Category Archives: Cape Ann Wildlife

SECOND GOOD HARBOR BEACH WORKSHOP TONIGHT – Protecting and Preserving the Good Harbor Beach Ecosystem for Current and Future Generations

Jayne Knot from TownGreen conservation group writes,,

“Hello,

Town Green is hosting its second workshop/webinar in the series focusing on the Good Harbor Beach ecosystem: Protecting and Preserving the Good Harbor Beach Ecosystem for Current andFuture GenerationsThe Good Harbor Beach ecosystem includes Good Harbor Beach, Salt Island, the marsh, and the surrounding connected ecosystem.

The second workshop/webinar, to be held on Wednesday, November 30th from 6:30-8:30pm on Zoom (register here: https://towngreen2025.org/good-harbor-webinars/11-30-2022-webinar), will address climate adaptation approaches and solutions.  A Press Release for the event is attached.  For those of you who attended the first workshop/webinar, the format for this one will be a little different.  We will have presentations on adaptation during the first hour and then a panel discussion with questions and comments from the attendees during the second hour.  We hope you can make it.

Event: The second of a three-part workshop/webinar series focusing on the Good Harbor

Beach ecosystem: Protecting and Preserving the Good Harbor Beach Ecosystem for Current

and Future Generations; Adaptation: Is It Possible?

When: Wednesday, November 30th from 6:30-8:30pm on Zoom (register here)

What: A workshop/webinar focusing on adaptation solutions for the Good Harbor Beach

ecosystem with interactive audience participation.

Regarding Save Salt Island, please remember that the Salt Island RDA is on the schedule for the December 21, 2022 Gloucester Conservation Commission meeting.  Please mark your calendars.

Best,

Jayne”

NEW SHORT FILM – THE HAIRY WOODPECKER

The wonderful Hairy Woodpecker featured in this short film was seen on a sunny afternoon along the banks of Niles Pond. He spent a great amount of time alternating between excavating a fallen log, foraging for wood boring beetles, and climbing up and down trunks of trees. I’ve been back several times and can usually find him by his funny high pitched squeak that sounds much like a pup’s squeaky chew toy.

Snagging a grub

On that very same day the Hairy Woodpecker was pummeling away at the log, a sweet little Downy Woodpecker and beautiful Red-bellied Woodpecker were also in the neighborhood. And too, there is an elusive golden-winged Northern Flicker flitting about, but he has been a challenge to capture. Hopefully, at some point in the future, we can add him to the short film.

Related Post –

Update from Beaver Pond: A Wonderful World of Woodpeckers!

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

 

WHITE-TAILED DOES OF THE WOODLAND EDGE

Sweet encounter with the local deer –

We see this pair of does frequently. Much of the time they dash away into the woody thicket at the hint of human activity. Not this time. I was quietly filming the larger of the two while speaking ever so gently, in what I hoped would sound to a deer like a soothing voice. I crept to a distance of about twelve feet away, right out in the open, and murmuring all the while. It worked! She gently folded her front leg knees and lay down. I stayed and filmed for some time more and then left her still laying down as it was too dark to capture any more footage.

How I wish I had an apple in my pocket! Next time 🙂

LINK TO WCVB CHRONICLE PIPING PLOVER AND MONARCH EPISODE! #ploverjoyed #sharetheshore #plantandtheywillcome

New England residents and nonprofits work to save threatened species

https://www.wcvb.com/article/new-england-residents-and-nonprofits-work-to-save-threatened-species/41915984

Climate concerns growing for the future of many migratory species.

We travel all over coastal Massachusetts to learn about a few local “indicator species,” which can help explain the impact of climate change. Award-winning documentarian Kim Smith tells us the story of piping plovers breeding in Massachusetts.

The City of Cambridge raises monarch butterflies for release.

Every year, hundreds of sea turtles are stranded on the Cape. The New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital comes to the rescue.

Meanwhile, terrapin turtles on the Cape are struggling to survive.

In Plymouth at Manomet, researchers monitor coastal health, tag songbirds, and study the presence of a mighty migratory shorebird – the whimbrel.

And scientists at Nature and students at Bristol Aggie examine the health of river herring in the Taunton River watershed.

WHERE EVER TRAVELS A FLOCK OF SONGBIRDS, SO FOLLOWS THE COOPER’S HAWK

Throughout the summer and autumn, juvenile Cooper’s Hawk(s) have been observed hunting on Eastern Point. We see them zooming low and stealthily down roadways and soaring high amongst the treetops. There is no way of knowing if they are one and the same although one bird in particular appears to have developed a keen interest in the flock of Dark-eyed Juncos currently foraging in the neighborhood. Nearly every evening at dusk he hungrily swoops in, but never seems to capture one.

Well-camouflaged Dark-eyed Juncos, also known as Snowbirds

The Snowbirds have a neat set of tricks. They all scatter to the surrounding trees and shrubs. The slate gray and brown Dark-eyed Juncos are well camouflaged but that is not their only secret to survival.  Rather than singing their typical lovely bird song, from their hiding places, they all begin making an odd chirping-clicking sound. From every bush and shrub within the nearby vicinity, you can hear the clicks. I think the clicking is meant to confuse the Cooper’s Hawk!

He’ll first dive into a bush hunting a Junco, come up unsuccessfully, then swoop over to a nearby tree, perched and well hidden in the branches while on the lookout for dinner. The Snowbirds click non-stop until the Cooper’s departs. After the hunter flies away, they all come out of their hiding places, some from branches mere feet from where the Cooper’s was perched. After a short time, they resume their lovely varied birdsong.  I recorded audio of the Junco’s clicking and hope to find out more about this fascinating behavior.

