Category Archives: Songbirds

WHERE EVER TRAVELS A FLOCK OF SONGBIRDS, SO FOLLOWS THE COOPER’S HAWK

Throughout the summer and autumn, juvenile Cooper’s Hawk(s) have been observed hunting on Eastern Point. We see them zooming low and stealthily down roadways and soaring high amongst the treetops. There is no way of knowing if they are one and the same although one bird in particular appears to have developed a keen interest in the flock of Dark-eyed Juncos currently foraging in the neighborhood. Nearly every evening at dusk he hungrily swoops in, but never seems to capture one.

Well-camouflaged Dark-eyed Juncos, also known as Snowbirds

The Snowbirds have a neat set of tricks. They all scatter to the surrounding trees and shrubs. The slate gray and brown Dark-eyed Juncos are well camouflaged but that is not their only secret to survival.  Rather than singing their typical lovely bird song, from their hiding places, they all begin making an odd chirping-clicking sound. From every bush and shrub within the nearby vicinity, you can hear the clicks. I think the clicking is meant to confuse the Cooper’s Hawk!

He’ll first dive into a bush hunting a Junco, come up unsuccessfully, then swoop over to a nearby tree, perched and well hidden in the branches while on the lookout for dinner. The Snowbirds click non-stop until the Cooper’s departs. After the hunter flies away, they all come out of their hiding places, some from branches mere feet from where the Cooper’s was perched. After a short time, they resume their lovely varied birdsong.  I recorded audio of the Junco’s clicking and hope to find out more about this fascinating behavior.

Although we hope the young Cooper’s is finding food, I am rather glad he’s not that good at catching Snowbirds.

Cooper’s Hawks are a conservation success story. You can read more about the reason why in a post form several years ago: SPLENDID COOPER’S HAWK – A CONSERVATION SUCCESS STORY GIVES HOPE. Note the difference in the plumage in the two stories. The Cooper’s Hawk in that post is an adult. The Cooper’s chasing the Snowbirds is a juvenile. Both are about crow-sized, with the typical flat topped head.

Adult Cooper’s Hawk

Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk

INVASION OF THE GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS AND SNOWBIRDS!

Dark-eyed Junco (Snowbird)

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 Kinglet

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.

Golden-crowned Kinglet range map

Dark-eyed Junco range map

LEAVES OF THREE, LET IT BE

In thinking about our community’s efforts to Save Salt Island from deforestation and development, I wanted to share evidence that the vines and shrubs on the island are an important source of food for a host of small mammals and birds.

One of the most reviled of plants, Poison Ivy, is an excellent food plant for wildlife and will not cause the itchy uncomfortable rash if you do not touch the leaves, stems, fruits, and roots. Poison Ivy can either look like a shrub or a vine. Regardless of the shape, the leaves are easily identifiable in that they are always arranged in three; two leaves opposite one another, and between them the third leaf is borne on a stem growing at a right angle from the two shorter leaves.

Common Bonnet Fungi and Poison Ivy

Out on Eastern Point there are large patches of Poison Ivy that grow smack on the edge of very well traveled pathways. They have grown that way for decades, yet no one bothers the Poison Ivy and the Poison Ivy bothers no one. The spring blooming greenish yellow clusters of flowers are beloved by bees and myriad pollinators, while the vitamin rich white waxy berries are relished by resident and migrating songbirds alike.

In autumn, the plant’s glossy green leaves turn a brilliant red, which acts as a “red flag” to hungry songbirds. The long list of birds that dine on Poison Ivy fruits include Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Bluebirds, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Mockingbirds, Song Sparrows, Gray Catbirds, Bobwhites, and many, many more.

Poison Ivy Tips – If you come in contact, rinse the area with cold water, not soap, as soon after contact as possible. Ocean water works well when near to the beach. If you have Jewelweed growing handily nearby, smear the juice of the stem on the exposed skin. Never burn Poison Ivy. With burning,  urushiol (the poisonous oil in Poison Ivy) becomes volatilized in the smoke and you can get it in your lungs, which is very dangerous and can even lead to death.

