Our beloved Piping Plovers and Monarchs are going to be featured on an episode of Chronicle this evening. “Wildlife Worries” is devoted entirely to indicator species including not only Monarchs and PiPls, but also Whimbrels, tiny terrapins, and more. The show airs tonight at 7:30pm on Chronicle, WCVB, channel 5.
Several months ago, I met with the outstanding Chronicle producer, Sangita Chandra, and the show’s stellar videographer, Jennifer Platt-Ure. Originally Sangita was looking for footage of Monarchs and PiPls, but then decided to include an interview from a filmmaker’s perspective. The interview was filmed at Winthrop Shores Reservation as it was a convenient location, and also the charming cafe, Piccolo Piatti. It was a joy working with Sangita as she has a keen interest in wildlife conservation. The show promises to be wonderfully educational. I can’t wait to watch the part about the whimsical Whimbrels and turtles, in addition to the PiPls and butterflies!
Chronicle writes, “New England wouldn’t be New England without the shore birds, butterflies, and turtles that spend part of the year here. These and other local creatures are considered ‘indicator species’ that also help us understand the impact of habitat loss and climate change. Tonight we get up close to giant sea turtles and tiny terrapins, whimbrels and piping plovers, and meet the people committed to protecting them.” . Included in that group – a park ranger who raises butterflies, a documentary filmmaker, and high schoolers studying river herring. Many thanks to our videography team – Bob Oliver, Jennifer Platt-Ure, and Rich Ward and to editor Ellen Boyce. Hope you enjoy the program!
Ethan, Paul Bilodeau (the Times photographer), and I met last week at GHB. PiPl Ambassador Susan was out looking for HipHop that morning, too, and she stopped by during the interview. Ethan mentioned years ago he had written articles about the Plovers on Plum Island. He asked lots of great questions about our GHB Plovers and he’s such an excellent writer, I felt very good about the interview. Carolyn Mostello, our Massachusetts state waterbird biologist, provided a very thoughtful quote for the article. I was hoping to show Ethan and Paul Hip Hop that day, but he was doing his invisible act. Everyday I am hopeful he has departed however, as of yesterday, he was still here.
Hip Hop eleven weeks old September 12
I couldn’t find Hip Hop this morning feeding with the Semipalmated Plovers and Killdeers at the Creek, or at the front of the beach. The wind was blowing in great gusts and he knows where all the best locations are to get out of the wind. Hoping for the possibility that he joined the many travelers during last night’s massive migration
Semipalms at the Creek this morning
Thank you to all our super Ambassadors. We could not have had our “Best Year Ever” without each and every one of you and your tremendous gifts of time and patience.
Have a super day and enjoy this exquisite weather!
Efforts to protect piping plovers nesting at the popular Good Harbor Beach this summer paid off: Between two pairs nesting, there were seven eggs. Of those, six chicks hatched, and five chicks fledged.
“It’s our best year ever,” said Kim Smith, who heads up the group Piping Plover Ambassadors at the beach.
And the success here of the piping plovers — a threatened species — this summer revolved around the storyline of two handicapped shorebirds, a mom who had lost her foot but still successfully hatched a clutch of four eggs, and her chick dubbed “Hip Hop”, who had a lame right foot and was slow to develop.
Tiny handicapped Piping Plover chick Hip Hop, although developmentally challenged in comparison to his siblings, is nonetheless steadily growing. You can compare in the photos and video footage that he looks to be at about the same stage of development as were his siblings two weeks ago. His wings muscles are gaining in strength and fluffy tail feathers are beginning to grow.
Hip Hop is also wonderfully independent and forages far and wide along the length of the beach. If you see him on the beach, please remember that Hip Hop can’t yet fly to escape danger as can his siblings. Please give him lots and lots of space and please don’t try to take a close-up photo with your cell phone. The more he is able to forage without being disturbed, the more quickly he will grow.
