Category Archives: Cape Ann Wildlife

CAPE ANN WILDLIFE 2018: A YEAR IN PICTURES AND STORIES Part Three: Summer

Go here to read Part One: Winter

Go here to read Part Two: Spring

PART THREE: SUMMER

The most joyous story about Cape Ann wildlife during the summer months of 2018 is the story of the high number of Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in gardens and meadows, seen not only in strong numbers along the Massachusetts coastline, but throughout the butterfly’s breeding range–all around New England, the Great Lakes region, Midwest, and Southern Canada.

Three days after celebrating the two week milestone of our one remaining Piping Plover chick, Little Pip, he disappeared from Good Harbor Beach. It was clear there had been a bonfire in the Plover’s nesting area, and the area was overrun with dog and human tracks. The chick’s death was heartbreaking to all who had cared so tenderly, and so vigilantly, for all those many weeks.

Our Mama and Papa were driven off the beach and forced to build a nest in the parking lot because of dogs running through the nesting area. Despite these terrible odds, the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair hatched four adorable, healthy chicks, in the parking lot. Without the help of Gloucester’s DPW, the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, Ken Whittaker, Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, and the AAC, the parking lot nest would have been destroyed.

These brave little birds are incredibly resilient, but as we have learned over the past three years, they need our help to survive. It has been shown time and time again throughout the Commonwealth (and wherever chicks are fledging), that when communities come together to monitor the Piping Plovers, educate beach goers, put in effect common sense pet ordinances, and reduce trash, the PiPl have at least a fighting chance to survive.

Little Pip at twelve- through seventeen-days-old

All four chicks were killed either by crows, gulls, dogs, or uneducated beach goers, and in each instance, these human-created issues can be remedied. Ignoring, disregarding, dismissing, or diminishing the following Piping Plover volunteer monitor recommendations for the upcoming 2019 shorebird season at Good Harbor Beach will most assuredly result in the deaths of more Piping Plover chicks.

FOUR WAYS IN WHICH WE CAN HELP THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS SUCCESSFULLY FLEDGE CHICKS: OUR RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE MAYOR

Piping Plover chick testing its wings

Not one, but at least two, healthy and very hungry North American River Otters families are dwelling at local ponds, with a total of seven kits spotted. We can thank the fact that our waterways are much cleaner, which has led to the re-establishment of Beavers, and they in turn have created ideal habitat in which these beautiful, social mammals can thrive.

Several species of herons are breeding on our fresh water ponds and the smaller islands off the Cape Ann coastline. By midsummer, the adults and juveniles are seen wading and feeding heartily at nearly every body of water of the main island.

In order to better understand and learn how and why other Massachusetts coastal communities are so much more successful at fledging chicks than is Gloucester, I spent many hours studying and following Piping Plover families with chicks at several north of Boston beaches.

In my travels, I watched Least Terns (also a threatened species) mating and courting, then a week later, discovered a singular nest with two Least Tern eggs and began following this little family, too.

Least Tern Family Life Cycle

Maine had a banner year fledging chicks, as did Cranes Beach, locally. Most exciting of all, we learned at the Massachusetts Coastal Waterbird meeting that Massachusetts is at the fore of Piping Plover recovery, and our state has had the greatest success of all in fledging chicks! This is a wonderful testament to Massachusetts Piping Plover conservation programs and the partnerships between volunteers, DCR, Mass Wildlife, the Trustees, Greenbelt, Audubon, and US Fish and Wildlife.

Fledged Chick

Cape Ann  Museum

Monarch Madness

Friends Jan Crandall and Patti Papows allowed me to raid their gardens for caterpillars for our Cape Ann Museum Kids Saturday. The Museum staff was tremendously helpful and we had a wonderfully interested audience of both kids and adults!

In August I was contacted by the BBC and asked to help write the story about Monarchs in New England for the TV show “Autumnwatch: New England,. Through the course of writing, the producers asked if I would like to be interviewed and if footage from my forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing, could be borrowed for the show. We filmed the episode at my friend Patti’s beautiful habitat garden in East Gloucester on the drizzliest of days, which was also the last  day of summer.

Happy Two-week Birthday to Our Little Pip

Common Eider Ducklings at Captain Joes

Little Pip Zing Zanging Around the Beach

Our Little Pip is Missing

Piping Plover Update – Where Are They Now?

FOUR WAYS IN WHICH WE CAN HELP THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS SUCCESSFULLY FLEDGE CHICKS: OUR RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE MAYOR

What’s For Breakfast Mama?

42 Pairs of Piping Plovers Nesting at Cranes Beach!

Fishing for Sex

Welcome to Good Harbor Beach Mama Hummingbird!

