The “winter” Robins are all about, some in flocks of only Robins; other flocks comprised of Starlings and Cedar Waxwings. Here in Essex County the flocks are traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood, devouring fruits and berries of the winterberry bushes, holly, crabapple, and cedar trees, before moving onto the next smorgasbord.
According to Rangers at Parker River, the 2020 fall migration at Plum Island is the best they have ever seen, with over 180 species on the current list (last ten days).
Perhaps the lessened human activity across North America has allowed for many species of birds to flourish.
Female Bobolink (more about beautiful Bobolinks in an upcoming post)
I was filming at a location nearby at dawn or I would have gone at my usual daybreak time, which I find is the best time to observe birds, and wildlife of all sorts. Mid-day is not the best time to go, but it was my one and only chance and I wanted to check it out. Plum Island is gorgeous whenever you go. Autumn hues are beginning to show (especially the brilliant purple-red of PI), there are great swaths of goldenrods in full bloom, and there is a wealth of bird food, berries and seed heads, for the birds to forage upon. Stage Island and Hellcat are two current hotspots for bird sightings.
When you drive up to the kiosk where you show your membership card, ask for the species list of birds seen recently. Or click this link here:
Hello Friends on this rainy, windy day. People’s holiday weekend ran the gamut from joyful to tragic and I so hope yours was not too difficult and you were able to find some light. It was such a beautiful day weather-wise yesterday and if there is one thing about the coronavirus is how wonderful it is to see so many families enjoying each other’s company while out in the fresh air.
Part four, Snowy Owl Takes a Bath, was filmed early one morning. I stopped by to check on Snowy Owl (her nickname at the time was Hedwig) and noticed her face was stained red from breakfast. I only planned to take a few snapshots when she hopped over to a rocky tide pool and began to wash her face. I ran back to the car to get my movie camera and am so glad I did! For the next 40 – 45 minutes she bathed, preened, and fluffed.
I am calling this rare footage because I can’t find anything else like it. Unlike most owls, which are nocturnal (active at night) Snowy Owls are active during the day (diurnal), providing a rare glimpse into the world of owls in the wild.
To see all four episodes together, please go to the Snowy Owl Film Project page on my website. These shorts were created for the kids in the Cape Ann community during this at-home schooling time. The last segment, part five, Snowy Owl Returns to the Arctic, is almost completed and will be posted later this week.
Thank you for watching!
Again, thank you to Scott Weidensaul from ProjectSNOWstorm for script advice.
A Snowy Owl Comes to Cape Ann
Part Four: Snowy Owl Takes a Bath
After a snow squall and as the sun was beginning to appear, a Snowy Owl came out to take a bath. She found a watery icy pool tucked out of sight from dive bombing crows and gulls.
Snowy Owls, like most non-aquatic birds, take baths to clean their feathers.
First washing her face, she tip-dipped and then dunked. After bathing, Snowy fluff dried her feathers, pooped, and preened. During preening, oil from the preen gland, which is located at the base of the tail, is distributed through the feathers to help maintain waterproofing.
Washing, fluffing, and preening took about forty-five minutes from head to talon.
This sweet messy-faced girl was relaxing on the limb of a craggy tree after what had clearly been a successful morning hunt. She coughed up a pellet while enjoying a rare quiet moment perched in the branches.
Red-tailed perched on a chimney scanning the marsh with its keen vision.
The Red-tailed Hawk’s vision is eight times more powerful than a human’s, allowing it see a small rodent such as a mouse or vole from 100 feet away. It dove into the tall dry grass making a loud crackly rushing sound but, came up empty-mouthed. Again it flew to the top of the Pink House chimney from where, only a few moments later, it made a second dive.
When diving to catch prey, their speed may exceed 120 miles per hour, and no joke, this Hawk’s speed appeared to increase as it became torpedo-like in shape.
Successful hunting! I only captured a photo of the second half of its flight from a distance; nonetheless, you can see the mouse (or vole) in its mouth in the last photo.
I haven’t seen any Snowies yet this winter on Cape Ann; there simply seem to be fewer that migrated to our region than there were several years ago when Hedwig was the star of the backshore.