Although we hope the young Cooper’s is finding food, I am rather glad he’s not that good at catching Snowbirds.

Cooper’s Hawks are a conservation success story. You can read more about the reason why in a post form several years ago: SPLENDID COOPER’S HAWK – A CONSERVATION SUCCESS STORY GIVES HOPE. Note the difference in the plumage in the two stories. The Cooper’s Hawk in that post is an adult. The Cooper’s chasing the Snowbirds is a juvenile. Both are about crow-sized, with the typical flat topped head.

Adult Cooper’s Hawk

Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk

BEAUTY ON THE WING WINS BEST DOCUMENTARY!

Dear Monarch Friends,

I am delighted (and very surprised) to share that Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly has won Best Documentary at the San Diego International Children’s Film Festival. I write surprised as there were many beautiful films from around the world participating in the festival, and also because I wasn’t even aware we had been nominated for the award. My sincerest thanks and gratitude to SDIKFF!

Yesterday there were a number of Monarchs out on Eastern Point nectaring at wildflowers and in my garden. It was magical that we learned of the award on the same day as seeing these stragglers. We were celebrating Dia de Muertos here on Plum Street, and on this very same day, November 2nd, Monarchs were spotted arriving at Cerro Pelon and El Rosario Monarch Butterfly sanctuaries. Joel Moreno and his family at Cerro Pelon JM Butterfly BandB spotted the Monarchs traveling high in the sky in the upper thermals while my friend David Hernandez reports that at El Rosario, they are flying low on the mountain.

The wings of the butterfly in the upper photo appear as though they have been snipped by birds while the butterfly’s wings in the second photo are pristine.

Will the stragglers that we see at this time of year be able to travel the roughly 3,000 mile journey all the way to Mexico? I don’t know the answer to that question but we can make a guess that if a butterfly looks weather worn, with torn and tattered wings, it is unlikely that it will be able to complete the journey. On the other hand, some of these late Monarchs that we are seeing look as though they just eclosed (hatched) hours earlier. Their wings are a vibrant orange and black and are completely unscathed. Some butterflies will be funneled between the Appalachian and Great Rockies while others are destined to follow the Atlantic coastline, traveling towards Florida and the Gulf of Mexico states.Safe travels Monarca, wherever you land!

I hope you are able to get out and enjoy this extraordinarily lovely stretch of balmy weather we are having.

Warmest wishes,

xxKim

 

 

 

CELEBRATING DAY OF THE DEAD

Inspired by my friend Nina’s beautiful altar that she and her family and friends create every year for the feast of St. Joseph, for the past seven years or so we have been celebrating Día de Muertos with an ofrenda that we set up on our front porch. Placing the ofrenda on the porch over Halloween makes for a wonderful hybrid bridge between American Halloween and the Mexican tradition of honoring the souls of lost loved ones. On Halloween night our porch has become a gathering place where we so very much look forward to seeing our neighborhood friends each year.

Cemetery Macheros, Mexico

The Mexican festivities of Día de Muertos typically begins the night of October 31st, with families sitting vigil at grave sites. Mexican tradition holds that on November 1st and 2nd, the dead awaken to reconnect and celebrate with their living family and friends; on the 1st to honor the souls of children and on the 2nd, to honor adults. The ofrenda, or “offering to the dead,” is a sacred Mexican tradition where those who have passed away are honored by the living.

In late October millions of Monarchs begin to arrive to the magnificent oyamel fir and pine tree forests of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, located in the heart of Mexico in the eastern regions of Michoacán and western edge of Estado de México. Their return coincides with the annual celebration of Día de Muertos. In Mexican folklore, butterflies represent the souls of departed loved ones, returning to Earth to be remembered by their ancestors. An even older tradition connects the Monarchs with the corn harvest, as their return signified that the corn was ripe. In the language of the native Purpécha Indians, the name for the Monarch is “harvester.”

Oyamel fir tree (Abies religiosa) with Monarchs Cerro Pelon, Mexico

The Day of the Dead finds its roots in the native people of central and southern Mexico. The Aztecs recognized many gods, including a goddess of death and the underworld named Mictecacihuatl.

Mictecacihuatl was linked to both death and resurrection. According to one myth, Mictecacihuatl and her husband collected bones so that they might be returned to the land of the living and restored by the gods. Just as did the ancient Egyptians, the Aztecs appeased the underworld gods by burying their dead with food and precious objects.

Día de Muertos is a celebration blending both indigenous people’s cultural beliefs and observances held by Spanish Catholics. The conquerors found it difficult to convince native peoples to give up their rituals honoring the goddess of death Mictecihuatl. The compromise was to move these indigenous festivities from late July to early November to correspond with the three-day Christian observance of All Saints’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.

This year I have been thinking about Camille Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre, Op. 40, which is based on the French legend that Death packs a fiddle and comes to play at midnight on Halloween, causing the skeletons in the cemetery to crawl out of the ground for their annual graveyard dance party.

Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre comes from an even older concept, the medieval allegory of the all conquering and equalizing power of death, which was expressed in poetry, music, the visual arts, and drama in Western Europe in the late Middle Ages.

Marigold flowers (Tagetes erecta), known as cempazúchitl or flor de muerto are placed on graves and ofrendas. The cempazúchitl are believed to lure souls back from the dead with their vibrant colors and lovely citrus, musky fragrance

Marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia) and Painted Lady butterfly

 

INVASION OF THE GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS AND SNOWBIRDS!

