For many months, we lovers-of-Niles Pond have been treated to the presence of a regularly appearing Great Blue Heron. Great Blue Herons are nothing new to Niles Pond, it’s just that this one could be seen daily at one corner of the Pond. The elegant heron was assigned the nickname Hank by my friend Pat Morss. Hank hunted, preened, and rested for hours on end in this one particular spot. Occasionally we would see two Herons, Hank in his location, and the others around the perimeter of the Pond.
The fish in the film clip is the largest i have seen Hank catch. I think it’s a Common Yellow Perch, but if my fishermen friends know differently, please write.
Hank didn’t mind when the Pond briefly froze over as he was still able to find food. He departed after the ice skaters arrived. Of course the Pond is for all to enjoy, I just don’t think Hank felt comfortable sharing. Lately, a solitary GBH that looks alike like Hank has been foraging at the salt marsh at Good Harbor Beach. Hopefully, if it is Hank, he will get the 411 to head south 🙂
It’s not unusual for GBHerons to winter over on Cape Ann however, most do not. Hank will have an easier time of it if he does migrate. The purple shaded areas of the map denote the Great Blue Heron’s year round range.
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.
Even though back-lit, the unmistakeable foot and a half long lump in the middle of the road demanded action. I pulled my car over, turned on the flashers, stood guard over the Snapper, and contemplated how to get the fellow across the road before he became squished Snapping Turtle breakfast for the Coyotes and Vultures. The last time there was a Snapper in the middle of Niles Pond Road I had retrieved the yoga mat in my car, rolled it up, and working from the tail end prodded the creature across the street. It’s unwise to think you can move a Snapping Turtle with your bare hands. Snappers look slow, act slow, and generally are slow, unless they are hungry or feel threatened. When that happens, the Snapper will snarl and swiftly lunge, its powerful jaws wide open, ready to chomp down with its piercing beak.
After digging around in my trunk I found our winter windshield wiper ice scraping gadget, which conveniently has an extension. I first tried gently pushing him in the direction he was facing. He wouldn’t budge. Next I tried pushing him a little harder with the ice scraper, still nothing. On the third try, the irascible fellow turned with lightening speed and latched hard onto the scraper. After a mini tug of war, he released the ice scraper and turned around to head back to the side from where he came. Okay that’s fine with me, I thought. I’ll check in with him on my return from filming.
Walking back to my car, there was a second Snapper at the roadside edge, appearing as if he/ she was also planning to cross the road. This Snapper was a bit smaller and a bit more skittish. She changed her mind about crossing and headed back toward the pond. I followed the turtle as she lumbered over the woodland floor onto the muddy bank, where she paused briefly before entering the water.
I wondered, were these both females looking for a place to nest? A suitable place to hunker down for the winter? So many questions! According to several sites, Snapping Turtle nesting season runs from April through November although perhaps they are talking about Snappers in warmer regions in regard to nesting in November. And after insemination, a female Snapping Turtle remains fertile for up to three years!
From Audubon, “The snapping turtle family, Chelydridae, evolved in North America and has haunted our wetlands almost unchanged for nearly 90 million years. Ancestors spread to Eurasia about 40 million years ago and then disappeared from that continent in the late Pliocene, about two million years ago. Chelydrids have been sequestered in the Western Hemisphere ever since, which makes them among our truest and oldest turtles. They were present when dinosaurs lived and died, and had been laying round, white, leathery eggs in sandy loam and glacial till for millions of years when the first Amerindians wandered over the Bering Land Bridge. Snapping turtles have witnessed the drift of continents, the birth of islands, the drowning of coastlines, the rise and fall of mountain ranges, the spread of prairies and deserts, the comings and goings of glaciers.”
Turtle populations in Massachusetts are declining. How utterly tragic if we were to lose these 90 million year old relics. Turtles are the ultimate survivors, but they need several types of habitats to survive and to nest. To access their habitats, a turtle must often cross a road. Cars and trucks are among the top threats to turtles. Other threats include habitat loss and fragmentation, collection as pets, disease, and increased predation.
