At this time of year, look for Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonflies at our local ponds, wetlands, slow moving streams, marshes, and woodlands. They emerge in mid-summer and are on the wing as late as through November. The males especially are easily spotted with their brilliant vermilion abdomens. Male Meadowhawks dart about chasing other males away from their territory.Autumn Meadowhawks copulating in the typical dragonfly “mating wheel” fashion. The male (vermilion abdomen) grasps the female behind her head while the female places the tip of her abdomen at the spot on his abdomen where he stores sperm.
Autumn Meadowhawks in-tandem
After mating, the female Autumn Meadowhawk oviposits (lays) her eggs in-tandem with the male. They stay attached while he dips her in water and at the base of vegetation as she deposits her eggs. By staying joined together and flying in-tandem, he prevents other male Meadowhawks from replacing his sperm with their own.
These late season dragonflies are an important strand in our wetland ecology. Their tiny larvae provide food for ducks, fish, frogs, and wading birds, while migrating songbirds and shorebirds traveling through dine on the adults.
American Bullfrog patiently waiting for a dragonfly snack
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.”
If you have seen a congregation of white herons at Niles Pond, chances are they were not Snowy Egrets or Great White Egrets, but Little Blue Herons.
During the summer of 2022, we had an extraordinary wildlife event unfolding at Niles Pond. In an average year we only see a handful, if any, Little Blue Herons at Niles. Amazingly, on any given evening in August of this year, I counted at a minimum two dozen; one especially astonishing evening’s count totaled more than 65!
Little Blue Herons are an average-sized wading bird, smaller than Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets but larger than Little Green Herons and Black-crowned Night Herons.
Little Blues in their first hatch summer are often confused with Snowy Egrets because they are similar in size and color. A Little Blue Heron, despite its name, is mostly pure white its first hatch summer (the wings are tipped in slate gray). Their bills are pale greyish blue at the base and black at the tip, with yellowy-green legs.By its third summer, Little Blue adults have attained the two-toned rich moody blue body plumage and violet head and neck feathers.
It’s the Little Blue’s second hatch year, in-between juvenile and adult, when it shows a lovely bi-color, calico pattern that is the most enchanting. The feather patterning is wonderfully varied as the bird is losing its white feathers and gaining its blue and violet feathers. The patterning is so interesting, on one of our many visits to check on the herons, Charlotte dubbed the Niles Pond calico, La Luna.
Little Blue Herons – first hatch summer
Little Blue Heron – second summer (Luna)
Little Blue Heron – adult
Little Blue Heron adult and first hatch summer juvenile
The Little Blue Herons have begun to disperse and I have not seen Luna in over a week. They will begin migrating soon. I am so inspired by the presence of Luna and her relations at Niles Pond I am creating a short film about New England pond ecology, starring Luna!
Food for thought – Because of the drought, the water level at Niles has been lower than usual. The lower water level however apparently did not effect the American Bull frog population and that is what the Little Blues have been feasting on all summer. By feasting, I literally mean feasting. In our region, Little Blue Herons are “frog specialists.” During the first light of day, I witnessed a Little Blue Heron catch four American Bullfrogs, either an adult, froglet, or tadpole. They hunt all day long, from sunrise until sunset. If at a bare minimum, a typical LBH ate 20 frogs a day times 60 herons that is a minimum 1200 frogs eaten daily over the course of the summer.
Here in New England, we are at the northern edge of the Little Blue Heron’s breeding range. Perhaps with global climate change the range will expand more northward, although Little Blue Herons are a species in decline due to loss of wetland habitat.
Luna in early summerSnowy Egret (yellow feet) in the foreground and Great Egret (yellow bill) in the background
Compare white Little Blue Heron first hatch summer to the Snowy Egret, with bright yellow feet and black legs and bill to the Great White Egret with the reverse markings, a bright yellow bill with black feet and legs.
Most often we see American Bullfrogs and Green Frogs at our local ponds. Imagine the joy when encountering the vibrantly patterned Leopard Frog, who was unsuccessfully trying to camouflage in the drought-dried grass along the pond’s edge.
Named for its cat-like spots, the Northern Leopard Frog’s dark spots are each surrounded by a pale halo. The overall body can be brown, green, and sometimes yellow-green. A Northern Leopard Frog may grow up to four and a half inches long on a diet rich in insects, spiders, mollusks, and crustaceans. As opposed to vernal pools and ponds, Northern Leopard Frogs breed in permanent bodies of water including rivers, streams, ponds, pools, and wetlands.
Northern Leopard Frogs can be found throughout Massachusetts however, over the past thirty years, the species has suffered a dramatic decline in population throughout its range. Aquatic habitat loss and degradation, the introduction of non-native species, disease, pesticides, and climate change have all affected the Northern Leopard Frog adversely.
This month I am taking a short break from working on the Piping Plover feature documentary and am developing a film about the ecology of New England ponds. Frogs, in all their myriad incarnations, are keystone species, playing starring roles as both predator and prey.
American Bullfrogs are by far the most commonly seen. While filming and adventuring around local ponds with Charlotte we witnessed a dramatic scene where a Garter Snake snatched a Bullfrog from the road. As the snake was keeping his eyes on us, he was successfully dragging the frog into the cover of grass, simultaneously trying to devour the frog whole in one swallow. As you can see, the frog was enormous, compared to the mouth of the snake nonetheless, the snake was determined. We couldn’t continue to wait to see what took place but were convinced the snake was going to prevail and eventually swallow the frog.