Dark-eyed Junco (Snowbird)

A beautiful multitudinous flock of choristers has been chattering from every vantage point. The mixed flock of Dark-eyed Juncos and Golden-crowned Kinglets arrived to Cape Ann’s eastern edge on the same day. I don’t know if they are traveling together but they can be seen foraging in close proximity, from leaf litter to treetops.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglets are one of the teeny-tiniest of songbirds;  a bit larger than the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but not quite as large as the Black-capped Chickadee. They zoom in and out of the trees (mostly evergreens), hovering and hanging every which way when probing for insect prey.

The Dark-eyed Juncos (also know as Snowbirds) are mostly foraging close to the ground in grass and fallen leaves. They hop from place to place and flip up leaves looking for seeds. The Snowbirds fly up to the trees and shrubs when disturbed.

Note the array of shading in the individual Snowbird’s feathers, from slate gray to milk chocolate

Learn the birdsongs of these two beautiful species and you will easily be able to locate them. The Golden-crowned Kinglet sings a lovely ascending high pitched series of notes that end in a lower pitched warble. The Snowbird sings a series of kew, trills, whistles, and warbles that is also lovely and when the two are foraging in close proximity, it’s a joy to hear their mini symphony.

Golden-crowned Kinglet range map

Dark-eyed Junco range map

WHY NILES POND IS VITALLY IMPORTANT TO CAPE ANN’S ECOSYSTEM AND WHAT IS BEING DONE TO PROTECT THE CAUSEWAY

Repair work to the Niles Pond/Brace Cove berm was completed last week. Severe storms over the past several years had breached the area of the Pond adjacent to the Retreat House. Sand, rocks, popples, and even boulders have been pushed by the pounding surf into the Pond.

Despite the excellent repairs, this corner of Niles Pond continues to remain vulnerable. The causeway needs not only to be repaired, but to also be rebuilt to withstand future storms and rising sea level.

Why not just let nature take its course and let the sea pour in you may ask? Won’t Niles Pond eventually become a saltwater marsh? Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

The answer is a resounding NO!

For readers not familiar, the very narrow strip of land that runs between freshwater Niles Pond and Brace Cove is interchangeably referred to as a berm or causeway. This narrowest bridge of land plays an outsized, yet invaluable, role in preventing the salty sea of the Atlantic from swallowing Niles Pond.

It is believed that long ago Niles Pond was a lagoon, which was sealed off by rising sand and rock. Over time, it became a freshwater pond, fed by springs and rainfall. The detail of the Mason map from 1831 clearly shows the division between the Pond and the Cove.

It can’t be overstated enough how uniquely invaluable is the ecosystem created by the causeway, this juncture where Niles Pond meets Brace Cove. Ponds are widely regarded as ecological “hotspots,” for the diversity of life they support. Nowhere is that more evident than at Niles Pond. The sheer number of species of wildlife supported by Niles Pond is simply breathtaking. To name but a few: Painted Turtles, Snapping Turtles, Spring Peepers, American Bullfrogs, Leopard Frogs, Muskrats, Minks, Red Squirrels, Green Herons, Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Screech Owls and Barred Owls, Cedar Waxwings and songbirds of every tune and color, Honeybees and native pollinators, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Coyotes, Red Fox, White-tailed Deer … the list goes on and on.

Common Buckeye drinking nectar from Seaside Goldenrod, Niles Pond causeway

The Niles Pond ecosystem not only supports myriad species of resident wildlife but also hundreds of species of migrating songbirds, waterbirds, raptors, and insects. Eastern Point is an important stopover and staging area for wildlife traveling the Atlantic flyway. Niles Pond provides essential freshwater while both the Pond and Brace Cove provide much needed sustenance. Berries, wildflower seeds, pond vegetation, and the zillions of invertebrates found at the Pond, in the seaweed, and at the shoreline support a wondrous array of travelers; a small sampling includes herons, Merlins, hawks, songbirds, Monarch butterflies, Bald Eagles, gulls and ducks and geese (rare and common), Snow Buntings, Plovers, Whimbrels, and many more.

Monarch Butterfly drinking nectar Smooth Asters Niles Pond

Juvenile Wood Stork

Why, even the wildly-rare-for-these-parts White Pelican and juvenile Wood Stork have stopped at Niles Pond to rest and to refuel!

To lose Niles Pond to some misguided notion that it needs to become a saltwater marsh would be tragic beyond measure. Our nation as a whole is losing its freshwater ponds at an alarming rate. Ponds are absolutely critical to the survival of local and migrating wildlife, especially large scale, healthy natural ponds that are located within the four US Flyway zones. Niles Pond has been a great pond for millennia. The accessibility of the fresh water ecosystem found at Niles Pond is part of the instinctual DNA of both resident and migrating wild creatures.

The Association of Eastern Point Residents has assumed responsibility for the maintenance of the causeway. In the future, the Association needs permission to bring riprap in to distribute at the weakest points of the causeway. Every time the topography of the causeway is redistributed to rebuild the corner where the greatest number of breaches are occurring, the vegetation from another part of the berm is disturbed. This is wholly counterproductive because it is in part preventing a natural succession of vegetation to permanently take hold.

Migrating yellow-rumped Warbler Niles Pond

Niles Pond is enjoyed by dog lovers, ice skaters, ice boat sailors, birders, painters, photographers, joggers, walkers, and more. We can all give thanks to the Association of Eastern Point Residents for the stellar job they are doing in maintaining the causeway. Their time and expense is a gift of the greatest kind to the entire community.