This morning a scofflaw dog owner brought her dog to Good Harbor Beach. Fortunately, early morning daily GHB walkers P and D caught up with her to remind her of the dog ordinance. Hip Hop was only a few feet away, hunkered down in a divot, and could have so very easily been squished by a bouncy, enthusiastic off leash dog. Thank you P and D for your help this morning <3
Hip Hop’s sibling, photo taken about two weeks ago.
A reminder of our Piping Plover informational meeting this Thursday the 16th, at 5:45 pm, at area #3. For new PiPl friends, park in the lot at the far end, near Boardwalk #3. Walk down the boardwalk and turn right towards the footbridge. You will see the symbolically roped off area and we will meet there. I am looking forward to seeing everyone, old and new <3
We are looking for more volunteers. If you know someone who would like to help, please feel free to bring them to the meeting and please share my email.
Mini-update on our GHB nesting pairs. Both Moms were on the nests this morning while both Dads were foraging at the tidal flats and in the wrack. Everyone looks healthy and ready for chicks! There was hardly any trash on the beach, which was wonderful to see. Thank you Gloucester’s DPW beach crew!
#3 Dad eating a Painted Lady Butterfly
#3 Mom on the nest, well-camouflaged in beach grass
There are many tracks in Area #2 and I am hoping perhaps, if Cape Hedge Mom is still alive, we will have a renest there, but there are no nest scrapes, only footprints. We’ll keep checking.
Thank you to all our PiPl friends, old and new. We’ll see you Thursday!
There are a surprising number of butterflies this year at Cape Hedge Beach. Several days ago an American Lady was warming on the popples and today, a female Black Swallowtail.
An easy way to see the difference between an American Lady Butterfly and a Painted Lady Butterfly
American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) ~ Note the two large eyespots on the underside of the hindwing, close to the outer margin.The Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) has four smaller eyespots on the underside of the hindwing.
Happy Memorial Day. I hope you are spending the day with family and friends <3
We have a whopping new grand total of Piping Plover eggs for Cape Ann’s eastern shore and it is an even dozen! This morning when I stopped by for PiPl check in, Salt Island Dad popped off the nest to reveal a fourth egg. All three Cape Ann PiPl families are brooding nests with four eggs in each. We are so blessed to see their beautiful life story unfold!
An added note about the nesting pair at #1, the Salt Island side of Good Harbor Beach – The pair first had a nest of three eggs up in the dune grass. We think it was predated, possibly by a seagull. There were no tracks near the nest and the only evidence found was one crushed egg.
#1 Salt Island original nest
After the first clutch of eggs disappeared, the pair immediately began setting up house away from the grass and closer to the wrack line. Piping Plovers will attempt to re-nest up to five times. The pair eventually settled on a scrape behind a mini mound of dried seaweed, albeit a more vulnerable location than the first.
Salt Island renest
As of today, the Salt Island pair have a nest of four, for a total of seven eggs laid over the past several weeks. Egg laying takes a toll on the Mom. At Good Harbor we now have handicapped Mom at #3 and over extended Mom at #1. When you see Plovers on the beach resting and foraging, please give them lots and lots of space and let them be to do their thing. Thank you!
Joyful update to share from Cape Ann PiPl nest check-up this morning –
The Cape Hedge Plover parent’s are doing an excellent job guarding their clutch of four eggs, the most well-camouflaged nest in Massachusetts, as our state coastal waterbird biologist Carolyn Mostello refers to the nest. There was a Coyote scavenging around the wrack line near the nest but Mom and Dad went into full protective mode trying to distract. The “broken wing” display wasn’t too necessary though as the second the Coyote saw me, he/she hightailed into the marsh.
Area #1 Salt Island
Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer installed the exclosure at #1 (Salt Island end of the beach) yesterday afternoon and there are now three eggs in the nest! The Salt Island pair are not yet brooding full time and still continuing to mate. Quite possibly, we’ll have a fourth egg at #1. This little Mama has up to this point laid a total of six eggs, three in the first nest, which we think was predated, and three currently.
