Category Archives: Birds

WEST COAST WILDFIRE SMOKE CASTING AN EERIE HAZE OVER EASTERN MASSACHUSETTS SKIES

West Coast fire haze and belted Kingfisher

My Facebook friend Greg shared the graphic below and I think it shows very well the reason why the sun is appearing to look more lunar-like and the skies are so hazy and overcast.

GREAT EGRET MORNING FLOOFING

 Beautiful juvenile Great Egret morning feather floofingSoon Great Egrets will be heading south for the winter. I know we are all going to miss seeing these grand beauties that grace our local ponds, marshes, and shorelines. Great Egrets travel as far as the West Indies and southern Central America.

 

BABY CEDAR WAXWINGS IN THE HOOD!

Life at the Edge of the Sea – Cedar Waxwing Baby Masked Bandits

For over a month I have been filming a flock of Cedar Waxwings. Exquisitely beautiful creatures, with their combination of soft buffy and brilliantly punctuated wing patterning, along with graceful agility, it’s been easy to fall in love with these birds and they have become a bit of an obsession. 

I filmed some wonderful scenes and will share the photos and story as soon as there is time but in the meantime I wanted to share these photos of a juvenile Cedar Waxwing so you know what to look for. Waxwings are often found high up in the treetops. They are most easily seen on limbs bare of leaves. Their repetitious soft trilling song gives them away and if you learn the sound you will begin to see Cedar Waxwings everywhere. They have an extended breeding period in our region and because it is so late in the season, this juvenile may be one of a second brood.

While I was shooting for my short short story, the Waxwing flock was mostly on the ground in a wildflower patch devouring insects. Cedar Waxwings are more typically berry-eating frugivores. During the summer they add insects to their diet and I think it may have to do with keeping the hatchling’s bellies filled. It wasn’t until they moved back up into the treetops that this little guy began appearing amongst the flock. He has the same masked face, but the breast is softly streaked. You can see the yellow feathers tips beginning to grow in.

Juvenile Cedar Waxwing

Adult Cedar Waxwing

TREE SWALLOW, BARN SWALLOW, OR CLIFF SWALLOW?

Life at the Edge of the Sea – Swallows of Massachusetts

Lovely large flocks of Tree Swallows continue to gather, gracing our shores with their chattering cheery chirping. But these flocks aren’t only comprised of Tree Swallows, often seen in the mix are Barn Swallows, too.Barn Swallow left, female Tree Swallow right

Male Tree Swallows

There are six species of Swallows that breed in Massachusetts and they are Tree, Barn, Cliff, Purple Martin, Northern Rough-winged, and Bank Swallows. Tree Swallows are the most abundant breeders, with Barn Swallows coming in second. Cliff, Northern Rough-winged, Bank, and Barn Swallows are all in decline.Male and female Tree Swallows

Male Tree Swallows wear brilliant iridescent greenish blue feathers, with a sharply defined face mask. The females are a duller brownish, but they too have some blue iridescence in their plumage. Both have white chins and predominantly white breasts.Barn Swallow

Male Barn Swallows are a beautiful cobalt blue with rusty red forehead and red feathers below their bills. Their bellies vary from buffy tan to cinnamon colored.

Tree Swallows breed in the wetlands and fields of Cape Ann. Their name comes from the species habit of nesting in tree cavities. Tree Swallows have benefited tremendously from efforts to help save the Eastern Bluebird because they also nest in the nest boxes built specifically for the Bluebirds.

Juvenile Barn Swallow

Barn Swallows build their nest cups from mud and they prefer nesting sites such as the rafters, eaves, and crossbeams of barns, stables, and sheds. They also chose the undersides of wharves and bridges.

Acrobatic aerialists, both Tree and Barn Swallows twist and turn mid-flight to capture a wide variety of insects including flies, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, beetles, and wasps. We on Cape Ann especially love swallows because they eat the dreaded Greenhead.

Life at the Edge of the Sea – Good Afternoon Little Green Heron!

A Little Green Heron crossed my path, flying in low and fast. Stealthily hunting along the water’s’s edge, he had an uncanny ability to make himself nearly flat before striking.

The light was at first overcast but when the sun poked through the clouds, everything turned all golden orange.

Green Herons eat a wide variety of fish and small creatures including minnows, sunfish, catfish, pickerel, carp, perch, gobies, shad, silverside, eels, goldfish, insects, spiders, crustaceans, snails, amphibians, reptiles, and rodents. Although found throughout the US but, it is a species in decline in most regions, except California, where the bird appears to be increasing. Green Herons breed in Massachusetts coastal and inland wetlands.

My days are full, full to overflowing sometimes, with taking care of Charlotte and family, film, and design projects. Though there isn’t day a day that goes by that I don’t think of my life as a gift. Daily I try to fit in a walk, always with a camera slung over each shoulder. How blessed are we on Cape Ann, especially during the pandemic, to have such beauty for our eyes to see and our hearts to travel.  I can’t keep up with sharing footage and that will all go towards larger projects anyway, and I am behind with sharing photos. Perhaps I should make these walk photos a series – ‘life at the edge of the sea,’ or something along those lines.

 

RAGWEED VS GOLDENROD – WHAT IS CAUSING MY SEASONAL ALLERGIES?