This narrowest of causeways plays the critical role in preventing a freshwater dedicated Massachusetts great pond from becoming a salty marsh or lagoon. Cherished greatly by residents and guests alike for the beautiful, peaceful walk it affords along the banks of the Pond, the preservation of Niles Pond benefits all of Cape Ann, her citizens and wildlife. 

With thanks to Karen Gorczyca, John McNiff, and Mike S. for sharing information about preserving the Niles Pond causeway.

American Bullfrog Niles Pond

Cattails Niles Pond

 

RARE LARK SPARROW RETURNS TO #gloucesterma!

The Lark Sparrow returns!  It’s been a delight to observe her foraging at Eastern Point. She has been here for over a week, finding plenty to eat in the seed heads of wildflowers. The Lark Sparrow is also eating caterpillars she uncovers at the base of plants and snatching insects tucked in the tree branches.

You can see from the Lark Sparrow’s range map that she is far off course, although this is the second time I have seen a visiting Lark Sparrow at Eastern Point. In November of 2019, we were graced with an extended visit from a Lark Sparrow. You can read more about that here:

THE RARELY SEEN IN MASSACHUSETTS LARK SPARROW IS STILL WITH US!

While working on the Piping Plover film project, I am also creating a half hour long documentary on the ecology of New England pond life. Some of the beloved creatures that we regularly see at our local ponds that are featured in the film include Beavers, Muskrats, Otters, herons, frogs (of course), raptors, butterflies, bees, spiders, turtles, snakes, songbirds, and the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Being able to include rarely seen wild creatures such the Lark Sparrow, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and the Orange-crowned Warbler adds to the joy and fun of the film and i am so excited to be working on this project.  I just hope I can edit everyone in within a half hour time frame!

 

Lark Sparrow Eastern Point 2022

When out in the field and only a quick glance is afforded, the easiest way to tell the difference between the the Lark Sparrow and the Song Sparrow, (the sparrow most commonly seen in these part) is to compare breast feathers. The Lark Sparrows breast is white with only faint streaking and a prominent black spot in the center of the upper chest. Compare that to the more heavily streaked Song Sparrow’s chest feathers (see below).

DANSE MACABRE – HALLOWEEN ORBWEAVER SPIDER CATCHING BEES

Danse of the Orbweaver – For my husband Tom, who loves Halloween and the Orbweavers.

The female Cross Orbweaver spider filmed here has been residing in our garden for several months. She catches a great many insects and also spends a great deal of time maintaining her web, re-spinning damaged sections. The day she caught not one, but two bees, she appeared visibly excited and kept running between the two, seemingly to ensure they were indeed sufficiently immobilized.

Mom Orbweaver has produced an egg sac that is well hidden amongst a loosely arranged nest of several leaves stuck together with her silk. The egg sac is almost as big as she is and may contain up to 800 eggs! She is still hanging around and will guard the eggs for the rest of her life. The first hard frost kills any remaining Orbweavers.

The collective name for spiders is clutster or clutter. The spiderlings will hatch in spring. The cluster stays together until their first molt and then scatter. Come late summer, a mature male may approach a female, cautiously, with lots of advance-and-retreat, and tentative touching. The females are bigger and hungrier. Males don’t survive long after mating, and she may very well eat him.

Saint-Saëns and his Danse Macabre for Halloween
by Cynthia Collins

Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Danse Macabre, Op. 40,” was composed in 1874 as an orchestral tone poem based on a French legend about Death appearing every Halloween at midnight. As he plays his fiddle, the skeletons rise from their graves and dance until dawn, returning to their graves when the rooster crows. Death’s appearance is heard as a solo violin playing tritones.

The idea of a Danse Macabre is more than a legend. Danse Macabre, or Dance of Death, is an allegory that has been around since the 13th century to illustrate that regardless of one’s station in life, death is universal and inevitable. It has been depicted in paintings, frescoes, plays and musical settings. It gained prominence in Europe following major events in the 14th century such as famine, war, and the Black Death.

The use of tritones to represent death or the devil is also rooted in history. Musically, a tritone is three consecutive whole tones, making it an augmented fourth or diminished fifth. During the Middle Ages, it was called the diabolus in musica, or “the Devil in music.” The sound is dissonant, leaving the listener with a sense of it being unfinished, needing resolution.

Saint-Saëns’ first version of his “Danse Macabre” was composed in 1872 as an art song for voice and piano. The text by poet and doctor Henri Cazalis followed the legend. Saint-Saëns reworked the piece for orchestra, with solo violin replacing the vocal line. The music gets faster and faster as the skeletons dance at a frenzied pace but when dawn arrives, everything suddenly slows to a stop for another year.

When the orchestral version was first premiered in 1875, it did not receive good reviews. It was soon transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt, who was a friend of Saint-Saëns. From that, it steadily gained popularity. The work has been performed in concerts throughout the world in various ways from the full orchestral score to piano solos, choreographed for dance performances, and used in film and television programs.

Read More Here

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS EATING POISON IVY

All around Cape Ann, from West Gloucester to East, from Cape Hedge to Good Harbor to Cox Reservation, I have been checking out the Poison Ivy patches and sure enough, there are Yellow-rumped Warblers relishing the white waxy fruits at every locale. Who knew it was a thing 🙂 And now I have a new favorite species to add to the long list of beloved wild creatures.

According to Cornell, Yellow-rumped Warblers are the only warbler able to digest the waxes found in Wax Myrtle and Bayberries. This ability to digest waxy fruit allows the Yellow-rumped Warbler to winter as far north as Newfoundland.

