Category Archives: Cape Ann Wildlife

American Wigeon Joins the Scene!

A small duck with a big personality, the little male American Wigeon flew on the scene, disgruntling all the Mallards. He darted in and out of their feeding territory, foraging along the shoreline, while the Mallards let him know with no uncertainty, by nipping and chasing, that they did not want him there. American Wigeon was not deterred and just kept right on feeding.

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

Male American Wigeon and Male Mallard

According to naturalist and avian illustrator Barry van Dusen in “Bird Observer, “In Massachusetts, they are considered rare and local breeders, uncommon spring migrants, and locally common migrants in fall. They are also fairly common winter residents in a few localities. Spring migration occurs in April and fall migrants arrive in September with many remaining until their preferred ponds freeze over.”

After looking at the range map below, I wonder if our little American Wigeon has been here all winter or if he is a spring migrant. If you have seen an American Wigeon, please write and let us know. Thank you!

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Female American Wigeon (above) image courtesy Google image search

Save the Date for My Upcoming Pollinator Garden Program at the Sawyer Free Library!

Dear Friends,

Please join me April 6th at 7pm at the Sawyer Free Library where I will be giving my Pollinator Garden program and screening several short films. This event is free and open to the public. I am looking forward to presenting this program at our wonderful Sawyer Free and hope to see you there!!

Female Ruby-throated hummingbird and zinnia – ornithophily is the pollination of flowering plants by birds. They carry off the pollen on their heads and neck to the next flower they visit.

This newly eclosed Monarch is clinging to its chrysalis case. Within moments of emerging, the two-part Monarch proboscis must zip together to form a siphoning tube. If the two parts do not join, the butterfly will not be able to drink nectar. In this photo, you can see the proboscis is not yet fully zipped.

“Following the rhythm of the seasons, celebrated landscape designer Kim Smith presents a stunning slide show and lecture demonstrating how to create a welcoming haven for bees, birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Native plants and examples of organic and architectural features will be discussed based on their value to particular vertebrates and invertebrates.”

No Sealfies Please!

Monday morning there was a seal hauled out at Good Harbor and folks were taking selfies with the worn out little feller. Here’s what do if you come upon a seal that appears to be stranded on the beach.

DOS and DON’TS of Interacting with Seals on the Beach

DO stay at least one hundred and fifty feet away from the seal.

DO observe (from a distance, with binoculars or camera lens) for any outward sign of injury, bleeding or net entanglement, for example. If the seal appears injured, call this number: 866-755-6622 at the Northeast Region Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding and Entanglement Hotline.

DON’T try to feed the seal.

DON’T cover up the seal with a blanket.

DON’T pour water on the seal.

DON’T let your dog anywhere near the seal (dangerous for both animals).

DON’T try to help the seal back into the water.

DON’T take a selfie with the seal.

Harbor Seals are semi-aquatic and it is perfectly natural for a seal to beach themselves. Seals haul out all year round, and for a variety of reasons. They use rocks, reefs, and beaches. The seal may need to rest, for thermal regulation (to warm up), to molt, to give birth, to socialize with other seals, or are trying to escape danger, such as a shark. When you force the seal back into the water by getting too close and frightening the creature, before it is ready to return to the sea, you are potentially causing the seal a great deal of harm.

PLEASE VOTE FOR ME FOR ESSEX TRAILBLAZER AWARD!

Essex National Heritage is celebrating their 20th anniversary. To mark this special occasion, Essex Heritage is recognizing organizations and people that make the Essex National Heritage Area (Essex County) so exceptional and I have been nominated!

Kim Smith Designs is nominated as an Essex Heritage Trailblazer in the second category, Connecting People to Place. The 130 nominees are all stellar and most are businesses and very large organizations, for example, the Peabody Essex Museum, Mass Audubon (statewide), and Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, so it is really quite an honor to be nominated.

The voting process is very simple, you don’t have to provide your email address or any other personal information. Please vote for me, in the center column, halfway down in the second category, Connecting People to Place. Here is the link to vote: surveymonkey.com/r/TrailblazersVote. Voting ends soon, on March 14th, so please vote today. And please share with your friends.

THANK YOU!

