Category Archives: Cape Ann Wildlife

KIM SMITH POLLINATOR GARDEN PROGRAM FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC THURSDAY EVENING

Please join me Thursday evening, August 10th, at 7:00pm, at the Peabody Institute Library, South Branch. I will be giving my talk about how to create a garden to benefit a host of pollinators and screening several short films. I hope to see you there! 

The day we planted blueberries, is the day the Catbirds moved in. Many species of songbirds are pollinators, too!

Painted Lady nectaring at wildflower Joe-pye, Good Harbor Beach

 

The Dance of Color and Light

Have you noticed the beautiful Painted Lady Butterfly flitting about your garden, in the meadows, along roadways, and even at the beach? I think we are having a Painted Lady irruption. The wave of Painted Ladies began appearing in large numbers this past spring, with reports of a dramatic increase in sightings in the midwest.

Seeing Double

The Painted Lady is the most successful butterfly in the world. It lives some part of the year on every continent except South America, where it is rare or absent. Despite the fact that the Painted Lady is the most widely distributed butterfly, not a great deal is known about its migration. In North America the annual spring migration is thought to originate in the northwestern region of Mexico, where they can be found all year round. Heavy rains in late winter in that region trigger an explosion of northward migrating Painted Ladies that establish the spring brood.

I watched this little torn and tattered Painted Lady fly south over the Essex River, from Crane’s Beach to Wingaersheek Beach. She rested briefly on a rock before heading to the wildflowers in the dunes.

POSSIBLE LITTLE CHICK SIGHTINGS!

A postscript to yesterday’s “Farewell Little Chick” ~ 

Thank you to Everyone for your kind notes, thank yous, love, and interest in our Little Chick.

I thought  readers would like to know that since Little Chick departed Good Harbor Beach Friday morning several friends have shared that they have seen a small flock of Piping Plovers at other local beaches!

Carol Ferant wrote that Friday afternoon she was swimming by Corliss Landing and saw a small group feeding on lots of worms at the low tide sandbar. They stayed for a good long while and then flew off towards the marsh.

Abbie Lundberg wrote that in Annisquam on Saturday morning she saw a group of four Piping Plovers, three the same size, and one seemingly appeared smaller, about 2/3 the size of the others.

It makes complete sense to me that the Piping Plovers would move around from local beach to local beach before undertaking the long journey south. Comparing notes from last year, a mixed group of adults and fledglings grew larger and larger in number until one day, nearing the end of August, they all departed.

Today I was looking through the photos, from back in April though yesterday. We have every aspect of our Good Harbor Beach plover family documented–courtship, mating, eggs, all the different stages of development, friends, predators, other species of migrating shorebirds, scenery–thousands of images to organize. And after that, the next step is tackling all the film footage.  Big Project!

Four-day-old and five-week-old Little Chick

FAREWELL LITTLE CHICK!

Our six-week-old Little Chick has begun his southward journey. At sunrise this morning I found him sleeping in front of the roped off area. Way down by the water’s edge, was a small flock of three Piping Plovers, but the light was so soft I could not tell if they were males, females, or fledglings. Sensing Little Chick’s time to depart was nearing, I didn’t want to investigate just then, but stayed on the beach to film our plover.

Little Chick awoke with his usual stretching routine and then made his way through the tidal flats mostly eating, but stopping several times to arrange his feathers. In no time he was foraging alongside the three migrating Piping Plovers and, within mere moments he, and the Piping Plover flock flew, not along the beach or over to the creek as he has been doing, but this time, first straight out to sea and then curving around and disappearing behind the Sherman House.

I stopped by Good Harbor Beach several times later this morning and again in the afternoon, as have several of the volunteers, and no one has seen our Little Chick. Although feeling somewhat melancholy (but also very happy) to see him depart, this is the best possible outcome. We can all hope his journey is a safe one. And we hope too, that he fathers many offspring!

