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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Late day Sunday, Charlotte and I took a walk to Niles Pond hoping to see the Harbor Seals in the rising Hunter’s Moon. We were not disappointed! We also saw a mini flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Merlin on the hunt.
If you see a larger, chunkyish sandpiper foraging alongside Semipalmated Plovers and Sanderlings, look at its neck and chest feathers. The Pectoral Sandpiper is heavily streaked above with bright white below.
This long distant traveler breeds in wet coastal areas of the Arctic tundra, from easternmost Russia, across Alaska, and into Canada. According to Cornell’s All About Birds, most winter over in southern South America, which means that some Pectoral Sandpipers migrate a whopping 19,000 miles every year!
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.”
Please join 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. Registration by email is required: email@example.com.
The Schooner Roseway is a 96 year old tall ship, built in Essex, MA in 1925. When our founders first procured Roseway, they thought she would be the classroom. The reality is, and what we have learned in the last 16 years of student programming, this national historic landmark is far more than just an interactive floating classroom – Roseway herself is a teacher.
A Schooner is Born
Launching: June 2, 1930
“Standing at her bow, arms laden with flowers, and grasping a bottle of something we used to see much of before Prohibition, Miss Rosalie Murphy, daughter of Captain Patrick Murphy, who will command the craft, smashed the bottle on the shoe of the schooner as she started…” – Gloucester Daily Times
The Great Egret’s beautiful shower of white feathers and plume hunter’s greed nearly caused this most elegant of creatures to become exterminated in North America. Because of the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) in 1918, slowly but steadily, the Great Egret is recovering. An increasing number of pairs are breeding today in Massachusetts.
A chance encounter and a joy to observe this Great Egret, floofing, poofing, and preening after a day hunting in the marsh.
The MBTA states that it is unlawful to kill, hunt, sell, or possess most native species of birds in the United States without a permit and it is one of our nation’s most foundational conservation laws.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 implements four international conservation treaties that the U.S. entered into with Canada in 1916, Mexico in 1936, Japan in 1972, and Russia in 1976. It is intended to ensure the sustainability of populations of all protected migratory bird species.
The law has been amended with the signing of each treaty, as well as when any of the treaties were amended, such as with Mexico in 1976 and Canada in 1995.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) prohibits the take (including killing, capturing, selling, trading, and transport) of protected migratory bird species without prior authorization by the Department of Interior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The List of Migratory Bird Species Protected by the MBTA
The list of migratory bird species protected by the law is primarily based on bird families and species included in the four international treaties. In the Code of Federal Regulations one can locate this list under Title 50 Part 10.13 (10.13 list). The 10.13 list was updated in 2020, incorporating the most current scientific information on taxonomy and natural distribution. The list is also available in a downloadable Microsoft Excel file.
A migratory bird species is included on the list if it meets one or more of the following criteria:
It occurs in the United States or U.S. territories as the result of natural biological or ecological processes and is currently, or was previously listed as, a species or part of a family protected by one of the four international treaties or their amendments.
Revised taxonomy results in it being newly split from a species that was previously on the list, and the new species occurs in the United States or U.S. territories as the result of natural biological or ecological processes.
New evidence exists for its natural occurrence in the United States or U.S. territories resulting from natural distributional changes and the species occurs in a protected family.
“There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.” –Rachel Carson
It’s glorious outdoors today and I hope you have a chance to get outside. See below for photos from my morning Earth Day walk, although I can’t bear to sit at my computer all day when it’s so gorgeous out and will head back out this afternoon to see what we see.
For Earth Day this past week I gave several screenings of Beauty on the Wing (thank you once again most generous community for all your help funding BotWing!) along with presenting “The Hummingbird Habitat Garden” to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. For over twenty years I have been giving programs on how to create pollinator habitats. People are hungry for real information on how to connect to wildlife and wild habitats and each year the interest grows and grows. It’s truly a joy to witness!
Last night it was especially rewarding to bring Beauty on the Wing to Connecticut’s Sherman Conservation Commission attendees. We had a lively Q and A following the screening with many thoughtful questions and comments. My gratitude and thanks to Michelle MacKinnon for creating the event. She saw the film on PBS and wanted to bring it to her conservation organization. Please let me know if you are interested in hosting a Beauty on the Wing screening.
Monarchs are on the move! The leading edge in the central part of the country is at 39 degrees latitude in Illinois and Kansas: the leading edge along the Atlantic Coast is also at 39 degrees latitude; Monarchs have been spotted in both Maryland and New Jersey. Cape Ann is located at 43 degrees — it won’t be long!