Yellow-rumped Warbler and Poison Ivy

“BIRDS AND POETRY” WITH AUTHOR AND BROOKLINE BIRD CLUB DIRECTOR JOHN NELSON!

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: tseliotfestival@gmail.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.”

T. S. Eliot Four Quartets

John Nelson is  the author of Flight Calls: Exploring Massachusetts Through Birds

Photos of Eliot on boat, view of harbor from Eliot house

Some wild creatures you may see on your walk –

MOM AND DAD EASTERN BLUEBIRDS IN THE GREAT MARSH

Listen to the music, where seaside marsh meets grassland meadow, while Mom and Dad Eastern Bluebirds feed their nestlings. 

Filmed at Cox Reservation, Great Marsh, Essex County.

BOBOLINKS, BLUEBIRDS, BLACKBIRDS, BUTTERFLIES AND MORE – MAGICAL WILDLIFE MOMENTS AT GREENBELT’S COX RESERVATION

This past week after enjoying a delicious lunch of clam chowder and fried clams at Woodman’s, Charlotte, my friend Claudia, and I stopped by Greenbelt’s Cox Reservation en route home. Claudia moved to CapeAnn a year ago and had never been. She was delighted to know about Cox Reservation for future beauty walks through meadow and marsh and of course Charlotte had a fantastic time as she always does when running about in nature. While there, we spied a Monarch depositing eggs on Common Milkweed shoots emerging in the grassland meadow.

I returned the following day to see if the female Monarch was still afield and to try also to capture an audio recording of the music where ‘seaside marsh meets grassland meadow.’

I found so much more. A photo tour for your Memorial Day weekend –

Bobolinks in the Chokecherry Tree (Prunus virginiana)

There are several fields at Cox Reservation that are maintained grassland habitat to help nesting birds such as Bobolinks; a beautiful songbird in steep decline.

We’re accustomed to hearing and seeing male Red-winged Blackbirds; it’s not often we see the females as they are usually on the nest. This pretty female flew into a tree, waved her wings, and stuck out her very showy cloaca. I wasn’t sure what she was up to and when a male came from nowhere and suddenly jumped on her back to mate, I was startled and unfortunately jerked the camera, but you get the idea.

Female Red-winged Blackbird

Male and Female Eastern Bluebirds feeding their brood

 

Common Ringlet

Yellow Warbler

American Copper

Osprey pair nesting in the far distant marsh

With deep appreciation and thanks to Essex County Greenbelt Association’s Director of Land Stewardship Dave Rimmer for his continued help with Cape Ann’s Piping Plovers. Dave has been providing free of charge guidance, along with exclosing the Plover nests, since 2016.

Allyn Cox Reservation is located at 82 Eastern Avenue, Essex, MA

BEAUTIFUL ORIOLE ALERT- BOTH ORCHARD AND BALTIMORE ORIOLES!!

Time to put out orange slices (and hummingbird feeders, if you haven’t already done so.) Orioles are nectar feeders and follow the blooming times of fruit trees on their northward migration along the East Coast. My friend Sally Jackson spotted a Baltimore Oriole at her hummingbird feeder several days ago, and they are delighting in our pear tree blossoms and orange halves we have placed in the garden.

Baltimore Oriole male

Recently while recording audio in a field, I was delightfully surprised by an Orchard Oriole, a species new to my eyes. Orchard Orioles are slightly smaller than Baltimore Orioles and their plumage is more rusty red rather than vivid orange. Nonetheless, they sing a characteristically beautiful bird song and it was a joy to hear the chorister from across the meadow.

Orchard Oriole male

You can see from the photos that orioles have evolved with long pointed bills, ideal for extracting nectar from fruit blossoms. Their toes, too, are especially well adapted to forging for tree fruits and nectar as they are long and flexible, allowing the birds to dangle every which way while clinging to the branches.

Ancient Crabapple tree, where the Orchard Oriole was spotted

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Please join me at the Sawyer Free Library on Saturday, May 14th, at 2pm for a FREE in-person all ages presentation about the life story of the Piping Plover –

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.

We hope to see you there!