Migrating Monarchs and Seaside Goldenrod

So often I hear folks blaming goldenrod as the source of their allergy suffering, when they really mean to say ragweed. The three species of goldenrod that we most often see in our coastal north of Boston fields, meadows, woodland edges, and dunes are Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima), and Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis).  All three have beautiful yellow flowers, Seaside blooming a bit after Canada and Tall, and all are fabulous pollinator plants, providing nectar for bees, butterflies, and migrating Monarchs.

In our region, we most often encounter Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia), with Plain Jane tiny green flowers and raggedy looking foliage. Goldenrods and ragweeds both bloom at roughly the same time of year, in mid- to late-summer, but why is ragweed the culprit and goldenrods are not? The colorful showy flowers of goldenrods are attractive to pollinators and they are both insect and wind pollinated. The drops of goldenrod pollen are too large to fall far from the plant. Ragweed’s tiny flowers are not of interest to most pollinators and the plant has evolved to rely on the wind to disperse its pollen from plant to plant. Ragweed produces massive amounts of teeny, breathable pollen to travel widely on the wind.

Cedar Waxwing foraging in weed patch with Common Ragweed

Although many of us are fortunate not to be bothered by ragweed, I completely empathize with friends who are. If it is any consolation, I recently learned two good uses for Common Ragweed. Shetland sheep love to eat it and it is good for their wool. And I have been following a flock of  Cedar Waxwings for over a month. I often see in the morning the Waxwings descend on patches of mixed weeds, mostly Common Ragweed. Waxwings change their diet in summer to include insects and I think the birds are attracted to the plant for the host of insects it supports. So next time you are ragging on ragweed remember, it is a native plant and it does support a community of insects and birds.

ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SCENTS ON ALL OF CAPE ANN – ‘SAILOR’S DELIGHT’ SUMMERSWEET

Clethra alnifolia is more commonly known by its many descriptive names of Summersweet, Sweet Pepperbush, and Honeysweet. In an old book on fragrance, written by Louise Beebe Wilder, she writes that in Gloucester of old it was described as ‘Sailor’s Delight.’ During the 19th and early 20th century, as told by Wilder, the sailors entering the harbor on homebound ships would reportedly delight in its fragrance wafting out to see.

Much of Niles Pond road is to this day lined with great thickets of ‘Sailor’s Delight.’ Wild Clethra growing on Cape Ann blooms during the month of August.

The following is an excerpt from a book that I wrote back in 2004-2007, which was published by David R. Godine in 2009. The book is about designing landscape habitats for wild creatures and for people, titled Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities: Notes from a Gloucester Garden, and all that I wrote then, still holds true to day.

“Summersweet bears small white florets held on racemes, and depending on the cultivar may be shaded with varying hues of pink to rose-red. The tapering spires of fragrant blossoms appear in mid to late summer. Clethra has a sweet and spicy though somewhat pungent aroma, and when the summer air is sultry and humid, the fragrance permeates the garden, Summersweet is a nectar food attractive to bees and a wide variety of butterflies, notably the Silver-spotted Skipper.” See more at Oh GardenMyriad species of bees and butterflies, along with Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, are attracted to Clethra for its sweet nectar, while American Robins, Goldfinches and warblers dine on Summersweet’s ripened berries.
Clethra fruits ripening

WHAT’S SO FUNNY ABOUT LAUGHING GULLS?

Laughing Gulls are so named for their wonderfully noisy laugh-like call and a large flock, such as the one seen on our shores lately, is even more fun to listen to.

Laughing Gull in breeding plumage

Strikingly handsome birds in their breeding feathers, with a sharply defined black head contrasting against their crisp white breast and slate gray feathers, the flock that is currently on Cape Ann looks entirely different because they are a varied mixture of mostly juvenile first hatch year, along with adults that are losing their breeding plumage.The younger members wear a contrasting scalloped brown and white pattern on their flight feathers while the adults have smudgey gray heads. All have stout, slightly curved bills; at this time of year the adult’s bills are black although you may see some red remaining in its bill.

Whether adult or juvenile, an easy way to id is that both have a pair of white crescent spots above and below the eye.

All three above are Laughing Gulls

If spotted beside a juvenile Herring Gull, the Laughing Gull is smaller, with more sharply defined plumage.

The Laughing Gulls diet is varied; they eat many invertebrates including snails, crabs, insects, and earthworms. Laughing Gulls also eat berries, fish, squid, and garbage.

Coming in for a landing

Tossed off by a rock by an incoming wave

Laughing Gulls breed in the Northeast and typically depart to winter in Central America and northern South America. They can be found year round along both the Gulf and Southeast coastlines.

GOOD MORNING FROM GOOD HARBOR!

Despite the pandemic heartbreak, along with the social and economic hardships so many are experiencing, the summer of 2020 been a beautiful season of sunrises and sunsets. This one is from several days ago.I’m so behind in posting local wildlife stories while trying to prepare all the ancillary materials needed to send my film to APTWW, a huge back log of stories really. But I did want everyone to be aware that there is a a great flock of juvenile Laughing Gulls on our shores right now. They are fishing feeding with juvenile Herring Gulls as well as with adult Laughing Gulls. The Laughing Gull juveniles are smaller than the Herring Gulls and have a very distant scallop pattern on their flight wings. Will try to post some more photos later today 🙂Laughing Gull juvenile

LITTLE BLUE HERON CAPTURES A MYSTERY CREATURE?

This morning while observing a juvenile Little Blue Heron fishing he captured a small pond creature, but then spit it out almost immediately. No wonder, it is so odd looking. Can anyone help ID? Thank you!

