Category Archives: Life at the Edge of the Sea

CAPE ANN WILDLIFE 2018: A YEAR IN PICTURES AND STORIES Part Three: Summer

Go here to read Part One: Winter

Go here to read Part Two: Spring

PART THREE: SUMMER

The most joyous story about Cape Ann wildlife during the summer months of 2018 is the story of the high number of Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in gardens and meadows, seen not only in strong numbers along the Massachusetts coastline, but throughout the butterfly’s breeding range–all around New England, the Great Lakes region, Midwest, and Southern Canada.

Three days after celebrating the two week milestone of our one remaining Piping Plover chick, Little Pip, he disappeared from Good Harbor Beach. It was clear there had been a bonfire in the Plover’s nesting area, and the area was overrun with dog and human tracks. The chick’s death was heartbreaking to all who had cared so tenderly, and so vigilantly, for all those many weeks.

Our Mama and Papa were driven off the beach and forced to build a nest in the parking lot because of dogs running through the nesting area. Despite these terrible odds, the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair hatched four adorable, healthy chicks, in the parking lot. Without the help of Gloucester’s DPW, the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, Ken Whittaker, Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, and the AAC, the parking lot nest would have been destroyed.

These brave little birds are incredibly resilient, but as we have learned over the past three years, they need our help to survive. It has been shown time and time again throughout the Commonwealth (and wherever chicks are fledging), that when communities come together to monitor the Piping Plovers, educate beach goers, put in effect common sense pet ordinances, and reduce trash, the PiPl have at least a fighting chance to survive.

Little Pip at twelve- through seventeen-days-old

All four chicks were killed either by crows, gulls, dogs, or uneducated beach goers, and in each instance, these human-created issues can be remedied. Ignoring, disregarding, dismissing, or diminishing the following Piping Plover volunteer monitor recommendations for the upcoming 2019 shorebird season at Good Harbor Beach will most assuredly result in the deaths of more Piping Plover chicks.

FOUR WAYS IN WHICH WE CAN HELP THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS SUCCESSFULLY FLEDGE CHICKS: OUR RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE MAYOR

Piping Plover chick testing its wings

Not one, but at least two, healthy and very hungry North American River Otters families are dwelling at local ponds, with a total of seven kits spotted. We can thank the fact that our waterways are much cleaner, which has led to the re-establishment of Beavers, and they in turn have created ideal habitat in which these beautiful, social mammals can thrive.

Several species of herons are breeding on our fresh water ponds and the smaller islands off the Cape Ann coastline. By midsummer, the adults and juveniles are seen wading and feeding heartily at nearly every body of water of the main island.

In order to better understand and learn how and why other Massachusetts coastal communities are so much more successful at fledging chicks than is Gloucester, I spent many hours studying and following Piping Plover families with chicks at several north of Boston beaches.

In my travels, I watched Least Terns (also a threatened species) mating and courting, then a week later, discovered a singular nest with two Least Tern eggs and began following this little family, too.

Least Tern Family Life Cycle

Maine had a banner year fledging chicks, as did Cranes Beach, locally. Most exciting of all, we learned at the Massachusetts Coastal Waterbird meeting that Massachusetts is at the fore of Piping Plover recovery, and our state has had the greatest success of all in fledging chicks! This is a wonderful testament to Massachusetts Piping Plover conservation programs and the partnerships between volunteers, DCR, Mass Wildlife, the Trustees, Greenbelt, Audubon, and US Fish and Wildlife.

Fledged Chick

Cape Ann  Museum

Monarch Madness

Friends Jan Crandall and Patti Papows allowed me to raid their gardens for caterpillars for our Cape Ann Museum Kids Saturday. The Museum staff was tremendously helpful and we had a wonderfully interested audience of both kids and adults!

In August I was contacted by the BBC and asked to help write the story about Monarchs in New England for the TV show “Autumnwatch: New England,. Through the course of writing, the producers asked if I would like to be interviewed and if footage from my forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing, could be borrowed for the show. We filmed the episode at my friend Patti’s beautiful habitat garden in East Gloucester on the drizzliest of days, which was also the last  day of summer.

Happy Two-week Birthday to Our Little Pip

Common Eider Ducklings at Captain Joes

Little Pip Zing Zanging Around the Beach

Our Little Pip is Missing

Piping Plover Update – Where Are They Now?

FOUR WAYS IN WHICH WE CAN HELP THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS SUCCESSFULLY FLEDGE CHICKS: OUR RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE MAYOR

What’s For Breakfast Mama?

