Category Archives: Cape Ann Wildlife

OSPREY LOVEBIRDS, OPSREYS MATING!

Beautiful Osprey are returning to Massachusetts nesting sites. Annie and Squam, Cape Ann’s resident pair, are actively re-establishing their bond, arranging the nest and courting. Their nest is located in the marsh behind Lobstaland and when driving past, you can often catch sight of the pair’s nesting activity. Annie and Squam’s nest is managed by Essex Greenbelt’s director of land stewardship, Dave Rimmer.

Lobstaland Osprey nest

Osprey courtship is wonderfully fun to observe. Pairs typically mate for life and seem to simply enjoy hanging out together in the nest.  They return each year to an established nest site, which is always near water and may be at the top of a dead tree, cliff, rocky outcropping, or manmade structure including Osprey nesting platforms, telephone poles, channel markings, and even church rooftops (see last photos)! By reusing the same nest from year to year a ready-made nest allows for earlier nesting, which generally leads to greater success. And if the first brood fails, there is time to try again.

This past week I had the unexpected joy to observe close up a pair of Osprey reuniting. The two flew to a phone pole adjacent to their established nest after which the male took off, quickly returning with a large stick. He placed the stick on the phone pole near to where the female was perched, repeating this behavior half a dozen times. The pair called to each other frequently during the stick placement bonding, when they both suddenly flew to their nest and mated. Osprey mating is very brief, lasting only seconds. The female positions her self higher on the rim of the nest while the male jumps on her back. During this extraordinarily brief cloacal kiss, sperm is transferred. I have read pairs will mate frequently during the few days before she begins laying eggs, her most fertile time.

After mating, the lovebirds stayed in their nest for several hours, continuing to “talk” to each other, housekeeping, and what appeared to be simply doing nothing more than hanging out together.

I didn’t see the male delivering fish to the female or the Osprey’s famous courtship flight; hopefully another day 🙂

Goin’ to the chapel

How to tell the difference between male and female Osprey. The female of a pair is oftentimes, but not always, larger than the male, by as much as twenty percent in some instances. But unless you see them side-by-side from exactly the same angle, that can be difficult to compare. Females may also have a more prominent ” necklace,” sometimes referred to as “freckling,” around the neck. Her feather necklace patterning is usually more pronounced. You can see the difference in the photo below.

Female Osprey right, male Osprey left

Fun facts about Osprey

Osprey are one of the largest birds of prey, with a wingspan of five feet.

Osprey are found worldwide, in every continent except Antarctica.

The oldest Osprey lived to be 30 years old.

Osprey are recovering from the use of the pesticide DDT, which caused breeding failure from eggshell thinning. DDT was banned in 1972.

Ospreys are piscivorous, with fish comprising 99 percent of their diet.

When an Osprey catches a fish, it arranges the fish head first, reducing aerodynamic drag.

PHOTOS FROM THE GLOUCESTER LOBSTER BOAT PROTEST PARADE

Cape Ann lobstermen and fishermen held a protest boat parade Wednesday afternoon. The parade was organized to show support for local lobstermen in light of the recent temporary closure of lobstering grounds and new requirements to purchase special gear. The grounds are closed until May 1st, possibly until May 15th, to prevent gear entanglements during the endangered Right Whale migration through Massachusetts waters.

Under overcast skies, the lobster boats gathered at Ten Pound Island and headed in the direction of the State Fish Pier. The parade circled the inner harbor several times to the cheering and honking of supporters lining the shore. After a good showing of lobster boats, fishing boats, and supporters, the parade ended under clearing skies.

Beautiful Fleet

 

Read More here at the Massachusetts Lobstermen Association website.

WHY DO BIRDS LAY BLUE EGGS?

Did you ever wonder why some birds, such as Bluebirds and Robins, lay blue or bluish green eggs? And just as interesting why, in some cases, Bluebirds which generally lay blue eggs, a nest may comprise eggs that are almost white?

