As I am sure many of you are, I am finding pure joy in the return of herons to the North Shore, especially Great Blues. North America’s largest herons began arriving about a month ago, shadowing our landscapes with their massive wingspan. In the case of the largest males, their wingspan may measure up to seven feet wide! Stately and elegant, they also remind us of prehistoric flying dinosaurs or baby pterodactyls.
The courtship, mating, and nest building of the magnificent Great Blue Heron is highly ritualized. Great Blues do not mate for life, but are reportedly monogamous during the nesting season (I have observed and filmed differently). The male typically arrives at the nesting site, or heron rookery (also called a heronry), first. He choses either a new nest location or an old nest to rebuild. With his neck fully extended and majestic slow wingbeats, the male flies in great circles around the nesting grounds while calling for a mate. The female perches and calls back, waiting for the just the right fellow to come along.
Once the pair have bonded, the male selects the nesting materials and brings them to the female. The female arranges the material and it can take up to a week to build the nest. During the nest building period, the pair further bond with elegant displays of preening each other’s feathers, bowing, fluffing and rubbing their necks together, twig exchanges, tapping beaks together, and more. And, too, during the nest-building time period, the pair frequently (albeit very briefly) continues to mate.
What a joy to catch a brief glimpse of this beautiful Black-crowned Night Heron. At this time of year, BCNHs undergo a pre-nuptial molt and the plumage of he/she was stunningly pristine. Both male and female have the long-ribbon-like two feather plumes at the back of the crown. It’s pinkish legs (usually yellow or gray) also tell us he/she is ready for the upcoming breeding season. After taking a few sips of water and a dramatic floofing, the heron headed back over the water toward the open ocean. Safe travels, little migrant!
Day 8 of Covid and still feeling crummy. Short walks and drives are the highlights of the day. So thankful to my husband. There isn’t anyone I would rather be isolated for ten days with than he. Tom has zero symptoms but is extremely patient with mine, and also buying me lots of bubble water, Kleenex, and any other thing that this strange virus sends a need for. Thank you to all my dear friends for all your get well wishes and suggestions. I am so appreciative of your kind thoughts. xoxo
Bacteria levels (fecal matter) at the Good Harbor Beach Creek are unacceptably high, actually at astoundingly high levels. This is not just a summertime/warm weather issue any longer. Please come to the meeting to learn about how we can all help, short and long term plans to mitigate the issue, how development is impacting the bacteria levels, the wide ranging area from where the bacteria is being emitted (it’s not just “one broken pipe”), and plans to seed Mussels at the Creek.
Rory from Clean the Creek shares information on the upcoming meeting:
Hope everyone is doing well. Christian has kindly opened up Surfari for another hybrid meeting for Clean The Creek next Thursday, March 16, at 6:30pm. There will be a zoom link sent out next week for those that can not make it in person. Hope to see everyone soon!
We are moving ahead and gaining traction. With that said, here is a list of committees that are available to join, including an e-board. If you would like to start your own committee, please reach out and we will incorporate it!
Committee options: community outreach (going to local residents, restaurants, and places like the blue shutters), Graphic design that can create a flyer/yard sign, posting flyers around the city, working with the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Board (organizations that support Gloucester and its economy), citizen science – finding ways to test the water and maybe partner with a local university/organization, and a group to work on finding grants/working with our local congressmen to find funding.
Next week we will discuss our next steps, continuing public outreach, setting a date for a low tide creek walk through and beach cleanup, finding economic data related to GHB, citizen science opportunities, grants/federal fund updates, and any other information that you want to share. Your experience and opinion is important and we want to hear it!
For those that have gotten sick from swimming or surfing in and around the Creek, we need your help. It has been recommended to collect the details of everyone that has gotten sick in a more formal way. We would greatly appreciate it if you could fill out a form. We will compare the dates of your illness to water data. This form can be anonymous and you will be listed as “anonymous stakeholder”.
We’re glad you stopped by to learn more about Piping Plovers! The following are some of the most frequently asked questions about nesting Plovers. If you don’t find an answer to your question here, please write in the comments and let us know. The question you have, others may have as well. Thank you!
Do Plovers really start walking as soon as they hatch?
Yes! Plovers are precocial birds. That is a term biologists use to describe a baby bird’s stage of development at birth. Unlike songbirds, which generally hatch helpless, naked, and blind, Plovers hatch with downy soft feathers and are fully mobile. They can run, peck, and are learning to forage within a few hours after hatching. The one thing they can’t do is regulate their body temperature. Plover chicks feed in short intervals, then run to snuggle beneath Mom or Dad’s warm underwings.