Least Tern One Day Old Chicks!

Welcome to the Mary Prentiss Inn Pollinator Paradise

Piping Plover Symbolic Fencing Recomendations

Good Morning! Brought to You By Great Blue Herons Strolling on the Beach

Two-day Old Least Tern Chicks

OUTSTANDING COASTAL WATERBIRD CONSERVATION COOPERATORS MEETING!

Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Grow Native Buttonbush for the Pollinators

A Fine Froggy Lunch for a Little Blue Heron

Snowy Owls in Massachusetts in August!?!

Monarch Butterfly Eggs and Caterpillars Alert

Learning to Fly!

Snapshots from Patti Papows Magical Butterfly Garden

Keep Those Monarch Babies Coming!

A Chittering, Chattering, Chetamnon Chipmunk Good Morning to You, Too!

Butterflies and Bird Pooh, Say What?

Caterpillar Condo

Monarch Madness!

Thank You To Courtney Richardson and the Cape Ann Museum Kids

A Banner Year for Maine’s Piping Plovers

Snowy Egret Synchronized Bathing

Good Harbor Beach Super High Tide

Otter Kit Steals Frog From Mom

Monarch Butterfly Ovipositing Egg on Marsh Milkweed: NINETEEN SIBLINGS READYING TO EMERGE

Monarch Butterfly Rescue

FILMING WITH THE BBC FOR THE MONARCHS!

CAPE ANN WILDLIFE 2018: A YEAR IN PICTURES AND STORIES Part One: Winter

Part One: Winter

By Kim Smith

Cape Ann provides welcome habitat for a menagerie of creatures beautiful, from the tiniest winged wonder to our region’s top predator, the Eastern Coyote. Last year and the previous year I posted a Cape Ann Wildlife: A Year in Pictures 2016 and Cape Ann Wildlife: A Year in Pictures 2017. This year I changed the title to A Year in Pictures and Stories and have provided a partial list of some of the stories. You can find links to the posts at the end of each season. I hope you have found the wildlife stories of 2018 equally as interesting and beautiful. Click on the image to find the name of each species.

*   *   *

The first days of January began with the dramatic rescue of our blue-eyed swan by Mr. Swan’s Niles Pond caretakers, Skip, Lyn, and Dan. He flew onto the ice and could not maneuver off. The most amazing thing is that two black-eyed “angel swans” magically appeared at just the right time they were needed and, in a swan sort of way, helped release Mr. Swan from the ice.

Mr. Swan stuck on the ice.

One of a pair of mystery black-eyed  “angel” swans.

“The” story of the winter of 2018 though is the story of Hedwig, the female Snowy Owl that made Gloucester’s Back Shore her home for several months.

She arrived sometime in December and stayed until mid-March. Hedwig staked out a territory that covered a great part of East Gloucester, from Captain Joes Lobster Company on the inner harbor, up over the Bass Rocks Golf Club hill, and all along Atlantic Road, even battling a young male we called Bubo to maintain her dominance over this rich feeding ground. Late in the afternoon we would see her departing for her nightly hunt and she was seen eating a wide variety of small animals, including rabbits, mice, and Buffleheads. 

Hedwig was photographed battling, bathing, grooming, and eating.

Mostly though, Hedwig was observed while sleeping and resting on her various perches; not only the beautiful rocks along the shoreline, but Atlantic Road homeowner’s chimneys, as well as the rooftop railings of the Ocean House Hotel and Atlantis Oceanfront Inn.

Hedwig’s onlookers creating traffic jams on Atlantic Road

This remarkably people-tolerant owl drew crowds from all over (including a Canadian visitor), providing a wonderful window into the secret world of these most magnificent of Arctic wanderers.

Resident Eastern Coyotes and beautiful migrating ducks were photographed and filmed. And then came the terribly destructive power of the four’easters of March, reeking havoc on wildlife habitats all along the coastline.

Hedwig was last seen during the early evening on March 12th, departing the rooftop of the Ocean House Hotel. This was also the night before the third nor’easter. She was perched on the railing of the Ocean House Inn facing towards the sea. The wind was blowing fiercely. After making several attempts, she successfully flew in a southerly direction out over the water.

We Love You Too Snowy Owl!