The earliest avian eggshells probably lacked color, or pigmentation. Over time, most likely to protect the eggs from predators, birds evolved a diverse range of colored shell markings from mottled brown, gray and beige to rainbow hues from pure white to pale pink, lavender, yellow, aqua, orange, blue, born and even black.

The molecules that cause pigmentation in bird eggs are biliverdin (the blue-green shades) and protoporphyrin (red and brown colors and speckles) but we can talk about blue eggs without getting too technical.

Basically, blue and blue-green strikes a balance between white and very dark colored eggs. Darker eggs are predicted in moderate light to shield the embryo from intense light, including harmful UV radiation. If when eggs are in an exposed nest and the shells are too dark, it can cause the interior to heat up, similar to a “dark car effect.” Simply stated, blue eggs regulate the effects of sunlight on the developing chick (embryo).

This doesn’t explain entirely why Eastern Bluebird eggs range from white to blue green. Many cavity nester’s eggs are white because the adults need to see the eggs in the dark. Wood Ducks are an example of cavity nesters with white eggs. American Robins generally nest in trees or a semi-exposed site and their eggs are blue, affording both protection from dangerous UV light and low risk from heating up. Eastern Bluebirds are cavity nesters but only about 4 to 5 percent of their eggs are white. Oftentimes when learning about a topic, myriad more questions come to mind!

White Eastern Bluebird Eggs

To read more –

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/298798982_Shedding_Light_on_Bird_Egg_Color_Pigment_as_Parasol_and_the_Dark_Car_Effect

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3184/175815511X13207833399666

In reading about blue eggs I thought readers would enjoy seeing the amazing speckled and pear-shaped brilliant blue egg of the Common Murre, from USFWS

Some birds with blue eggs that nest locally include Red-winged Blackbird, Gray Catbird, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, House Finch, Bluejay, Goldfinch, European Starling, Eastern Bluebird, and American Robin.

American Robin nest at a friend’s home

Both Bluebird nest egg photos courtesy Google image search

 

JOYOUS PIPING PLOVER WEEKEND UPDATE!

Hello PiPl Friends,

Just a brief note to let you know the first nest scrape of the season was spotted in Area #3 (Creekside) and even though the following two days were stormy and windy, the pair scraped in the exact location three days later. They are settling in and it is happy news!

Many have written and phoned about the dogs still on the beach. Please, if you are on the beach, and you see a dog, whether on leash, off leash, large, medium sized, or the tiniest most cutest dog you have ever seen, please call the AC officer. The number is 978-281-9746. If we don’t continue to call, there will be no record of the extent of the disturbances. We are very aware of the problem and trying to solve. Thank you. 🙂

On another note, the Massachusett Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) installed symbolic roping at the same time as did Gloucester. We are right on par with other north shore communities in providing Piping Plover protections! Again, many thanks to Joe Lucido and Gloucester’s awesome DPW crew!

I hope everyone had a joyful Easter. Happy Easter, Happy Spring, Happy Everything <3

Warmest wishes,

Kim

THREE PLOVERS AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH! AND A NEST SCRAPE!

A third Piping Plover has joined our original PiPls! The trio sometimes feed together although the newcomer is often chased away by both Mom and Dad.

Wednesday morning our little pair were intently courting. Papa was doing his fanciful high stepping and calling for Mama to come inspect his teacup saucer sized nest scrape. The Instagram is of one of Papa’s nest scrapes, which is located just outside the roped off area. A nest scrape is a shallow bowl dug mostly by the male. The male and female toss in bits of shell, dried beach grass, tiny pebbles, whatever is handily available.

Papa PiPl

Mama PiPl

Today’s colder temperatures will slow courtship. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a mild spring and few dogs disturbances on the beach. The combination of the two, along with the fact that the area has been roped off early in the season, will greatly increase the likelihood of a successful nesting season!

 

BEAUTIFUL BLUEBIRD “WING-WAVING!”