Area #3 Saratoga CreeK
In saving the best for last, our amazing handicapped Mom and ever vigilant Super Dad at #3 now have FOUR eggs in the nest. Mom popped off for a brief moment and I was “ploverjoyed” to see a fourth egg. I am not sure when this last egg was laid. It’s going to be a challenge to gauge when is the hatch date but I am working on that this weekend. *Borrowing the expression #ploverjoyed from our PiPl friends at Conserve Wildlife New Jersey 🙂
GHB #3 Mom well-camouflaged on the nest this foggy, foggy morning
Cape Ann’s current grand total of eggs in nests is Eleven (with a possibility of one more).
Yesterday morning, City Councilor Jeff Worthley and I met at Good Harbor Beach. He was very interested in learning about the Plovers and their history at GHB. Jeff agreed that Martha’s idea to speak before the next City Council meeting was a good plan; the next full council meeting is June 14th. He also suggested we do a brief presentation before City Council. The presentation has to be pre-planned and approved by City council president, Valerie Gilman. I don’t know if it’s either/or, or if we would be able to do both. What are your thoughts, PiPl friends? I think also we should definitely plan a “lessons learned” meeting at the end of the season, per Jonathan’s suggestion.
The Good Harbor Beach pre-reservation parking system goes into effect today. Some of the issues will be alleviated with the DPW and parking crew present, restrooms open, and end-of-the school-year high school senior parties behind us. We will still have issues with intoxicated persons tromping through the protected nesting area, but not the sheer numbers as the past two weeks, and hopefully we will see stepped up police enforcement on the beach.
A very brief Monarch update – Monarchs are here (first sightings by friends MJ on the 21st and Patti on May 23rd!) We see them in gardens, meadows, and dunes. Many other species of butterflies, too, have been sighted, including Tiger Swallowtails, Painted Ladies, American Coppers, Common Ringlets, and Spring Azures. May 23rd is early in the season for Monarchs. About every ten years or so we have an extra wonderful year with butterflies. The last was 2012. We are due and perhaps 2022 will be one of those years 🙂
Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly has been invited to screen at the Essex National Heritage Pollinator Week Program on the evening of June 22nd. For more information go here. Also, Beauty on the Wing is an official selection at the Santa Barbara Film Awards.
If anyone stops by GHB or CHB this weekend, please let us know. I feel fairly confident that the nests at GHB are safe, ensconced in their exclosures, but we like to check regularly nonetheless.
Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend with friends and family,
Please share your Monarch sightings. We would love to hear from you <3
This Mama Monarch photographed yesterday was zeroing in and depositing eggs on the freshly emerging shoots of Common Milkweed sprouting in the grassland meadows at Cox Reservation.
On May 21st the first Monarch was spotted; this is the earliest many of us have seen Monarchs in our gardens, dunes, and meadows. MJ observed one on the 21st in Lanesville, Patti in East Gloucester on the 23rd (she has tons of milkweed), Duncan spotted one at Brier Neck, they are in the dunes at Good Harbor Beach in the Common Milkweed patches, in my garden (also lots of milkweed), and have been seen at several Greenbelt sanctuaries, both Castle Neck River Reservation and Cox Reservation.
The butterflies at Cox Reservation were drinking nectar from the Red Clover
The Marvelous Magnificent Migrating Monarch – share with kids!
Please join us Wednesday, June 22nd at 7pm for a free in-person screening and Q and A of Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly at the Salem Visitor Center, as part of Essex National Heritage Pollinator week-long series of events.
Super fun news to share and please save the date – Essex National Heritage is hosting a week of events for National Pollinator Week, which takes place June 20th through June 26th. We have been invited to present a LIVE screening and Q and A of Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly on June 22, from 7pm to 9pm at the Salem Visitor Center.
The Salem Armory Visitor Center is located at 2 New Liberty Street, Salem, MA.
