Category Archives: Songbirds

WARBLERS AND WHATNOTS! HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A BAY-BREASTED WARBLER?

The past week I have been astounded with the array of warblers that we are seeing in our garden and on walks in the neighborhood. The big attraction in the garden is the native pink flowering dogwood tree (Cornus florida ‘Rubra’), my neighbor’s maple tree and the tiny insects feeding there, and our funky weathered old bird bath. There has been so much activity in the bird bath we are changing the water several times a day! Perhaps the travelers are dusty and dirty and appreciate the fresh bathing water.

American Redstart

One of the most fun to see was an American Redstart and the new-to-my-eyes Bay-breasted Warbler.

Bay-breasted Warbler

We also had a trio of black and white birds for an afternoon, the Black and White Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and a female Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Black and White Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Yellow-rumped Warbler

There’s much that could be written about each species. I’m posting these photos for ID purposes in case anyone else has noticed a recent influx of warblers in your backyard or neighborhood. Please write if you do. Thank you!

Common Yellowthroat taking a bath

 

CEDAR WAXWING LOVEBIRDS

Here my love, have a yummy bug for breakfast – (notice the bug poised on the tip of the Waxwing’s bill).

Within a recent flock of visiting Cedar Waxwings one pair was courting. Touching bill to bill and animatedly sharing insects and torn off bits of budding trees, we observed the same behavior last spring. It’s very sweet to see. I wish it hadn’t been so hazy but still lovely.

Here is this spring’s pair of lovebirds –

 

Cedar Waxwings are frugivores (fruit-eaters) and they subsist mainly on fruit, although they eat plenty of insects, too. Reportedly, they are becoming increasingly more prevalent in backyards because people are planting more ornamental flowering and fruiting trees.

A courting pair in 2020 –

A beautiful thing to see – Cedar Waxwing male and female pair courting. They were feeding each other, hopping through the branches and passing insects and fruits back and forth.

If you would like to attract Cedar Waxwings  to your garden below is a handy list that I compiled of some of their most favorite fruits and berries –

What to plant to attract Cedar Waxwings to your landscape

Dogwood (Cornus florida, C. alternifolia)
Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontals)
Common Juniper (Juniperus communis)
Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
Holy (Ilex opaca)
Crabapple (Malus sp.)
Hawthorn (Crataegus sp.)
Tall Shadblow (Amelanchier arborea)
Smooth Shadbush (Amelanchier laevis)
Canadian Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)
Mulberry (Morus rubra)
Winterberry (Ilex verticilata)
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Raspberry
Blackberry
Wild Grape
Strawberry

WHY DO THESE CEDAR WAXWINGS LOOK SO HAPPY?

A flock of what has to be one of North America’s most enchanting birds, the Cedar Waxwing, has magically, albeit temporarily, taken residence in our garden and neighbor’s gardens. Their lovely chattering arrival has become an annual event my family looks forward to, especially Charlotte and me.

What have they found to eat that makes them so delighted? Primarily, tiny black insects living on the twigs, stems, and buds of our neighbor’s maple trees. I believe they are Black Bean Aphids, or some type of scale. If you look closely at the photos, in some you can see the bugs. The Waxwings hang every which way pecking and plucking at the insects and have a technique, too, of rubbing their beaks sideways across the bark, which usually results in a tremendous mouthful.

I am overjoyed that our neighbors do not spray their trees with pesticides. By not killing insect pests, a natural balance is restored to the garden. Your gardening pest is a songbird’s dietary mainstay!

About fifteen years ago, the keeper of the historic Gardens at Versailles, Alain Baraton, was beyond dismayed that few if any birds resided in the garden. He ditched pesticides and began promoting native plants. Now nicely plump bugs infest nearly all of the trees, and the songbird’s have returned! Additionally, “Baraton also changed the practice of planting row after row of the same tree. Now Versailles varies the trees — beech, hawthorn, poplar, chestnut — to minimize losses from disease. This is important when your garden has 200,000 trees.”

If the gardener-in-chief of the world’s grandest garden does not use pesticides, I think we need never either.

Trees at Versailles, image courtesy Google image search

 

 

WHY DO BIRDS LAY BLUE EGGS?

Did you ever wonder why some birds, such as Bluebirds and Robins, lay blue or bluish green eggs? And just as interesting why, in some cases, Bluebirds which generally lay blue eggs, a nest may comprise eggs that are almost white?

The earliest avian eggshells probably lacked color, or pigmentation. Over time, most likely to protect the eggs from predators, birds evolved a diverse range of colored shell markings from mottled brown, gray and beige to rainbow hues from pure white to pale pink, lavender, yellow, aqua, orange, blue, born and even black.