These Snowy Owl photos were taken earlier in the month at Parker River. The dirt road, the one that begins after the Hellcat Trail, has reopened, although I wouldn’t recommend going there on the weekends, much better to go during the week. There are so many photographers and owl lovers on the weekends, especially in the afternoon, that it has become really disruptive to the owls, both the Snowies and Short-eared. Even though folks are very respectful and (most) stay on the road, the Short-eared Owls aren’t catching much food, as far as I can observe, when there are great crowds chasing them up and down the road.
A backlog of owl, and other wildlife pictures. Trying to find the time to sort through and will try to post a bunch this weekend. Here is a recent photo of a Short-eared Owl as the sun was setting. Beautiful creature, beautifully camouflaged.
Chances are that if you see a hawk, it is most likely a Red-tailed. Unlike so very many bird species, the Red-tailed Hawk population has increased over the past one hundred years. The global population hovers around 2 million and its success is due largely to the bird’s ability to adapt to a wide range of habitats, including urban, suburban, and exurban developments. As long as their is some open space, trees or tree-like structures for perching, and small mammals, you will find Red-tailed Hawks.
The Red-tailed Hawk seen here was photographed at Parker River on the luxuriously warm Saturday afternoon last weekend. There were loads of people out walking and enjoying the sunny skies. It was difficult to tell if the Hawk was simply extremely tolerant of people or if he were struggling with an injury or illness. He stayed for a very long time in a small area, over an hour, but flew periodically to hunt in the thicket below (unsuccessfully), and then flew easily back up to the phone lines and trees. At one point, he almost flew into a car driving into the refuge, missing the windshield by inches. I hope that after the gates closed at sundown the Red-tailed was able to right himself and find a tasty dinner.
Far, far down the ridge sat a little white wedge-shaped dot. We were all wishing he would fly our way, but alas, he was content to stay in place while washing his face and preening his flying feathers, with the crowd standing comfortably behind the rope set up by the refuge.
There are two Snowy Owls currently at Parker River and one has been spotted at Salisbury Beach. Hopefully, more will call the North Shore home this winter. The photo below was taken with a 400mm lens and very closely cropped.
Taking advantage of whatever sunshine can be had at this time of year, I took Charlotte to Plum Island for the day this past Thursday. We began at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and were immediately enchanted with an American Bittern stealth hunting in the marsh, a regal buck, Pintail Ducks, and hawks. Next we made sand castles at Sandy Point and then spent a great deal of time exploring a seemingly abandoned bulldozer in the parking lot there.
Lunch was a shared lobster roll from Bob’s Lobster Shack, which is located on the causeway heading out to Plum Island. We then stopped at the refuge headquarters to see the Snowy Owl, Piping Plover, and Monarch displays.
Charlotte’s day was made perfect when we learned that homemade cupcakes could be found at the Buttermilk Baking Company.
Last stop was one of my favorite shops for wonderfully unique and vintage home decor, The Barn at Todd Farm. The shop is decorated beautifully for the holidays and is bursting with Christmas gifts and treasures.
The American Bittern hunting in the marsh at Parker River was not at first easy to locate. Not only do the brown and buff colors of their feathers meld perfectly with the surrounding vegetation, but this heron has adapted an additional, highly effective method of camouflage. The Bittern stands motionless with its neck tilted upward, mirroring the tall reeds where the bird forages for fish, crustaceans, amphibians, insects, reptiles, and even small mammals.
The Bittern was beautiful to watch, perfectly poised in striking mode and waiting for the exact moment to attack. He wasted not an ounce of energy and did not miss a single strike.
American Bitterns breed in our region however, they generally migrate further south for the winter to regions where the water does not freeze. Managed wetlands such as those found within Parker River Wildlife Refuge play an important role in the survival of the American Bittern, especially during migration and the winter months.
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.”
The lonely pink house of Plum Island’s Great Marsh is today only visited by hawks and Snowy Owls, perching to scan the surrounding vista for their next meal.
Local lore has it that the house was built in 1922 by a couple who were in the process of divorcing and sorting their affairs. The wife asked that the husband build a replica of their Newburyport family home. She did not say where the house was to be sited. Out of spite, he built the house atop the isolated salt marsh, with only saltwater plumbing.
