stealth hunting skills. Included in the montage is a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron that spent the winter at Niles Pond

A fraction of the different species of Shorebirds and Gulls seen on Cape Ann this past year – Dowitchers, Killdeers, Black-bellied Plovers, Common Tern, Least Tern, Laughing Gulls, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Glaucus Gull, and rarely seen Dovekie, or”Little Auk.”

Cecropia Moth life cycle unfolding in our garden, from mating, to egg laying, to caterpillar, to adult.

 

Dozens and dozens of orb spider webs draped a small patch of wildflowers. The dream catchers were attracting Cedar Waxwings to feast on the insects caught in the webs. The following day I returned after a rainstorm. The webs had melted away in the downpour and the Waxwings had vanished into the treetops.

Harbor and Gray Seals hauled out on the rocks at Brace Cove, as many as 28 were counted on a winter’s day!

Piping Plovers and Marshmallow Montage

In 2020, our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair fledged one chick, nicknamed Marshmallow. Despite the global pandemic, a group of super dedicated Piping Plover Ambassadors worked tirelessly from sunrise until sunset to help ensure the safety of the Piping Plover family and to help educate beachgoers about the beautiful life story of the Plovers unfolding on Gloucester’s most popular beach destination. We worked with Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, the Gloucester DPW, and Gloucester City Councilor Scot Memhard, with much appreciated advice from Mass Wildlife Coastal Waterbird Biologist Carolyn Mostello.

Read more about Marshmallow, the Ambassadors, and the Piping Plover Film Project here.

Piping Plover Marshmallow Montage, from egg to thirty-eight days old. Filmed at Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester, Massachusetts.

MONARCHS!

It has been a wonderful, exhilarating, infinitely educational, and beautifully challenging journey creating my documentary, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterflies. The film was released in February 2020, but because of the pandemic, was not seen by the public until August, when it premiered (virtually) at the New Haven Documentary Film Festival. Beauty on the Wing has gone on to win honors and awards at both environmental and children’s film festivals, including the tremendous honor of Best Documentary at the Boston International Kids Film Festival. I’ve just received the very attractive award in the mail and have not had time to post a photo yet.

Beauty on the Wing portrays Cape Ann in the most beautiful light and I think when we are ever able to have a live premiere in this area, local friends will be delighted at the outcome. Joyfully so, Beauty is now being distributed to schools, libraries, institutions, and the travel industry through American Public Television Worldwide.

Beauty on the Wing continues to be accepted to film festivals and I will keep you posted as some are geo-bloced to this area, including the upcoming Providence Children’s Film Festival.

 

Last but not least, our wonderfully wildy Charlotte, little adventurer and nature-loving companion throughout the year

 

 

 

 

 

 

HORNED LARK THREESOME!

Three brownish songbird sorts flew on the scene. Feeding along the pond’s edge at this time of year the brown birds we mostly see are Song Sparrows, but they are more solitary and I don’t usually see them flying around together in a group. Hoping for a bunch of beauties, I approached the trio very quietly, one baby step at a time, and was delighted to see not one but three Horned Larks! I wish the sun had been shining so you can see how beautiful is the male’s lemony yellow throat.

Several weeks ago there was one, possibly two, feeding with American Pipits and a Snow Bunting. What a treat to see three!

Two appeared to be male and one female. The easiest way to tell the male from the female is by looking at the facial markings. The female lacks the black eye patch.

Male and female Horned Larks foraging on seeds

STARTING THE NEW YEAR OFF ON A HAPPY BUT MELANCHOLY NOTE

As was the case for so many, New Year’s Day was joyful but bittersweet, too. I drove Liv to the airport at dawn for her return trip to LA. She can work remotely and was able to travel home in early December, before the second surge. When she arrived home she quarantined, taking a Covid test prior to, and again after arriving. Liv extended her visit an extra week so that she did not have to fly back last weekend. It’s nerve wracking dropping her off at the airport but she has had to fly occasionally for work during the pandemic and Delta is only allowing at most 50 percent capacity. She flies at odd times so the planes are mostly empty, and she is often allowed to upgrade to first class for free, as she was on this flight. All that being said, with the surge on top of the surge and the new strain running rampant, praying and hoping she will remain safe and Covid-free.

Having both adult children home, along with our darling Charlotte here with us full time, we are having more fun as a family – cooking together, playing card games, laughing, joking, and telling stories. This family time together has been the silver lining to the pandemic and the part I will choose to remember.

I stopped on the way home to watch the planes taking off and snap a photo of the first sunrise of 2021.

After returning from the airport, Charlotte and I took one of our mini nature walks around Eastern Point. The very first creature we encountered was a young Double-crested Cormorant. He was attempting to cross the berm. We almost walked right into him! For some reason we couldn’t quite understand, he didn’t care to fly from Brace Cove to Niles Pond, but was on foot.

After we stood very quietly for several minutes (no small feat for a three-year-old) he decided we weren’t a threat and crossed our path, not three feet away!

Continuing on our mini trek, we spotted the rare Black-headed Gull bobbing along in the cove (see yesterday’s post).

To top off our day, a young Cooper’s Hawk flew overhead and landed in a nearby tree.

Wishing you a healthy New Year Friends!

RARE BLACK-HEADED GULL IN GLOUCESTER!

At first glance I thought the gull feeding offshore was a Bonaparte’s Gull, but after taking a second look, I believe this is a Black-headed Gull in non-breeding plumage. The black-tipped red bill is the surest way to id when on the water, along with his cute little red legs and feet.

Common throughout Eurasia, they are rarer on this side of the Atlantic; the first sighting north of Mexico was recorded in 1930 in Newburyport. When Black-headed Gulls are spotted in the US, they are most likely seen along the Massachusetts coastline.

RED-TAILED HAWK IN THE WAXING CRESCENT MOON

As luck would have it, the Red-tailed Hawk swooped in and perched on a phone pole just opposite where I was standing taking snapshots of the Harbor. I turned to take a photo of the Hawk and the crescent Moon was rising! The Hawk only stayed a brief moment, but it was a beautiful thing to see.

Then, as we walked closer to the Lighthouse, a juvenile Great Blue Heron flew overhead! All on a  December’s afternoon!

AMAZED AND WONDERFUL TO SEE A HORNED LARK ON THE BEACH! Along with Snow Buntings and American Pipits

This past week while photographing a Snow Bunting and several American Pipits, a friendly bird, not in the least skittish, caught my eye. It was acting sort of Pipit-like, similar size-wise and foraging in the sand, but had a striking black streak across its cheek and lemony yellow face. I wasn’t sure what I was looking at until returning home to look it up. I always take lots of photos when I am unsure of what it is I am photographing, just because you never know. I am so glad, because several of the photos gave a great clue. In the snapshots where the bird is looking dead on, you can actually see its tiny feathery “horns.” I think there were two Horned Larks with the small mixed flock, one slightly paler than the other.

‘Horns’ of the Horned Lark

The Snow Bunting was clearly the boss of the mini flock. If another approached too closely to where it was foraging, the bird gave a brief but aggressive hop and flutter toward the intruder.

In winter time, look for Horned Larks in fields, meadows, beaches, and dunes, in large and small mixed flocks. Interestingly, in Europe, the Horned Lark is called the Shore Lark and after the wonderful beach walk surprise, it’s easy to understand why.

Snow Bunting unfazed by Charlotte

Horned Lark and Snow Bunting

American Pipit

Snow Bunting

 

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.