Category Archives: WADING BIRDS

HANK HERON CATCHES A WHOPPER!

For many months, we lovers-of-Niles Pond have been treated to the presence of a regularly appearing Great Blue Heron. Great Blue Herons are nothing new to Niles Pond, it’s just that this one could be seen daily at one corner of the Pond. The elegant heron was assigned the nickname Hank by my friend Pat Morss. Hank hunted, preened, and rested for hours on end in this one particular spot. Occasionally we would see two Herons, Hank in his location, and the others around the perimeter of the Pond.

The fish in the film clip is the largest i have seen Hank catch. I think it’s a Common Yellow Perch, but if my fishermen friends know differently, please write.

Hank didn’t mind when the Pond briefly froze over as he was still able to find food. He departed after the ice skaters arrived. Of course the Pond is for all to enjoy, I just don’t think Hank felt comfortable sharing. Lately, a solitary GBH that looks alike like Hank has been foraging at the salt marsh at Good Harbor Beach. Hopefully, if it is Hank, he will get the 411 to head south 🙂

It’s not unusual for GBHerons to winter over on Cape Ann however, most do not. Hank will have an easier time of it if he does migrate. The purple shaded areas of the map denote the Great Blue Heron’s year round range.

 

“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 –

LA LUNA, THE CALICO BLUE HERON

If you have seen a congregation of white herons at Niles Pond, chances are they were not Snowy Egrets or Great White Egrets, but Little Blue Herons.

During the summer of 2022, we had an extraordinary wildlife event unfolding at Niles Pond. In an average year we only see a handful, if any, Little Blue Herons at Niles. Amazingly, on any given evening in August of this year, I counted at a minimum two dozen; one especially astonishing evening’s count totaled more than 65!

Little Blue Herons are an average-sized wading bird, smaller than Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets but larger than Little Green Herons and Black-crowned Night Herons.

Little Blues in their first hatch summer are often confused with Snowy Egrets because they are similar in size and color. A Little Blue Heron, despite its name, is mostly pure white its first hatch summer (the wings are tipped in slate gray).  Their bills are pale greyish blue at the base and black at the tip, with yellowy-green legs.By its third summer, Little Blue adults have attained the two-toned rich moody blue body plumage and violet head and neck feathers.

It’s the Little Blue’s second hatch year, in-between juvenile and adult, when it shows a lovely bi-color, calico pattern that is the most enchanting. The feather patterning is wonderfully varied as the bird is losing its white feathers and gaining its blue and violet feathers. The patterning is so interesting, on one of our many visits to check on the herons, Charlotte dubbed the Niles Pond calico, La Luna.

Little Blue Herons – first hatch summer

Little Blue Heron – second summer (Luna)

Little Blue Heron – adult

Little Blue Heron adult and first hatch summer juvenile

The Little Blue Herons have begun to disperse and I have not seen Luna in over a week. They will begin migrating soon. I am so inspired by the presence of Luna and her relations at Niles Pond I am creating a short film about New England pond ecology, starring Luna!

Food for thought – Because of the drought, the water level at Niles has been lower than usual. The lower water level however apparently did not effect the American Bull frog population and that is what the Little Blues have been feasting on all summer. By feasting, I literally mean feasting. In our region, Little Blue Herons are “frog specialists.” During the first light of day, I witnessed a Little Blue Heron catch four American Bullfrogs, either an adult, froglet, or tadpole. They hunt all day long, from sunrise until sunset.  If at a bare minimum, a typical LBH ate 20 frogs a day times 60 herons that is a minimum 1200 frogs eaten daily over the course of the summer.

American Bullfrog

Here in New England, we are at the northern edge of the Little Blue Heron’s breeding range. Perhaps with global climate change the range will expand more northward, although Little Blue Herons are a species in decline due to loss of wetland habitat.

Luna in early summerSnowy Egret (yellow feet) in the foreground and Great Egret (yellow bill) in the background

Compare white Little Blue Heron first hatch summer to the Snowy Egret, with bright yellow feet and black legs and bill to the Great White Egret with the reverse markings, a bright yellow bill with black feet and legs.

TRULY AMAZING WANDERING WOOD STORK – IN NOVA SCOTIA!

Hello Friends,

You may recall the young Wood Stork we had wandering our shores last November. See story here –  Wandering Wood Stork in Massachusetts (Very Rare)

Amazingly, a Wood Stork has been calling New Harbor, Nova Scotia, home for the past week or so. I think quite possibly it could be our Wood Stork. Many thanks to Rowland Spear, Angela MacDonald, and Susan Holmes from Nova Scotia, who generously shared their photos. In the images, you can see the young Wood Stork’s face transitioning from youth to adult and becoming darker and balder, timing-wise, following in what may very well be the progression of Cape Ann’s Wood Stork.