Mr. Swan Rescue Update and a Pair of Mysterious Swans Arrive at Niles Pond!
Mr. Swan Update Rescue #2
Not One, But Two Snowy Owls on the Back Shore
Snowy Owl Aerial Fight
Close Encounter of the Coyote Kind
Snowy Owl Hedwig Takes a Bath
My What Big Feet You Have Hedwig
Hello Hedwig! What Are You Eating
How Can the Wings of a Snowy Owl Be Quieter Than a Butterfly’s Wings?
Good Morning Sleepyhead
Snowy Owl Feathers in the Moonlight
Beautiful Brants, Scaups, and Ring-necked Ducks Migrating Right Now On Our Shores
Gloucester March Nor’easters Storm Coverage 2018
Clear Evidence of the Destructive Forces of Global Warming on the Coastline and How this Negatively Impacts Local Wildlife

THE SPUNKY AND PUNKY AMERICAN WIGEON

For the past week or so, a duo of male American Wigeons has been spotted foraging along the coastline. They dip and dabble, close to the shore, and are eating sea lettuce and seaweed.

Male American Wigeon eating sea lettuce

Smaller than a Mallard but larger than a Bufflehead, the punky male flashes a brilliant green swath across the eye and has a beautiful baby blue bill. The males were are also colloquially called “Baldplate” because the white patch atop his head resembles a bald man’s head.

Oiling their feathers (called preening) and constantly aligning the feathers keeps the ducks both afloat and aloft.

Notice how the water forms beads on the duck’s breast, a sure sign the feathers are well-oiled. Ducks have a gland at the base of their tail called the uropygial gland (you can also say preen gland or oil gland). The preen oil creates a protective barrier that prevents the feathers from becoming waterlogged.

I like to think of the American Wigeon as both spunky and punky. Spunky because of the way they bounce back after diving in rough surf. Punky because of their occasionally holligan-like behavior.

Last year when first encountering American Wigeons I didn’t understand why the Mallards were so aggressive towards the Wigeons, snapping and nipping at the pair whenever they got too close to the Mallard’s meal. Now I see why. American Wigeons often feed alongside other ducks, especially diving ducks such as Coots. The Wigeons opportunistically snatch away the aquatic vegetation the divers pull up although, our two travelers were quite amicable and while feeding together, not in the least hoodlumish toward each other.

Watching the ducks tumbling around in the rough surf while casting about for food is a site I won’t soon forget. It was beautiful to see the Wigeon’s surf dance but also a window into their daily struggle for survival. I marveled at the ducks’ resilience. Roughly a third of migrating birds that winter each year in the mainland of the United States do not survive the journey.

The pair has not been since that morning foraging in the choppy waves. Perhaps they took a cue, of winter weather yet to come.

For many weeks during the late winter and early spring of 2017, a male and female American Wigeon made Rockport their home, and now we have had these two feisty boys. I wonder if the Wigeon’s winter range is expanding northward or if we are merely a stopover on their southward migration. Most of the migration occurs further west and south so I think we are pretty fortunate to have this dynamic duo visiting our shores.

CATHERINE RYAN’S BEAUTIFULLY CURATED EXHIBIT AT THE CAPE ANN MUSEUM – ONCE UPON A CONTEST

My friend Catherine Ryan has curated and designed a wonderfully fun and beautiful exhibit, “Once Upon a Contest: Selections from Cape Ann Reads,” currently on view at the Cape Ann Museum.  The exhibit highlights local writers and artists of children’s picture books from the Cape Ann Reads initiative. Cape Ann Reads, hosted by the area’s four public libraries (Sawyer Free, Rockport, Manchester, and Essex), was created to encourage literacy in young people through community and creative collaborations.

The exhibit is thoughtfully designed for little folks. The paintings are hung at just the right height for pint-sized readers and soon-to-be readers. Mock-ups of the books are placed on shelves within easy reach and petite chairs for little ones make for a cozy storytime feeling.

I took Charlotte to the Museum on Friday and she had a fantastic experience. We’re planning to return again this Friday!

Come join us at the opening celebration from 3:00pm to 5:00pm, this Saturday, January 5th, at the Cape Ann Museum, 2nd floor.

“Once Upon A Contest” runs from December 20th through February 24th.

Thank you to Charlotte and her Mom and Dad for the photos! The watercolor illustration Charlotte is sitting in front of is from my book, “Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly,” which was the original inspiration for the documentary film of the same name. The illustration shows a pair of Monarchs ascending into a maple tree, as they are mating. 

The Cape Ann Museum is free to Cape Ann residents during the entire month of January!

Author/illustrators included in the exhibition:
Leslie Galacar, Martha Shaw Geraghty, Marion Hall, Steven Kennedy, Charles King, George King, Michael LaPenna, James McKenna, Barbara McLaughlin, Alexia Parker, Victoria Petway, Jim Plunkett, Diane Polley, Mary Rhinelander, James Seavey, Gail Seavey, Kim Smith, Christina Ean Spangler, Bonnie L. Sylvester, Juni VanDyke, Maura Wadlinger, Betty Allenbrook Wiberg, Kirsten Allenbrook Wiberg, Jean Woodbury and Claire Wyzenbeek

Exhibit Curated and Directed by Catherine Ryan, with support from the Bruce J. Anderson Foundation.

