Category Archives: #creaturefeature

PIPING PLOVERS ARE HERE AND THEY NEED OUR HELP!

Friends, the Piping Plovers are on Good Harbor Beach!! They arrived on March 22nd and are definitely here to stay. The endangered/threatened species signs have Not Yet been installed, so most people are unaware that they are nesting at Good Harbor.

These are the signs that were installed last year on March 27, two days after the Piping Plovers arrived. Dave Rimmer and Essex County Greenbelt were working with us last summer and their ongoing support was one of the key reasons why we were able to successfully fledge three chicks.

Piping Plover nest scrape, March 2020

The little Dad is building tiny nest scrapes in the sand in nearly the exact same area they were nesting at last year. Please be on the look out and please give them some space until the proper roping and signs are installed. Thank you so much!!!

In case you don’t recall where they were last year (and the three years prior to that), they have made an area between Boardwalk No.3 and the corner of Saratoga Creek their home.

About a week ago, a very narrow corridor of symbolic roping was installed along the entire length of the beach; we presume for dune conservation, because it is far too narrow for the PiPls.

Also, no signs are there to indicate the purpose of the symbolic rope fence, so many folks are walking through and within the roped off area. Last year’s installation, March 27, 2019

Currently, the PiPls are hanging out and nest scraping about ten to twelve feet outside the area where the symbolic fencing ends. We need to widen the area to create a similar footprint to last year’s to make a safe zone for the PiPls.

In the above photo taken a few days ago, you can see where the PiPls are trying to nest, outside the roped off area (Papa Plover is in the lower left quadrant, almost to the midline of the photo). The bird’s efforts are constantly thwarted by people and dogs, no fault of the peoples, because no one knows the PiPls are here without proper signage.

People are sitting in the area where the PiPls are repeatedly trying to nest. This nice group of young folks was not aware that the PiPls are here, because there are no signs posted.

The most important thing for everyone to remember is that the earlier the Piping Plovers are allowed to nest, the earlier they are off the beach. Allowing them to nest early is doubly important this year because as the pandemic breaks, our beaches are going to be flooded with people.  It’s no use to say well they should just find another beach, because these lack of habitat issues are taking place at beaches on both coasts. Wildlife doesn’t stop being threatened or endangered because there is a pandemic, nor does our responsibility to help the birds survive.

If the city has the manpower to place fencing along the entire length of the beach, then we have the manpower to set aside one small area for the PiPls, and to install the endangered/threatened species signs.

If the City does not have the manpower or the funds for signage, then it is not too late to contact Essex Greenbelt for assistance.

Piping Plovers foraging last night at low tide

CAPE ANN EARLY SPRING WILDLIFE UPDATE

Hello Friends,

I hope you are all doing well, or as well as can be expected during this heartbreaking pandemic event. The following kind words were spoken by Pope Francis today and I think they could not be truer.

“We are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed,” he said.

“All of us called to row together, each of us in need of each other.”

In the world of wildlife, spring migration is well underway and gratefully, nothing has changed for creatures small and large. That may change in the coming days as resources for threatened and endangered species may become scarce.

A friend posted on Facebook that “we are all going to become birders, whether we like it or not.” I love seeing so many people out walking in the fresh air and think it is really the best medicine for our souls.

Several times I was at Good Harbor Beach over the weekend and people were being awesome at practicing physical distancing. Both Salt Island Road and Nautilus Road were filled with cars, but none dangerously so, no more than we would see at a grocery store parking lot. I’m just getting over pneumonia and think I will get my old bike out, which sad to say hasn’t been ridden in several years. Cycling is a great thing to do with a friend while still practicing distancing and I am excited to get back on my bike.

An early spring wildlife scene update

The Niles Pond Black-crowned Night Heron made it through the winter!! He was seen this past week in his usual reedy location. Isn’t it amazing that he/she survived so much further north than what is typical winter range for BCHN.

Many of the winter resident ducks are departing. There are fewer and fewer Buffleheads, Scaups, and Ring-necked Ducks at our local ponds and waterways.

Male and female Scaups

No sign lately of the American Pipits. For several days there were three! Snow Buntings at the Brace Cove berm.

I haven’t seen the Northern Pintail in a over a week. Sometimes the Mallards play nice and on other days, not so much.

Male Northern Pintail and Mallards

As some of the beautiful creatures that have been residing on our shores depart, new arrivals are seen daily. Our morning walks are made sweeter with the songs of passerines courting and mating.

Black-capped Chickadees collecting nesting fibers and foraging

Song Sparrows, Mockingbirds, Robins, Cardinals, Chicadees, Nuthatches, Tufted Titmice, and Carolina Wrens are just a few of the love songs filling backyard, fields, dunes, and woodland.

Newly arrived Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets have been spotted at local ponds and marshes.

Cape Ann’s Kildeers appeared about a week or so ago, and wonderful of wonderful news, a Piping Plover pair has been courting at Good Harbor Beach since they arrived on March 22, a full three days earlier than last year.

Kildeers, Gloucester

Why do I think it is our PiPls returned? Because Piping Plovers show great fidelity to nesting sites and this pair is no exception. They are building nest scrapes in almost exactly the same location as was last year’s nest.

Piping Plover Nest Scrape Good Harbor Beach 2020

I’m not sure if the Red Fox photographed here is molting or is the early stages of mange. It does seem a bit early to be molting, but he was catching prey.

We should be seeing Fox kits and Coyote pups any day now, along with baby Beavers, Otters, and Muskrats 🙂
It’s been an off year for Snowy Owls in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic with relatively many fewer owls than that wonderful irruptive winter of 2017-2018 when Hedwig was living on the back shore. 2019 was a poor summer for nesting however, reports of high numbers of Lemmings at their eastern winter breeding grounds are coming in, which could lead to many owlets surviving the nesting season of 2020, which could lead to many more Snowies migrating south this coming winter of 2020-2021.

Take care Friends and be well ❤

Mini-nature lover

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!!!