For the next two weeks, I am offering a limited edition of the photo “We Love You Too Snowy Owl.” The 8 x 12 photo will be printed on fine art hot press paper and signed. At the end of two weeks, after orders are in and checks received, I will place the order with the printer. The $95.00 price includes shipping and tax. If you would like to purchase a photo of Hedwig, please email me at email@example.com Thank you!
Norman Smith from Mass Audubon has done more to save Snowy Owls and bring awareness to this beautiful and at risk species than any other person nationwide. Since 1981 he has been at the forefront of Snowy Owl conservation and his Project SNOWstorm has become a model for saving and studying Snowy Owls around the country.
Several weeks ago I was up north for my short film about Hedwig and came upon a Snowy Owl in the marsh. With very similar feather patterning around the face, I think she is the same Snowy that was released in the video!
Our beautiful Snowy Owl Hedwig was last seen on Monday night, March 12th. This was also the night before the third nor’easter. She was perched on the railing of the Ocean House Inn facing towards the sea. The wind was blowing fiercely. Well after dark, and after making several attempts, she successfully flew in a southerly direction out over the water.
It has been two weeks since that last sighting and perhaps we will see her again, but I imagine her to be safe and undertaking her return journey to the Arctic tundra, well-fed from her stay on Cape Ann. Whether she was well-rested is another story. The great majority of people who came to see this most approachable of owls were respectful and considerate of her quiet space. The crows however, were nothing short of brutal. After learning about why crows attack owls, and the degree of aggression possible, I am surprised she lasted as long as she did, and without great injury.
Crows and owls are natural enemies because a murder of crows may mob an owl to death (or any raptor by which it feels threatened) and owls occasionally eat crows. Crows are diurnal, which means they feed during the day. The majority of North American owl species that they encounter are nocturnal (night feeding). In the case of Snowy Owls, which feed both day and night, their paths may occasionally cross, as happened when Hedwig moved into the crow’s territory along Gloucester’s Atlantic Road.
A flock of American Crows can run circles around most owls, pecking, dive bombing, chasing, and in some instances killing. Snowy Owls are the exception; they are larger, stronger, and faster flyers than other North American owl species. And too, Snowy Owls are closely related to Great Horned Owls, a species known to eat crows when they are roosting overnight. So even though a crow in our area may never before have encountered a Snowy Owl, they instinctively know danger is present.
With their incredible ability for recollection, crows are considered the brainiacs of the bird world. Daily, Hedwig outsmarted this smartest of bird species. She learned to stay well-hidden during the daylight hours, laying low atop the hotel roofs. Her salt and pepper coloring blended perfectly with the black, white, and gray colors of industrial roof venting equipment. She adapted to hunting strictly at night, after the crows had settled in for the evening, returning to her hideouts before the day began.
On one hand it would be fascinating if Hedwig had been outfitted with a tracking device. On the other, if she had been trapped for tagging, she may not return to this area. There is some evidence that Snowies occasionally return to an overwintering location. Next winter I’ll be taking more than a few peeks in the location of the Atlantis and Ocean House Inn Hotels to see if Hedwig has returned.
Several friends have asked whether or not I was freaked out by the mouse running up my dress and out my coat sleeve. No, I wasn’t. Surprised, but not panicked, and just happy the frightened little thing did not bite me.
We live in an old house and are occasionally visited by mice, despite my husband’s best efforts at sealing any cracks that may develop in the almost one hundred and seventy five-year-old mortar of the granite foundation. Our cat, Cosmos, before he suffered severe brain damage from a coyote attack, was the best mouser ever. Now that Cosmos has retired, Tom uses Have-a-Heart traps.
I have written about this topic previously, but never in a million years would we use a rodenticide. The first reason being is that if one of our beautiful raptors (including owls, hawks, falcons, and eagles), eats a rat or mouse that has ingested rat poison, the raptor will most surely perish. For example, the majority of Snowy Owls that die in our region and are autopsied, have been killed by rat poison. Secondly, most rats, after ingesting poison, will return to their nest ie., that cozy spot behind your wall. Working in theatre for many years, I encountered more than a few rats, as well as well meaning types who decided to kill rats with rodenticide. If you have ever smelled a dead rat laying behind an inaccessible theatre wall, you would never again use rat poison (and the odor lasts for weeks!).
The recent winter storms of 2018 have provided empirical evidence of how global climate change and the consequential rising sea level is impacting the Massachusetts coastline. Whether broken barriers between the ocean and small bodies of fresh water, the tremendous erosion along beaches, or the loss of plant life at the edge of the sea, these disturbances are profoundly impacting wildlife habitats.