Ready for take off

Skipping logs

TREMENDOUS NEWS!!! Court Overturns Trump Administration Policy That Sharply Curtailed Protections for Migratory Birds

Just a few of the species of wildlife found on Cape Ann that are protected under the Migratory Bird Treat Act of 1918!

From the Center for Biological Diversity

NEW YORK— A federal court today overturned a Trump administration reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that had upended decades of enforcement and let industry polluters entirely off the hook for killing birds.

The administration argued the law only applied to intentional killing of birds and not “incidental” killing from industrial activities, including oil spills, electrocutions on power lines, development and other activities that kill millions of birds every year.

The reinterpretation was first put in place in December 2017 through a legal opinion authored by the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior and former Koch Industries employee, Daniel Jorjani. This opinion was already allowing birds to be killed across the country.

Citing “To Kill a Mockingbird,” U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni wrote that “if the Department of the Interior has its way, many mockingbirds and other migratory birds that delight people and support ecosystems throughout the country will be killed without legal consequence.”

In rejecting the Jorjani opinion, the court noted that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it unlawful to kill birds “by any means whatever or in any manner” — thus the administration’s interpretation could not be squared with the plain language of the statute.

Had the Trump administration’s policy been in place at the time of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, for example, British Petroleum would have avoided paying more than $100 million in fines to support wetland and migratory bird conservation to compensate for more than a million birds the accident was estimated to have killed.

The policy was put in place over objections from Canada, a co-signer of the treaty that led to the law. Scientists now estimate North American birds have declined by 29% overall since 1970, amounting to roughly 3 billion fewer birds.

Since the Jorjani opinion, snowy owls and other raptors have been electrocuted by perching on uninsulated power lines in Delaware, Maryland, Tennessee and North Dakota – with no consequences for the responsible utilities. Oil spills in Massachusetts, Idaho and Washington, all of which caused the subsequent deaths of many birds, did not prompt any penalties. Landscapers in San Diego were reported to have thrown live mourning dove chicks into a tree shredder, prompting a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services agent to go undercover to investigate. But the case was closed with no action taken due to the changed policy.

“The Trump administration’s policy was nothing more than a cruel, bird-killing gift to polluters and we’re elated it has been vacated,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Birds are in real trouble across the United States. We must do everything we can to ensure they continue to brighten our skies and sing to us in the morning, for which they ask nothing in return.”

“The court’s decision is a ringing victory for conservationists who have fought to sustain the historical interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to protect migratory birds from industrial harms,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. “The Department of the Interior’s wrong-head reinterpretation would have left the fate of more than 1,000 species of birds in the hands of industry. At a time when our nation’s migratory birds are under escalating threats, we should be creating a reasonable permit program to ensure effective conservation and compliance, rather than stripping needed protections for birds.”

“This decision confirms that Interior’s utter failure to uphold the conservation mandate of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service simply cannot stand up in a court of law,” said Katie Umekubo, senior attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “The MBTA protects millions of birds and the Trump administration’s reckless efforts to rollback bird protections to benefit polluters don’t fool anyone.”

“Today’s commonsense ruling is a much-needed win for migratory birds and the millions of Americans who cherish them,” said Mike Parr, president of American Bird Conservancy. “The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is one of our nation’s most important environmental laws, and has spurred industry innovation to protect birds, such as screening off toxic waste pits and marking power lines to reduce collisions. This decision represents the next vital step on the path to restoring our nation’s declining bird populations and is a major victory for birds and the environment.”

“Like the clear crisp notes of the wood thrush, today’s court decision cuts through all the noise and confusion to unequivocally uphold the most effective bird conservation law on the books–the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” said Sarah Greenberger, interim chief conservation officer for the National Audubon Society. “This is a huge victory for birds and it comes at a critical time. Science tells us that we’ve lost 3 billion birds in less than a human lifetime and that two-thirds of North American birds are at risk of extinction due to climate change.”

“Migratory birds are once again protected in the United States from industrial and other threats, thanks to a court ruling rejecting the Administration’s blatant misinterpretation of protections Congress put in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” said Mike Leahy, director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy at the National Wildlife federation. “Common-sense measures to protect birds like the snowy egret, wood duck and greater sandhill crane have been restored, and bird advocates, affected industries, and Congress can now focus on developing a permit program to reduce harms to birds and impacts to businesses through best management practices.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at http://www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.​

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at http://www.audubon.org and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.

American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

The National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest conservation organization, uniting all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in a rapidly changing world. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

Protected piping plover chick illegally removed from RI beach dies

Piping Plover ambassador Deb Brown shared the following story. My readers know not to pick up a chick alone on the beach but please help spread the word. If you see someone attempting to do so, let them know that the parents are more than likely close by and waiting for “the rescuer” to leave the area.  Keep your eye on the chick from 100 feet away and if after an hour an adult is not spotted in the vicinity, contact USFWS or a local rehabber. It is against the law to handle Piping Plover chicks.  A protected piping plover chick that was illegally removed from a Westerly beach receives care at a wildlife center in Massachusetts. The chick later died. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Protected piping plover chick illegally removed from RI beach dies

by JESSICA A. BOTELHO, NBC 10 NEWS

The death of a protected piping plover chick that was illegally removed from a Westerly beach has prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Massachusetts to remind everyone that the birds should not be touched.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asks that people do not disturb or interfere with plovers or other wildlife,” the agency noted Monday in a press release, adding that the chick became ill after vacationers brought it home with them.