We have been treated to a window into the world of nesting Piping Plovers. Most species of shorebirds breed many thousands of miles away, in the Arctic tundra of Canada and Alaska. We were blessed to see this beautiful story unfold, despite taking place in the least of safe habitats.

The greatest thanks to all the Piping Plover volunteers: Carol Ferant, Caroline Haines, Jeannine Harris, Hazel Hewitt, Charles King, Cliff King, George King, Paul Korn, Chris Martin, Lucy Merrill-Hill, Diana Peck, Ruth Peron, Catherine Ryan, Karen Shah, and Ken Whittaker. Without their daily monitoring of people, balls, dogs, gulls, crows, and what have you, we most assuredly would not have seen our Little Chick grow into a fledgling. Thank you too for their eagerness in sharing information about the PiPls with interested beachgoers. There is still a great deal about Piping Plovers that is a mystery. Studying the life story of one plover family creates a focusing lens from which we can all learn.

If you see Ken Whittaker, Gloucester’s conservation agent, please thank him for all his help. After I discovered the Piping Plover nest on May 23rd, I spoke with Dave Rimmer to let him know precisely where the nest was located, and Ken immediately became available to lend a hand. In a way, we can thank Sharon Bo Abrams, too. After reading about how we were struggling to keep last year’s chicks alive, it was she who suggested that we form a group of volunteers. I mentioned this to Dave, who in turn spoke with Ken. It was Ken who spearheaded the volunteer effort and organized the group’s schedule so that at all times of day, from sunrise to sunset, someone was on the beach monitoring the Plover family.  We can also thank Ken for listening to us volunteers regarding the importance of leaving the symbolic fencing in place as long as the chick was using it as his “safety zone.”

Thank you to Mayor Sefatia, Chris Sicuranza, and Frank DiMecurio for their interest and support. Thank you to all our readers for your kind comments and interest in the Plover daily updates.  

Thank you to Gloucester Police Chief John McCarthy and Gloucester’s Animal Control Officer Dianne Corliss for their help monitoring the dog owner situation. They both made Good Harbor Beach part of their routine and their mere presence has made a tremendous difference.

A huge shout out to Gloucester’s Department of Public Works Mike Hale, Mark Cole, and Joe Lucido, and the DPW’s team of beach cleaners and rakers, who always went out of their way to keep an eye out for Little Chick and helped keep him safe.

Thanks is owed to Gloucester’s volunteer beach-picker-uppers who, on a daily basis, before everyone else arrives to enjoy the beach, are out there cleaning up what was left from the night before and helping to prevent a plethora of plastic from contaminating the ocean. Three who come to mind immediately, and who have been taking care of Good Harbor Beach for years are Patti Amaral, and husband and wife Patti and Kerry Sullivan. By cleaning the beach, it helps tremendously to keep down the crow, gull, and coyote populations, all of which are predators of shorebird eggs and chicks.

Thank you Community!  Without your support, care, and kindness I would not be writing this thank you note. 

Several readers have suggested that I write a children’s book, with photographs, about The Good Harbor Beach Little Chick. While I am giving this idea serious consideration, I would only want to work on a project like this with a top-notch publisher.
Bon voyage and safe travels Little Chick!

If I have neglected to thank you, please accept my sincere apology and please write and let me know so that I may add your name to the post. Thank you so much.

 

HAPPY SIX WEEK BIRTHDAY LITTLE CHICK!!!

Celebrating day forty-two with our Good Harbor Beach Little Chick!

Our Little Chick had a great morning, feeding in the intertidal zone, resting and preening by the enclosure, and flying more than several times up and down the length of Good Harbor Beach. He is gaining confidence in his flying ability. And, too, he quickly moves out of the way of approaching danger. Little Chick didn’t associate much with the other species of birds feeding at the water’s edge until the mixed flock got spooked by a jogger and all took flight at once.