Bluebird courtship is as beautiful as is the bird! Last week my daughter Liv joined me on a film scouting mini adventure. She loves learning about wildlife and living in Southern California as she does, Liv is surrounded by beautiful wild creatures and wild lands. We had a fantastic morning of it. Brant Geese, Piping Plovers, Great Egrets, Tree Swallows, and Eastern Bluebirds were just some of the creatures we observed.

The Eastern Bluebirds were especially stunning in the crisp early morning sunshine. One particular gent had not yet secured his partner’s affections. From tree branches adjacent to nesting boxes, he sang softly and flashed his glorious blue wings to a female that had flown in on the scene.

At first we thought he was preening, but no, the bachelor was clearly enticing his lady friend with lapis lazuli flags, gesturing with quick up and down lifting movements. Called wing-waving, these gestures are part of Eastern Bluebird courtship.

The male first sings loudly from treetops. If a female shows interest, he further shows off his skill sets with wing-waving and soft warbles. He then entices her to join him at a nesting box or cavity, he entering first. After he flies out of the box and if all goes well, she enters the cavity, a sure sign the pair are hitting it off!

Male Eastern Bluebird Wing-waving

The lucky female

 

 

THANK YOU TO GLOUCESTER TIMES MICHAEL CRONIN AND ANDREA HOLBROOK FOR GETTING THE WORD OUT ABOUT OUR GHB PIPING PLOVERS!!

Thank you so very much to Gloucester Times Editor Andrea Holbrook and staff writer Michael Cronin for sharing about the fence post installation and the great information provided for the public. We are so appreciative of the ongoing support given by the community and the Gloucester Times.

GLOUCESTER TIMES

By Michael Cronin

Photo by Paul Bilodeau

March 29, 2021

Part of Good Harbor Beach is fenced off to protect some tiny seasonal visitors.

A crew of Public Works personnel began fencing out an area of the beach on Monday to protect migrating piping plovers. The first pair of the threatened shorebirds reportedly landed this weekend.

“They put up the posts today,” said Kim Smith, a local documentarian and advocate for the piping plovers. “The roping will come next and then they’ll put up the signage telling people what’s going on. This is super that they’re doing it early this season. The earlier it goes up, the earlier the chicks hatch which gives them a better chance of survival as the beaches aren’t so busy yet.”

According to Smith, the piping plovers that visit Good Harbor typically nest in the same spot each year.

“One year they nested out in the parking lot because they were pushed out by the dogs on the beach,” she recalled. “But once the ordinance was put in place they were able to return to their usual spot.”

Dog are banned from Good Harbor Beach between April and September. Wingaersheek will remain open to canines on odd numbered days until April 30.

Smith said she’s waiting for the birds to lay their eggs. Once they do, members of the Essex County Greenbelt Association will encapsulate the nest with wire netting.

“Dave Rimmer of Essex County Greenbelt has been guiding us since 2016,” said Smith. “He’s the first one I call when the first egg is laid. The holes in the cage are big enough for the birds to enter and leave, but small enough to keep predators out.”

READ THE COMPLETE ARTICLE HERE

 

 

SUPER EXCITING NEWS – THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS HAVE RETURNED

For the past three years, our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers have returned during the first week of spring. This year they are again right on schedule!! Here is the little duo tucked behind a mini-hummock, keeping out of the path of last evening’s blustery wind.

The two are foraging together and are communicating, piping softly, yet audibly, to each other, which makes me believe they are a couple. At the end of the day, they were found together resting in the sand.

The pair were first spotted in the fog on the morning of March 26th.

We have a great bunch of Piping Plover Ambassadors signed up and have covered almost all shifts. There are several openings in the afternoon, the 1 to 2pm, 2 to 3pm, and the 3 to 4pm shifts. Our goal is to help educate the public about the life story of the Plovers in a kind, friendly, non-confrontational, and informational manner. If you would like to join us, we would love to have you! There will be an informational meeting when the Plovers begin laying eggs and we can at that time provide a time frame of the weeks Ambassadors will be needed. If you would like to volunteer one hour a day for the six weeks the Plovers need our help, please email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you!