By no means am I suggesting you do this on a busy highway but if you are traveling along a country lane, find a safe place to pull over, and if you are able, escort the turtle to either side of the road.
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: email@example.com.
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.”
What was that brown lump far off in the middle of the pond? Could it be an Eagle? Sure enough, a juvenile Bald Eagle was enjoying his lunch alone on the ice, cautiously eyeing his surroundings for Crows and other thieves in between bites.
We can clearly see approximately how old is today’s Bald Eagle by the color of its bill, a Basic II Plumage. Several years, ago we had another juvenile roughly the same age, 2 and a half years old, which was perched much more closely overhead in the trees. Read more here about aging Bald Eagles.
Not the scrumptious chocolately kind that Hallie at Turtle Alley makes, but a wonderful turtle pig pile nonetheless.
A half dozen Eastern Painted Turtles catching the last of the seasons sun rays before heading to the muddy bottom of the pond to hibernate.
You can’t tell by the image, but the Painted Turtle in the above photo was not any larger than two inches long. They look nearly identical, no matter the age.
The Eastern Painted Turtle is our most common native turtle and this beauty was found at Niles Pond, crossing the road heading towards one of several little babbling brooks that flow towards the pond. Perhaps it was planning to hibernate there as it was the last day of October.
Turtles are ectotherms, which means that their body temperature mirrors the temperature of the surrounding water. During the fall, they find a comfy spot in the mud and burrow in. The Painted Turtle’s metabolism slows dramatically and they won’t usually come up for air until spring, although even during hibernation they require some slight bit of oxygen, which they take in through their skin.
A Little Green Heron crossed my path, flying in low and fast. Stealthily hunting along the water’s’s edge, he had an uncanny ability to make himself nearly flat before striking.
The light was at first overcast but when the sun poked through the clouds, everything turned all golden orange.
Green Herons eat a wide variety of fish and small creatures including minnows, sunfish, catfish, pickerel, carp, perch, gobies, shad, silverside, eels, goldfish, insects, spiders, crustaceans, snails, amphibians, reptiles, and rodents. Although found throughout the US but, it is a species in decline in most regions, except California, where the bird appears to be increasing. Green Herons breed in Massachusetts coastal and inland wetlands.
My days are full, full to overflowing sometimes, with taking care of Charlotte and family, film, and design projects. Though there isn’t day a day that goes by that I don’t think of my life as a gift. Daily I try to fit in a walk, always with a camera slung over each shoulder. How blessed are we on Cape Ann, especially during the pandemic, to have such beauty for our eyes to see and our hearts to travel. I can’t keep up with sharing footage and that will all go towards larger projects anyway, and I am behind with sharing photos. Perhaps I should make these walk photos a series – ‘life at the edge of the sea,’ or something along those lines.
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
A young Mute Swan arrived at Niles Pond this morning. He/she seems a bit travel weary and spent most of the day sleeping. As a matter of fact, I didn’t see him eat once. This is very unusual behavior for Mute Swans who spend their days alternating between foraging, preening, resting briefly, and then resuming eating.
He at first was closer to shore, but a Coyote was skittering around the edge of the pond this morning and perhaps that is why the young visitor moved to the center of the pond.
You can see that he is very young because he has so much brown in his feathers.
A large ring or circle of light around the sun or moon is called a 22-degree halo by scientists.
We get many messages throughout each year from people who’ve just spotted a large ring or circle of light around the sun or moon. Scientists call them 22-degree halos. Why? Because the ring has a radius of approximately 22 degrees around the sun or moon.
People always ask, what causes these gigantic rings?
There’s an old weather saying: ring around the moon means rain soon. There’s truth to this saying, because high cirrus clouds often come before a storm. Notice in these photos that the sky looks fairly clear. After all, you can see the sun or moon. And yet halos are a sign of high, thin cirrus clouds drifting 20,000 feet or more above our heads.
These clouds contain millions of tiny ice crystals. The halos you see are caused by bothrefraction, or splitting of light, and also by reflection, or glints of light from these ice crystals. The crystals have to be oriented and positioned just so with respect to your eye, in order for the halo to appear.