Yellow -rumped warblers are versatile foragers. They eat insects in the spring, summer, and when available. You may see them picking at insects on washed up seaweed. During migration and the winter months, their habit is to eat Poison Ivy fruits, grapes, Wax Myrtle, Bayberries, Virginia Creeper berries, dogwood fruits, and Juniper berries. Yellow-rumped Warblers also eat goldenrod seeds and beach grass seed, and if you are fortunate to have them at your feeder, provide Sunflowers seeds, raisins, peanut butter, and suet.

The Yellow-rumped Warblers have been dining on PI fruits for over a month. As autumn has unfolded, I’ve added new clips to the short film below. Filmed from mid-September to mid-October I see no signs of the feast abating as there is still plenty of fruit around. More photos to come when I have time to sort though.

See a story form March of this year, Yellow-rumped Warblers in the Snow.

For more about Poison Ivy, and the myriad species of wildlife this native vine supports, go here:

Leaves of Three, Let it Be

Please join the Town Green and the Save Salt Island Group for what promises to be a fantastic virtual webinar and workshop on the ecosystem of. Good Harbor Beach.

Event: The first of a three-part workshop/webinar series focusing on the Good Harbor Beach ecosystem: Protecting and Preserving the Good Harbor Beach Ecosystem for Current and Future Generations

When: Wednesday, October 26th from 6:30-8:30pm on Zoom (register here) (https://bit.ly/3RBEa3v)

What: An online workshop/webinar with several small group breakout sessions for participants to discuss the issues raised and reflect on the changes that have already happened

Speakers include:

  • Professor Charles Waldheim from the Harvard Graduate School of Design
  • Jayne Knott, TownGreen board member and founder of HydroPredictions
  • Denton Crews from Friends of Good Harbor
  • Mary Ellen Lepionka, local historian

You will learn about:

  • The history of Good Harbor Beach
  • The Good Harbor Beach ecosystem and current climate threats
  • Incremental sea level rise, flooding, ecosystem adaptation, and vulnerable infrastructure
  • The Great Storm scenario based on research from Harvard Graduate School of Design

 The first workshop will be followed by a Good Harbor Beach field trip on October 27th to tour vulnerable areas identified in the workshop. The second and third workshop/webinars will address adaptation options and project planning for the Good Harbor Beach area. The Good Harbor Beach ecosystem workshop/webinar series is a pilot public education program that TownGreen will replicate to focus on climate impacts in Essex, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Rockport.

Jayne F. Knott, Ph.D.

JFK Environmental Services LLC

https://HydroPredictions.com

jfknott@hydropredictions.com

508-344-2831

YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO!

What was that flash of brown and white that whizzed by? Too large to be a sparrow and hoping to learn what it was, I watched quietly as it stayed motionless in the tree branches, well hidden, except for its bright white breast. I think it was watching me and didn’t budge for a good fifteen minutes. I crept a little closer to try to get a better view. What was this pretty, with a lovely curved bill, soft Mourning Dove grey/brown wing feathers and white breast? Could it be a Yellow-billed Cuckoo bird? YES!!

I had only ever seen them in books and was thrilled to catch a glimpse, however brief. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are not necessarily rare I don’t think, but they have a reputation for being illusive, and this one surely was. I sure wish I could have gotten a clear glimpse of its tail feathers, which look polka dot when see from below.

Yellow-billed Cuckoos are long distant travelers. They breed in our area before heading to parts much further south, some as far as Argentina.

BEAUTIFUL BUCKEYES!

A truly glorious weekend weather-wise with warm sun, mild temperatures, beautiful sunrises and sunsets. There are still loads of butterflies on the wing. Saturday was a five species afternoon, not an everyday occurrence in mid-October on Cape Ann. Monarchs were on the move, along with American Ladies, Clouded Sulphurs, Orange Sulphurs, and one of my favorites, the wholly uncommon, Common Buckeye. The gloriously patterned 3 pairs of eyespots of the Common Buckeye are meant to frighten avian predators, a scary six-eyed monster if you will, but we humans find them enchanting.

Each summer Common Buckeyes emigrate to New England from southern states. Some years we see many more than others. It’s always a delight to come upon one and I typically find them at the edge of a marsh nectaring at Seaside Goldenrod or basking in the sun on a sandy path.

Underwing (ventral) view of Common Buckeye

To see a photo collection and short film of some of October’s most commonly seen butterflies go here –

A MINI- GLOSSARY OF LATE SUMMER BUTTERFLIES

Buckeyes begin around 2:40

Common Buckeye Larval Host Plants

Female Common Buckeyes deposit their eggs on a variety of plants, both native and non-native.

Caterpillar food plants from Mass Audubon –

Many documented. In the Northeast, larvae usually feed on “members of the snapdragon family (and) plantain family” (Opler and Krizek, 1984), including Blue Toadflax (Linaria canadensis); False Foxglove and gerardias (Gerardia, species), plantains (Plantago, sp.), and Snapdragon (Antirrhinum). Buckeye larvae have been observed in Massachusetts on Butter and eggs (Linaria vulgaris) and Slender Gerardia (Gerardia tenuifolia)

And from The Butterflies of Massachusetts

Today, lacking such an abundance of gerardia, Common Buckeye’s most usual host plant in Massachusetts may be Plantago lanceolata, or lance-leaved plantain, a widespread non-native weed introduced with the arrival of European settlers.  The 1990-95 Connecticut Atlas workers observed Buckeye ovipositing on lance-leaved plantain in the wild, and the caterpillars have been successfully raised on it many times, for example by caterpillar photographer Sam Jaffe in July 2011.  Buckeyes have been observed in the wild ovipositing on the native purslane speedwell (Veronica peregrina) (S. Jaffe 6/21/2011), and on the non-native butter-and-eggs (Linaria vulgaris) (M. Champagne 7/14/2008).  They are also reported to use blue toadflax (Linaria canadensis), slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia), and sometimes non-native garden snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) (Scott 1986).

