Category Archives: Life at the Edge of the Sea

THE DANCE OF COLOR AND LIGHT – MONARCHS ON THE MOVE!

Monarchs were on the move over the weekend, not only on Cape Ann, but all over northern and northeastern regions of the country* very solid numbers of migrating Monarchs are being shared, from Ontario, to upstate New York, Michigan, and Maine.

Lets keep our hopes up for good weather for the Monarchs on the next leg of their journey southward!

*Ninety percent of the Monarch Butterfly migration takes place east of the Rocky Mountains.

If you would like to help support the Monarchs, think about creating a milkweed patch in your garden. The best and most highly productive milkweed for Monarch caterpillars is Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), the milkweed we see growing in our local marshes and dunes. The seed heads are ripe for plucking when they have split open and you can see the brown seeds and beautiful floss.

For several of my readers who have expressed difficulty in germinating milkweed seeds, the following is a foolproof method from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

HOW TO GERMINATE MILKWEEDS

MILKWEEDS (ASCLEPIAS SPP.) ARE NOTORIOUSLY DIFFICULT TO GERMINATE. But don’t despair. The Wildflower Center has developed and tested a protocol that results in good germination rates for a number of our native milkweed species. Follow this process and you’ll soon be on your way to supporting monarchs, bumblebees and tons of other insects that depend on milkweed plants. READ the complete article here.

PRAYERS FOR THE PEOPLE AND WILDLIFE OF THE BAHAMIAN ISLANDS

Stay safe little fledgling!

It’s heartbreaking to read about the death and devastation wreaked by Hurricane Dorian. Never having been, but greatly wishing to go someday, our hearts go out to the people of this beautiful and magical archipelago, the Bahamas.

Several friends have written asking about what happens to shorebirds, especially the Atlantic Coast Piping Plovers, during a monster hurricane like Dorian. Some lose their lives, some are blown far off course and hopefully, more will survive than not.

One somewhat reassuring thought regarding the Piping Plovers that are tagged in Massachusetts and Rhode Island is that they may not yet have left the States. After departing Massachusetts and RI, a great many tagged PiPls are soon found foraging on the shores of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Cape Lookout National Seashore, and Cumberland Island National Seashore, GA. Data suggests that the Outer Banks are a priority stopover site for Piping Plovers well into the late summer. After leaving our shores, southern New England Piping Plovers spend on average 45 days at NC barrier beaches before then heading to the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.

A male Piping Plover that I have been documenting since April, nicknamed Super Dad, still in Massachusetts at his breeding grounds as of August 28th.

Here is Super Dad watching over his two fledglings, aged 31 days, On August 24th, 2019.

Thirty-one-day-old fledglings sleeping after a morning of intensive foraging and fattening-up.

Hellcat Reopens!

Lovers of Parker River Hellcat trail will be happy to know the marsh loop has reopened! See the video below for more information.

Barred Owl at Hellcat. One of the best places to find owls is on the marsh loop.

GLOUCESTER PLOVERS GO SWIMMING!

Gloucester Plovers Go Swimming! New short created for Mass Wildlife Coastal Waterbird Cooperators.

No one knew these tiny little shorebirds could swim. They don’t have webbed feet so how do they swim?  I think the sheer movement of their little feet going a mile a minute keeps them afloat–they paddle as fast as they run on the beach. Turn up the volume to hear the chicks peeping and Dad Plover piping.

POSTS AND ARTICLES ABOUT PIPING PLOVERS:

THE WONDERFUL MIRACLE AND MESSINESS OF BIRTH – PIPING PLOVER CHICKS HATCHING PART ONE

THE WONDERFUL MIRACLE AND MESSINESS OF BIRTH – PIPING PLOVER CHICKS HATCHING PART TWO

THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH PARKING LOT PLOVERS – The story of a remarkably spirited pair of birds and how a community came together to help in their struggle for survival 

National Audubon feature story: How Plover Chicks Born in a Parking Lot Spurred a City to Make Its Beach Safer

100 Plus Piping Plover Articles, Posts, and Stories by Kim Smith April 2018 – May 2019

TREMENDOUS COASTAL WATERBIRD CONSERVATION COOPERATORS MEETING!

On Tuesday I attended the Coastal Waterbird Conservation Cooperators meeting, which took place at the Harwich Community Center on Cape Cod. The meeting is held annually to bring together people and organizations that are involved with population monitoring and conservation efforts on behalf of coastal waterbirds. Threatened and endangered species such as Least Terns, Piping Plovers, Roseate Terns, and American Oystercatchers are given the greatest attention.