The following photos were taken after the March nor’easter of 2018 along with photos of the same areas, before the storm, and identify several specific species of wildlife that are affected by the tremendous loss of habitat.
Nesting species of shorebirds such as Piping Plovers require flat or gently sloping areas above the wrack line for chick rearing. Notice how the March nor’easter created bluffs with steep sides, making safe areas for tiny chicks nonexistent.
You can see in the photos of Good Harbor Beach (top photo and photos 3 and 4 in the gallery) that the metal fence posts are completely exposed. In 2016, the posts were half buried and in 2017, the posts were nearly completely buried. After the recent storms, the posts are fully exposed and the dune has eroded half a dozen feet behind the posts.
Although scrubby growth shrubs and sea grass help prevent erosion, the plants have been ripped out by the roots and swept away due to the rise in sea level.
Plants draw tiny insects, which is food for tiny chicks, and also provide cover from predators, as well as shelter from weather conditions. If the Piping Plovers return, will they find suitable nesting areas, and will plant life recover in time for this year’s brood?
Other species of shorebirds that nest on Massachusetts’s beaches include the Common Tern, Least Tern, Roseate Tern, American Oyster Catcher, Killdeer, and Black Skimmer.
Where Have All the Wildflowers Gone?
Wildflowers are the main source of food for myriad species of beneficial insects such as native bees and butterflies.
Monarch Butterflies arriving on our shores not only depend upon milkweed for the survival of the species, but the fall migrants rely heavily on wildflowers that bloom in late summer and early fall. Eastern Point is a major point of entry, and stopover, for the southward migrating butterflies. We have already lost much of the wildflower habitat that formerly graced the Lighthouse landscape.
Barriers that divide small bodies of fresh water from the open sea have been especially hard hit. The fresh bodies of water adjacent to the sea provide habitat, food, and drinking water for hundreds of species of wildlife and tens of thousands of migrating song and shorebirds that travel through our region.
The road that runs along Pebble Beach, separating the sea from Henry’s Pond has been washed out.
Mallards, North American Beavers, Muskrats, North American River Otters, and Painted Turtles are only a few examples of species that breed in Massachusetts fresh water ponds and wetlands. All the wildlife photos and videos were shot on Cape Ann.
Cape Ann is hardly alone in coping with the impact of our warming planet and of rising sea level. These photos are meant to show examples of what is happening locally. Regions like Plymouth County, which include Scituate and Hingham, have been equally as hard hit. Plum Island is famously heading for disaster and similar Massachusetts barrier beaches, like Cranes Beach, have all been dramatically altered by the cumulative effects of sea level rising, and recently accelerated by the devastating winter storms of 2018.
To be continued.
Impassable Road to Plum Island
Our beautiful Snowy Hedwig’s routine hasn’t much changed since she discovered the safety zone provided by hotel rooftops (safe from crows, that is). Hunting during the night, returning at dawn to the roof to various well-hidden niches, and then making her “entrance” at around sunset, she has adapted well to New England coastal living. After preening, pooping, and occasionally passing a pellet, she then scans the neighborhood. Hedwig bobs her head in an up and down motion a half dozen times, then flies east over the sea or west over the Arctic tundra-like golf course.
Snowy Owl Hedwig lifts her head in a bobbing motion to track prey.
Owls cannot move their eyes in the eye sockets. Instead, they employ several techniques to increase their range of sight. An owl can swivel its head a full 270 degrees. Additionally, owls bob their head up and down, a movement that aids in triangulating potential prey.
Because the forceful impact of the Snowy Owl hitting its prey is so powerful, combined with the vise-like grip of its talons, the animal usually dies instantly.
Hedwig has so far survived three tremendously fierce storms during her stay in Gloucester. Last night, on the eve of the blizzard, she tried to take off several times towards the water. The wind current was strong, but she eventually flew successfully, heading in the direction of Thacher Island. Heres hoping she is waiting out the blizzard in one of her hideaways.
Our winter resident Snowy Owl Hedwig finds plenty to eat along the backshore. Prior to taking off to hunt in the early evening we see her swivel her head and look out to sea, and then swivel around to scan the golf course. We wonder, is she thinking “Shall I have Duck a la Buffledhead for dinner, or shall I have Rarebit Tartare?” Here she is yesterday morning, face covered in schmutz, a happy sign to see.