Category Archives: #creaturefeature

GLOUCESTER GETS IT RIGHT WITH THE NEW DOG SIGNS!

The bright yellow and prominently positioned No Dog signs went up this afternoon. One is placed at each entrance–the footbridge, the parking lot, and Whitham Street. They are also positioned to hide the ultra confusing blue signs.

I think the signs will be of immeasurable help in getting people to understand the ordinance change. Thank you so much to Gloucester’s DPW Mike Hale and to the City for getting it right!

EVEN THE THE BACHELOR HAS RETURNED TO GOOD HARBOR BEACH!

The Bachelor has returned and he was up to his old tricks this morning, trying to horn in on Mama. Neither Papa nor Mama were having any of it and all three took off down the beach with the mated pair pursuing the unmated male. A confrontation (PiPl style) then ensued where both males puffed out their chests and repeatedly ran towards each other, until the bachelor backed down and flew away.

The photos were taken far down the beach, but at least you can see all three, with the two males positioned for battle. Disputes between PiPls, over territory and mates, take place where ever the shorebirds nest.

REMINDER: The new Good Harbor Beach ordinance is in place prohibiting dogs during shorebird nesting season. No Dogs are allowed at Good Harbor Beach anytime of day or night from April 1st to October 1st.

City Councilor Scott Memhard forwarded the following three photos. They are of the signs that Mike Hale is having made for Good Harbor Beach–note that they measure a whopping 24″ by 36″!

Scott has been working with Laurinda and Patti from the Cape Ann Photography Club on the glass box signs. Scott posted the flyers and the Club has changed the date at the footbridge entrance. We’re looking forward to seeing the changes at the other glass box display cases. Thank you Scott for your tremendous follow through!

Folks are disbelieving of the fact that there were a plethora of dogs on Good Harbor Beach on Saturday , with nearly as many on Sunday. The images aren’t that great and I wasn’t planning on posting the photos but because people (who know better) are saying outlandish things, here are two batches from Saturday. The first batch are only some of the dogs because when you are standing at the Whitham Street entrance, it is impossible to document the dogs at the footbridge end, and vice versa. The second batch were taken at approximately 4:15 from the footbridge end.

Saturday morning – approximately 10:30am to 12:30pm on Saturday April 6, 2019

Saturday afternoon at approximately 4:15

MEET THE PIPING PLOVERS OF GOOD HARBOR BEACH

Work has begun in earnest sorting through all the Piping Plover footage and editing the documentary. In the mean time, I thought readers would enjoy this rare moment where we catch a glimpse of  the new born chicks, and both mom and dad together.

Impossibly tiny—no larger than a marshmallow—moments after hatching Piping Plover chicks are on the move, running, tumbling, somersaulting, face-planting, and curious about every little thing in their brand new great big world. PuffPuff, FluffFluff, and TootsiePop are less than twenty-four hours old in this clip. Our East Gloucester neighborhood kids named the Plover family after spending an afternoon getting to know them, watching safely from beyond the roped off area.

Dad Joe finds an impression in the sand and the chicks come running to warm under his protective wings. Piping Plover chicks can feed themselves at birth but can’t yet perfectly regulate their body temperature. They need Mom and Dad for protection and for the warmth they provide. After a few moments rest, Joe pops up and Joy zooms in to take his place. Watch how PuffPuff does a somersault and FluffFluff gives her a little bump out of their cozy nest. Mom runs off camera to create a new resting spot and the chicks are chided by piping calls to come join her.

In shades of bone and driftwood, note how beautifully the Plovers are camouflaged in the colors of the sand and dry beach grass. There isn’t a living thing that doesn’t pose a threat to these most vulnerable of creatures. For protection against predators they will soon learn how to stand perfectly still when Joe and Joy pipe commands, but for now, it’s willy-nilly around the beach, much to the parents great consternation.