Common Buckeye and Painted Lady

LEAVES OF THREE, LET IT BE

In thinking about our community’s efforts to Save Salt Island from deforestation and development, I wanted to share evidence that the vines and shrubs on the island are an important source of food for a host of small mammals and birds.

One of the most reviled of plants, Poison Ivy, is an excellent food plant for wildlife and will not cause the itchy uncomfortable rash if you do not touch the leaves, stems, fruits, and roots. Poison Ivy can either look like a shrub or a vine. Regardless of the shape, the leaves are easily identifiable in that they are always arranged in three; two leaves opposite one another, and between them the third leaf is borne on a stem growing at a right angle from the two shorter leaves.

Common Bonnet Fungi and Poison Ivy

Out on Eastern Point there are large patches of Poison Ivy that grow smack on the edge of very well traveled pathways. They have grown that way for decades, yet no one bothers the Poison Ivy and the Poison Ivy bothers no one. The spring blooming greenish yellow clusters of flowers are beloved by bees and myriad pollinators, while the vitamin rich white waxy berries are relished by resident and migrating songbirds alike.

In autumn, the plant’s glossy green leaves turn a brilliant red, which acts as a “red flag” to hungry songbirds. The long list of birds that dine on Poison Ivy fruits include Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Bluebirds, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Mockingbirds, Song Sparrows, Gray Catbirds, Bobwhites, and many, many more.

Poison Ivy Tips – If you come in contact, rinse the area with cold water, not soap, as soon after contact as possible. Ocean water works well when near to the beach. If you have Jewelweed growing handily nearby, smear the juice of the stem on the exposed skin. Never burn Poison Ivy. With burning,  urushiol (the poisonous oil in Poison Ivy) becomes volatilized in the smoke and you can get it in your lungs, which is very dangerous and can even lead to death.

Yellow-rumped Warbler and Poison Ivy

RESPLENDENT MONARCH MIGRATION

 

Dear Monarch Friends,

This new short, titled Resplendent Monarch Migration, features Monarchs during the late summer southward migration. Also highlighted are some of the more commonly seen butterflies of late summer, including the American Lady, the spectacular Common Buckeye (2:53), Pearl Crescent, Yellow Sulphur, and American Copper. The flora seen includes New England Asters, Seaside Goldenrod, Tall Goldenrod, Smooth Aster (pale lavender), and Common Milkweed. When you plant for the butterflies, they will come!

At 3:30 you can see a small overnight roost beginning to form. As the sun sets, particularly on chilly or windy evenings, Monarchs head for the trees. One by one they fly in, some settling quickly, others restless and shifting to a more preferable spot. By nightfall, all are tucked into the sheltering boughs of the Black Cherry tree. (4:15).

With the warming rays of Sun’s first light, the Monarchs begin to awaken (4:20). If it’s cold and windy they”ll stay a bit longer but typically, the butterflies either float down to the wildflowers in the marsh below, or in the case of this particular roost at Eastern Point, the Monarchs wasted no time and quickly departed. They flew directly south towards Boston by first traveling along the length of the Dogbar Breakwater before heading out to sea (4:30).

It took patience (and a lot of luck) to capture the butterfly heading up into the clouds (5:44). I wanted to share the imagery of the scale of a tiny speck of a creature juxtaposed against the vastness of sea and sky. Imagine, a butterfly that weighs less than a paper clip, journeys 2500 miles to the trans Mexican volcanic mountaintops.

Safe travels oh resilient one!

I have received a number of requests for Monarch footage. I cannot lend the footage from my documentary, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, currently airing on PBS however, this past summer, I spent time shooting butterflies in my garden, butterflies in pollinator gardens that I have designed for clients, and at our local marshes and meadows. All the footage was shot in beautiful 4k, which is what organizations are requesting.

Several weeks ago I posted Monarchs and Friends in the Summer Garden and you can see that here. This short features butterflies you may typically see in mid-summer drinking nectar alongside Monarchs.

Cast, in order of appearance:

Monarch Butterfly

Hoverfly

Clouded Sulphur

Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly

American Copper

American Lady

Pearl Crescent

Common Buckeye

 

 

 

GOOD MORNING, YOU LIVING BEING NEARLY UNCHANGED FOR 90 MILLION YEARS!

Snapping Turtle(s) Encounter

Even though back-lit, the unmistakeable foot and a half long lump in the middle of the road demanded action. I pulled my car over, turned on the flashers, stood guard over the Snapper, and contemplated how to get the fellow across the road before he became squished Snapping Turtle breakfast for the Coyotes and Vultures. The last time there was a Snapper in the middle of Niles Pond Road I had retrieved the yoga mat in my car, rolled it up, and working from the tail end prodded the creature across the street. It’s unwise to think you can move a Snapping Turtle with your bare hands. Snappers look slow, act slow, and generally are slow, unless they are hungry or feel threatened.  When that happens, the Snapper will snarl and swiftly lunge, its powerful jaws wide open, ready to chomp down with its piercing beak.

