Category Archives: Cape Ann Wildlife

Mr. Swan Update

Mr. Swan busking, a thing swans do to look twice as large and threatening.

Cape Ann’s beautiful blue-eyed swan is doing quite well especially considering he is at least 28 YEARS OLD. It is highly unusual for a Mute Swan to live that long. Wild Mute Swans live on average eight to twelve years. In captivity, they can live up to 40 years, but our Mr. Swan hardly lives the cushy life of a Queen’s swan. .

He is only occasionally a little gimpy on his bad leg. Mr. Swan still manages to rule most of Cape Ann’s waterways, from the Annisquam River to Rockport Harbor, and everything in between.

Rock On, Mr. Swan!

Cinnamon Girl – Hooded Merganser in the Hood!

A spunky female Hooded Merganser was seen for a day, skittering about Eastern Point. Don’t you love her cinnamon-colored feather-do? Her crest looked especially beautiful when she swam into sunlit areas.

Sightings of Hooded Mergansers nesting in Massachusetts are on the rise. Like Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers nest in tree cavities. The natural reforestation of Massachusetts over the past one hundred years has increased nesting habitat. And too, Hooded Mergansers have benefitted from nesting box programs designed  to encourage Wood Duck nesting.

Hoodies eat crustaceans, fish, and insects. As water quality in Massachusetts has improved so too has the prey population increased. Additionally, the statewide recovery of North American Beavers has increased nesting habitat for many species of birds, including Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks.

I looked for the little Hoodie on subsequent days, but only saw her that one afternoon. The photos included here, of a singular male, were taken in Rockport in 2016.

Watch as the one-day old Hooded Merganser ducklings skydive to the forest floor, from a nest cavity five stories high up a tree.

Hooded Mergansers, like Cowbirds, often lay their eggs in other bird’s nests, including other Hooded Mergansers. Although a female Hoodie can lay up to 13 eggs, in one nest 44 Hooded Merganser ducklings hatched!

Hooded Merganser range map

Grand Heron of the Great Marsh: Cape Ann’s Great Blue Herons

Mostly elegant, though sometimes appearing comically Pterodactylus-like, the Great Blue Heron is found in nearly every region of the United States, Mexico, and Central America, as well as the southern provinces of Canada.

Its light weight, a mere five pounds, belies the fact that the Great Blue Heron is North America’s largest heron, with a wingspan of up to six and a half feet and a height of four and a half feet. I write elegant because it truly has a grace unsurpassed when in repose or waiting to strike a fish. Images of Pterodactylus come to mind when you see the bird battling for territory with other herons or flapping about in a tree top; the Heron loses all its sophisticated exquisiteness, transformed into what looks like a great winged beast.

Pterodactylus images courtesy wiki commons media

This summer past was a tremendous year for observing herons and egrets on Cape Ann. Our marshes, ponds, and waterways were rife with Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Green Herons, American Bitterns, and especially Great Blue Herons.

Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets, Cape Ann

At every location Great Blue Herons were foraging either with a flock of mixed herons and egrets, or in a solitary manner. Great Blue Herons hunt day and night and I would often find them at daybreak. They will stand quietly for hours, repeatedly striking the water with lightning speed, and nearly always resurfacing with a fish or frog. Great Blue Herons are survivalists and their diet is wide ranging, including large and small fish, frogs, insects, small mammals, and even other birds. Because of its highly varied diet, the Great Blue Heron is able to spend winters further north than most other species of herons and egrets. Even when waters freeze, we still see them on our shores well into December.

Great Blue Herons are sometimes mistakenly referred to as cranes, which they are not. Cranes are entirely different species. Bas relief at Crane Estate, Ipswich.

Don’t you think it amazing how perfectly these largest of North America’s herons meld with the surrounding landscape?

Here are some moments from this past summer and autumn observing the elegant (mostly) and elusive Great Blue Heron.