He only flew to the edge of the enclosure while the Semipalmated Plovers, Sanderlings, and Semipalmated Sandpipers headed down to the private end of Good Harbor. Last year, about mid-August, migrating Piping Plovers began arriving at Good Harbor Beach, staying for varying lengths of time to forage and to rest. My greatest hope for our Little Chick is that he will find a flock of Piping Plovers (or they will find him) to join with before undertaking the long journey south.

Notice how Little Chicks flight feathers are gaining in length and strength. Everyday his bill looks more and more like an adults’s bill, too.

Little Chick showing off his primary and secondary flight feathers.

Resting, Preening, and Piping, all on one leg!

Foraging at the tide pools at day break.

And at the intertidal zone later in the morning.

Sherman House reflection

WHY IS LITTLE CHICK “MISSING” A LEG?

Why is Little Chick “missing” a leg? That is a question I am often asked when filming Little Chick and an interested person stops by to visit our GHB Piping Plover. Or the comment, “Oh, no, he is one-legged!”

If you see Little Chick resting in the sand and he is standing on one leg, know that he is doing it very purposefully. The short answer is that for the simple reason that you put your hands in your pockets when cold, birds stand on one leg to conserve heat. Birds also stand on one leg to relax muscle fatigue in the retracted leg.

The long answer is that birds’ legs have a blood flow referred to as “rete mirabile” that minimizes heat loss. The arteries that transport warm blood into the legs are next to the veins that return colder blood to the bird’s heart. The arteries act as a heat exchanger and warm the veins. Because the veins also cool the arteries, the bird’s feet are closer to environmental temperature and thus don’t lose as much heat as they would if they were at body temperature. By standing on one leg, a bird reduces the amount of heat lost through unfeathered limbs.

Birds that have short legs, such as Mourning Doves, do not need to stand on one leg because they have fleshy feet and they can snuggle down so that their warm belly presses against their feet.

Forty-one-day old Piping Plover standing on one foot.

Our Little Chick is doing beautifully. I checked in on him briefly at day break and again at 9:30 this morning. Foraging, resting, flying (the longest distance yet, from the enclosure to the back of the Creek.) Both last night (thank you Heidi Wakeman) and this morning, I found him in the enclosure. I think our Little Chick is extra super smart to recognize the roped off area as his “safety” zone. We are grateful to the community and to Gloucester’s conservation agent Ken Whittaker for allowing the roping to remain in place.

The light was very low and the photo is a little too softly focused, nonetheless I liked the image of Little Chick taking off.

SLEEPY LITTLE BROWN BAT

This morning we awoke to find a sleepy Little Brown Bat, as opposed to a Big Brown Bat, fast asleep in the dining room curtains. It’s a mystery how he got in and why it took so long to wake him up. Once outdoors, he spread his wings and flew over the fence and into our neighbor’s trees.

The Mass Audubon website has a page on the most commonly seen bats in Massachusetts:

Bats, our only flying mammals, are truly remarkable animals. It’s too bad their unwarranted reputation has prevented many people from appreciating how beneficial and unique they are.

Bats belong to the order Chiroptera, which means “hand-wing.” Their wings are composed of two thin layers of skin or membrane, attached to elongated finger bones. Each membrane has four fingers and a thumb, which control the wing’s movement. The thumb, located at the top of the wing, acts as a hook with which the bat is able to crawl on flat surf

The two most common bats found in Massachusetts are the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) and the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus). Both have short, soft fur covering their head and body and rich brown bodies with slightly darker brown wings.

The body of a little brown bat measures 4½ to 5½ inches long, including the tail, and has an 8½ to 10½ inch wingspan. The big brown bat’s body ranges from 5½ to 8 inches in length with a 12 to 13 inch wingspan.

In the spring and summer, females of little brown bats form colonies consisting of hundreds of individuals. Big brown bats, which prefer the more urban areas inside Route 495, are usually found in colonies of less than two hundred bats.

Read More Here.

Learn more about Bat species in Massachusetts.