A hound dog unfortunately chased one of the Plovers up and down the beach and the pair became separated for a period. I do so hope dog owners recall that dogs are not permitted on the beach after March 31st. Today was a beautiful day and there were many dogs off leash at Good Harbor Beach even though it is an on leash day. Folks really seem to struggle with understanding Gloucester’s leash laws. A friendly reminder that it is a federal and state crime for owners to allow their dogs to harass threatened and endangered species, whether a leash day or not.

For everyone’s general information – In 2016 the pair arrived in mid-May; in 2017, early May; in 2018 in mid-April; in 2019 on March 25th; in 2020 on March 22; and this year, 2021, overnight between March 25th and March 26th.

Too windy for Mom

WELCOME HOME PIPING PLOVERS! AND CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS

Hello Friends of Gloucester’s Plovers!

I hope everyone is doing well. Great news! Piping Plovers are arriving at our local north of Boston beaches. Attached is a photo from this morning, a lone male having a quiet moment above the wrackine. He was a joy to see!!! <3

Our GHB pair have not yet arrived but I imagine it will be soon. If we are so very blessed as to have a family nesting again this year, we will again need Ambassadors. We are requesting volunteers to commit to one hour a day, everyday, for the roughly six weeks of Piping Plover chick rearing At this point we don’t know exactly when that will be but after the nest is established, we can provide a time frame. The hour long time slots are filling, so please let me know if you are interested. We would love to have you! You can get in touch through commenting in the comment section of this post, email me kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com, or through Facebook or Instagram

Please note that Ambassadors are welcome to share a time slot with a friend if that works best for you. 

Just a kind note, we don’t need “floaters,” ie folks with some prior experience who show up now and then. We really need Ambassadors to commit to a time slot. I realize how great a commitment is an hour a day for six weeks during the summer and am so grateful to all of you who have volunteered in the past and are planning to be Ambassadors again this year.

Our message of super positivity, as well as focusing on education, was a great success last year and we are again continuing with these goals at the fore. You’ll meet a terrific bunch of people and if you have never volunteered for anything like this, you will learn so much about the life story of beautiful shorebirds nesting at a New England coastal beach.

I look forward to hearing from you.
Warmest wishes,
Kim

Welcome Home Dad Plover!

EARLY SIGNS OF BEAUTIFUL SPRING SURROUND

Blessedly warmer weather has made it all that much more enjoyable to spend time outdoors. Beautiful birds are arriving on our shores, some to rest and refuel for their journey further north and some will call Cape Ann home for the spring and summer nesting season.

Gadwall

A lone Gadwall, along with several American Wigeons, are hungrily consuming great quantities of sea lettuce to feast upon before embarking on the next leg of their migration. Black-crowned Night Herons flew in over the weekend, the Killdeers arrived over week ago, and the American Pipits have returned.

Killdeer

Black-crowned Night Herons

Resident Cardinals and Song Sparrows are chortling from the tip tops of budding Pussy Willows and Bluebirds are moving into their nesting boxes and tree holes. The woods are alive with rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat – Downy, Red-bellied, and Northern Flicker are drumming their woodpecker rhythms.

Crocuses, squill, fiddleheads, and snow bulbs- the Snowdrops and Snow Glories -are poking through slowly awakening soil. My friend DB wrote to say she noticed a Mourning Cloak butterfly over the weekend. Mourning Cloaks are typically the earliest butterflies on the wing because they winter over as adults, safely tucked in the cracks and crevices of tree bark. Mourning Cloaks generally do not drink nectar but feed on tree sap in the spring and rotting fruit in autumn. The females will soon be depositing their eggs on leaves of deciduous trees including hackberry, willow, elm, poplar, rose, birch, aspen, cottonwood, and mulberry.