Wood Stork New Harbour, Nova Scotia, June 16, 2022 Angela MacDonald Photo 

Wood Stork New Harbour, Nova Scotia , June 16, 2022 Rowland Spear Photo 

Wood Stork New Harbour, Nova Scotia , June 16, 2022 Susan Holmes Photo 

Wood Stork Cape Ann, Massachusetts, November, 2021

 

THE GREAT EGRET’S SHOWER OF WHITE

The Great Egret’s beautiful shower of white feathers and plume hunter’s greed nearly caused this most elegant of creatures to become exterminated in North America. Because of  the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) in 1918, slowly but steadily, the Great Egret is recovering. An increasing number of pairs are breeding today in Massachusetts.

A chance encounter and a joy to observe this Great Egret, floofing, poofing, and preening after a day hunting in the marsh. 

The MBTA states that it is unlawful to kill, hunt, sell, or possess most native species of birds in the United States without a permit and it is one of our nation’s most foundational conservation laws.

Birds Protected Under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act

USFWS: Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 implements four international conservation treaties that the U.S. entered into with Canada in 1916Mexico in 1936Japan in 1972, and Russia in 1976. It is intended to ensure the sustainability of populations of all protected migratory bird species.

The law has been amended with the signing of each treaty, as well as when any of the treaties were amended, such as with Mexico in 1976 and Canada in 1995.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) prohibits the take (including killing, capturing, selling, trading, and transport) of protected migratory bird species without prior authorization by the Department of Interior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The List of Migratory Bird Species Protected by the MBTA

The list of migratory bird species protected by the law is primarily based on bird families and species included in the four international treaties. In the Code of Federal Regulations one can locate this list under Title 50 Part 10.13 (10.13 list). The 10.13 list was updated in 2020, incorporating the most current scientific information on taxonomy and natural distribution. The list is also available in a downloadable Microsoft Excel file.

A migratory bird species is included on the list if it meets one or more of the following criteria:

  1. It occurs in the United States or U.S. territories as the result of natural biological or ecological processes and is currently, or was previously listed as, a species or part of a family protected by one of the four international treaties or their amendments.
  2. Revised taxonomy results in it being newly split from a species that was previously on the list, and the new species occurs in the United States or U.S. territories as the result of natural biological or ecological processes.
  3. New evidence exists for its natural occurrence in the United States or U.S. territories resulting from natural distributional changes and the species occurs in a protected family.

 

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

 

CAPE ANN’S WANDERING WOOD STORK FEATURED IN THE GLOUCESTER TIMES TODAY!

Check out the Gloucester Times article by Taylor Ann Bradford about the wandering Wood Stork that called Cape Ann home for about a month in November. Such a gift to have this magnificent species in our midst!

LINK TO STORY HERE

Wandering Wood Stork in Massachusetts (Very Rare)

Massachusetts Wandering Wood Stork Update

Short Film – Wood Stork in Massachusetts

SHORT FILM – WOOD STORK IN MASSACHUSETTS! AND SUPER GREAT WS UPDATE!

The footage was shot on the Annisquam River, on November 21st, at dusk. I wish it was brighter, but this is what we have to show that the stork was feeding well, flying, and pooping often (at about 3 mins), all signs he/she was in good health.

Fantastic news about the young Wood Stork, at least we have no reason to believe it is not the same WS as our Cape Ann Wood Stork. On November 29th, a juvenile WS was photographed by two observers at a marsh on Sconticut Neck, Fairhaven, which is just east of New Bedford, on Buzzards Bay. The Stork is heading in the right direction!!

Fun fact about Wood Storks – Friend and fellow lover of all creatures Jill Whitney Armstrong had a question about Wood Storks as they are born without a bird voice box, or syrinx. The only sounds the adults make are bullfrog-like croaks and snake-like hisses. I have read that Wood Stork nestlings are very noisy and that a colony sound like a bunch of braying donkeys!

For more information about the Wood Stork that came to Cape Ann see:

Wandering Wood Stork in Massachusetts (Very Rare)

Massachusetts Wandering Wood Stork Update

About six years ago, Cape Ann was graced with another great rare bird sighting, that of a White Pelican. He spent a very brief twenty minutes or so at Niles Pond, before then heading in the wrong direction, north. The White Pelican was spotted an hour later flying over Plum Island.