Thanks to Esme, Lotus, Meadow, Frieda, and Ruby for naming the Piping Plover family!

piping-plover-chicks-babies-nestlings-male-female-copyright-kim-smithThe male Piping Plover is on the left, the female, on the right. The male’s little black forehead band makes it easy to distinguish between the two.

Update from Beaver Pond: A Wonderful World of Woodpeckers!

hairy-woodpecker-cape-ann-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithHairy Woodpecker

Rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat resonating through the tree tops. The little wild wood encircling Beaver Pond was alive with a veritable rhythm band. I must have arrived on the ideal day, for there were seemingly dozens of woodpecker excavations taking place. Not one, not two, but three different species of woodpeckers were drumming the forest canopy!

It is no mystery as to why the pond shore is a sanctuary for woodpeckers, surrounded as it is with trees in a wonder of varying stages of decay. Woodpeckers excavate dead and dying trees and limbs not only to create nest cavities and to forage for insect prey, but to also enlarge cavities used for winter shelter. During the fall, a woodpecker will spend about a week excavating winter roosting holes.

red-bellied-woodpecker-cape-ann-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithRed-bellied Woodpecker

Woodpeckers mostly eat insects, in all stages, from egg to larvae to pupae to adult. During the winter their diet is comprised of seeds, nuts, fruits, and berries. The woodpecker’s tongue is quite extraordinary, being long and extendable, and also coated with bristly hairs. Woodpeckers use their tongues to spear and extract wood-boring insects, as a sticky trap for catching ants, and as a brush for licking up sap.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers look similar. Hairy Woodpeckers are about the size of an American Robin. Downies are smaller and their bills are more delicate in appearance. The outer edge of their tail feathers are white, barred with black, lending a spotted appearance. The outer edge of the tail feathers of Hairy Woodpeckers is pure white (see top photo above to compare).

Winter roosts created by woodpeckers may later provide shelter or nest sites for many other species of animals including owls, flying squirrels, bluebirds, nuthatches, and chickadees.

beaver-pond-gloucester-copyright-kim-smithI’ve returned to Beaver Pond several time since the day the bonanza of woodpeckers was photographed but haven’t been treated to the rhythm band since. A few woodpeckers have been sighted, their calls noted, and only an occasional distant drumming heard. Perhaps they are tending other tasks in preparation of winter, collecting and caching food in their newly excavated holes.

There are a few moments after sunset when the light is still bright enough to photograph and to film. The Beaver Family makes their appearance just about then but none have ventured to the side of the pond where I am stationed since that one evening when a solitary beaver swam within arm’s reach. But I am patient.

Gloucester’s Little Seahorse Final Update

Abbie Lundberg, Tony’s wife, writes: “Tony brought home a bunch of sand fleas yesterday and the seahorse was excited – hunting and catching some, but he then spit them back out. The aquarium never called back, so Tony decided to release him today, back in the same area he found him. (Of course the aquarium called after that happened 😞) Hopefully he’ll find his way back to warmer waters.”

Thank you to Abbie and Tony for sharing their seahorse capture and release story. Readers may have noticed in the comment section of the previous update that lobsterman Gary also came home with a seahorse, which he found off Plum Cove Beach. I never would have imagined that we have seahorses, even occasional ones, living in the cold waters of Cape Ann, but it is truly exciting to know they are here.

Here’s a short video of a Lined Seahorse that I shot at the aquarium in Cincinnati while visiting relatives about five years ago. Although the same species as Gloucester’s little seahorse, note the two wildly different colors. Lined Seahorses change color to blend with their environment, which aids in capturing prey.

lined-seahorse-copyright-kim-smithThis funny video came up  on my video feed, of male seahorses giving birth. FASCINATING!!!