Oh Happy Spring!

JOIN ME WEDNESDAY NIGHT FOR MY VIRTUAL POLLINATOR GARDEN PROGRAM TO BENEFIT THE MASSACHUSETTS POLLINATOR NETWORK

Please join me Wednesday evening, March 17th, at 7pm for “The Pollinator Garden” presentation, via Zoom, for the Massachusetts Pollinator Network.

From early spring through winter, I will take you on a journey of understanding the beautiful creatures found in your gardens and how you can create a welcoming haven by planting trees, shrubs, vines, native wildflowers, and non-invasive ornamentals. Some of the wild creatures covered include Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, moths and butterflies, bees, Baltimore Orioles, and much, much more.

This lecture is the second in a three part fundraising series. For more information and to register please go here: MA Pollinator Network: The Pollinator Garden with Kim Smith and please consider making a donation to MA Pollinator Network. Donations of any amount are welcome.

Thank you!

BEAUTIFUL RED-TAILED HAWK IN THE MORNING SUN – BUT PLEASE DON’T EAT THE BLUEBIRDS!

Good Morning beautiful Red-tail, but Please, leave my Bluebirds be!Red-tail swooped in and frightened all the songbirds out of the perching tree

CAPE ANN’S GHOSTLY SNOWY OWL!

A beautiful mysterious Snowy Owl has spent the winter here on Cape Ann. She is very elusive, never dallying too long in one location. She has been spotted in the Good Harbor Beach dunes, Long Beach, Salt Island, Middle Street rooftops, woods, Back Shore, Bass Rocks, Rocky Neck, Smith’s Cove, and even at the bottom of our hill on Pirate’s Lane.

Thank you to many friends who have alerted me to her presence – Hilary, Catherine, Grace, Nicole, Gordon, Arley, Frankie, Susan, Roger – if I forgot to include you, I mean to thank you, too!

If you spotted a Snowy on Cape this winter, please write. I do not believe Cape Ann’s Snowy is still about however, if you do see a Snowy, please leave a comment or feel free to email at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you!

I am almost certain she is not the same Snowy that stayed with us several winter’s ago. Unlike Piping Plovers, from tracking data, we know that Snowies don’t generally return to the same location every winter, and many only migrate during their youth. In case you missed it, here is a link to a series of fun educational short films that I made about Cape Ann’s 2018 resident Snowy Owl, including bathing, capturing a seabird, and passing a pellet. Snowy Owl Film Project

It’s been a banner year for Snowy Owls at Salisbury Beach, Sandy Point, and Parker River, so much so I have gone out of my way to avoid stopping to photograph owls at these locations for fear of disturbing the Snowies. There are a great deal more people out and about photographing than in previous years, due largely to the pandemic, and the owl disturbances are many.

 

 

BLUEBIRD LOVEBIRDS! – DO BLUEBIRDS MATE FOR LIFE?

Love is in the air!

Consistently when out in fields, I see Bluebird pairs that appear strongly committed to each other. I wondered, do Bluebirds mate forever? In our region, we see Eastern Bluebirds. Ornithologists found from a long term study of Western Bluebirds  that the great majority stay together for life. No such studies exist for Eastern Bluebirds however, field observations suggest that about 95 percent mate for life when both are still alive.

Eastern Bluebird female, left, male, right

Interestingly though, mating for life does not exclude extra pair copulations. Genetic studies of broods show that about twenty percent of nestlings are sired by more than one male.

Pairs softly warble to each other early in the morning, the male brings nesting material to a chosen site, and once she has entered his nesting cavity, she will begin to bring nesting material and he will bring food to her to “seal the deal.” In our north of Boston region, you can see the courtship behavior beginning as early as February and March.

Eastern Bluebirds re-mate with another partner if one dies.

In the photos below, it’s very easy to see the difference between a male and female Bluebird. The female’s blue is a more subdued grayish hue while the male’s blue feathers are brilliantly hued.