“Members of the public should never handle wildlife or remove it from the area before contacting authorities,” according to the release.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the vacationers brought the chick to a Massachusetts wildlife rehabilitator when it began to show signs of poor health.

It was eventually transferred to Tufts Wildlife Clinic, and then to Cape Wildlife in Barnstable, because its condition rapidly worsened and it later died.

“Despite the best efforts of veterinarians, the chick had become too weak from the ordeal and died,” according to the agency.

Piping plovers are protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Maureen Durkin, who is the Service’s plover coordinator for Rhode Island, said handling wild animals does more harm than good. She added that with such a small population of plovers, every single bird makes a difference.

“By sharing our beaches and leaving the birds undisturbed, we give plovers the best chance to successfully raise chicks each year,” Durkin said, with the release noting that about 85 pairs of piping plovers breed in Rhode Island “under the close watch of several agencies.”

It is illegal to possess or handle most wildlife, especially threatened and endangered species.

Piping plovers are on that list and should not be disturbed.

“While wild animals may appear to be ‘orphaned,’ they usually are not; parents are often waiting nearby for humans to leave. Plover chicks are able to run and feed themselves, and even if they appear to be alone, their parents are usually in the vicinity. Baby songbirds, seal pups, and fawns are also at risk from being removed from the wild unnecessarily by people mistaking them for orphans. If a young animal is encountered alone in the wild, the best course of action is typically to leave the area. In most cases the parents will return without human intervention,” the release noted.

In 2018, two piping plovers were found nesting in a strip of vegetation that was sprouting from a crack in a parking lot at Roger Wheeler State Beach in Narragansett.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management worked to protect the plovers and their nest, giving them “a safe passage” to the beach when they hatched.

DEM described piping plovers as small sand-colored shorebirds. They breed on Atlantic beaches from Newfoundland and southeastern Quebec to North Carolina.

MASKED BEAUTIES – CEDAR WAXWINGS ON THE POINT!

A flock of beautiful beautiful Cedar Waxwings graced our shores over the weekend. They  were devouring ripening fruits and seeds found on local native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers.Cedar Waxwings mostly eat berries and they love a wide variety. Their name is actually derived from one of their favorite fruits, the waxy berries of cedar trees. If you would like to attract Cedar Waxwings  to your garden here is a handy list that I compiled –

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.

WITH THANKS AND DEEP APPRECIATION FOR OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVER AMBASSADORS

Jonathan, Sally, Jennie, Heidi, Barbara, Sue, Deb, Jane, Duncan, and Bette Jean

Last night we had our end of the season Piping Plover Ambassadors get together. It’s so challenging with the pandemic because I just wanted so much to hug everyone and thank them for the fantastic job they did. Thanks to their enthusiasm, dedication, interest, and kindness, we were able to fledge our little Marshmallow. It’s not the number of birds that fledge that matters, but that they are in good health when they depart and our Marshmallow was strong and well fortified after a season of healthy, and largely uninterrupted, foraging at Good Harbor Beach.

A heartfelt thank you to all who helped make 2020 a tremendously joyous Piping Plover season!

Deb Brown made the funniest and most charming Marshmallow cupcakes (and they were delicious, too)! Don’t you think it should be a tradition?

Charlotte loving her marshmallow cupcake! 

 

The following is the text of the program that I gave at this year’s Coastal Waterbird meeting –

Program for Coastal Waterbird Conservation Cooperators Meeting

The Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover Ambassadors

Thank you to Carolyn Mostello for the invitation to talk about our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover Ambassadors Program.

It is an honor and a joy to be included in the annual cooperators meeting.

Thanks so much to Carolyn for also providing advice and guidance throughout the course of the 2020 Piping Plover season. Early on, she shared a phrase she uses, Educate, Not Enforce and I found that sharing that thought with our Ambassadors really conveyed how we wanted to treat our community.

Good Harbor Beach is Gloucester’s most highly populated stretch of shoreline. Less than two miles long, during the summer months the beach is packed with beach goers from morning until after sunset. And because of the pandemic, Good Harbor has become even more popular.

We had a small but truly stellar group of people this year: Deb Brown, Jane Marie, Bette Jean, Jennie, Jonathan, Sally, Shelby, Barbara, Heidi, Duncan, and myselfBetween the bunch of us we were able to provide coverage from 5:30 am to 8:30pm, from sunrise until sunset. I asked each person to commit to an hour a day simply because in the past there was too much confusion with scheduling, where some people could volunteer for an hour one day a week, or only on Tuesdays, etc. An hour a day, seven days a week, for a month is a tremendous volunteer commitment but no one seemed daunted, people volunteered for even longer time frames, and I think everyone’s time with the PiPls became something that they looked forward to very much.

After everybody’s shift, we shared our notes in the group’s email chain and to a person, it was always positive and informative. 

We have been working in partnership with Essex County Greenbelt Association’s director of land stewardship, Dave Rimmer, who over the course of the past five years has provided help and guidance with everything Piping Plover and has given freely and generously of his time. Our Ward One City Councilor, Scott Memhard, has been super helpful in navigating the City’s role in Piping Plover management and we have also been working with the City of Gloucester’s Department of Public Works. Many of the DPW crew have taken a genuine interest in the birds, as has our Mayor Sefatia.  

 Our number one goal from early on has been to keep Good Harbor Beach open while also protecting the Plovers. 