42 Pairs of Piping Plovers Nesting at Cranes Beach!

Fishing for Sex

Welcome to Good Harbor Beach Mama Hummingbird!

Least Tern One Day Old Chicks!

Welcome to the Mary Prentiss Inn Pollinator Paradise

Piping Plover Symbolic Fencing Recomendations

Good Morning! Brought to You By Great Blue Herons Strolling on the Beach

Two-day Old Least Tern Chicks

OUTSTANDING COASTAL WATERBIRD CONSERVATION COOPERATORS MEETING!

Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Grow Native Buttonbush for the Pollinators

A Fine Froggy Lunch for a Little Blue Heron

Snowy Owls in Massachusetts in August!?!

Monarch Butterfly Eggs and Caterpillars Alert

Learning to Fly!

Snapshots from Patti Papows Magical Butterfly Garden

Keep Those Monarch Babies Coming!

A Chittering, Chattering, Chetamnon Chipmunk Good Morning to You, Too!

Butterflies and Bird Pooh, Say What?

Caterpillar Condo

Monarch Madness!

Thank You To Courtney Richardson and the Cape Ann Museum Kids

A Banner Year for Maine’s Piping Plovers

Snowy Egret Synchronized Bathing

Good Harbor Beach Super High Tide

Otter Kit Steals Frog From Mom

Monarch Butterfly Ovipositing Egg on Marsh Milkweed: NINETEEN SIBLINGS READYING TO EMERGE

Monarch Butterfly Rescue

FILMING WITH THE BBC FOR THE MONARCHS!

Mr. Swan Alert!

Dear Readers,

Over the weekend the Rockport Fire Department was called by a well-meaning person because they thought Mr. Swan was stuck in the ice. Believe me when I write that Mr. Swan has spent the last 29 years of his life (at least 29 years) on Cape Ann’s wintry waterways. If Mr. Swan finds himself partially frozen in the ice he uses his mighty breast to break up the ice by lifting his body out of the water and then coming down hard, pounding the ice with his chest. We have seen him do this powerful move dozens of times.

Notice Mr. Swan’s large and well-defined breast bones, which are ideal for breaking up ice.

There was a concern last year about him being unable to get off ice he had unwittingly flown onto, only because he had an injured foot. With his bad foot, he could not get a running start to take off flying. Mr. Swan’s foot has healed and he is doing beautifully.

It is of grave concern when the local authorities are called regarding Mr. Swan. We are afraid that the case will be referred to Mass Wildlife. Mute Swans are considered an invasive species and it is not part of their protocol to save non-native species of wildlife. As he is a “community” pet, some leeway may be permitted, but that is not guaranteed.

Please contact me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. When you contact me about any issues regarding Mr. Swan, I in turn contact and discuss with his longtime caretakers and friends Lois and Serena, Lyn, Skip, Joel and Skip, Elaine, and Jodi and Erin at Cape Ann Wildlife. It was a terrible ordeal last time there was an attempt to capture Mr. Swan. We don’t want him to go through that kind of trauma ever again, especially at his age.

During the winter months, Mr. Swan’s territory expands tremendously and it includes the length of the Annisquam River and all inlets, all along the backshore from Rockport Harbor to Gloucester Harbor, and all the fresh bodies of water in between. Please let people know and share this post with everyone you know who may have contact with Mr. Swan.

Mr. Swan in the partially frozen water at Niles Pond

CAPE ANN WILDLIFE 2018: A YEAR IN PICTURES AND STORIES Part Two: Spring

Go Here For Part One

Mama (left) and Papa (right) return to Good Harbor Beach on a bitterly cold day, April 3, 2018.

Part Two: Spring

By Kim Smith

The return of Mama and Papa Piping Plover to Good Harbor Beach filled our hearts with hope and heartache. Although not tagged with a definitive id, we can be fairly certain they are the same because the pair attempt to build their nest each year within feet of the previous year’s nest. Not only did our returning pair try to nest on Good Harbor Beach, there were two additional pairs of Piping Plovers, and several free-wheeling bachelors.

The GHB Bachelors

Papa guarding all-things-Mama

Papa and Mama courting, building a nest scrape, and establishing their territory on the beach.

The PiPls are forced off the beach by dogs running through the nesting area. They begin building a second nest in the Good Harbor Beach parking lot.

Each spring the Good Harbor PiPl have returned earlier than the previous, which show us that the pair is gaining in maturity, and in familiarity with the area. Tragically, at the time of their arrival in April, dogs are permitted on the beach. Dog traffic running through the Piping Plover nesting area was unrelenting, despite signs and roping. The Plover family never caught a break, and were soon making overtures at nesting in the parking lot.