The molecules that cause pigmentation in bird eggs are biliverdin (the blue-green shades) and protoporphyrin (red and brown colors and speckles) but we can talk about blue eggs without getting too technical.

Basically, blue and blue-green strikes a balance between white and very dark colored eggs. Darker eggs are predicted in moderate light to shield the embryo from intense light, including harmful UV radiation. If when eggs are in an exposed nest and the shells are too dark, it can cause the interior to heat up, similar to a “dark car effect.” Simply stated, blue eggs regulate the effects of sunlight on the developing chick (embryo).

This doesn’t explain entirely why Eastern Bluebird eggs range from white to blue green. Many cavity nester’s eggs are white because the adults need to see the eggs in the dark. Wood Ducks are an example of cavity nesters with white eggs. American Robins generally nest in trees or a semi-exposed site and their eggs are blue, affording both protection from dangerous UV light and low risk from heating up. Eastern Bluebirds are cavity nesters but only about 4 to 5 percent of their eggs are white. Oftentimes when learning about a topic, myriad more questions come to mind!

White Eastern Bluebird Eggs

To read more –

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/298798982_Shedding_Light_on_Bird_Egg_Color_Pigment_as_Parasol_and_the_Dark_Car_Effect

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3184/175815511X13207833399666

In reading about blue eggs I thought readers would enjoy seeing the amazing speckled and pear-shaped brilliant blue egg of the Common Murre, from USFWS

Some birds with blue eggs that nest locally include Red-winged Blackbird, Gray Catbird, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, House Finch, Bluejay, Goldfinch, European Starling, Eastern Bluebird, and American Robin.

American Robin nest at a friend’s home

Both Bluebird nest egg photos courtesy Google image search

 

“HOPE” IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS

Happy Spring, Happy Easter dear Friends. To new beginnings for us all as the pandemic hopefully soon recedes. Sending much love and appreciation for your kind comments and friendship throughout the year.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

By Emily Dickinson

 

BEAUTIFUL BLUEBIRD “WING-WAVING!”

Bluebird courtship is as beautiful as is the bird! Last week my daughter Liv joined me on a film scouting mini adventure. She loves learning about wildlife and living in Southern California as she does, Liv is surrounded by beautiful wild creatures and wild lands. We had a fantastic morning of it. Brant Geese, Piping Plovers, Great Egrets, Tree Swallows, and Eastern Bluebirds were just some of the creatures we observed.

The Eastern Bluebirds were especially stunning in the crisp early morning sunshine. One particular gent had not yet secured his partner’s affections. From tree branches adjacent to nesting boxes, he sang softly and flashed his glorious blue wings to a female that had flown in on the scene.

At first we thought he was preening, but no, the bachelor was clearly enticing his lady friend with lapis lazuli flags, gesturing with quick up and down lifting movements. Called wing-waving, these gestures are part of Eastern Bluebird courtship.

The male first sings loudly from treetops. If a female shows interest, he further shows off his skill sets with wing-waving and soft warbles. He then entices her to join him at a nesting box or cavity, he entering first. After he flies out of the box and if all goes well, she enters the cavity, a sure sign the pair are hitting it off!

Male Eastern Bluebird Wing-waving

The lucky female

 

 

EARLY SIGNS OF BEAUTIFUL SPRING SURROUND

Blessedly warmer weather has made it all that much more enjoyable to spend time outdoors. Beautiful birds are arriving on our shores, some to rest and refuel for their journey further north and some will call Cape Ann home for the spring and summer nesting season.

Gadwall

A lone Gadwall, along with several American Wigeons, are hungrily consuming great quantities of sea lettuce to feast upon before embarking on the next leg of their migration. Black-crowned Night Herons flew in over the weekend, the Killdeers arrived over week ago, and the American Pipits have returned.

Killdeer

Black-crowned Night Herons

Resident Cardinals and Song Sparrows are chortling from the tip tops of budding Pussy Willows and Bluebirds are moving into their nesting boxes and tree holes. The woods are alive with rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat – Downy, Red-bellied, and Northern Flicker are drumming their woodpecker rhythms.

Crocuses, squill, fiddleheads, and snow bulbs- the Snowdrops and Snow Glories -are poking through slowly awakening soil. My friend DB wrote to say she noticed a Mourning Cloak butterfly over the weekend. Mourning Cloaks are typically the earliest butterflies on the wing because they winter over as adults, safely tucked in the cracks and crevices of tree bark. Mourning Cloaks generally do not drink nectar but feed on tree sap in the spring and rotting fruit in autumn. The females will soon be depositing their eggs on leaves of deciduous trees including hackberry, willow, elm, poplar, rose, birch, aspen, cottonwood, and mulberry.