The most important thing has been to build a solid relationship with the community about why it is so important to protect threatened and endangered species. For the first four years that the Piping Plovers had been at Good Harbor Beach, I thought that writing stories, photographing, and filmmaking; sharing how beautiful, tiny, resilient, funny, spunky, and just plain adorable Piping Plovers are, people would fall in love and just naturally do the right thing. The thing is, 99 percent of people do fall in love when introduced and do want to help protect the Plovers, but there is always that 1 percent that simply does not care.

I’ve learned through experience that the very best way to handle difficult situations is to not engage, and most pointedly, to not mention enforcement. Especially during this age of coronavirus when we know people may be struggling and be very much on edge, the last thing we want to do is provoke a confrontation. We changed the name from Piping Plover Monitors, to Piping Plover Ambassadors, which has a much friendlier ring.  This year we had a mostly new crew of volunteers and at the onset of this year’s first Piping Plover meeting we made it very clear that we were not to approach anyone about their behavior. We were there to speak positively about the birds, share information, and answer any and all questions.  

For example, in the case where someone was walking directly toward a tiny newborn hatchling, we would say, “Hello, and have you had a chance to see our Piping Plover baby birds? Here, let me show you.” Several of the volunteers even shared their binoculars. That’s just one example, but by keeping a positive tone, people were just so thrilled to catch a glimpse and to learn about the birds on the beach.

 One change that has really made a monumental difference is that we worked really hard to successfully change the City’s dog ordinance, which is now written to disallow all dogs on the beach, at all times of the day, beginning April 1st, rather than May 1st. There are still scofflaws, but this one change has greatly reduced tensions.

Next year I am planning to do more community outreach prior to the PiPls arrival. I have developed a program, which I was hoping to give freely to local audiences at places such as our Sawyer Free Library and Cape Ann Museum in the spring but because of the virus, that will have to wait until next year. I think presenting programs about the birds will also be a way to help recruit ambassadors. 

One of our young Piping Plover fans who followed the bird’s stories daily, five-year-old Zoe, nicknamed our one surviving PiPl Marshmallow. Next year I think it would be great to have a Piping Plover naming contest as well as a Piping Plover art poster sign project for young people. 

We also think it would be very helpful to have brochures, with fun photos and a brief outline of the life story of the Plovers to give to interested beachgoers. My one concern with that is generating litter. We made our own 24 x 36-inch signs on coroplast boards that could be placed easily in the sand and moved about, depending on where the chicks were foraging that day. These signs were a little bit funny and helped bring attention to the birds in a super friendly manner.

I am so grateful for the advice given by Carolyn at the onset of the season and for our Ambassadors. This kind, thoughtful group of people who came together in the worst of times, knowing that despite all the problems in the world and the personal toll the pandemic has taken on us all, taking care of threatened and endangered species remained a priority, and in a summer such as 2020, perhaps the birds needed even more special care.

NEW SHORT FILM – MARVELOUS MARSHMALLOW MONTAGE!

On Tuesday I attended the annual Coastal Waterbird Conservation Cooperators meeting. This was my third year attending the conference. I love every minute and find them wonderfully educational. During a normal year, they take place on Cape Cod; this year was virtual. I took tons of screen shots of interesting data and and am writing an article about  the meeting and what we learned is taking place at regions all around Massachusetts, as well as at other New England States. More to come 🙂

I was asked to make two presentations, one to share a film about Marshmallow and the second presentation, to talk about our Ambassador program. I’ll share the text of the second program tomorrow, and in the meantime, here is a short video, the finished version, of our marvelous Marshmallow Montage

Thank you to Peter Van Demark for adding marvelous to Marshmallow’s name 🙂

For more about Piping Plovers, please see the Piping Plover Film Project page on my website. The page is progress but here you will find short films, information about my Atlantic Coast Piping Plover lecture program, photos, and links to hundreds of articles and posts that I have written from 2016 to the present (articles from 2019 have not yet been organized into the list).

 

 

LEAST TERN BABES AT BEAUTIFUL WINTHROP SHORE RESERVATION

Several weeks ago on my way home for work, I stopped by one of my favorite places to film and photograph, Winthrop Shore Reservation. I began filming there several years ago because I thought it would be super helpful for our community to understand what was happening with Piping Plovers at beaches similar to Good Harbor Beach, similar in that they are urban beaches located in densely populated neighborhoods and are managed without the 24/7 protection of the Trustees (Crane Beach) or the USFWS (Plum Island).

What I discovered there was so much more than the story of WSR Piping Plovers and have since been filming and documenting many species of birds that call Winthrop Shore Reservation home throughout the four seasons, including the Least Tern colony, Snowy Owls, Snow Buntings, a family of Great Blue Herons, Oystercatchers, and Killdeers.

On my visit of several weeks ago there were so many Least Tern nestlings, fledglings, and juveniles, I was afraid to walk through the rocky shore for fear of stepping on a nestling. In their soft hues of buffy peach, gray, and ivory, the wee ones were perfectly camouflaged, tucked in and amongst the wind- and weather-worn monochromatic stones.

Tiny Killdeer chicks and newly hatched Piping Plovers were also running about the Tern colony. I left with a heart full of joy at seeing so much new life in such an extraordinary location, extraordinary in the sense that it was only a few short years ago that Winthrop Shore Reservation underwent a major restoration, renovation, and renourishment project, which was undertaken by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation. I’d say the renourishment aspect of the project has been a whopping success!!!

Ready for take-off!

Piping Plover and Killdeer chicks at Winthrop

Nesting Least Tern

Least Tern in flight

DEBUNKING PIPING PLOVER MYTH #4, WINTHROP BEACH IS AMAZING, AND LOTS OF SEX ON THE BEACH

Fishing For Sex

Least Tern One Day Old Chicks!