The Traveling Terrarium

On Tuesday morning, October 4th, I’ll be at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Marblehead to give my lecture on “The Pollinator Garden,” at 9:30am. I hope to see you there!

anderson-family-copyright-kim-smith

No, That is Not a Monarch Caterpillar on Your Carrot Plant

By far the most popular post on my website is titled “No, That is Not a Monarch Caterpillar on Your Parsley Plant.” It has been the most trafficked post for several years, if you can believe it, and here is why.

Last fall, almost exactly to the day, through my office window I heard the sound of sweet voices on our front porch, well after dark, and wondered what our neighborhood dog walkers were doing out so late. It wasn’t dog walkers, but our neighbor Sharon and her son Treely, wondering what to do with what they thought was a Monarch caterpillar they had found in their garden. I sent them on their way with one of our terrariums and instructions on how to care for their little Black Swallowtail caterpillar.

Treely’s Black Swallowtail caterpillar turned into a chrysalis (in other words, pupated), spent the winter in the terrarium in a sheltered spot outdoors, and then emerged right on schedule this past spring. The Dowds returned the terrarium as it was needed later in the summer for our Cecropia Moth caterpillars.

Imagine how sweetly funny to get a call from my friend Michelle, wondering what to do with their newly discovered Monarch caterpillar. My first question to Michelle was did she find the caterpillar on her milkweed? No, she reported, it was found on carrot foliage. Michelle and her children, Meadow and Atticus, along with friend Sabine, stopped by this afternoon to learn about how to take care of their tiny little Black Swallowtail caterpillar and I sent them on their way with the ‘traveling terrarium.’

If you find a caterpillar in your garden, the first clue to identifying is to see on what food plant they are munching. Caterpillars that are actively feeding are usually only found on their larval host plant(s), the plant they have developed a distinctive coevolutionary relationship with over millennia. For example, female Monarch butterfly caterpillars deposit their eggs only on members of the milkweed family. Black Swallowtail caterpillars eat the foliage only from plants in the carrot family, which includes carrots, parsley, dill, fennel, parsnips, and Queen Anne’s lace. You may have noticed if ever weeding Queen Anne’s lace that the root looks identical in shape to a carrot, only it is white.

Chances are, you will never find a Black Swallowtail caterpillar on you milkweed plants and conversely, you will never find a Monarch caterpillar on your carrot plant (or parsley, dill, or fennel).

I am excited to hear from Michelle and the kids how their little caterpillar is developing over the next few weeks!

Ruddy Turnstone on Cape Ann

ruddy-turnstone-rockport-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithHere’s another sweet little migrating feathered friend observed recently on our shores. A bit bigger than the Sanderlings, and not quite as large as the Black-bellied Plovers with which it was feeding, the solitary Ruddy Turnstone’s bright orange short, stocky legs and big feet are what caught my attention. Although its behavior is anything but, the Ruddy Turnstone is anther one of the birds whose plumage appears almost boring compared to its beautiful harlequin patterned summer coat.

ruddy-turnstone-black-bellied-plover-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithRuddy Turnstone, left, Black-bellied Plover, right

As are Black-bellied Plovers and Red Knots, the Ruddy Turnstone is highly migratory, breeding on the rocky coasts and tundra of the Arctic and spending winters in coastal areas throughout the world. And like members of the plover family, the male’s nest-like scrapes are part of the courtship ritual. I was excited to learn Ruddy Turnstones’s are a member of the plover family (Charadriidae) and thought it would be a great addition to our Piping Plover documentary however, as scientists are want to do, they have reclassified the RT and it is now considered a member of the sandpiper family (Scolopacidae). Oh well.

ruddyturnstoneDuring the non-breeding season, look for the Ruddy Turnstone on rocky shorelines where it energetically feeds by probing and pecking, seeking aquatic invertebrates and insects at the surface of rocks. I believe Ruddy Turnstones are seen with regularity on the “other” Cape. I wonder how many of our readers see Ruddy Turnstones on Cape Ann, and if so so where, and what time of year? Please share, if you do, the information is wonderfully helpful. Thank you!ruddy_turnstone_map_big