Oh Happy Spring!

BLUEBIRD LOVEBIRDS! – DO BLUEBIRDS MATE FOR LIFE?

Love is in the air!

Consistently when out in fields, I see Bluebird pairs that appear strongly committed to each other. I wondered, do Bluebirds mate forever? In our region, we see Eastern Bluebirds. Ornithologists found from a long term study of Western Bluebirds  that the great majority stay together for life. No such studies exist for Eastern Bluebirds however, field observations suggest that about 95 percent mate for life when both are still alive.

Eastern Bluebird female, left, male, right

Interestingly though, mating for life does not exclude extra pair copulations. Genetic studies of broods show that about twenty percent of nestlings are sired by more than one male.

Pairs softly warble to each other early in the morning, the male brings nesting material to a chosen site, and once she has entered his nesting cavity, she will begin to bring nesting material and he will bring food to her to “seal the deal.” In our north of Boston region, you can see the courtship behavior beginning as early as February and March.

Eastern Bluebirds re-mate with another partner if one dies.

In the photos below, it’s very easy to see the difference between a male and female Bluebird. The female’s blue is a more subdued grayish hue while the male’s blue feathers are brilliantly hued.

Bluebird nest with eggs, courtesy wikipedia

CAPE ANN WILDLIFE 2020: THE YEAR IN PICTURES, MOVIES, AND STORIES

Several years ago my husband suggested I write a “year end” wildlife review about all the creatures seen over the preceding year. That first review was a joyful endeavor though daunting enough. Over the next several years the reviews became more lengthy as I tried to cover every beautiful, wonderful creature that was encountered on woodland hikes, beaches, dunes, marshes, ponds, and our own backyards and neighborhoods. 2020 has been a very different year. There were just as many local wildlife stories as in previous years however, the pandemic and political climate have had far reaching consequences across geographic regions around the world, touching every living creature in the interconnected web of life we call our ecosystems.

This first year of the global pandemic has had a profoundly negative impact on wildlife and their habitats. In urban areas in developed countries, perhaps the economic slowdown afforded wildlife a break, with less pollution, less air travel, and some wild animals even reclaiming territory. Though the true downside of Covid-19 is that the pandemic has had an extraordinarily harmful impact on wildlife in rural areas and in less developed countries People who are dependent upon tourism, along with people who have lost jobs in cities and are returning to rural areas, are placing increasing pressure on wildlife by poaching, illegal mining, and logging. As mining and logging destroy wildlife habitats, animals are forced into ever shrinking areas, causing them to become sick, stressed, and to starve to death. These same stressed wild animals come in contact with people and farm animals, creating an ever increasing potential to transmit horrifically deadly illness, diseases such as Covid-19.

There are many, many organizations working to protect wildlife and conserve their habitats. I am especially in awe of one particular grass roots non-profit organization located in Macheros, Mexico, previously featured here, Butterflies and Their People. Co-founded by Ellen Sharp and Joel Moreno Rojas, the work they are doing to both protect the butterfly’s winter habit and provide employment for the forest’s guardians is outstanding.

All the butterfly sanctuaries (their winter resting places), are closed this year due to the pandemic. Dozens of people in the tiny town of Macheros are wholly dependent upon the income received by the work they do protecting the butterfly trees from illegal logging, as well as income from the tourist industry.  Ellen, Joel, and their team of arborists have come up with a wonderfully creative way to bring the butterflies to you. For a modest fee, you can sign up to “Adopt a Colony” to receive monthly newsletters and video tours of the Monarchs at Cerro Pelon. The newsletters are written by Ellen, who writes beautifully and clearly about the month-by-month current state of the butterflies in their winter habitat, as well as human interest stories drawn from the community. To subscribe to “Adopt a Colony” from Butterflies and Their People, go here.

We can be hopeful in 2021 that with a new administration, a much greater focus will be paid by our federal government to stop the spread of the virus in the US as well as around the globe. Not only is there hope in regard to the course correction needed to battle the pandemic, but the Biden/Harris administration has made climate change and environmental justice a cornerstone of their platform, including measures such as stopping the environmental madness taking place along our southern border and reversing many of the previous administration’s mandates that are so harmful to wildlife and their habitats.

Around the globe, especially in less developed countries, the pandemic has set back environmental initiatives by years, if not decades. We are so fortunate in Essex County  to have conservation organizations such as Greenbelt, MassWildlife, The Trustees, and Mass Audubon; organizations that protect the sanctity of wildlife and recognize the importance of protecting habitats not only for wildlife but equally as important, for the health and safety of human inhabitants.