And more happy news to share – Beauty on the Wing is nominated for an award at the Santa Barbara Film Festival!
Common Milkweed emerging in May, Good Harbor Beach
And lastly, we saw our first Monarchs this week, one at Good Harbor Beach flitting through the dunes and a second at Cox Reservation. There is plentiful Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) emerging at our local dunes and meadows! <3
Time to put out orange slices (and hummingbird feeders, if you haven’t already done so.) Orioles are nectar feeders and follow the blooming times of fruit trees on their northward migration along the East Coast. My friend Sally Jackson spotted a Baltimore Oriole at her hummingbird feeder several days ago, and they are delighting in our pear tree blossoms and orange halves we have placed in the garden.
Baltimore Oriole male
Recently while recording audio in a field, I was delightfully surprised by an Orchard Oriole, a species new to my eyes. Orchard Orioles are slightly smaller than Baltimore Orioles and their plumage is more rusty red rather than vivid orange. Nonetheless, they sing a characteristically beautiful bird song and it was a joy to hear the chorister from across the meadow.
Orchard Oriole male
You can see from the photos that orioles have evolved with long pointed bills, ideal for extracting nectar from fruit blossoms. Their toes, too, are especially well adapted to forging for tree fruits and nectar as they are long and flexible, allowing the birds to dangle every which way while clinging to the branches.
Ancient Crabapple tree, where the Orchard Oriole was spotted
* * *
Please join me at the Sawyer Free Library on Saturday, May 14th, at 2pm for a FREE in-person all ages presentation about the life story of the Piping Plover –
Why Give a Peep for Plovers?
The Piping Plover is one of only a handful of birds that nests on North Atlantic beaches. By learning about this tiny but most resilient of shorebirds, we gain a deeper understanding on how best to protect Piping Plovers and our shared coastal habitat.
Told through the lens of Kim Smith’s photo journal work, the Piping Plover’s life story is presented from migration to nesting to fledging. We’ll also cover the current status of the bird’s population, learn about where Piping Plovers spend the winter, and how communities and conservation organizations can work together to help Piping Plovers flourish for generations to come.
If you are new to or have ever considered joining our Piping Plover Ambassador group, this presentation is a great way to become introduced to Piping Plovers. Please come and learn more about these most lovable and charismatic shorebirds.
One of the earliest (and most eagerly anticipated) signs of spring in the Northeast is the arrival of the Red-winged Blackbird. The males begin their displays weeks before the females arrive. Their preferred breeding habitat is wetlands, of which Cape Ann and Massachusetts has no shortage.
The females are interested in what the male sounds like and look likes. The male’s brilliant red epaulettes and raucous calls are meant to both attract females and and defend against competitors. The species is polygynous: a male successfully defending a good territory may mate with up to fifteen females in a season. Red-winged Blackbirds usually nest in loose colonies and females often mate with males other than the territory holder. Clutches of unknown paternity are not uncommon.
Males defend against intruders of all sizes — not only competing males, but also Great Blue Herons, raptors, Crows, and reportedly, even people wandering too close to their nests.
Male giving chase this past weekend to an American Kestrel
Male (above) and female Red-winged Blackbird. Red-wings are sexually dimorphic, meaning males and females have very different appearances.
Red-winged Blackbirds are omnivorous, feeding primarily on seeds and grain including grasses, rice, corn, and sunflowers; a wide variety of insects and spiders, especially during the breeding season; and also small berries such as blackberries.
The Red-winged Blackbird is the United States’ and Canada’s most widely distributed blackbird. Nonetheless these wide spread wanderers are concern for conservationists. Red-winged Blackbirds and other blackbirds are frequently targeted at their roosts in agricultural areas, where the birds may cause crop damage. (The Bobolink is persecuted on its South American wintering grounds for similar reasons.)Decades long control measures such as trapping, poisoning, and shooting, along with climate change and habitat loss, have resulted in a substantial decline in Red-winged Blackbird populations. Also under attack are important conservation laws such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA.)
