New England residents and nonprofits work to save threatened species
Climate concerns growing for the future of many migratory species.
We travel all over coastal Massachusetts to learn about a few local “indicator species,” which can help explain the impact of climate change. Award-winning documentarian Kim Smith tells us the story of piping plovers breeding in Massachusetts.
The City of Cambridge raises monarch butterflies for release.
Every year, hundreds of sea turtles are stranded on the Cape. The New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital comes to the rescue.
Meanwhile, terrapin turtles on the Cape are struggling to survive.
In Plymouth at Manomet, researchers monitor coastal health, tag songbirds, and study the presence of a mighty migratory shorebird – the whimbrel.
Our beloved Piping Plovers and Monarchs are going to be featured on an episode of Chronicle this evening. “Wildlife Worries” is devoted entirely to indicator species including not only Monarchs and PiPls, but also Whimbrels, tiny terrapins, and more. The show airs tonight at 7:30pm on Chronicle, WCVB, channel 5.
Several months ago, I met with the outstanding Chronicle producer, Sangita Chandra, and the show’s stellar videographer, Jennifer Platt-Ure. Originally Sangita was looking for footage of Monarchs and PiPls, but then decided to include an interview from a filmmaker’s perspective. The interview was filmed at Winthrop Shores Reservation as it was a convenient location, and also the charming cafe, Piccolo Piatti. It was a joy working with Sangita as she has a keen interest in wildlife conservation. The show promises to be wonderfully educational. I can’t wait to watch the part about the whimsical Whimbrels and turtles, in addition to the PiPls and butterflies!
Chronicle writes, “New England wouldn’t be New England without the shore birds, butterflies, and turtles that spend part of the year here. These and other local creatures are considered ‘indicator species’ that also help us understand the impact of habitat loss and climate change. Tonight we get up close to giant sea turtles and tiny terrapins, whimbrels and piping plovers, and meet the people committed to protecting them.”
Included in that group – a park ranger who raises butterflies, a documentary filmmaker, and high schoolers studying river herring. Many thanks to our videography team – Bob Oliver, Jennifer Platt-Ure, and Rich Ward and to editor Ellen Boyce. Hope you enjoy the program!
Thank you so much for watching!
Warmest wishes, xxKim
A beautiful multitudinous flock of choristers has been chattering from every vantage point. The mixed flock of Dark-eyed Juncos and Golden-crowned Kinglets arrived to Cape Ann’s eastern edge on the same day. I don’t know if they are traveling together but they can be seen foraging in close proximity, from leaf litter to treetops.
Golden-crowned Kinglets are one of the teeny-tiniest of songbirds; a bit larger than the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but not quite as large as the Black-capped Chickadee. They zoom in and out of the trees (mostly evergreens), hovering and hanging every which way when probing for insect prey.
The Dark-eyed Juncos (also know as Snowbirds) are mostly foraging close to the ground in grass and fallen leaves. They hop from place to place and flip up leaves looking for seeds. The Snowbirds fly up to the trees and shrubs when disturbed.
Note the array of shading in the individual Snowbird’s feathers, from slate gray to milk chocolate
Learn the birdsongs of these two beautiful species and you will easily be able to locate them. The Golden-crowned Kinglet sings a lovely ascending high pitched series of notes that end in a lower pitched warble. The Snowbird sings a series of kew, trills, whistles, and warbles that is also lovely and when the two are foraging in close proximity, it’s a joy to hear their mini symphony.
Congratulations and wonderful wishes to Alexa Niziak! Her latest film project, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, premiered last night in Hollywood. Alexa is also a full time student at the outstanding NYU Tish School of the Arts. She didn’t want to miss classes so Alexa flew out to LA just for the night to attend the premiere.
Alexa is a Rockport resident. You may recall that she was also one of our super Piping Plover ambassadors, along with her beautiful Mom Paula. They had originally volunteered to help with the Cape Hedge chicks but after all four chicks perished, the two joined us at Good Harbor Beach. They are one of our most kind-hearted and dedicated and we were so grateful to have had their help this summer. We may lose Alexa to her flourishing career (we sure hope not), but if so, success could not happen to a nicer person.