The following are just some of the local images and stories that make us deeply appreciate the beauty of wildlife and their habitats found on Cape Ann and all around Essex County. Each picture is only a brief window into the elusive, complex life of a creature. Every day and every encounter brings so much more to observe, to learn, to enjoy, and to love.

To read more, each image and story from the past year is Google searchable. Type in the name of the creature and my name and the link to the story and pictures posted on my website should come right up.

Some Beautiful Raptors of 2020 – Red-tailed Hawk, Short-eared Owl, American Bald Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, Merlin, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Osprey, and Snowy Owls

 

Essex County Greenbelt’s Osprey pair, Annie and Squam, successfully fledged three chicks, Vivi, Rusty, and Liz (nestling photo courtesy ECGA)

Dave Rimmer video from the Osprey cam at Lobstaland

The Snowy Owl Film Project was completed in March, with the objective of providing pandemic- virtually schooled kids a window into the world of Snowy Owls in their winter habitat (see all five short films here).

 

Spunky Mute Swan Cygnets

Utterly captivated by the winsome Red Fox Family

A tiny sampling of the beautiful songbirds that graced our shores in 2020 – Cedar Waxwings, Baltimore Orioles, Catbirds, American Robins, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Snow Buntings, American Pipits, Horned Larks, and Eastern Bluebirds

 

A new favorite place to film is at my friend Paul’s wonderfully fun sunflower field in Ipswich, School Street Sunflowers. Beautiful Bobolinks, Common Yellowthroat Warblers, and Bluejays were just some of the songbirds seen feasting on the expiring seedheads  of sunflowers and wildflowers growing amongst the rows of flowers.

Graceful White-tailed Deer herd of adult females and youngsters

Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and juvenile Little Blue Herons delight with their elegance, beauty, and stealth hunting skills. Included in the montage is a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron that spent the winter at Niles Pond

A fraction of the different species of Shorebirds and Gulls seen on Cape Ann this past year – Dowitchers, Killdeers, Black-bellied Plovers, Common Tern, Least Tern, Laughing Gulls, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Glaucus Gull, and rarely seen Dovekie, or”Little Auk.”

Cecropia Moth life cycle unfolding in our garden, from mating, to egg laying, to caterpillar, to adult.

 

Dozens and dozens of orb spider webs draped a small patch of wildflowers. The dream catchers were attracting Cedar Waxwings to feast on the insects caught in the webs. The following day I returned after a rainstorm. The webs had melted away in the downpour and the Waxwings had vanished into the treetops.

Harbor and Gray Seals hauled out on the rocks at Brace Cove, as many as 28 were counted on a winter’s day!

Piping Plovers and Marshmallow Montage

In 2020, our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair fledged one chick, nicknamed Marshmallow. Despite the global pandemic, a group of super dedicated Piping Plover Ambassadors worked tirelessly from sunrise until sunset to help ensure the safety of the Piping Plover family and to help educate beachgoers about the beautiful life story of the Plovers unfolding on Gloucester’s most popular beach destination. We worked with Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, the Gloucester DPW, and Gloucester City Councilor Scot Memhard, with much appreciated advice from Mass Wildlife Coastal Waterbird Biologist Carolyn Mostello.

Read more about Marshmallow, the Ambassadors, and the Piping Plover Film Project here.

Piping Plover Marshmallow Montage, from egg to thirty-eight days old. Filmed at Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester, Massachusetts.

MONARCHS!

It has been a wonderful, exhilarating, infinitely educational, and beautifully challenging journey creating my documentary, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterflies. The film was released in February 2020, but because of the pandemic, was not seen by the public until August, when it premiered (virtually) at the New Haven Documentary Film Festival. Beauty on the Wing has gone on to win honors and awards at both environmental and children’s film festivals, including the tremendous honor of Best Documentary at the Boston International Kids Film Festival. I’ve just received the very attractive award in the mail and have not had time to post a photo yet.

Beauty on the Wing portrays Cape Ann in the most beautiful light and I think when we are ever able to have a live premiere in this area, local friends will be delighted at the outcome. Joyfully so, Beauty is now being distributed to schools, libraries, institutions, and the travel industry through American Public Television Worldwide.

Beauty on the Wing continues to be accepted to film festivals and I will keep you posted as some are geo-bloced to this area, including the upcoming Providence Children’s Film Festival.

 

Last but not least, our wonderfully wildy Charlotte, little adventurer and nature-loving companion throughout the year

 

 

 

 

 

 

HUNGRY ROBINS STUFFING UP FOR THE PENDING STORM

Beautiful Robins in the garden this afternoon, filling their bellies with Winterberry, holly berries, and blueberries. I often get the sense that birds know when the weather is going to take a turn for the worse.