Known predators of American Bullfrogs include Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, snakes, raccoons, Belted Kingfishers, and turtles.
Little Blue Heron eating a froglet
As tadpoles, American Bullfrogs are herbivores that eat aquatic plants. As adults, ABullfrogs are carnivorous ambush predators who eat insects, birds, fish, snakes, baby turtles, bats, rodents; anything that fit into their wide mouths. They even eat each other! Bullfrogs wait patiently for prey to pass by and and then use their powerful back legs to pounce. American Bullfrogs are North America’s largest. Females are generally larger than males and can grow up to 8 inches.
Note the tail on the above Bullfrog froglet. Half tadpole, half frog, froglets are outgrowing their tadpole stage, but are not yet fully fledged frogs.
An easy way to tell the difference between an American Bullfrog and a Green Frog is to look at the fold of skin behind the eyes. The ABfrog’s wraps around the very large eardrum (tympanic membrane). The Green Frog’s fold on either side runs along the length of the body.
Charlotte and I have been spending time learning about the “web of life” at some of our local ponds. Ponds are instantly gratifying in showing a child what is an ecosystem. We have seen some AMAZING scenes lately, including a small snake trying to swallow whole a very large dead bullfrog. More on that when I have a few minutes to sort through the photos.
In the meantime, here is a lovely dragonfly we are seeing at every pond we have been to visit, a perching male Great Blue Skimmer. They are a member of the Libellula family and one of the most commonly seen. Libellula skimmers are often referred to as King Skimmers because of their large size.
All living creatures need clean water, clean air, and safe habitat. The North American River Otter has made a remarkable comeback as a direct result of bipartisan clean water acts first written in 1948, and then rewritten in 1972. Stop the republicans from their continuous environmental rollbacks that will have a tremendously harmful impact on our water quality.
Vote the Blue Wave!
What is happening in this clip? Mom River Otter caught a frog. Rather than eating it herself, she set it on the log between her feet for her kit to find and eat.
Read More – The Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters.
Under the CWA, EPA has implemented pollution control programs such as setting wastewater standards for industry. EPA has also developed national water quality criteria recommendations for pollutants in surface waters.
The CWA made it unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters, unless a permit was obtained.
In June 2020, EPA director Andrew Wheeler eliminated states’ and tribes’ rights to halt projects that risk hurting their water quality by rolling back a section of the Clean Water Act (CWA).
Jon Devine, director of federal water policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, counters:
Enforcing state and federal laws is essential to protecting critical lakes, streams, and wetlands from harmful pollutants and other threats. But the Trump administration’s rule guts states’ and tribes’ authority to safeguard their waters, allowing it to ram through pipelines and other projects that can decimate vital water resources.
This is a dangerous mistake. It makes a mockery of this EPA’s claimed respect for ‘cooperative federalism.’
This action undermines how our foundational environmental laws work. The federal government should be setting baseline standards, while states apply and enhance them to the benefit of their unique natural resources and residents.
This morning while observing a juvenile Little Blue Heron fishing he captured a small pond creature, but then spit it out almost immediately. No wonder, it is so odd looking. Can anyone help ID? Thank you!
Try Backyard Birding – Please join John Nelson, Martin Ray, and myself for a virtual zoom hour of fun talk about birding in your own backyard. We’ll be discussing a range of bird related topics and the event is oriented to be family friendly and hosted by Eric Hutchins.
I am a bit under the weather but nonetheless looking forward to sharing this wonderful event sponsored by Literary Cape Ann.
Singing the praises of Cape Ann’s winged aerialists
Families are invited to join some of our favorite local naturalists and authors — John Nelson, Kim Smith and Martin Ray — for a fun hour talking about the many birds and natural habitats found on Cape Ann. Wildlife biologist Eric Hutchins will moderate this-one hour conversation.
Zoom in Friday, June 19, at 6:30 p.m. for an hour of fun as you celebrate the long-awaited summer solstice. See and hear birds, ask questions, learn some birdwatching tips and discover ways to document your bird sightings using your camera, notebook, blog or sketch pad.
This event is brought to you by Literary Cape Ann, a nonprofit group that provides information and events that support and reinforce the value and importance of the literary arts. LCA commemorates Toad Hall bookstore’s 45 years of service on Cape Ann. LCA’s generous sponsors include: SUN Engineering in Danvers, Bach Builders in Gloucester and The Institution for Savings.
All the photos you see here were taken in my East Gloucester neighborhood this past spring, from March 17th to this morning. A few were taken at the Jodrey Fish Pier, but mostly around Eastern Point, Good Harbor Beach, and in our own backyard. The Tree Swallows photos were taken at Greenbelt’s Cox Reservation. Several of these photos I have posted previously this spring but most not.
I love sharing about the beautiful species we see in our neighborhood – just this morning I was photographing Mallard ducklings, an Eastern Cottontail that hopped right up to me and ate his breakfast of beach pea foliage only several feet away, a Killdeer family, a male Cedar Waxwing feeding a female, and a Black Crowned Night Heron perched on a rock. I was wonderfully startled when a second BCN flew in. The pair flew off and landed at a large boulder, well hidden along the marshy edge of the pond. They hung out together for a bit- maybe we’ll see some little Black Crowned Night Herons later this summer <3
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.
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!