I was invited by Carolyn Mostello, event organizer, to create a short film, Gloucester Plovers Go Swimming, for the “Strange and Unusual” section about our three little chicks and the fact that for about a week they were SWIMMING in the tidal creek (see next post). I also provided a group of photos of the late hatching chicks for DCR. The film and the photos were well-received, which was gratifying to me, to be of help in documenting these wonderful stories.

Conservationists from all seven Massachusetts coastal regions participated, as well as conservationists from nearby states, including representatives from Maine, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. To name just some of the organizations presenting at the meeting-Mass Wildlife, Trustees of Reservations, Essex Greenbelt, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Mass Audubon, and US Fish and Wildlife.

In the morning, each region gave the 2019 population census report for nesting birds as well as providing information about problems and solutions. We all share similar challenges with predation from crows and gulls, uncontrolled dogs, enforcement, and habitat loss and it was very interesting to learn about how neighboring communities are managing problems and issues.

Trustees of Reservations Coastal Ecologist Jeff Denoncour presented on behalf of the north of Boston region, of which Gloucester is a part. Essex Greenbelt’s Director of Land Stewardship Dave Rimmer and intern Fionna were in attendance as well. Both Crane Beach and Parker River are having a fantastic year and the numbers are up across Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island. There are still many young chicks yet to fledge on Massachusetts beaches so the final count has not been determined.

The afternoon session was filled with outstanding lectures presented by conservation biologists and all the programs were tremendously informative.

I met Beth Howard from Mass Audubon, who has been involved with care taking the L Street Piping Plovers and Paige Hebert from Mass Wildlife who has been helping manage Roseate Terns. The DCR staff managing the shorebirds at Nahant, Salisbury, Winthrop, and Revere Beach were all there and they are just a stellar group of young people.

It was a great day! Many attendees expressed congratulations for Gloucester fledging three chicks. Last year after attending the meeting I wrote the following and it’s wonderful that our hope for Gloucester’s Plovers was realized this year: “After attending the cooperators meeting, I am more hopeful than ever that our community can come together and solve the problems that are preventing our PiPl from successfully nesting and fledging chicks. What we have going in our favor is the sheer number of amazing super volunteers along with strong community-wide support.” 

SEA-ROCKET!

What is that wonderful succulent yet scrubby-looking green plant we see growing on our local beaches? You are most likely looking at American Sea-rocket (Cakile edentula). Named for its rocket-shaped berries, Sea-rocket is a native annual. It grows in dry sand and is pollinated by beetles, moths, butterflies, flies, and bees. The edible flowers and peppery, succulent leaves, which taste somewhat like horseradish, attract myriad species of tiny insects as well.

Sea-rocket reseeds itself each year all around New England beaches and thrives in the poor medium of dry sand, above the high tide line. In springtime, along the Massachusetts coastline, you will see tiny shoots emerging and by early summer the multi-branching plant can grow two feet wide and equally as tall.

Throughout the Piping Plover’s time spent at Good Harbor Beach, Sea-rocket is an important plant, providing shade on hot summer days, protection from the wind, and attracts a smorgasbord of insects that both the adults and tiniest of chicks depend upon for their diets.

Piping Plover chicks and adults forage for small insects at Sea-rocket.

SEA-ROCKET GROWTH PROGRESSION-

The first photo was taken on April 6, 2019. You can see that there is no vegetation growing in the roped off area.

The second photo was taken about one month later, at the time our mated Piping Plover pair began nesting. Notice the tiny shoots of Sea-rocket beginning to emerge.

The third photo was taken during the second week of July. Look how beautifully the Sea-rocket is growing in the roped off area.The fourth photo shows the same area after the PiPl refuge was dismantled and the Sea-rocket raked over.Three Piping Plover chicks finding shelter beneath the Sea-rocket foliage.

HOW DO NESTING BIRDS SUCH AS PIPING PLOVERS KEEP FROM BOILING THEIR EGGS IN A HEAT WAVE?

During this heat wave I have been concerned about one of the Piping Plover families that I am documenting. They are nesting in an exposed site and it is late in the season. I wondered if their eggs were at risk of becoming overheated. As of Saturday, my worries were for naught.

Both the Mom and Dad are sitting high on the nest. Typically when brooding eggs, Piping Plovers fluff out their brood feathers and the eggs are entirely hidden. During these 90-degree-plus days, the parents are continuing to sit on the nest to keep predators from seeing the eggs from overhead, but they are raising their bodies enough to allow air to flow beneath.

Both parents are struggling in the heat; they are overheated and panting while minding their nest, yet despite their obvious discomfort, they are determinedly continuing to brood.

Panting nesting Plover in 95 degree temperatures.

Allowing for air circulation is really a pretty genius way of managing their eggs and I am keeping my hopes up that the pair will be successful ❤

Dad PiPl says why is it so dang hot!