Alexa is a gifted dancer, actress, and singer. She has performed on Broadway (the Tony-award winning Matilda the Musical), Off-Broadway, and television shows such as “Orange is the New Black.” To read more about Alexa, visit her website here.
Alexa Niziak (second from left) in Mr. Harrigan’s Phone
Just in time for Halloween, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is a super spooky thriller. Husband Tom is a big Steven King so I nabbed a copy off his bookshelf and read it on the plane to Ohio. I cannot wait to see Alexa in the film. She plays Margie, the lead character’s best friend.
We’re so proud of you Alexa!!! xo
A boy and an aging billionaire bond over books — and their first iPhones. But when the older man passes, their mysterious connection refuses to die. From Ryan Murphy, Blumhouse and Stephen King comes a supernatural coming-of-age story, starring Donald Sutherland and Jaeden Martell. Written and directed for the screen by John Lee Hancock.
Dear PiPl Friends,
We’re so very sorry to write that all four Cape Hedge Plover chicks, and possibly Mom, are gone. The Dad was last seen yesterday. The chick in the above photo was found in the intertidal zone at the end of day by PiPl Ambassador DBrown
I think as a community we can do better than this. We have let the Plovers down. Speaking for myself, not only let the Plovers down, but the community. I had to attend a funeral out of state the day after the chicks hatched but had been hoping the chicks would hatch after we returned, not prior to. Their nest was so well-hidden we didn’t learn about it until after it was well-established and had no clear idea of the hatch date.
There is a slim possibility that if the Mom is still alive she will return and renest this season. This scenario seems unlikely though because no one has seen her. Plovers will renest up to five times in the same season. And Plovers typically return to the same nesting site every year. If we do have a renest this year we will be more organized in our ability to help the Plovers.
We are not experts by any means however, we PiPl Ambassadors in Gloucester have six, going on seven, years of experience learning about how people and Plovers can coexist on a beach. We are willing to help and share everything we have learned with our Rockport neighbors because I believe that to a Plover’s way of thinking, Good Harbor to Cape Hedge is just one long continuous beach.
Suggestions on moving forward –
In speaking to people on the beach there was a great deal of confusion about the Plover’s life cycle. For example, folks thought the chicks needed to be “rescued” when they were up on the rocks doing their thing foraging away from an adult. Beachgoers did not get the information that Plover chicks, after only several hours from hatching, begin foraging on their own.
A large, clearly visible basic informational Piping Plover dos and don’ts sign at both ends of the beach entrances/parking areas would go a long way in helping to educate beachgoers what to do and what not to do when a Plover chick or adult is seen on the beach.
I have developed a fun, informational program to help communities better understand the Piping Plover life story and how we can become better stewards. I am happy to present this program, free of charge, to any Rockport community organization that would like to host us.
I met a photographer on the beach Tuesday, I believe it was. I watched as she followed Cape Hedge Dad Plover up and down the beach, much too closely, with an 800mm lens. When gently suggested in a chatty way she move back, she said to the effect, not to worry, she hates other photographers as they get too close, but she on the other hand was conscious not to disrupt. I didn’t argue with her however, this was a complete fallacy on her part. She was too close, and following a bird, any bird, at close range for over an hour, especially a bird that is not familiar with you, is incredibly disruptive. With a lens anywhere from 400 to 800mm, a person can capture beautifully cropped close-up images. Please, fellow photographers and Piping Plover observers, observe and take photos from at a minimum a hundred feet away and then move on.
Pet regulations on beaches must be posted in a timely fashion. Why even take them down? Both Rockport and Gloucester take down the summer beach regulations signs, which only causes confusion. If they are left in place year round, then it won’t come as a surprise when the summer regulations go into effect. Other important informational signs are left in place year round.
The Rockport dog laws are clearly stated on the town’s website. No dogs are allowed on the beach beginning June 1st, yet as of today, June 8th, over the course of the past few days there have been countless dogs running Cape Hedge, both on and off leash. The folks on the beach with dogs that we have spoken with are under the impression the leash laws go into effect on June 15th. There is no signage alerting people to the leash laws. Four beautiful and perfectly healthy chicks hatched overnight May 31st to June 1st , at the time of year when the dogs are prohibited from the beach. We need the town government to take seriously the protection of threatened and endangered species and to define what their role is in helping provide protections.