That’s why, like rainbows, halos around the sun – or moon – are personal. Everyone sees their own particular halo, made by their own particular ice crystals, which are different from the ice crystals making the halo of the person standing next to you.
That’s a good question that is not easy to answer accurately because no halo frequency statistics are collected except in one or two mid latitude European countries.
We need to distinguish between (a) halos formed by low level diamond dust during very cold weather and (b) halos formed by ice crystals in high cirrus cloud.
Obviously (a) halos only occur in Polar regions or countries with very cold winters (Canada for example is not high latitude).
(b) Halos can occur anywhere on the planet during winter or summer. Their frequency depends on the frequency of cirrus coverage and whether it has had a history such that it contains halo forming crystals. The latter is hard to predict. For example, there are major differences in halo frequencies and types of halos across even 200 miles [300 km] in the UK.
Bottom line: Halos around the sun or moon are caused by high, thin cirrus clouds drifting high above your head. Tiny ice crystals in Earth’s atmosphere create the halos. They do it by refracting and reflecting the light. Lunar halos are signs that storms are nearby.
Positively pre-historic looking, I was amazed when watching an American Coot lift its foot out of the water. What on earth!Have you ever seen such wildly wonderful feet?
The Coot’s whacky-looking feet only adds to the charm of this adorable waterbird, with its chicken-shaped silhouette, white pointed beak that ends in a sploge of maroon, and garnet, bead-like eyes. Oh, and when the light hits just right, you can see the Coot’s feet are colored in shades of blue, green, and yellow.
The American Coot’s foot is an all-purpose foot so to speak. The lobes serve the bird well for both walking on dry land and for swimming. Most ducks have webbed feet, which are great for propelling through water, but which don’t work very well on land. The Coot’s lobes fall back when lifting its foot, which aids in walking on a variety of surfaces including grass, ice, and mud.
The Coot’s oversized feet also help in becoming airborne; the bird must run across the surface of the water and flap its wings vigorously in order to take off. Its palmate toe helps it swim, and lastly, the Coot uses its strong feet for battling other Coots.
Before the current cold snap, there was a small flock of Coots at Niles Pond, foraging on pond vegetation alongside the flock of four Swans. They all departed shortly before the snowstorm.
The American Coot chicks are equally as whacky looking as are the adult birds. Image courtesy wikicommonsmedia.
The past week Eastern Point has seen a wonderful influx of wildlife, in addition to the beautiful creatures already wintering over and migrating through.
On Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a great raft of Ring-necked Ducks joined the flock of Buffleheads and Mallards at Niles Pond. Five chunky American Coots have been there for over a week, and two female Ruddy Ducks have been spotted.
Fifteen Harbor Seals were sunning and basking on the rocks at Brace Cove on Wednesday, along with several Bonaparte’s Gulls that were diving and foraging in the waves. The increasingly less timid Lark Sparrow is still here, too.
Great Blue Heron agitating the Ring-necked Ducks
The most enigmatic of Great Blue Herons criss crosses the pond a dozen times a day but, unlike last year’s fall migrating GBH, who allowed for a closer glimpse, this heron is super people shy. He has been here for about a week and was present again today.
This morning I watched the four beautiful Mute Swans depart over Brace Rock, in a southerly direction. Will they return? Mute Swans migrate from body of water to body of water within a region. Perhaps they will return, or they could possibly have flown to a nearby location–further exploring our Island.
The four had not returned to Niles Pond by day’s end. If any of our readers sees a group of four Mute Swans, please write and let us know. Thank you so much!
Leaving Niles Pond this morning and flying over Brace Cove.
The sweet Lark Sparrow has been spotted daily at Eastern Point now for over two weeks. I’ve been able to take a longer look on a sunny day and think he is an immature Lark Sparrow because he lacks the rich chestnut color of an adult.
On one fine chilly, chilly morning, he even let me spend more than a few moments watching as he dozed in the sun while puffing his feathers for warmth.