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Turkey Bromance

eastern-wild-turkey-males-gloucester-ma-6-copyright-kim-smithConferring

From far across the marsh, large brown moving shapes were spotted. I just had to pull over to investigate and was happily surprised to see a flock of perhaps a dozen male turkeys all puffed up and struttin’ their stuff. I headed over to the opposite side of the marsh in hopes of getting a closer look at what was going on.

eastern-wild-turkey-female-foraging-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithTurkey hen foraging 

Found along the edge, where the marsh met the woodlands, were the objects of desire. A flock of approximately an equal number of hens were foraging for insects and vegetation in the sun-warmed moist earth.

eastern-wild-turkey-males-3-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithMales begin exhibiting mating behavior as early as late February and courtship was full underway on this unusually warm February morning. The funny thing was, the toms were not fighting over the hens, as you might imagine. Instead the males seemed to be paired off, bonded to each other and working together, strategically placing themselves in close proximity to the females. A series of gobbles and calls from the males closest to the females set off a chain reaction of calls to the toms less close. The last to respond were the toms furthest away from the females, the ones still in the marsh. It was utterly fascinating to watch and I tried to get as much footage as possible while standing as stone still for as long as is humanly possible.

eastern-wild-turkey-males-gloucester-marsh-copyright-kim-smithWith much curiosity, and as soon as a spare moment was found, I read several interesting articles on the complex social behavior of Wild Turkeys and it is true, the males were bromancing, as much as they were romancing.

Ninety percent of all birds form some sort of male-female bond. From my reading I learned that Wild Turkeys do not. The females nest and care for the poults entirely on her own. The dominant male in a pair, and the less dominant of the two, will mate with the same female. Wild Turkey male bonding had been observed for some time however, the female can hold sperm for up to fifty days, so without DNA testing it was difficult to know who was the parent of her offspring. DNA tests show that the eggs are often fertilized by more than one male. This behavior insures greater genetic diversity. And it has been shown that bromancing males produce a proportionately greater number of offspring than males that court on their own. Poult mortality is extremely high. The Wild Turkey bromance mating strategy produces a greater number of young and is nature’s way of insuring future generations.

The snood is the cone shaped bump on the crown of the tom’s head (see below).eastern-wild-turkey-male-snood-carnuckles-gloucester-ma-2-copyright-kim-smith

The wattle (or dewlap) is the flap of skin under the beak. Caruncles are the wart-like bumps covering the tom’s head. What are referred to as the “major” caruncles are the large growths that lie beneath the wattle. When passions are aroused, the caruncles become engorged, turning brilliant red, and the snood is extended. The snood can grow twelve inches in a matter of moments. In the first photo below you can see the snood draped over the beak and in the second, a tom with an even longer snood.

eastern-wild-turkey-male-close-up-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithIt’s all in the snood, the longer the snood, the more attractive the female finds the male.

eastern-wild-turkey-male-snood-extended-carnuckle-gloucester-ma-10-copyright-kim-smitheastern-wild-turkey-male-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smitheastern-wild-turkey-male-gloucester-ma-9-copyright-kim-smithMale Turkey not puffed up and snood retracted.

A young male turkey is called a jake and its beard is usually not longer than a few inches. The longer the beard, generally speaking, the older the turkey.

eastern-wild-turkey-male-beard-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithMale Wild Turkey, with beard and leg spurs.

eastern-wild-turkey-males-snood-extended-retracted-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithMale Wild Turkeys with snood extended (foreground) and snood retracted (background).

eastern-wild-turkey-male-tail-feathers-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithWhen the butt end is prettier than the front end.

8643866_origIn case you are unsure on how to tell the difference between male (called tom or gobbler) and female (hen), compare the top two photos. The tom has a snood, large caruncles, carunculate (bumpy) skin around the face, and a pronounced beard. The hen does not. Gobblers also have sharp spurs on the back of their legs and hens do not.turkeycharacteristics

Read more here:

http://www.alankrakauer.org/?p=1108

http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2005/03/02_turkeys.shtml

http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dfw/fish-wildlife-plants/wild-turkey-faq.html

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE “RACHEL CARSON” PREMIERES TONIGHT ON PBS (AND DEBORAH CRAMER IS IN IT!)