BLUEBIRD LOOK SEE

Dad Bluebird peering out to make sure the coast is clear.

HAPPY EARTH DAY ON THIS MOST BEAUTIFUL OF EARTH DAYS!!

“There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.” –Rachel Carson

Dear Friends,

It’s glorious outdoors today and I hope you have a chance to get outside.  See below for photos from my morning Earth Day walk, although I can’t bear to sit at my computer all day when it’s so gorgeous out and will head back out this afternoon to see what we see.

For Earth Day this past week I gave several screenings of Beauty on the Wing (thank you once again most generous community for all your help funding BotWing!) along with presenting “The Hummingbird Habitat Garden” to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. For over twenty years I have been giving programs on how to create pollinator habitats. People are hungry for real information on how to connect to wildlife and wild habitats and each year the interest grows and grows. It’s truly a joy to witness!

Last night it was especially rewarding to bring Beauty on the Wing to Connecticut’s Sherman Conservation Commission attendees. We had a lively Q and A following the screening with many thoughtful questions and comments. My gratitude and thanks to Michelle MacKinnon for creating the event. She saw the film on PBS and wanted to bring it to her conservation organization. Please let me know if you are interested in hosting a Beauty on the Wing screening

Monarchs are on the move! The leading edge in the central part of the country is at 39 degrees latitude in Illinois and Kansas: the leading edge along the Atlantic Coast is also at 39 degrees latitude; Monarchs have been spotted in both Maryland and New Jersey. Cape Ann is located at 43 degrees — it won’t be long!

Monarchs are heading north! Female Monarch depositing egg on Common Milkweed

Hummingbirds have been seen in Mashpee this past week (41 degrees latitude). Don’t forget to  put out your hummingbird feeders. Dust them off and give a good cleaning with vinegar and water. Fill with sugar water and clean regularly once installed. The sugar water recipe is one part sugar to four parts water; never replace the sugar with honey, and never use red food coloring.

Happy Glorious Earth Day!

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Super surprised to see this mystery duck asleep on a rock. I was so curious and kept hoping he would wake up so as to identify. He at last lifted his head for all of ten seconds and then promptly tucked back in and went back to sleep. I’ve only ever seen Surf Scoters bobbing around far off shore in the distance. Skunk bird- what a cutie!

American Kestrel, male, too far away to get a good photo but a joy to see!

Beautiful, beautiful Great Egret preening its luxurious spray of feathers. An egret’s spray of feathers is also referred to as aigrette.

No Earth Day post would be complete without our dear PiPls – Mom and Dad foraging at the wrack line this am, finding lots of insects for breakfast.

A seal’s life

 

HAPPY EASTER, HAPPY PASSOVER, JOYFUL SPRING!

Wishing dear friends and readers Happy Easter, Happy Passover, and a Joy-filled Spring 

Beauty everywhere you turn in these first few weeks of spring – the return of songbirds, shorebirds, and Osprey, blossoming trees, beach bunnies, and garden helpers.

Beach bunny, Piping Plovers courting, neighbor Melissa’s flowering plum tree, Charlotte, Osprey, Killdeer eggs, Piping Plover eggs, Cedar Waxwings courting, and male Eastern Bluebird wing waving

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER IN THE SNOW!

One of the earliest warblers to migrate in spring, I don’t recall seeing a Yellow-rumped Warbler this early in the season. This little fellow was finding insects, seeds, and berries in the snow covered scrub line along the shore.

Yellow-rumped warblers have a highly varied diet, which allows them to winter further north than any other warbler, including as far north as Nova Scotia. Their diet consists of every imaginable insect, along with seeds, fruits, and berries including bayberry, myrtle, juniper,  poison ivy, Virginia creeper, dogwood, grapes, poison ivy, grass and goldenrod seeds.

Until 1973, Yellow-rumped Warblers were listed as two different species, the western Audubon’s Warbler and the eastern Myrtle Warbler. Both names are much lovelier than the undignified ‘yellow-rumped,’  don’t you think? More research and DNA studies has revealed they are two distinct species. Let’s hope the names Audubon’s and Myrtle will be reinstated 🙂

Perhaps this young warbler has been here all winter. Please write and let me know fellow bird lovers, are you too seeing Yellow-rumped Warblers?