I would be happy to speak with anyone about suggestions for better protecting the Plovers. Please leave a comment, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or PM me on Facebook with a phone number if you would prefer to talk.
Town of Rockport Animal Control website page unambiguously states no dogs allowed June 1st through September 15th.
Overnight on May 31st, the precious Cape Hedge Piping Plover chicks hatched. The photos of these tender tiny ephemeral beings were taken the morning of June 1st when the chicks were only several hours old. In all the photos of the chicks you can still see their teeny white egg tooth, which falls off after a day or so. The hatchlings use their sharp egg tooth to pip, or peck, their way out of the egg shell.
The most well-camouflaged nest in Massachusetts –
We have a whopping new grand total of Piping Plover eggs for Cape Ann’s eastern shore and it is an even dozen! This morning when I stopped by for PiPl check in, Salt Island Dad popped off the nest to reveal a fourth egg. All three Cape Ann PiPl families are brooding nests with four eggs in each. We are so blessed to see their beautiful life story unfold!
An added note about the nesting pair at #1, the Salt Island side of Good Harbor Beach – The pair first had a nest of three eggs up in the dune grass. We think it was predated, possibly by a seagull. There were no tracks near the nest and the only evidence found was one crushed egg.
#1 Salt Island original nest
After the first clutch of eggs disappeared, the pair immediately began setting up house away from the grass and closer to the wrack line. Piping Plovers will attempt to re-nest up to five times. The pair eventually settled on a scrape behind a mini mound of dried seaweed, albeit a more vulnerable location than the first.
Salt Island renest
As of today, the Salt Island pair have a nest of four, for a total of seven eggs laid over the past several weeks. Egg laying takes a toll on the Mom. At Good Harbor we now have handicapped Mom at #3 and over extended Mom at #1. When you see Plovers on the beach resting and foraging, please give them lots and lots of space and let them be to do their thing. Thank you!
Tired Mama at #1
Our Cape Hedge “Plovers in the Popples” pair have a nest of four eggs! It’s extraordinarily beautiful in how well the eggs blend with the surrounding popples.
Tuesday morning the symbolically roped off area was installed by Mass Fish and Wildlife. For friends new to Plover protections, the roping is placed around the nesting area to keep people and pets away from the nest. Signs will be going up shortly. If you are on the beach, please do not stand right up next to, or hover around the roping. We would have liked to have made the area ten feet deeper, but because of the high tide line, it wasn’t possible. Please, please give the birds lots and lots of space. Thank you!
The fantastic thing about the roping installed by Mass Wildlife is that it is four heights of rope, from several inches off the ground to waist height, which really helps keep pets and little persons from slipping through.
Many, many thanks to Carolyn Mostello, the Massachusetts Coastal Waterbird Biologist for coordinating the installation, to Mass Wildlife technicians Joshua and Derek, and special thanks to Rockport resident and Cape Hedge neighbor Sue Catalogna for her great communication with the Cape Hedge plovers <3
Mom and Dad taking turns on the nest
Thank you to Jennifer Santomauro, Beth Pocock, and Linda Bossleman at the Sawyer Free Library and to everyone who came to the Piping Plover program this afternoon. Despite the gorgeous weather and protest marches nationwide, we had a wonderful group of interested attendees. It’s the first in-person presentation I’ve given in several years and I just want to thank everyone so much for coming.
World Migratory Bird Day is held annually on the second Saturday of May (May 14th in 2022).This year’s WMBD focuses on the impact of light pollution on migratory birds.
“Most birds migrate at night. They have been doing this for eons, as a night sky typically means calmer air space and fewer predators. Nocturnally migrating birds include ducks and geese, plovers and sandpipers, and songbirds of all kinds. These birds may travel thousands of miles between their breeding and non-breeding grounds.
However, the night sky is under threat. Artificial light is increasing globally by at least two percent a year, presenting a problem for birds. Light pollution from homes, businesses, and other infrastructure attracts and disorients migrating birds, making them more likely to land in dangerous areas where they are more vulnerable to collisions and predation. Artificial light also impacts birds in the breeding and winter seasons, disrupting feeding and other vital behaviors.