The Lark Sparrow spends a good deal of time foraging on the ground for tiny seeds. When disturbed, he flies up into the trees and at that moment you can catch a glimpse of the white outlined feathers of the bird’s long rounded tail.
Lark Sparrow tail feathers
Unlike Song Sparrows that dart and zoom horizontally across the landscape, when heading to the next location, the Lark Sparrow flies upward in more of a whirring helicopter movement. I love this little bird and if he stays all winter I hope he will find plenty of seeds to eat.
Lark Sparrow foraging for seeds
Compare and contrast the Song Sparrow to the Lark Sparrow. Both species are currently at Eastern Point/Niles Pond area. Both species forage on the ground for tiny seeds. The breast of the Song Sparrow is streaky while the breast of the Lark Sparrow is solid white with a dot of black feathers centered at the upper chest.
Song Sparrow Eastern Point
Don’t you find it fascinating, these avian visitors that are so far off course that find themselves on our shores? Here’s an account from 1905 —
The Lark Sparrow in Massachusetts.– On August 12, 1905, at Ipswich, Massachusetts, I observed at close range a Lark Sparrow (Chondesres grammacus). This makes the sixth record of this species for the State, and the fourth for Essex County. Nearly a year before this, on August 21, 1904, I took at Ipswich an adult male Lark Sparrow (Birds [Auk 104 General Notes. I. Jan. of Essex County, p. 268). It has occurred to me that stragglers in the migrations along our Eastern Coast may not be so very rare, but that they are overlooked, being mistaken for Vesper Sparrows, owing to the ‘white outer tail feathers. In both of the above instances, however, the slightly fan-shaped tail, and the fact that the white was not confined to the two outer feathers, as in the Vesper Sparrow, attracted my eye. The characteristic marking on the side of the head in the Lark Sparrow, seen with a glass within thirty feet, made the diagnosis in the second ca. From the Supplement to the Birds of Essex County by Charles Wendell Townsend.
A very rare-for-these parts Lark Sparrow was spotted by numerous birders today and yesterday at Niles Pond. The beautiful little songster kept either close to the ground foraging on tiny seeds or well camouflaged in the crisscrossing branches of trees and shrubs.
Lark Sparrow Niles Pond Gloucester Massachusetts
Song Sparrows Gloucester and Ipswich
We mostly see Song Sparrows around Niles at this time of year. Compare in the above photos how plain the breast of the Lark Sparrow is to that of the heavily streaked Song Sparrow’s underparts. I write rare-for-these-parts because the Lark Sparrow is entirely out of its range as you can see in the first attached map below.
A second rare bird has been spotted on Eastern Point, a Western Kingbird. It was a rough day for photographing, too overcast, so here is a photo from wikicommons media so that if you are around the Point, you will know what to look for. The Western Kingbird is also far outside its range.
Ponds and waterways are filling up with one of the smallest ducks found on our shores, the Buffleheads. A most striking of winter residents (and feisty, too), the male is sharply feathered in black and white, with iridescent purple and green head feathers. The Buffleheads will be here through the winter, with most departing in early spring.
The name Bufflehead is derived from the name Buffalo-head, and they are so named because of the male’s puffy-shaped head. Another common name for this diminutive diver is Butterball.
The male’s head feathers are shaded with a beautiful rainbow sheen, while the female is a much plainer sort.
The flock of Mute Swans that arrived just about two weeks ago at Niles Pond is settling in. They are finding plenty to eat and spend their days foraging at pond vegetation, preening, napping, and occasionally stretching their wings for a flight around the pond.
Mute Swans migrate from body of water to body of water within a region. Will they stay in our area or is Niles Pond only a temporary home? When Niles Pond, and all other freshwater ponds and waterways freeze this winter, they will have to move to saltwater coves and harbors.
The absence of Mr. Swan has allowed this small flock to live peaceably at Niles Pond. Mr. Swan and his previous mates spent the winters at Rockport and Gloucester Harbors. Perhaps our Niles Pond flock will do the same. We can tell by the lack of gray in their feathers that they are at least two years old, which means they have managed to survive at least one winter in our region. That is no small feat!