I’ve been very much looking forward to the debut of Rachel Carson and posted it on facebook yesterday as it is premiering tonight. Cape Ann environmental author Deborah Cramer then shared that she is in the documentary!!!

From an American Experience, “Rachel Carson is an intimate portrait of the woman whose groundbreaking books revolutionized our relationship to the natural world. When Silent Springwas published in September 1962 it became an instant bestseller and would go on to spark dramatic changes in the way the government regulated pesticides.

Rachel Carson premieres January 24 at 8/7c on PBS.”

Visit Deborah’s website for more about her beautiful book The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, An Ancient Crab, and An Epic Journey, which was named Best Book by the National Academy of Sciences, and is the winner of both the Rachel Carson Book Award and the Reed Award in Environmental Writing.

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Cape Ann Wildlife: A Year in Pictures

snowy-owl-gloucester-massachusetts-c2a9kim-smith-2015My husband Tom suggested that I write a year-end post about the wildlife that I had photographed around Cape Ann. Super idea I thought, that will be fun and easy. Not realizing how daunting and many hours later, the following is a collection of some favorite images from this past year, beginning with the male Snowy Owl photographed at Captain Joe’s dock last winter, to December’s Red-tailed Hawk huntress.
red-tailed-hawk-eating-prey-gloucester-massachusetts-21-copyright-kim-smith

Living along the great Atlantic Flyway, we have been graced with a bevy of birds. Perhaps the most exciting arrival of all occurred when early summer brought several pairs of nesting Piping Plovers to Gloucester’s most beloved (and most highly trafficked) of beaches, Good Harbor Beach. Their story is being documented on film.

piping-plovers-chicks-nestlings-babies-kim-smithWork on Mr. Swan’s film will also resume this January—the winters are simply not long enough for all I have planned!swan-outstretched-wings-niles-pond-coyright-kim-smith

While photographing and filming Red-winged Blackbirds this past spring, there was a face-to-face encounter with a hungry coyote, as well as several River Otter sightings.

female-red-winged-blackbird-copyright-kim-smitrhFemale Red-winged Blackbirdeastern-coyote-massachusetts-kim-smith

The summer’s drought brought Muskrats out from the reeds and into full view at a very dry Henry’s Pond, and a short film about a North American Beaver encounter at Langsford Pond. Numerous stories were heard from folks who have lived on Cape Ann far longer than I about the extraordinary number of egrets, both Snowy and Great, dwelling on our shores.
three-muskrat-family-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithThree Muskrateers
female-monarch-depositing-eggs-1-copyright-kim-smithnewly-emerged-monarch-butterfly-copyright-kim-smith-jpgThere were few Monarch sightings, but the ones seen thankfully deposited eggs in our garden. Thank you to my new friend Christine who shared her Cecropia Silkmoth eggs with me and thank you to the countless readers who have extended an invitation to come by and photograph an exciting creature in their yard.

cecropia-moth-caterpillar-copyright-kim-smith

Pristine beaches, bodies of fresh water, and great swathes of protected marsh and woodland make for ideal wildlife habitat, and Cape Ann has it all. With global climate change pushing species further away from the Equator, I imagine we’ll be seeing even more creatures along our shores. Butterfly and bee populations are overall in decline, not only because of climate change and the use of pesticides, but also because of loss of habitat. As Massachusetts has become less agrarian and more greatly forested, fields of wildflowers are becoming increasingly rare. And too fields often make the best house lots. Farmers and property owners developing an awareness of the insects’ life cycle and planting and maintaining fields and gardens accordingly will truly help the butterflies and bees.
female-mallard-nine-ducklings-kim-smith

Thank you to all our readers for your kind comments of appreciation throughout the year for the beautiful wild creatures with which we share this gorgeous peninsula called Cape Ann.

The images are not arranged in any particular order. If you’d like to read more about a particular animal, type the name of the animal in the search box and the original post should come up.

I wonder what 2017 will bring?

nine-piping-plovers-napping-gloucester-copyright-kim-smith

sandpipers-copyright-kim-smith