In 2022, the impact of light pollution is the focus of World Migratory Bird Day, an annual global campaign that celebrates the migration of birds across countries and continents. Throughout the year we will spread the message to “dim the lights for birds at night” and highlight the steps that individuals, communities, and governments can take to reduce the impact of light pollution on our shared birds.”
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)
Length: 8.3” (21.1cm)
Wingspan: 11.5” (29.2cm)
Weight: 1.2oz (34g)
You may find this colorful member of the blackbird family in open woodlands, parks, or even your backyard. It eats a lot of insects, especially caterpillars, as well as fruit and nectar. Baltimore Orioles and many other songbirds need dark skies to safely migrate—you can help by reducing the amount of light outside your home at night.
Conservation Status: Low Concern
WHAT IS WORLD MIGRATORY BIRD DAY?
In 1993, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center created International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD). This educational campaign focused on the Western Hemisphere celebrated its 25th year in 2018. Since 2007, IMBD has been coordinated by Environment for the Americas (EFTA), a non-profit organization that strives to connect people to bird conservation.
In 2018, EFTA joined the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) to create a single, global bird conservation education campaign, World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD). Continuing our tradition with IMBD, WMBD celebrates and brings attention to one of the most important and spectacular events in the Americas – bird migration.
This new alliance furthers migratory bird conservation around the globe by creating a worldwide campaign organized around the planet’s major migratory bird corridors, the African-Eurasian flyway, the East Asian-Australasian flyway, and the Americas flyway. By promoting the same event name, annual conservation theme, and messaging, we combine our voices into a global chorus to boost the urgent need for migratory bird conservation.
EFTA will continue to focus its efforts on the flyways in the Americas to highlight the need to conserve migratory birds and protect their habitats, and will continue to coordinate events, programs, and activities in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean at protected areas, refuges, parks, museums, schools, zoos, and more. As many as 700 events and programs are hosted annually to introduce the public to migratory birds and ways to conserve them.
Why Give a Peep for Plovers?
The Piping Plover is one of only a handful of birds that nests on North Atlantic beaches. By learning about this tiny but most resilient of shorebirds, we gain a deeper understanding on how best to protect Piping Plovers and our shared coastal habitat.
Told through the lens of Kim Smith’s photo journal work, the Piping Plover’s life story is presented from migration to nesting to fledging. We’ll also cover the current status of the bird’s population, learn about where Piping Plovers spend the winter, and how communities and conservation organizations can work together to help Piping Plovers flourish for generations to come.
If you are new to or have ever considered joining our Piping Plover Ambassador group, this presentation is a great way to become introduced to Piping Plovers. Please come and learn more about these most lovable and charismatic shorebirds.
GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVER UPDATE
Our GHB Mom and Dad have, for the most part, been lying low during this recent cold snap. However, given the warming temps over the past few days, the pair has resumed courting. And our pair at Cape Hedge continues to spotted regularly. More PiPls will likely be arriving soon. I am so looking forward to the magical month of May in Massachusetts for the magnificent peak migration that takes place all along our shores.
Our beloved Good Harbor Beach is yet another reason to protect shorebirds. Where ever conservation measures have been put in place to help shorebirds, these same actions have had a profoundly positive impact on helping to protect coastlines.
Happy Spring dear Friends!
Please forgive me if I am slow to respond to your notes, emails, and kind comments. I am so sorry about that but am spending every spare minute on the Piping Plover film project, creating the first rough cut while converting six plus years of footage. And uncovering wonderful clips of these extraordinary creatures, some I am just seeing for the first time since shooting! Not an easy task but I am so inspired and full of joy for this project, trying not to become overwhelmed, and taking it one chunk at a time, literally “bird by bird,” as Anne Lamott would say.
Gadwall and American Wigeon pairs abound. Both in the genus Mareca, they share similar foraging habits when here on our shores and can often be seen dabbling for sea vegetation together. The Orange-crowned Warbler was still with us as of mid-week last, as well as the trio of American Pipits. The very first of the Great Egrets have been spotted and Killdeers are coming in strong. The first Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will be here any day now; at the time of this writing they have migrated as far north as North Carolina
Have you noticed the Weeping Willows branches are turning bright yellow? In the next phase they will become chartreuse. For me it it one of the earliest, earliest indicators that trees are starting to emerge from dormancy. And our magnolia buds are beginning to swell, too. Please write with your favorite early signs of spring and I’ll make a post of them.