Two-Day-Old Least Tern Chicks

STUCK BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

BEAUTIFUL MORNING AT THE CREEK AND THE TREE SWALLOWS ARE MASSING! with video

Hello PiPl Friends and Ambassadors,

This morning at 8:30 I stopped by the Creek to see if Marshmallow had returned. I’ve been checking every morning and haven’t seen him since the morning the roped off area was dismantled, but Deb thinks she saw him last evening. I ran into Todd and Sarah and they too were looking. The PiPl that was there at the Creek this morning I think is too slender to be a forty-one day old chick. This bird doesn’t have the round plump silhouette that Marshmallow had at 38 days. I am not sure if his body would change overnight like that. We’ll keep checking and see what we see.

It’s not unusual for Piping Plovers to be seen at GHB singularly or in small groups of two, threes, and fours as the Creek especially is a wonderful stop over point for migrating shorebirds. The most Piping Plovers I have ever seen in a group at a Gloucester Beach was a flock of nine at Coffins Beach and they were together for several days before all departed overnight.

Chubby Marshmallow at 38 days, left, mystery slender PiPl, right

We also saw a Least Tern feeding its fledgling!!, a Little Blue Heron chasing a Snowy Egret, and Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers foraging together.

Least Tern fledgling

Little Blue chasing a Snowy through the marsh this morning

The beautiful event that takes place every year at this time along the shoreline and at our local dunes are the Tree Swallow aerialists massing, with each day in progressively greater numbers. They stay as long as there are insects aplenty, until one morning, you will find they have vanished, migrating to the next insect-rich location.

Also, I just added a film to the post, a short that I made several years ago titled Dance of the Tree Swallows. It goes on way too long, and I would edit it differently today, but you may enjoy the first half at least. It was mostly filmed at Greenbelt’s Wingaersheek Uplands and Coffins Beach in West Gloucester. Here is the link https://vimeo.com/201781967 – and the password is treeswallows.

Regarding our end of the season meeting, I think the best day for most everyone is Thursday. We don’t want to do it on a weekend night, too many people and not safe with corona, and too hot or rain predicted on other nights. Barbara, i am wondering if we made it at 5:00, would that work for your shower schedule?

Have a Super Sunday!

xxKim

Tree Swallow range map

FAREWELL MARSHMALLOW, SAFE TRAVELS LITTLE CHICK!

 

Marshmallow, 38 days old

Good morning PiPl Friends and Ambassadors,

It appears as though Marshmallow has begun his southward migration. We know he is well fortified from his days at Good Harbor Beach, with a little belly full of sea worms and other PiPl yummies. His Dad has taught him extremely well, from important survival skills on how to avoid danger to bathing and frequent preening, giving his newly formed flight feathers extra conditioning.

His tiny wings will beat millions of times to reach the first important staging area. For Piping Plovers in our region, the Outer Banks of North Carolina is where they will most likely head. Last August at the Coastal Waterbird Conservation Cooperators meeting, I met Professor Paton. He is involved with a program that bands and nanotags birds at Southern New England beaches, mostly Rhode Island beaches. He provided some terrific maps based on the data collected from the banding program.

After departing Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the majority of the program’s tagged PiPls are soon found foraging on the shores of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Cape Lookout National Seashore, and Cumberland Island National Seashore, GA. Data suggests that the Outer Banks are a priority stopover site for Piping Plovers well into the late summer. After leaving our shores, southern New England Piping Plovers spend on average 45 days at NC barrier beaches before then heading to the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.

Although our Good Harbor Beach Piping plovers are not tagged, there is no reason to believe that they too are not traveling this route.

Why are the Outer Banks such an important staging area? Perhaps because the great flats are filled with nutrient rich protein, which the adult birds need to regrow their flight feathers. Almost constantly in motion and exposed to strong sunlight during the spring migration and summer nesting season, the adult’s flight feathers are nearly completely worn down. They have become much paler in color and frayed. Shorebirds need these staging areas to molt the old feathers and grow new flight feathers. Possibly the need to be in a safe environment to begin molting explains why our Mom, and then Dad, departed prior to Marshmallow.

I know it’s disappointing that we were not given any kind of warning about dismantling the nesting area. It’s been such a great season so please don’t dwell on it. We are working to try to remedy the lack of communication between the Ambassadors and the City, with the goal of having the problem solved by next year’s season.

It’s time to start planning our end of the season get together. Would an evening work for everyone, say 6:00pm. Then everyone could get back to their families for dinner. On Thursday, August 6th, the weather looks clear and bright, not too hot or humid.

Thank you, you have all been such terrific Ambassadors, and most importantly, Marshmallow thanks you, too!

xxKim

Marshmallow, from nestling to fledgling

GOOD EATING AT GOOD HARBOR! IF YOU ARE A BIRD, THAT IS :)

Over the past several months of documenting our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers, beginning in March, we have seen a beautiful collection of shorebirds, gulls, hawks, and wading birds. The continuous ebb and flow of replenishing waters at the tidal creek, expansive marsh, and intertidal pools make for a range of rich habitat where birds can find food and shelter. Minnows, sea worms, crabs, tiny mollusks, and a wide variety of other invertebrates provide fuel for hungry travelers as well as summer residents.

Too many photos for one post I just realized and will post heron and egret photos next.

Here are just some of the beauties!