Even with desperate calls for help and repeated warnings from the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, owners continued to allow off leash and on leash dogs to run freely through the PiPl’s nesting area, daily forcing the PiPl off the beach. They were at first torn between maintaining the territory they had established on the beach or establishing a new territory on the white lines in the parking lot. After one particularly warm sunny Sunday in April, they gave up completely on their beach nest scrape.

We learned that during the month of April, dogs at Massachusetts barrier beaches, such as Good Harbor Beach, not only endangers the lives of  threatened Piping Plovers, but many species of migrating and nesting shorebirds.

On May 5th, the first egg was laid in the parking lot. Thanks to Gloucester’s amazing DPW crew, a barricade around the nest was installed within hours of the first egg laid. Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer soon followed to install a wire exclosure around the parking lot nest.

Four!

No shortage of vandals.

Garbage left on the beach brings predatory gulls and crows and they, too, became a serious threat to our Piping Plover family after the chicks hatched. The lack of a common sense ordinance to keep dogs off Good Harbor Beach during the month of April, the unaware dog owners, the garbage scavenging gulls and crows, and the vicious vandals are absolutely our responsibility to better manage and to control. For these reasons, and despite the kindness and care of dozens of PiPl volunteer monitors, as well as good people from around the community (and beyond), the Piping Plovers face terrible odds nesting at Good Harbor. 

Scroll down to the end of the post to find links to some of the dozens of stories that I have written about the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers. Many communities throughout Massachusetts and coastal New England have in place common sense management rules and are successfully fledging chicks. I wrote about that extensively during the summer months and you will find a list of the posts regarding that topic in Part Three: Summer 

Most of the Snowies from the great Snowy Owl irruption of 2017-2018 had departed for their Arctic breeding grounds by the time the Piping Plovers arrived to Cape Ann beaches. This was a relief as I imagined that the Piping Plovers might make a tasty meal in the mind of a Snowy Owl. Thinking we’d seen the last of Hedwig and all Snowies, Bob Ryan called to let us know there was a Snowy Owl hanging around the distillery. I jumped in my car and raced right over. She appeared in good health and stayed for a day.

We did learn weeks later that during July and August there were still a few Snowies remaining on Massachusetts beaches and, from examining their pellets, it was clear they had been eating Piping Plover adults.

I was deeply, deeply honored to receive Salem State University’s Friend of the Earth Award.

and to give my conservation program about the Monarch Butterflies as their keynote speaker.

In May, three Wilson’s Plovers were spotted briefly on Good Harbor Beach. This was a very, very rare northern sighting, especially so as there were three.

The Young Swan of Niles Pond was released by Lyn and Dan, only to lose his life later in the spring.

Amelie Severance sent us a lovely and detailed drawing of the Young Swan

A fabulous Green Heron was photographed and filmed on an area pond–signs of a great summer season for all species of herons, yet to come.

For the past several years, at least, Killdeers, which is another species of plover (although not endangered) have been nesting in the dunes at Good Harbor Beach. This year we had, at a minimum, two successful nests!

All four chicks hatched and, at only one-day-old, made the epic journey to the beach. Miraculously, four teeny tiny mini marshmallow-sized baby birds, led by Papa and Mama, zigzagged across the parking lot, trekked through the dunes, and landed within feet of the parent’s original nest scrape.

Only one chic, the one PiPl volunteer monitor Heather names Little Pip, survives into summer.

Piping Plovers Return to Good Harbor Beach!

Kim Smith to Receive “Friend of the Earth Award” and Keynote Speaker Salem State earth Days Week

Piping Plovers Driven Off the Beach

Monarch Butterflies at Salem State University

Fencing is Urgently Needed for the Piping Plovers

Check Out Gloucester’s DPW Phil Cucuru Showing Extensive Storm Erosion

How You Can Help the Piping Plovers

Gloucester Celebrates Earth Day With Great News: Lyn and Dan Release the Young Swan Back to the Wild

Piping Plovers Forced off the Beach By Dogs for the Second Weekend in a Row

Piping Plovers and Thoughts About Signs, Dogs, and Why We are in This Predicament

We Need Volunteer Piping Plover Monitors Saturday at the PiPl Nesting Area #3

Heartbreaking to See the Piping Plovers Nesting in the Parking Lot

Snowy Owl at Ryan and Woods Distillery

Breaking: Plover Egg in the Parking Lot at Good Harbor Beach

Breaking: Two Eggs in the Nest: Shout Out to Greenbelt for Installing the PiPl Wire Enclosure

PiPl Egg #3

Swan Crisis

Rarest of Rare Visits from Wilson’s Plovers

Vandals Harming the Piping Plovers

Four!