Do they have predators? What is their greatest threat?
Plover chicks are vulnerable to a great number of predators including Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, American Crows, Peregrine Falcons, Eastern Coyotes, Red Foxes, and Gray Foxes. The greatest threat to Plovers is when dogs are allowed to run freely through the nesting area, which causes the adults to chase the dogs, which leaves the eggs and chicks vulnerable to avian predators. The second greatest threat to Plovers is the garbage left behind by beachgoers, which attracts crows and gulls, both of which eat chicks and eggs.
How many generally survive?
On average, only 1.3 chicks survive per nesting pair. Most chicks are lost within the first two days.
How long does it take a Plover chick to learn to fly?
By the time a Plover is about 25 days old, it can take very brief test flights. At about 35 days, or five weeks, a Plover is considered fully fledged.
Where do they migrate to when they leave their northern breeding grounds?
We know from Plover banding programs conducted at the University of Rhode Island that the majority of Massachusetts Piping Plovers fly non-stop to the outer banks of North Carolina. Here they will stage for about a month. After fattening up for the next leg of their journey, many Plovers from the north Atlantic region migrate to the Bahamas, Bermuda, and the Turks and Caicos.
During this staging period, Plovers also undergo a molt, where they lose their old tired feathers and grow new fresh feathers.
Just as Piping Plovers are site faithful to their breeding grounds, so too are they are site faithful to their winter homes.
Do they come back to the same nest site every year?
Remarkably, many mated pairs do return to the very same nesting site. Piping Plovers show tremendous fidelity to each other and to their nesting site. Even though they may winter-over in different locations, Piping Plover pairs may return to their breeding grounds within days of each other, and sometimes on the very same day. The chicks will most likely not return to the precise location of their birth, but may return to the same region.
Why are the areas on the beach roped off .
Plovers need a safe haven from dogs and people when they are nesting, especially on busy beach days. Even after the nestlings have hatched and are running on the beach, the Plovers know that it is generally safe from disturbance within the symbolically protected area. The roped off areas also allows beach vegetation to regrow, which provides shelter and food for the chicks and adults. The new growth helps fortify the dunes against future storm damage and rising sea level.
Why don’t Plovers nest in the dunes.
Plovers generally do not nest in the dunes, but in the sand, precisely where beachgoers enjoy sitting. Plovers evolved to nest in sand. For one reason in particular, their eggs are very well camouflaged in sand, so well camouflaged in fact that is is easy for people and pets to accidentally step on them. Prior to the mid-1900s, beaches were not as widely used as the recreational areas they have become today. There was far less interaction with humans. Nesting in dunes poses an even less safe set of challenges, including predation of their eggs by mammals and rodents.
What’s the story with the local organization that is advocating to harm, eat, and/or kill Piping Plovers?
Piping Plovers are listed as a federal and state protected endangered and threatened bird species. Threatened species are afforded the same exact protections as are endangered species. It is illegal to eat, kill, harm, or harass Plovers in any way, and punishable by fines in the tens of thousands of dollars. If humans intentionally create an untenable situation for nesting birds, a beach may become closed for the season
Plovers are very small, only slightly larger than a sparrow, with unfortunately, a history of harassment that in some cases, has led to death. It’s amazing that such a tender tiny bird can elicit the worst behavior in some humans while also evoking the best in people who recognize their vulnerability.
Fortunately for the Plovers, conservation groups, volunteers, and an ever increasingly aware beach-going population of educated and kind hearted citizens are working toward helping folks better understand that by sharing the shore, we not only allow for our own enjoyment by keeping the beach open to the public, we are protecting and promoting the continuation of a species.
Can’t we just capture the Plovers and take them to a less trafficked beach, or build the birds a nest in a tree?
Plovers do not nest in trees. If the Plovers were removed from the beach, they would very likely return. Plovers will rebuild a nest up to five time during a single season. With continual disturbance to the birds, the end result would be no eggs and no chicks. The purpose of the Endangered Species Act and shorebird conservation programs is to rebuild the population to return the Plovers to safe numbers where we know the species will survive.
Do volunteers come every day?
Yes, PiPl Ambassadors are on the beach everyday, seven days a week, from sunrise until sunset. If you would like to be a Piping Plover volunteers, please contact Kim Smith at email@example.com or leave a comment.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 implements four international conservation treaties that the U.S. entered into with Canada in 1916, Mexico in 1936, Japan 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:
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
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!
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.