After digging around in my trunk I found our winter windshield wiper ice scraping gadget, which conveniently has an extension. I first tried gently pushing him in the direction he was facing. He wouldn’t budge. Next I tried pushing him a little harder with the ice scraper, still nothing. On the third try, the irascible fellow turned with lightening speed and latched hard onto the scraper. After a mini tug of war, he released the ice scraper and turned around to head back to the side from where he came. Okay that’s fine with me, I thought. I’ll check in with him on my return from filming.

Walking back to my car, there was a second Snapper at the roadside edge, appearing as if he/ she was also planning to cross the road. This Snapper was a bit smaller and a bit more skittish. She changed her mind about crossing and headed back toward the pond. I followed the turtle as she lumbered over the woodland floor onto the muddy bank, where she paused briefly before entering the water.

I wondered, were these both females looking for a place to nest? A suitable place to hunker down for the winter? So many questions! According to several sites, Snapping Turtle nesting season runs from April through November although perhaps they are talking about Snappers in warmer regions in regard to nesting in November. And after insemination, a female Snapping Turtle remains fertile for up to three years!

From Audubon, “The snapping turtle family, Chelydridae, evolved in North America and has haunted our wetlands almost unchanged for nearly 90 million years. Ancestors spread to Eurasia about 40 million years ago and then disappeared from that continent in the late Pliocene, about two million years ago. Chelydrids have been sequestered in the Western Hemisphere ever since, which makes them among our truest and oldest turtles. They were present when dinosaurs lived and died, and had been laying round, white, leathery eggs in sandy loam and glacial till for millions of years when the first Amerindians wandered over the Bering Land Bridge. Snapping turtles have witnessed the drift of continents, the birth of islands, the drowning of coastlines, the rise and fall of mountain ranges, the spread of prairies and deserts, the comings and goings of glaciers.”

Turtle populations in Massachusetts are declining. How utterly tragic if we were to lose these 90 million year old relics. Turtles are the ultimate survivors, but they need several types of habitats to survive and to nest. To access their habitats, a turtle must often cross a road. Cars and trucks are among the top threats to turtles. Other threats include habitat loss and fragmentation, collection as pets, disease, and increased predation.

By no means am I suggesting you do this on a busy highway but if you are traveling along a country lane, find a safe place to pull over, and if you are able, escort the turtle to either side of the road.

 

 

CLIMATE CHANGE ON THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH ECOSYSTEM UPCOMING PRESENTATION

Dear Friends of Good Harbor Beach and Save Salt Island,

Jayne Knot shares the following –

“Given your interest in Salt Island, we are inviting you to attend an upcoming workshop/webinar that will focus on climate impacts to the Good Harbor Beach ecosystem. We think you will find this workshop/webinar engaging, informative, and specific to an area of Gloucester that we all love and want to preserve. 

We have been involved in the planning of this event and Jayne will be one of the speakers. We’ve attached a flier and the press release for more information, and are happy to answer any questions you may have.

We hope to see you on October 26th for this important event.  Please share this invitation with your networks, friends, and family. Thank you.

 Kind regards,

Jayne and Andy”

Here is more information:

Event: The first of a three-part workshop/webinar series focusing on the Good Harbor Beach ecosystem: Protecting and Preserving the Good Harbor Beach Ecosystem for Current and Future Generations

When: Wednesday, October 26th from 6:30-8:30pm on Zoom (register here) (https://bit.ly/3RBEa3v)

What: An online workshop/webinar with several small group breakout sessions for participants to discuss the issues raised and reflect on the changes that have already happened

Speakers include:

  • Professor Charles Waldheim from the Harvard Graduate School of Design
  • Jayne Knott, TownGreen board member and founder of HydroPredictions
  • Denton Crews from Friends of Good Harbor
  • Mary Ellen Lepionka, local historian

You will learn about:

  • The history of Good Harbor Beach
  • The Good Harbor Beach ecosystem and current climate threats
  • Incremental sea level rise, flooding, ecosystem adaptation, and vulnerable infrastructure
  • The Great Storm scenario based on research from Harvard Graduate School of Design

 The first workshop will be followed by a Good Harbor Beach field trip on October 27th to tour vulnerable areas identified in the workshop. The second and third workshop/webinars will address adaptation options and project planning for the Good Harbor Beach area. The Good Harbor Beach ecosystem workshop/webinar series is a pilot public education program that TownGreen will replicate to focus on climate impacts in Essex, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Rockport.

Jayne F. Knott, Ph.D.

JFK Environmental Services LLC

https://HydroPredictions.com

jfknott@hydropredictions.com

508-344-2831

AUTUMN MEADOWHAWKS MATING AND IN-TANDEM

At this time of year, look for Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonflies at our local ponds, wetlands, slow moving streams, marshes, and woodlands. They emerge in mid-summer and are on the wing as late as through November. The males especially are easily spotted with their brilliant vermilion abdomens. Male Meadowhawks dart about chasing other males away from their territory.Autumn Meadowhawks copulating in the typical dragonfly “mating wheel” fashion. The male (vermilion abdomen) grasps the female behind her head while the female places the tip of her abdomen at the spot on his abdomen where he stores sperm.

Autumn Meadowhawks in-tandem

After mating, the female Autumn Meadowhawk oviposits (lays) her eggs in-tandem with the male. They stay attached while he repeatedly dips her in water and at the base of vegetation as she deposits her eggs. By staying joined together and flying in-tandem, he prevents other male Meadowhawks from replacing his sperm with their own.