Deborah Kelsey, director of Gloucester’s Sawyer Free Library

Cindy Grove, director of the Rockport Public Library

Sara Collins, director of Manchester’s Public Library

Deborah French, director of Essex’s TOHP Burnham Public Library

Do Snowy Owls Hunt During the Day or Night?

Chance encounter, of the majestic Snowy Owl kind-

Snowy Owl perching in a pine tree after sunset.

I wasn’t expecting to see a Snowy Owl overhead in a pine tree, although its not entirely uncommon. Because Snowy Owlets hatch in the summertime in the treeless Arctic tundra, they may never even see a tree until they migrate southward.

Generally, Snowies prefer wide open spaces such as dunes, sandy beaches, fields, and airports, because this habitat looks most similar to the tundra.

For the same reason (their home territory is above the Arctic Circle), Snowy Owls hunt during the day in their summer range. Their eyes have evolved to hunt in the continuous daylight of the far north. When migrating to the lower 48 states, Snowies adapt to the shifting light. Unlike other species of owls, the Snowy Owl hunts during the day (this behavior is called diurnal), the night (nocturnal), and at twilight (crepuscular).

From observing Snowy Owls in our region, they mostly feed very early in the morning, before daybreak, rest during the day in dunes and fields, then at day’s end, fly up and perch on an open rooftop or phone pole (less occasionally to treetops), to begin hunting again. The elevated perches provide better visibility for triangulating prey.

At day’s end, perching on a phone pole and scanning the neighborhood.

Beach structures make great perches.

Even a flag pole makes for a terrific hunting perch for a Snowy!

Do Seals Have Tails?

While photographing the beautiful young Harbor Seal at Brace Cove this week I noticed a large protuberance centered between the seal’s hind flippers. It’s soft fur looked buffy gold in the morning light and it was much easier to see the seal’s anatomical parts than when photographing a darker, more mature seal. I at first thought the prominent knob was its penis, but after googling, discovered, no, it was a tail! However, I can’t find any answers as to what use the tail is employed.

The bulging, rounded cone-shape between the seal’s hind flippers is a tail.

When Harbor Seals are on land their hind flippers are often closed together but this little guy was in a lolling mood. I watched him from my perch, where I was curled up on the rocks for some time, as he stretched, scratched, slept, and yawned.

The Harbor Seal’s V-shaped, or as I like to think of it as heart-shaped, nose nostrils close when underwater.

I think the seal is molting. Harbor Seals molt once a year and the fur of younger seals (up until about three years of age) is more uniform in color.

Harbor Seals, like all phocids, have ear holes, but no external ear flaps.

The Harbor Seal feeds predominantly on fish such as herring, mackerel, hake, salmon, flounder, and cod. They also eat shrimp, squid, clams, crab,  octopus, and crayfish. They swallow prey whole or tear into pieces, and use their back molars to crush shellfish. Typically the seals feed at high tide and rest during low tide. Everyday, the adult Harbor Seal eats approximately five percent of its body weight. 

Its hind flippers propel the seal through water, in a sort of sculling rhythm. True seals, like Harbor Seals, cannot rotate their hind flippers and that is why they scooch along on their bellies when on dry land.

The blunt one- to two-inch claws of the fore flippers are used for grooming and for defense. 

Harbor Seal grooming with its claws.

I went hoping for a beautiful sky and and found both sky and beautiful Harbor Seal.

Harbor Seal at sunrise, Brace Cove

Sunrise Spectacular on the Last day of 2018 (Harbor Seals and American Wigeons, too)!o

The last morning of 2018 began with a gorgeously hued sunrise, and then, as so often happens on the wild and wonderful shores of Cape Ann, there were several chance and up close encounters with our local creatures. Nearly everyday I am reminded of the astonishing beauty that surrounds, from my East Gloucester neighborhood, to the natural habitats all around Cape Ann and Massachusetts. What a magnificent Planet we share!

Happy New Year and wishing you much love, joy, and beauty in the coming year.

Buffy gold juvenile Harbor Seal in the golden light of sunrise -an amazingly nonchalant, young Harbor Seal was close to shore this morning, sleeping, stretching, yawning, and scratching. More photos tomorrow when I have time to sort through all.And a duo of American Wigeons (both male) were foraging on the sea lettuce floating around the rocky coast. More about them, too. 🙂 Notice their electric green eye patches and baby blue bills.