 

SNOW BUNTING SNOWBIRD SNOWFLAKES AND WHAT DOES BEACH HABITAT RESTORATION LOOK LIKE IN WINTER TIME?

One of the most beautiful creatures of the snowy landscape has to be the Snow Bunting.  Also known as Snowflakes, Snow Buntings light up winter scapes with swirls of flight and highly animated foraging habits.

During the breeding season in the high Arctic, Snow Buntings eat a protein rich insect diet but while here during the winter months in the relatively milder climate of Massachusetts, they forage on tiny grass seeds and must constantly eat. Although their feeding habits are highly entertaining to the human observer, it’s really a matter of life or death for these cold weather warriors.

Standing on tiptoes for breakfast

Snow Buntings have several methods for extracting seeds. Sometimes they vigorously shake a wildflower or stalk of grass at the base of the plant. Other times they alight on a single blade of dried beach grass and slide their beaks along, shredding the stalk and releasing teeny seeds. They may stay alit and eat their foraged treasure, but more often than not, they shake the blade while perched and release the seeds to the ground. The Snow Bunting’s fellow flock member will seize upon the shower of released seeds and try to gobble them up. Herein lies the the conflict and disputes occur non stop while a flock is feeding. Typically one will readily retreat while the other dines, but occasionally a nasty battle ensues.

The wonderfully rich beach grass habitat where the Snow Buntings flock was formerly a barren scape that persistently washed away after every storm. Beach grass was planted, temporary dune fencing installed, and small rocks were added. After only several seasons, this habitat restoration project began attracting butterflies, songbirds, and nesting shorebirds during the spring and summer months, along with glorious creatures such as the beautiful Snow Bunting during the winter months.

I plan to find out exactly what this species of beach grass is that the Snow Buntings find so appealing because there are several locations on Cape Ann where habitat restoration is badly needed and I think this precise species of grass would surely be at the top of the list for stabilizing shoreline conservation projects.

Snow Bunting tracks

See Snow Bunting previous posts:

WHEN SNOW BUNTINGS FILL THE SKIES

BEAUTIFUL SNOWSHOEING AND SNOW SLEDDING SNOW BUNTING SNOWFLAKES

FLIGHT OF THE SNOW BUNTINGS

 

LOVELY ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER IN OUR MIDST!

Yet another beautiful vagrant has been spotted on our shores, the Orange-crowned Warbler!

As you can see from the map, the Orange-crowned Warbler is nowhere near its winter range. This, from Cornell, “Medium to long-distance nocturnal migrant. Many birds winter in Mexico, with some continuing south to Guatemala and Belize. Others winter in central California and the southern U.S.”

Finding insects in the brush, bark, and rotting wood

Finding plenty of insects in rotting pieces of driftwood, peeling bark, and drying seaweed, the little fellow is very active and seems relatively unperturbed by the below freezing temperatures of the past month. Orange-crowned Warblers are purported to be one of the most hardiest of warblers. I met up with some old time knowledgeable gentlemen birders and they shared that about once a year an OCW shows up in Massachusetts, but rarely as far east as Cape Ann.

After looking at the photos you may wonder, as did I, why this yellowish-olive green songbird is so named ‘orange crowned?’ You can just barely see a very slight rusty orange hued patch of feathers when its head is bowed forward.

beautiful birds

2021 WILD CREATURES REVIEW! PART TWO

Cape Ann Wildlife – a year in pictures and stories

July through December continued from part one

July 2021

Conserve Wildlife NJ senior biologist Todd Pover makes a site visit to Cape Ann beaches, summer long updates from “Plover Central,” GHB Killdeer dune family raise a second brood of chicks,  Cape Hedge chick lost after fireworks disturbance and then reunited with Fam, Great Black-backed Gulls are eating our Plover chicks, thousands of Moon Snail collars at Cape Hedge,  Monarchs abound, #savesaltisland, missing Iguana Skittles, and Earwig eating Cecropia Moth cats.