These late season dragonflies are an important strand in our wetland ecology. Their tiny larvae provide food for ducks, fish, frogs, shorebirds, and wading birds, while migrating songbirds traveling through dine on the adults.

American Bullfrog patiently waiting for a dragonfly snack

Autumn Meadowhawks range map

 

GOOD MORNING MONARCHS! – CAPE ANN MONARCH MIGRATION UPDATE

Monarchs awakening in the morning sun

Compared to year’s past, the 2022 fall southward migration has been a relatively quiet year (so far) for Monarchs traveling through Cape Ann. That is not to say we won’t see another batch or two coming through, but for the most part, we did not have the spectacular roosts that we have seen in some year’s past. We had many travelers flying through during the month of September, but the conditions were favorable and they kept moving along at a steady pace.

I found several roosts in late September. On one evening, the wind was blowing hard from the northwest and the Monarchs were clustered tightly on the east facing side of the tree, to get out of the wind. I didn’t notice the silhouette of Monarch arcs until twilight and counted a dozen or so Monarch arcs.

The golden morning sun revealed several hundred butterflies! It was a joy to see them stirring and fluttering in the dawn light.

Upon awakening, the butterflies didn’t spend any time drinking nectar from the wildflower meadow below as they often do, but headed straight out over the Dogbar Breakwater.

Although Cape Ann has not seen many large roosts this season, two Monarch staging areas, Cape May, New Jersey and Point Pelee, Ontario are both having spectacular migrations!! Monarchs gather at  the Point Pelee peninsula before crossing over Lake Erie into Ohio. Likewise, the butterflies stage at Cape May before crossing the Delaware Bay. The butterflies wait for favorable winds to help carry them across bodies of water.

Point Pelee

Cape May (red star)

PIPING PLOVER MIGRATING THROUGH CAPE ANN! #ploverjoyed

Very late  in the day Thursday, September 29th, while checking on Monarchs, and other travelers, a new friend pointed out a Piping Plover foraging in the seaweed at Brace Cove. I zipped down to the beach and sure enough, there was a very shy PiPl foraging alongside Semipalmated Plovers and sandpipers of several different species. He/she had a fairly steady gait so I am certain it wasn’t Hip Hop, although it was a little challenging to see in the super thick seaweed. And, too, this PiPl was extremely skittish of larger birds flying overhead, displaying an usual way of crouching its upper body and holding its tail end up high, a behavior not shared with Hip Hop.

I returned to Brace Cove early the following morning and the traveling PiPl had departed overnight.

I am posting this information especially for fans of Hip Hop to show that it is not unheard of for stragglers to have not yet left our region. It’s evolution and nature’s way for creatures to remain and depart over a period of time, to ensure survival of the species. If all the Monarchs and all the PiPlovers migrated at precisely the same time, one storm could wipe out the entire species.

Safe travels to all our little migrating friends. Hopefully they are finding shelter from the storm.

NEW SHORT FILM: MONARCHS AND FRIENDS IN THE SUMMER GARDEN #plantforthepollinators

The zinnia and milkweed patch has been attracting a magical assemblage of butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, hover flies, and other insects throughout the summer. Stay tuned for part two coming soon – Monarchs and Friends in Marsh and Meadow!

Plant and they will come!

Monarchs and friends in the mid-summer garden. A host of pollinators finds sustenance in our zinnia and milkweed patch.

Cast

Monarch
Tiger Swallowtail
American Lady
Black Swallowtail
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Clouded Sulphur
Cabbage White
Various bees and skippers

Zinnia elegans
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticilllata)
Phlox paniculata

“Carnival of the Animals”
Camille Saint-Saens
Philharmonia Orchestra

Part two coming soon – Monarchs and Friends in Marsh and Meadow!

 

“BIRDS AND POETRY” WITH AUTHOR AND BROOKLINE BIRD CLUB DIRECTOR JOHN NELSON!

You are invited to join Brookline Bird Club director John Nelson at 7-9 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24 for a walk around Gloucester’s Eastern Point–the opening event of the Dry Salvages Festival 2022: A Celebration of T. S. Eliot.

We will look for birds around Eliot’s childhood patch, with commentary about Eliot’s bird poems.

The event is free and open to the public. Free parking at the Beauport lot at 75 Eastern Point Blvd. Participation limited. Registration by email is required: tseliotfestival@gmail.com.

Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”

T. S. Eliot Four Quartets

John Nelson is  the author of Flight Calls: Exploring Massachusetts Through Birds

Photos of Eliot on boat, view of harbor from Eliot house

Some wild creatures you may see on your walk –

PIPLS IN THE GLOUCESTER TIMES – BEST YEAR EVER!

Good morning PiPl Friends!

Please check out today’s Gloucester Times for a terrific article about our GHB PiPls, written by Ethan Forman. https://www.gloucestertimes.com/news/best-year-ever-for-plovers-at-good-harbor-beach/article_cba646a6-32d4-11ed-ba55-1fc4ad06ff8b.html

Ethan, Paul Bilodeau (the Times photographer), and I met last week at GHB. PiPl Ambassador Susan was out looking for HipHop that morning, too, and she stopped by during the interview. Ethan mentioned years ago he had written articles about the Plovers on Plum Island. He asked lots of great questions about our GHB Plovers and he’s such an excellent writer, I felt very good about the interview. Carolyn Mostello, our Massachusetts state waterbird biologist, provided a very thoughtful quote for the article. I was hoping to show Ethan and Paul Hip Hop that day, but he was doing his invisible act. Everyday I am hopeful he has departed however, as of yesterday, he was still here.