Beautiful, beautiful trio of Dowitchers

Herring Gull eating a Green Crab

Cooper’s Hawk

Spotted Sandpiper

Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Plovers

Killdeer

Laughing Gulls
Yellow Legs

And of course, Marshmallow and Dad 🙂

 

THANK YOU HEATHER ATWOOD AND KORY CURCURU FOR THE FANTASTIC PIPING PLOVER 1623 STUDIOS INTERVIEW!

Thank you so very much to Heather Atwood and Kory Curcuru for sharing about our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers. It’s a joy to participate in these interviews and I also want to thank Heather for stopping by to meet Marshmallow. I am so glad she got to see our super Dad in action!

You can follow 1623 Studios on Facebook. If you like the page, Cape Ann Today with Kory and Heather will pop up in your news feed.

Cuteness Alert! “Marshmallow,” this year’s Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover hatchling, stars in Kim Smith’s new video. Come for the fluffy, leggy sweetness; stay for the interview.

 

 

“My daughter, the PIPING PLOVER FLEDGLING . .. “

One of our amazing and awesome Piping Plover Ambassadors, Jonathan Golding, wrote the following, too beautiful not to share  ❤

“I wrote this two weeks ago. It is titled “My daughter, the PIPING PLOVER FLEDGLING . .. ”
Already I have spoken a mistruth. My daughter is not a Piping Plover Fledgling. She is a soon to be 20 year old rising junior at American University in D.C. majoring in Criminal Justice & Psychology, and has maintained an impressive 3.8 GPA. And, given the great pandemic pause, she has decided to take her own version of a Gap Year and work for AmeriCorps in Boston. She applied for several different programs and received an offer from her #1 choice as a Restorative Practices Fellow with the Dudley Promise Corps. She will be working at the Dearborn S.T.E.M. Academy in Roxbury.
This big new move is all very exciting. . . for her. I mean, here at home she has just finished her second week of remote working, interacting with new Americorp colleagues, learning more about what the job entails, and in communication about living arrangements in Boston. Hmmmmm . . . living arrangements in Boston. Lib has lived in Rockport, in Gloucester, and on campus at American University. Now the new reality is unknown roommates at an apartment in the Roxbury/Fort Hill area of Boston, east of Jamaica Plain. This is where the Piping Plover analogy comes in. Three weeks ago, Sally and I joined the ranks of Piping Plover Ambassadors for the 4 newly hatched chicks at Gloucester’s Good Harbor Beach. As endangered shorebirds, it’s helps to give them some additional safety coverage as they mature and develop. A number of us armed with binoculars, good intentions, and the willingness to engage with the occasional unaware beach goer, keep a watchful eye over the young ones and their parents. What started as Mom, Dad, and four chicks, are now, three weeks later, just the dad and one chick. Three of the little ones sadly didn’t make it and mom, I guess feeling like her job was done, flew the coop. Yet DAD, and his only child – now named Marshmallow, stayed the course. Dad is there for him/her/they. He looks out for threats, does appropriate interventions if dogs, seagulls, crows, or people get too close to his baby. He also – new word for me – thermoregulates the chick. Marshmallow, with his/her/their still developing feathers need the warmth of a good parental snuggle. “Fledgling” is when a young chick has what it takes to . . . FLY. Once they got that flying thing down, then they can pretty much handle any threat coming their way. Before fledging, Marshmallow needs dad, and dad is there 100% for Marshmallow’s safety, care, and well-being. After fledging, Dad’s need to be involved with Marshmallow’s day -to-day activities and decision-making, well, not so much. Maybe not at all. I don’t know all this for a fact. I have never been a Piping Plover Ambassador before. Nor have I ever been a father to a soon-to-be 20 year old who is moving to Boston and becoming a Restorative Practices Fellow with the Dudley Promise Corps in Roxbury. My daughter is fledging.
I recently read an article in the NY Times about how many couples are “struggling to cope with the stress and tension” and one piece of advice stayed with me: “Would you rather be right, or would you rather be in a loving, connected relationship?” Granted, that question was aimed at partners in a relationship, yet for me it’s applicable in my relationship to my fledging daughter. I am full of questions and concerns about her venture into this great urban undertaking, and – not to be taken lightly – during this time of a pandemic environment, social distancing, and face-coverings. I understand the concepts of Endings, Beginnings, & Transitions. And, in my desire to maintain a loving, connected relationship, it’s probably best if I back off with my lists, the probing questions, and the catastrophic concerns that keep popping into my reptilian brain. Lib is a thoughtful, kind, generous, and smart young lady. She has had life experiences that have prepared her for this next chapter. As a parent, you do your best, give your best, and then . . . what . . Step Back? Step Aside? Offer Support and Assistance?
Sally, Libby and I went out to lunch yesterday, and I brought a notebook with a whole list of topics intending to discuss. . .. everything from bedroom sheets, to bus stop locations, to subway safety, to Covid appropriate interactions with her 3 new roommates. At some point, I turned the page over, and on a new page wrote simply “Lib, How Can We Best Support You?”. Couldn’t help but think about when I am down at Good Harbor Beach observing the Daddy Plover, he sure doesn’t seem to be overtly stressing over his little one. I suspect he feels he has done his best in preparing his kid to enter into the world as a young adult. When little Marshmallow becomes older-teen Marshmallow and truly finds his/her/their wings, and equally important his/her/their inner confidence , then the fully fledged piping Plover will fly off and effectively deal with the challenges and opportunities that life will surely present. Probably this is a good time for me to say “Hey JG . .. be more like the Daddy Plover. All will be fine.”🙏

SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS HAVE ARRIVED!