Male and Female Gadwalls, American Wigeons, Black Ducks, and Buffleheads foraging for aquatic vegetation
More spring scenes
Orange-crowned Warbler preening
The weekend was spent learning a new film editing program. I thought using the early morning B-roll that I shot of the beautiful sea smoke event we are experiencing would make wonderful content to practice my new skills. Filmed along Cape Ann’s eastern most shore from Thacher Island to Loblolly Cove, Pebble Beach, Back Shore, Good Harbor Beach, scenes around Gloucester Harbor, and ending at Brace Cove.
Music – Edvard Grieg “Anitra’s Dance”
What a lift for all who saw the beautiful bevy of Mute Swans at Niles Pond Tuesday afternoon. Many thanks to Duncan B for the text letting me know. I am so appreciative to have seen these much missed magnificent creatures.
The flock is comprised of three adults and five youngsters. You can tell by the color of their beaks and feathers. Five of the eight still have some of their soft buttery brown and tan feathers and their bills have not yet turned bright orange.
The swans departed at night fall. Where will they go next? Mute Swans don’t migrate long distances, but move around from body of water to body of water within a region. Please keep your eyes peeled and please let us know if you see this bevy of eight beauties. The following are some of the locations to be on the lookout at: Niles Pond, Henry’s Pond, Pebble Beach, Back Beach, Front Beach, Rockport Harbor, Gloucester inner harbor, Mill Pond, Mill River, Annisquam River – pretty much anywhere on Cape Ann!
Wishing you peace, love and the best of health in 2022 – Happy New Year dear Friends. I am so grateful for blog, Facebook, and Instagram friendships, new and old. Thank you for your kind comments throughout the year.
I would like to thank our wonderfully dedicated volunteer crew of Piping Plover Ambassadors, who provide round-the-day protections to one of Cape Ann’s most tender and threatened species.
I wish also to thank you for your kind support and contributions to our Monarch documentary, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. 2021 was a fantastic year for the film, winning many awards, including honors at both environmental festivals and awards at family-oriented film festivals, We also had a very successful fundraiser that allowed us to re-edit the film, and to distribute Beauty on the Wing through American Public in order to bring to the widest television audience possible.
Please stay healthy in the coming year. Wishing all your dreams come true. To peace, love, and great health in 2022. <3
Cape Ann Wildlife – a year in pictures and stories
Thinking about the wonderful wildlife stories that unfolded before us this past year I believe helps provide balance to the daily drone of the terrible pandemic. 2021 has been an extraordinarily beautiful and exciting year for our local wildlife. Several are truly stand out events including the three pairs of Piping Plovers that nested on Cape Ann’s eastern edge, the most ever! The summer of 2021 also brought a tremendous up take in Monarch numbers, both breeding and migrating, and in autumn a rare wandering Wood Stork made its home on Cape Ann for nearly a month. The following are just some of the photographs, short films, and stories. Scroll through this website and you will see many more!
A rarely seen in these parts Black-headed Gull (in winter plumage), a Horned Lark, American Pipits, Red Fox kit all grown up, and an illusive Snowy Owl living at Gloucester Harbor.
A red and gray morph pair of Eastern Screech Owls, flocks of winter Robins, and snowshoeing and snow sledding Snow Buntings grace our shores.
Bluebirds return to declare their nesting sites, the raptors delight in songbirds’ returning, American Wigeon lovebirds, signs of spring abound, and the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers return on March 26th, right on schedule! Gratefully so, Gloucester’s DPW Joe Lucido and crew install PiPl fencing on March 29th!
Ospreys mating, Cedar waxwing lovebirds, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds return, and the Plovers are nest scraping and courting. The early spring storms also brought a dead Minke Whale to the shores of Folly Cove.
The Good Harbor Beach Killdeer family hatches four chicks, beautiful new PiPl on the block, many PiPl smackdowns with three pairs vying for territory, eggs in the nest at Area #3!, warblers and whatnots migrating, Make way for Ducklings – Cape Ann Style, the Salt Island PiPls have a nest with eggs but it is washed away by the King Tide of May 29th, and Cecropia Moths mating and egg laying.