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.
The howling winds of the April 18th overnight storm brought super high tides, downed trees, downed power lines and poles. We lost one of our beautiful ‘Dragon Lady’ hollies, one of a pair planted when we first moved to our home, and a tree that gave the birds many tree-fruits over the years.
The wind also carried in a somewhat befuddled Great Egret, clinging to a shrub and still trying to gain his bearings when photographed at mid-day.
Super high tide to the base of the dunes
Mom and Dad foraging in the intertidal zone
The highest tide during the storm went up and a bit past the base of the dunes. Our nesting pair of Plovers appeared relatively unfazed and, despite the continued high winds at day’s end, were busy courting and foraging at the newly washed over beach scape.
Currently we have three male Piping Plovers positioned for action at Good Harbor Beach at respective territories. The bachelors are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the bachelorettes, marking their turf with nest scraping and the calls for which Piping Plovers are so well known, all accomplished with chests a-puff.
Meet the three candidates-Bachelor #1
#1 chasing #2 off his turf
The head count can change on a dime overnight. Let’s hope the ladies will soon be arriving.
If you would like to be a Piping Plover Ambassador, please contact me by either leaving a comment or emailing at email@example.com.
Exciting news, we have three new wonderful recruits! We’ll have an informational meeting later this spring, once we have an actively nesting pair. I am so looking forward to working with you all, both our super experienced and dedicated volunteers, along with our new members!
Jennie and Deb, I received your requests to continue in your last year’s time slots and we will also work on getting more coverage at peak times.
We are are receiving many wonderful comments from viewers who have seen the film on their local public television channel, viewers from coast to coast! For we in Massachusetts (and everywhere), if you are a member of PBS Passports, here is the PBS.org Passports link to watch Beauty on the Wing:
Note about the photos – I took a bunch of these Monarch and Buoy photographs as there were several flying around the buoys one day (only on Cape Ann = Monarchs + buoys!). They were taken during this year’s autumn migration on a hazy October afternoon. I didn’t put two and two together until finally having a chance to look at the images several days ago, that one of the buoys was painted orange and black 🙂
Thank you Friends for your continued support and for your love of Monarchs!
Conserve Wildlife NJ senior biologist Todd Pover makes a site visit to Cape Ann beaches, summer long updates from “Plover Central,” GHB Killdeer dune family raise a second brood of chicks, Cape Hedge chick lost after fireworks disturbance and then reunited with Fam, Great Black-backed Gulls are eating our Plover chicks, thousands of Moon Snail collars at Cape Hedge, Monarchs abound, #savesaltisland, missing Iguana Skittles, and Earwig eating Cecropia Moth cats.
New short film for the Sawyer Free Library The Marvelous Magnificent Migrating Monarch!, Coastal Waterbird Conservation Cooperators meeting new short Piping Plover film, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the garden, why we love Joe-pye and other wildflowers, butterfly friends, Monarch cats in the garden, what is the purpose of the gold dots found on Monarch chrysalides?,Black Beauty came calling, Tigers in the garden, School Street sunflowers, Hoverflies, luminescent Sea Salps return to Cape Ann beaches, Petal Dancers and lemony Yellow Sulphurs on the wing.
Flower Fairies, irruptive Green Darner migration, mini glossary of late summer butterflies, what to do if you find a tagged Monarch, Painted Ladies, White-tailed Deer family, Monarchs mating, Tangerine Butterflies, yellow fellow in the hood, and Beauty on the Wing first ever live screening at the Shalin Liu.
Bee-sized butterfly the American Copper, Monarch conga line, Thunder and Cloud, abandoned Piping Plover egg, School Street Sunflowers, Monarchs migrating, quotidian splendor, Monarch fundraiser updates, collecting milkweed seeds, the Differential Grasshopper, Cooper’s Hawk – a conservation success story, #ploverjoyed, and nor’easter from the EP Lighthouse.