WANDERING WOOD STORK IN MASSACHUSETTS (VERY RARE)

A tender young Wood Stork has been calling our local marshes home for the past several weeks. Along with a second Wood Stork that was rescued from Horn Pond in Woburn, perhaps the two came in with the storm that tore through in October. Unlike the Woburn Wood Stork, Cape Ann’s Wood Stork has been observed feeding beautifully, flying magnificently, and pooping regularly!

The juvenile Wood Stork is far outside’s its normal range. From a population of tens of thousands, there remain only about 10,000 in the US due to habitat loss, most notably in the Florida Everglades. Juveniles disperse northward after breeding and the birds are increasingly nesting farther north. Northwards as far as North and South Carolina, that is, not  Massachusetts!

The Stork’s striking black tipped wings are so immense they make a wonderfully audible swish when the bird takes flight. Our Wood Stork is really very young; he still has a fluffy crown of fledgling feathers circling its face. When mature, the Wood Stork’s head is completely bald. With his large expressive brown eyes, I think we are seeing a Wood Stork at the age of its max cuteness.

Wood Storks have a fascinating method of feeding. They hold their bodies in a horizontal fashion while stirring up mud with their feet in the flats at low tide. They open wide impressively lengthy bills and anything that wriggles in is swallowed, including small fish (what we have been observing), crustaceans, snakes, eels, small rodents, and in their native range, even small alligators.

There are many herons and egrets still feeding in the marshes and I am reminded of the juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron that several years ago spent the entire winter here. As long as he/she is finding plenty to eat, we can hope eventually it will take off for parts warmer.

The Wood Stork was behaving provocatively toward the Great BlueHeron, which is slightly larger. Whenever he got a little too close for comfort, the GHB would give warning with a grand flourishing of wings.

 

Although the GHB looks bigger, reportedly it is not.

Blurry photo, but here you can see a minnow in its mouth

All posts about the Wandering Wood Stork:

SHORT FILM – WOOD STORK IN MASSACHUSETTS! AND SUPER GREAT WS UPDATE!

MASSACHUSETTS WANDERING WOOD STORK UPDATE

CAPE ANN’S WANDERING WOOD STORK FEATURED IN THE GLOUCESTER TIMES TODAY!

 

Wood Stork breeding range map from Cornell

Grand Heron of the Great Marsh: Cape Ann’s Great Blue Herons

Mostly elegant, though sometimes appearing comically Pterodactylus-like, the Great Blue Heron is found in nearly every region of the United States, Mexico, and Central America, as well as the southern provinces of Canada.

Its light weight, a mere five pounds, belies the fact that the Great Blue Heron is North America’s largest heron, with a wingspan of up to six and a half feet and a height of four and a half feet. I write elegant because it truly has a grace unsurpassed when in repose or waiting to strike a fish. Images of Pterodactylus come to mind when you see the bird battling for territory with other herons or flapping about in a tree top; the Heron loses all its sophisticated exquisiteness, transformed into what looks like a great winged beast.

Pterodactylus images courtesy wiki commons media

This summer past was a tremendous year for observing herons and egrets on Cape Ann. Our marshes, ponds, and waterways were rife with Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Green Herons, American Bitterns, and especially Great Blue Herons.

Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets, Cape Ann

At every location Great Blue Herons were foraging either with a flock of mixed herons and egrets, or in a solitary manner. Great Blue Herons hunt day and night and I would often find them at daybreak. They will stand quietly for hours, repeatedly striking the water with lightning speed, and nearly always resurfacing with a fish or frog. Great Blue Herons are survivalists and their diet is wide ranging, including large and small fish, frogs, insects, small mammals, and even other birds. Because of its highly varied diet, the Great Blue Heron is able to spend winters further north than most other species of herons and egrets. Even when waters freeze, we still see them on our shores well into December.

Great Blue Herons are sometimes mistakenly referred to as cranes, which they are not. Cranes are entirely different species. Bas relief at Crane Estate, Ipswich.

Don’t you think it amazing how perfectly these largest of North America’s herons meld with the surrounding landscape?

Here are some moments from this past summer and autumn observing the elegant (mostly) and elusive Great Blue Heron.

Fishing – Great Blue Herons capture small fish and amphibians by plunging into water and then swallowing whole the prey. They also use their powerful bills like a dagger to spear larger fish.

Great Blue Heron range map

I Want What You Have!

What do Great Blue Herons, North America’s largest species of herons, eat? Because they feed in a variety of both freshwater and saltwater habitats, their diet is richly varied. Great Blue Herons dine on small fish, crabs, shrimp, mice, rats, voles, frogs, salamanders, turtles, gophers, snakes, many species of small waterbirds including ducks and ducklings, and insects.

How many Great Blue Herons do you see in the photo above? I thought there was only one in the shot, until returning to my office and had a good look at the scene.