Tonight on Fox See Our GHB Piping Plovers

Debunking Piping Plover Myth #1

Amelie Severance’s Lovely Drawing of the Young Swan

Debunking Piping Plover Myths #2 and #3

More Shorebirds Nesting at Good Harbor Beach!

Angie’s Alpacas

So Sorry to Write Our Young Swan Passed Away this Morning

Beautiful Shorebirds Passing Through

Debunking Piping Plover Myth #4, Winthrop Beach is Amazing, and Lots of Sex on the Beach

Our Good Harbor Beach Killdeer Chicks

Breaking News: Our Piping Plover Good Harbor Beach Chicks Have Hatched

Piping Plover Makes the Epic Journey to the Beach

Good Harbor Beach Two-Day Old PiPl Chicks

Good Morning! Brought to You By the Fiercely Patient Green Heron

We Lost Two Chicks Today

Shout Out to Gloucester’s Animal Control Officers Teagan and Jamie!

Our Third Piping Plover Chick was Killed This Morning

Debunking Piping Plover Myth #5: Piping Plover Volunteers Are NOT Calling for and Outright Ban of Dogs on the Beach

What Do Piping Plovers Eat?

Happy Father’s Day, Brought to You By Papa Plover

THE SPUNKY AND PUNKY AMERICAN WIGEON

For the past week or so, a duo of male American Wigeons has been spotted foraging along the coastline. They dip and dabble, close to the shore, and are eating sea lettuce and seaweed.

Male American Wigeon eating sea lettuce

Smaller than a Mallard but larger than a Bufflehead, the punky male flashes a brilliant green swath across the eye and has a beautiful baby blue bill. The males were are also colloquially called “Baldplate” because the white patch atop his head resembles a bald man’s head.

Oiling their feathers (called preening) and constantly aligning the feathers keeps the ducks both afloat and aloft.

Notice how the water forms beads on the duck’s breast, a sure sign the feathers are well-oiled. Ducks have a gland at the base of their tail called the uropygial gland (you can also say preen gland or oil gland). The preen oil creates a protective barrier that prevents the feathers from becoming waterlogged.

I like to think of the American Wigeon as both spunky and punky. Spunky because of the way they bounce back after diving in rough surf. Punky because of their occasionally holligan-like behavior.

Last year when first encountering American Wigeons I didn’t understand why the Mallards were so aggressive towards the Wigeons, snapping and nipping at the pair whenever they got too close to the Mallard’s meal. Now I see why. American Wigeons often feed alongside other ducks, especially diving ducks such as Coots. The Wigeons opportunistically snatch away the aquatic vegetation the divers pull up although, our two travelers were quite amicable and while feeding together, not in the least hoodlumish toward each other.

Watching the ducks tumbling around in the rough surf while casting about for food is a site I won’t soon forget. It was beautiful to see the Wigeon’s surf dance but also a window into their daily struggle for survival. I marveled at the ducks’ resilience. Roughly a third of migrating birds that winter each year in the mainland of the United States do not survive the journey.

The pair has not been since that morning foraging in the choppy waves. Perhaps they took a cue, of winter weather yet to come.

For many weeks during the late winter and early spring of 2017, a male and female American Wigeon made Rockport their home, and now we have had these two feisty boys. I wonder if the Wigeon’s winter range is expanding northward or if we are merely a stopover on their southward migration. Most of the migration occurs further west and south so I think we are pretty fortunate to have this dynamic duo visiting our shores.

TREMENDOUS TURNOUT FOR CATHERINE RYAN’S CAPE ANN MUSEUM OUTSTANDING “ONCE UPON A CONTEST” OPENING EXHIBIT CELEBRATION!

The opening celebration for the beautiful new exhibit at the Cape Ann Museum, “Once Upon a Contest: Selections from Cape Ann Reads,” was fabulously well-received and well-attended. Artists, writers, Mayor Sefatia, Cape Ann Museum director Rhonda Falloon and staff, Cape Ann librarians, friends, families, and well-wishers were all there to join the celebration.

Congratulations to special exhibition curator Catherine Ryan, the Cape Ann Museum, and Cape Ann Reads Initiative for an outstanding show!

The exhibit highlights local writers and artists of children’s picture books from the Cape Ann Reads initiative. Cape Ann Reads, hosted by the area’s four public libraries (Sawyer Free, Rockport, Manchester, and Essex), was created to encourage literacy in young people through community and creative collaborations.