Monarchs are heading north! Female Monarch depositing egg on Common Milkweed
Hummingbirds have been seen in Mashpee this past week (41 degrees latitude). Don’t forget to put out your hummingbird feeders. Dust them off and give a good cleaning with vinegar and water. Fill with sugar water and clean regularly once installed. The sugar water recipe is one part sugar to four parts water; never replace the sugar with honey, and never use red food coloring.
Happy Glorious Earth Day!
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Super surprised to see this mystery duck asleep on a rock. I was so curious and kept hoping he would wake up so as to identify. He at last lifted his head for all of ten seconds and then promptly tucked back in and went back to sleep. I’ve only ever seen Surf Scoters bobbing around far off shore in the distance. Skunk bird- what a cutie!
American Kestrel, male, too far away to get a good photo but a joy to see!
Beautiful, beautiful Great Egret preening its luxurious spray of feathers. An egret’s spray of feathers is also referred to as aigrette.
No Earth Day post would be complete without our dear PiPls – Mom and Dad foraging at the wrack line this am, finding lots of insects for breakfast.
Please forgive me if I am slow to respond to your notes, emails, and kind comments. I am so sorry about that but am spending every spare minute on the Piping Plover film project, creating the first rough cut while converting six plus years of footage. And uncovering wonderful clips of these extraordinary creatures, some I am just seeing for the first time since shooting! Not an easy task but I am so inspired and full of joy for this project, trying not to become overwhelmed, and taking it one chunk at a time, literally “bird by bird,” as Anne Lamott would say.
From daily walks, a mini migration update –
Gadwall and American Wigeon pairs abound. Both in the genus Mareca, they share similar foraging habits when here on our shores and can often be seen dabbling for sea vegetation together. The Orange-crowned Warbler was still with us as of mid-week last, as well as the trio of American Pipits. The very first of the Great Egrets have been spotted and Killdeers are coming in strong. The first Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will be here any day now; at the time of this writing they have migrated as far north as North Carolina
Have you noticed the Weeping Willows branches are turning bright yellow? In the next phase they will become chartreuse. For me it it one of the earliest, earliest indicators that trees are starting to emerge from dormancy. And our magnolia buds are beginning to swell, too. Please write with your favorite early signs of spring and I’ll make a post of them.
Male and Female Gadwalls, American Wigeons, Black Ducks, and Buffleheads foraging for aquatic vegetation
The male and female pair of dabbling Gadwalls pictured here have been enjoying the aquatic vegetation, salt water invertebrates, and relative quietude of Cape Ann’s cove beaches. They’ll soon be heading north and west to breed.
Gadwalls are “seasonally monogamous,” and almost always pair up during the fall migration. Seasonally monogamous– a new term to my ears–and one I find rather funny.
Black butt feathers
With understated, yet beautifully intricate feather patterning, look for the males black rear end feathers.
How fortunate to see this beautiful male Goldeneye resting in the tide pools. Typically, I see them out at sea and rarely catch a glimpse of their bright orange legs and feet.
Golden Eyes (Bucephala clangula) are cousins of Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola). The genus name Bucephala is derived from the Ancient Greek boukephalos (“bullheaded”, from bous, “bull ” and kephale, “head”), a reference to the bird’s bulbous head shape. Males of both species deploy ‘look-how-handsome-I-am-with-my-head-puffed-behavior’ during the courtship dance, a feature the females appear to find irresistible. Along the Goldeneye’s coastal wintering grounds they feed mostly on crustaceans, small fish, mollusks, and sea vegetation.
A fun fact about Goldeneyes – the eyes are brownish gray at hatching, then turn purple-blue, then blue, then green-blue as they grow. By five months of age they have become clear pale green-yellow. The eyes eventually become golden yellow in adult males and pale yellow to white in females.
Beginning three winters ago, American Pipits have been spotted consistently all around Eastern Point. The first year, the winter of 2019-2020, there was a pair that could be located daily without fail. Last year, three were present, again throughout the colder months. And this year there has been a mini flock of up to seven seen at any one time.
Lately, I have been running into birders from out of state and out of town who are here to see the Pipits and are very excited by their presence. When I tell them they have been on Eastern Point steadily for several years, they look at me askantly.
What to look for – The Pipit’s shape reminds me of a slimmer version of the American Robin, with winter plumage in shades of gray and brown. American Pipits have a very cute way of continuously waggling their long tail feathers when bobbing around the seaweed and rocks.
Pipits like to forage amongst rocks, at the wrack line, and along the sandy part of the beach where there are seed heads of wildflowers and grasses.. As you can see from the map, Massachusetts is north of the Pipit’s winter range. If you see a Pipit at any of our area beaches, please write and let us know and even better, please try to take a photo and we will share it here. The more documentation, the better!
The following is a collection of photos from the past three winters, including this winter.
Winter 2022 – two clearly different shades of breast feathers on theses two individualsAmerican Pipit beach camo