Hello PiPl Friends and Ambassadors,

It took awhile to discover where Marshmallow was this morning. He was at the wrack line calling nearly continuously with his soft melodious piping call, (which is how I was able to locate him), before then flying off over the dunes. I found him on my return walk, preening and fluffing at the PiPls favorite piece of driftwood within the enclosure. Note that is the very same driftwood that our PiPl Mom and Dad had their very first nest scrape at, way back in April!

No sign of Dad this morning.

Semipalmated Plover

Heidi noticed the pair of Semipalmated Plovers as well; it’s one of the first sightings of Semipalmated Plovers at GHB this summer and is a sure sign that the summer/fall migration is underway. Last year we had an unusual occurrence, Mystery Chick – a Semipalmated Plover fledgling appear suddenly and foraged for a bit with our three PiPl chicks.

Good Harbor Beach, and all of Cape Ann’s shorelines, continue to provide an extraordinary window into the world of migrating creatures. Despite 2020 being such a challenging summer on so very many levels, a saving grace has been our Piping Plovers and having the joy of meeting and getting to know our Ambassadors, and all of Marshmallow’s friends.

Semipalmated Plover fledgling, “Mystery Chick”

Heather Atwood updated us that the Cape Ann Today PiPl episode is not going to air until Friday or Monday and as soon as I know, will let you know.

Have a great day and thank goodness for today’s cooler temperatures 🙂

xxKim37 day old Marshmallow

HOW FAR CAN A PIPING PLOVER TRAVEL IN ONE DAY?

Good Morning PiPl Ambassadors and Friends,

Both Dad and Marshmallow were sweetly sleep-eyed, each in their own respective “fox” holes. Even at 6am, it was hot already at the beach, perhaps they were taking a cooling off break.

In response to Sally’s question – I do not know precisely the distance a Piping Plover can travel per day, but we do know from a banded PiPl that was at Good Harbor Beach last April (referred to as ETM), that he traveled from Georgia to Gloucester in five days or less. Here is the link to the story I wrote last spring –
https://kimsmithdesigns.com/2019/04/22/fun-411-update-on-etm-the-cumberland-island-banded-plover/

 

Many species of birds don’t generally migrate in a perfectly straight trajectory, but begin daily by setting off in a circular movement as they find the most suitable wind direction. That is why you may sometimes see when geese are flying overhead that some are going north and some are traveling south, as they gain their bearings for the next leg of their journey.

Our lone PiPl chick in 2017 (his name was Little Chick) departed about five days after Papa had left. I was with him on the morning he departed. A small flock of juvenile PiPls had flown in early in the day. Later that morning, I watched as Little Chick flew over Sherman’s Point with his new friends. We never saw him again after that.

Over the years I have observed that Coffins Beach becomes a staging point for Piping Plovers and Semi-palmated Plovers, beginning in mid-summer. They gather there in small and large groups, waiting for the right conditions to take the next leg of their journey. The Semi-palmated Plovers have journeyed from points much further north as they breed in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of North America. Perhaps the Piping Plover juveniles we see there at Coffins have flown over from Plum Island and Crane Beach, or perhaps they have traveled from points even further north.

Peninsulas such as our Cape Ann, as are places like Cape May and Point Pelee, are bird and butterfly migratory hotspots. We on Cape Ann are so fortunate to be able to witness this never ending flow of beautiful north-south movement that takes place each and every year without fail, in our own backyards and along our shoreline.

It’s going to be too hot today, so please don’t stay in the sun very long. Have a great day and Thank you!

xxKim

Dad and Marshmallow this morning – Marshmallow at 36 days old

HAPPY FIVE WEEKS OLD MARSHMALLOW!

Today marks the five week old milestone for our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover fledgling Marshmallow. He is thriving, growing visibly stronger daily and adding to his lipid reserves for the long journey south. Marshmallow is the only one of four hatchlings to survive however, we are not too far off from the national average PiPl chick survival rate, which is 1.2 chicks.

Marshmallow and Dad spend their days between the main beach within the protected area, at the tide pools adjacent to the protected area, and “down the Creek.” Both the tide pools and Creek shallows provide richly nourishing, fat, juicy sea worms along with a variety of mini mollusks and other invertebrates.

It won’t be long now before the two will be winging off to their wintering grounds. From banding programs done at the University of Rhode Island, it appears that most PiPls from our region first travel to Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a key migratory stopover for Piping Plovers. After spending approximately 30 to 40 days there, they will travel the next leg of their journey, to the Caribbean.

Will Dad and Marshmallow suddenly disappear, and together? In 2017, Dad left about five days before the fledgling. Last year, in 2019, the family suddenly dispersed, Dad and all three chicks simultaneously, but that was because the roped off area was removed prematurely and raked over. We are hoping to leave the symbolically roped off area in place as long as the birds are here. They know it is a safe space and find shelter, protection, and food there when the beach is super crowded. There really is no place else for them to forage and to find shelter on busy beach days and during high tide when there is no shoreline at the Creek.

Marshmallow hatch day

One day old

Fifteen days old

24 days old

28 days old

THE OTHER MARSHMALLOW!

Piping Plover Ambassador Zoe shares her Marshmallow. You may recall that it was Zoe’s idea to name our chick Marshmallow. I think next year we should have a naming contest 🙂 Thank you again Zoe for the very adorable and apropos name.