The Pink House has not been occupied since the early 2000s and looks worse with each passing year. Last winter I was at the refuge for a program held at the PRNWR headquarters. After the event I tried to drive towards Plum Island but with sea water gushing in from the marsh, the road in front of the house was dangerously impassable.
The house is FREE, if only you will either take it off the marsh or give Parker River National Wildlife Refuge a few acres of comparable land. The second option allows for the house to stay in its current location. Read more here: Free Pink House of Newbury: Take Me I’m Yours
Saturday my daughter Liv and I took a break from all things Christmas and visited Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and Sandy Point Reservation. Hiking around the refuge is one of our favorite things to do and I was thrilled that she got to see not one, but two owls, a Barred Owl, and a Snowy Owl. The Barred was very nearly completely obscured in a dense thicket, nonetheless exciting to see, and the Snowy was spectacular, causing quite a hullabaloo with the onlookers as he perched in a tree by the road leading into the refuge.
To see an owl in the wild is a gift, and I am counting my blessings, for my beautiful, kind-hearted daughter, and wonderful wild creature encounters.
During the month of May, Massachusetts is graced daily with species arriving from their winter homes. Some need to fortify for the journey further north, to the boreal forests, bogs, and tundra of Canada and Alaska. Some will nest and breed in Massachusetts, finding suitable habitat along the coast, and in the marsh, scrub, shrub, forest, and grassland found throughout the state. For several projects on which I am currently working, I have been exploring wildlife sanctuaries along the Massachusetts coastal region. Here is just a sampling of some recently spotted migrants, and it’s only May 4th. Lots more to come!
Biggety Brant ~ This Brant Goose appeared to be the bossy boots of his gaggle, chiding, nipping, and vocally encouraging the group along. A large of flock of approximately 40 Brants was recently reported by readers Debbie and Dan, seen at Back Beach in Rockport. The Brants are heading to the wet, coastal tundra of the high Arctic. No other species of goose travels as far north or migrates as great a distance as do Brants.
W is for Wading Willet. A PAIR were well hidden in the marshy grass! Both the flesh and the eggs of Willets are considered tasty. They were nearly hunted to extinction, saved only by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Willets breeding in Massachusetts is nothing short of a miracle. Notice how closely they resemble Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs; all three belong to the Genus Tringa.
Y is for Yawping Yellowlegs. Both Greater and Lesser Yellow are seen in Massachusetts marshes at this time of year. Greater Yellowlegs have a loud, distinct call, which they utilize often. The Greater Yellowlegs are feeding on tiny crustaceans, killfish, and minnows to fortify for the journey to the boggy marshes of Canadian and Alaskan coniferous forests.
Piping Plover Piping ~ We should be proud that our state of Massachusetts has the greatest record of Piping Plover recovery. I recently saw a bar graph at a lecture presentation, given by Dave Rimmer at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, which illustrated that the recovery rate has flatlined in Canada and New Jersey, and diminished in the Great Lakes region.
T is for Tree Swallow Tango ~ Males arrive on the scene prior to the females. The courtship ritual involves the gents showing the ladies possible nesting sites.
The view from the Parker River Bridge Tuesday night gave me pause to turn around, pull over, and stop to take a photo. It’s always pretty, but this just seemed extra 🙂
From the Newbury Historical Commission:
For a little over 100 years, the only bridge crossing the Parker River was Thurlow’s Bridge (1654), located on Middle Road (south of Governor Dummer Academy). The first bridge across the Parker River on the High Road (Route 1A), was built under the direction of Ralph Cross in 1758; it considerably shortened the distance to and from Rowley and Ipswich. Although the structure has been repaired and replaced many times since it was built, over it traveled Benedict Arnold in 1775, Washington in 1789, President Munroe in 1817, and the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824. The 1911 structure was partially washed away in 1929. The 1930 bridge was replaced with a new structure in 2010.
I think these are Gloucester’s wind turbines, looking across Ipswich Bay. The photo was taken at Sandy Point. Please write if you believe otherwise. Thank you!
Super windy and chilly Saturday afternoon but nonetheless beautiful. I renewed our annual Parker River National Wildlife Refuge pass, which is good for one year, and think it is the best twenty dollars spent. Kudos for being the cutest pass, too!