Fishing – Great Blue Herons capture small fish and amphibians by plunging into water and then swallowing whole the prey. They also use their powerful bills like a dagger to spear larger fish.

Great Blue Heron range map

HAPPY AUTUMN DAYS!

Spring Peeper out and about before hibernating for the winter.

Relishing the last of these golden days, we took advantage of Sunday’s delightfully beautiful weather with a hike around Eastern Point. Several female Yellow-rumped Warblers were spotted feeding on seed heads, a lone turtle was basking on a sun-warmed rock, the Harbor Seals were lolling about, and a tiny Spring Peeper was spied in the fallen leaves.

You can see why these sweet birds are called Yellow-rumped Warblers. Note the little flash of yellow on the rump of the warbler flying in the background.

Eastern Painted Turtle

Who me?

Harbor Seals warming in the sun.

MONARCHS AND LADIES – LAST OF THE SEASON’S BUTTERFLIES

While releasing the last Monarchs of the season with Charlotte, one landed on her hair and stayed for few moments, just long enough to catch a minute of footage and to take a photo.

Thank you to Patti Papows for our little straggler. Patti’s chrysalis was attached to a plant in her garden, an aster, which had lost all its leaves. She was worried a predator might eat it, so we scooped up the chrysalis and placed it in a terrarium at my home, where the butterfly emerged on October 17.

Will these last of the season’s Monarchs that are migrating along the Atlantic Coast make it to Mexico? Some will follow a path along the coastline, where when they reach the Delaware Bay, winds will begin to funnel them towards Mexico, between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. Some will continue on down the coast all the way to Florida. Some of these Atlantic Coast Monarchs will live their days out in Florida, and some will cross the Gulf of Mexico on their journey to Mexico.

Please join me on Wednesday, November 7th, from 1:00 to 5:00pm where I am one of three presenters for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society at Elm Bank. I hope to see you there!

Discover new ways to garden, and new plants to select to make your home more sustainable in three presentations that address methods and plantings that you can adopt to improve your local environment and welcome more wildlife to your gardens. Presentations will review methods of ecological landscaping, introduce you to native shrubs, and share what you can plant to support pollinators.

Register Now!

October Monarchs
American Ladies on the wing during the month of October

A (RARELY SEEN) FOX SQUIRREL IN GLOUCESTER MASSACHUSETTS??

Rare for Massachusetts that is. This afternoon a very unusual colored squirrel briefly stopped by our garden. He sat atop the fence post, had a quick snack from our neighbor’s black privet berries, then departed as quickly as he arrived. At first glance I thought he was a Red Squirrel, but he was much, much too big. Next thought, perhaps a melanistic Gray Squirrel. Or perhaps a Gray and an American Red (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) had interbred, but that isn’t possible. However, I did learn a Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) and a Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) can interbreed. But possibly what we have here is an actual Fox Squirrel, which would be quite uncommon for Massachusetts. I am still researching this. If any of our readers has seen a Fox Squirrel in Massachusetts, please write and let us know. Thank you in advance.

Eating privet berries

Fox Squirrels are diurnal, which means they feed during the day. This little guy stopped by for a snack at about 1:30 in the afternoon. Conversely, Eastern Gray Squirrels are crepuscular, which means they are more active during the early and late hours of the day.

In this year of tree squirrel super abundance, I wonder, too if that could possibly be an explanation for an appearance by a Fox Squirrel; perhaps expanding its territory in search of food.

The coat of a Fox Squirrel comes in many colors, from nearly all black to rust, tawny gold, and gray combinations–like a fox. Gray Squirrels are mostly gray with white bellies. The average size of a Gray Squirrel is 9.1 – 12 inches; the average size of a Fox Squirrel is 10 to 15 inches.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Mystery visitor

GREAT BLUE HERON SILHOUETTE IN THE REEDS

Poised to catch a fish, one of a trio of beautiful Great Blue Herons seen recently traveling together on Cape Ann.