“ONCE UPON A CONTEST” RUNS FROM DECEMBER 20TH THROUGH FEBRUARY 24TH

Author/illustrators included in the exhibition:
Leslie Galacar, Martha Shaw Geraghty, Marion Hall, Steven Kennedy, Charles King, George King, Michael LaPenna, James McKenna, Barbara McLaughlin, Alexia Parker, Victoria Petway, Jim Plunkett, Diane Polley, Mary Rhinelander, James Seavey, Gail Seavey, Kim Smith, Christina Ean Spangler, Bonnie L. Sylvester, Juni VanDyke, Maura Wadlinger, Betty Allenbrook Wiberg, Kirsten Allenbrook Wiberg, Jean Woodbury and Claire Wyzenbeek

Exhibit Curated and directed by Catherine Ryan, with support from the Bruce J. Anderson Foundation.

Deborah Kelsey, director of Gloucester’s Sawyer Free Library

Cindy Grove, director of the Rockport Public Library

Sara Collins, director of Manchester’s Public Library

Deborah French, director of Essex’s TOHP Burnham Public Library

THE CAPE ANN MUSEUM IS FREE TO CAPE ANN RESIDENTS DURING THE ENTIRE MONTH OF JANUARY!

Do Snowy Owls Hunt During the Day or Night?

Chance encounter, of the majestic Snowy Owl kind-

Snowy Owl perching in a pine tree after sunset.

I wasn’t expecting to see a Snowy Owl overhead in a pine tree, although its not entirely uncommon. Because Snowy Owlets hatch in the summertime in the treeless Arctic tundra, they may never even see a tree until they migrate southward.

Generally, Snowies prefer wide open spaces such as dunes, sandy beaches, fields, and airports, because this habitat looks most similar to the tundra.

For the same reason (their home territory is above the Arctic Circle), Snowy Owls hunt during the day in their summer range. Their eyes have evolved to hunt in the continuous daylight of the far north. When migrating to the lower 48 states, Snowies adapt to the shifting light. Unlike other species of owls, the Snowy Owl hunts during the day (this behavior is called diurnal), the night (nocturnal), and at twilight (crepuscular).

From observing Snowy Owls in our region, they mostly feed very early in the morning, before daybreak, rest during the day in dunes and fields, then at day’s end, fly up and perch on an open rooftop or phone pole (less occasionally to treetops), to begin hunting again. The elevated perches provide better visibility for triangulating prey.

At day’s end, perching on a phone pole and scanning the neighborhood.

Beach structures make great perches.

Even a flag pole makes for a terrific hunting perch for a Snowy!

Do Seals Have Tails?

While photographing the beautiful young Harbor Seal at Brace Cove this week I noticed a large protuberance centered between the seal’s hind flippers. It’s soft fur looked buffy gold in the morning light and it was much easier to see the seal’s anatomical parts than when photographing a darker, more mature seal. I at first thought the prominent knob was its penis, but after googling, discovered, no, it was a tail! However, I can’t find any answers as to what use the tail is employed.

The bulging, rounded cone-shape between the seal’s hind flippers is a tail.

When Harbor Seals are on land their hind flippers are often closed together but this little guy was in a lolling mood. I watched him from my perch, where I was curled up on the rocks for some time, as he stretched, scratched, slept, and yawned.

The Harbor Seal’s V-shaped, or as I like to think of it as heart-shaped, nose nostrils close when underwater.

I think the seal is molting. Harbor Seals molt once a year and the fur of younger seals (up until about three years of age) is more uniform in color.

Harbor Seals, like all phocids, have ear holes, but no external ear flaps.

The Harbor Seal feeds predominantly on fish such as herring, mackerel, hake, salmon, flounder, and cod. They also eat shrimp, squid, clams, crab,  octopus, and crayfish. They swallow prey whole or tear into pieces, and use their back molars to crush shellfish. Typically the seals feed at high tide and rest during low tide. Everyday, the adult Harbor Seal eats approximately five percent of its body weight. 

Its hind flippers propel the seal through water, in a sort of sculling rhythm. True seals, like Harbor Seals, cannot rotate their hind flippers and that is why they scooch along on their bellies when on dry land.

The blunt one- to two-inch claws of the fore flippers are used for grooming and for defense. 

Harbor Seal grooming with its claws.

I went hoping for a beautiful sky and and found both sky and beautiful Harbor Seal.

Harbor Seal at sunrise, Brace Cove