RECENT SIGHTINGS OF HECTOR, CAPE ANN’S VISITING BLACK VULTURE!

Over the weekend, many new of sightings of Hector, Gloucester and Rockport’s visiting Black Vulture, were reported. He was seen at residences all along East Main Street, back at the Rockport dump, and even in Rockport Harbor! Many thanks to reader Lauren T for sharing her photo.Black Vulture “Hector” at Rockport Harbor

OLD MAN PLOVER- THE BEAUTIFUL STORY OF ONE PLOVER RETURNING TO THE EXACT SAME BEACH TO NEST FOR FIFTEEN YEARS STRAIGHT!

The legendary Old Man Plover

Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee has submitted outstandingly well-researched recommendations to the Mayor’s office and to our City Councilors in regard to the upcoming Piping Plover season. Please see recommendations at the end of the post below. 

In thinking ahead to April, which is the month when Piping Plovers usually arrive to Massachusetts beaches to begin courting and nesting, I am reminded of the beautiful story of Old Man Plover. The locals in his region originally called him  BO:X,g (pronounced box gee) after the combination of letters on the bands of his legs, which are used to identify and track PiPl through their migration cycle. But as he lived longer and longer, the storied PiPl became known as Old Man Plover.

Not only was Old Man Plover legendary because he returned to the same nesting site and wintering grounds for fifteen straight years, but because he was crippled. In 2013 he lost most of the toes on his left foot. A stick became lodged in one of the leg bands, which could have caused an abrasion, a lesion, or possibly constricted blood flow to his toes. After losing his toes, wherever he hobbled, Old Man Plover left a distinct peg mark in the sand.

Old Man Plover’s stumpy leg

Old Man Plover was part of the endangered Great Lakes Piping Plover population, where numbers are even lower than the Atlantic region of PiPl. He hatched at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan, and wintered over at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, South Carolina. Not merely did he return for fifteen summers to nest at his birthplace, he was also extremely punctual. In 2015, 2016, and 2017, he arrived on the exact same day, April 13th.

The last decade of Old Man Plover’s life was not easy. In addition to losing his toes, he lost his childhood sweetheart in 2011 and a second mate in 2013. Plants took over his original nesting spot and his beach grew narrower due to rising lake water levels.

Piping Plovers famously show fidelity to the same nesting site. We have seen that with our own Papa Plover, who has created nest scrapes in nearly exactly the same spot for the past three years. My nickname for our Papa is Big Papi because David Ortiz retired from the Red Sox the same year our Papa arrived, and because our Papa has the same fighting spirit as Big Papi.

Old Man Plover is not the oldest known PiPl on record. That title goes to an Atlantic Coast PiPl that was photographed in Cuba last year, after being tagged 17 years ago at the same location biologists had first banded the bird!

Migrating between Michigan and South Carolina over a fifteen year period, Old Man Plover traveled tens of thousands of miles in his lifetime. He was an amazing Dad. The average PiPl pair raise 1.5 chicks. Old Man Plover raised a whopping 36 chicks, averaging 3-4 chicks per clutch! Read more about Old Man Plover’s offspring here: Old Man Plover’s Legacy Lives On

Old Man Plover’s chicks

Animal Advisory Committee Recommendations

On September 12, 2018, the Animal Advisory Committee voted unanimously on the following proposed ordinances for protections to piping plovers and other wildlife species.

Section 4-2: Feeding or disturbing wildlife No person shall disturb, harass, harbor or feed directly or indirectly gulls, pigeons, waterfowl, coastal shorebirds, or crows on any streets, beach, or other public property or anywhere in the downtown area unless properly permitted by the appropriate state and federal wildlife authorities. Violation results in a $300 fine per incident/violation. No person shall feed either directly or indirectly any coyotes on any public or private property. Violation results in a $300 fine per incident/violation.

(New Ordinance- Endangered/Threatened Wildlife Buffer zone: ) Buffer zone of 50 feet around an area will be established around any area designated as protected for wildlife. Prohibited activities in the buffer zone include whiffle ball, frisbee, soccer, volleyball, paddle ball, kites, inflatable balls and any other activities that involve objects that can fly or roll into the restricted area. Violation results in a $300 fine per incident/violation.

Sec. 9-8. – Littering prohibited. (update to a): No person shall throw, drop, release or otherwise dispose of directly or indirectly into any harbor, river, or pond or on to any beach, or any public property garbage, refuse, rubbish, bottles, cans, containers, paper, cigarette butts, balloons, wrapping material, glass, filth or any noxious or dangerous liquid or solid. Violation results in a $300 fine per incident/violation.

Sec. 4-16a. – Dogs allowed on public beaches at certain times. Adhere to ordinances for specific beaches below.

Good Harbor and Wingaersheek Beaches: Dogs shall be prohibited from Good Harbor Beach and Wingaersheek Beach from April 1st -Sept 30th annually. In addition, unleashed dogs shall be allowed on Good Harbor Beach and Wingaersheek Beach, from: October 1st to March 30th annually, subject to the following conditions: Off leash on even-numbered days of the month at Good Harbor Beach and odd numbered days of the month at Wingaersheek Beach.

Plum Cove and Cressy Beaches: Unleashed dogs shall be allowed on Plum Cove Beach and Cressy Beach in the off season from October 1st to April 30th annually. Crab Beach: Dogs shall be allowed on “Crab Beach” off leash at all times subject to the enumerated conditions contained in section 4-16a.

All other public beaches: Dogs shall be prohibited from public beaches from May 1 to September 30 annually. Dogs shall be allowed on public beaches from October 1 to April 30 annually and shall be under the control of the owner or keeper.

(1) Owners must remain with and monitor their dogs. Owners, per the below conditions, define person with direct care, custody, and control of a dog while in a designated off-leash area.

(2) Dogs must be licensed and vaccinated as required by applicable law and ordinance.

(3) Dogs must wear their tags and have no contagious conditions, diseases or parasites.

(4) Dogs must be leashed when entering and exiting a designated off-leash area.

(5) Dogs and humans are not allowed in the dunes.

(6) Dogs with a history of dangerous or aggressive behavior as determined by the animal control officer are prohibited.

(7) Dogs younger than four months are not allowed.

(8) Unaltered male dogs or female dogs in heat are not allowed.

(9) Owners must immediately remove dogs who are exhibiting aggressive behavior.

(10) Owners must carry a leash; one leash per dog is required.

(11) Maximum of two unleashed dogs per owner.

12) Owners must fill in any holes dug by their dog(s).

(13) Any violations of conditions (1)—(12) above shall be subject to a fine of $50.00 for each offense.

(14) Unless renewed or made permanent by the city council and signed by the mayor, the provisions of this section shall expire on December 31, 2017.

Fine of $300 per violation. Fines for violations will be double in season for beaches and other off-leash areas as determined.

Beach Ordinances: Beach, litter, dog violation fines should be increased to $300 from $25 per the proposed ordinances and approved ordinance language should be carried over to the beach ordinances. Sec. 9-8 Litter, Sec. 4-2 Feeding and Disturbing wildlife, Buffer Zone (new sec), Sec. 4-16a. – Dogs allowed on public beaches at certain times.

RARELY SEEN ON CAPE ANN – A BLACK VULTURE!

Over the winter, a Black Vulture has been calling Cape Ann home. My friend Lois first alerted me to this back in December where he has been seen quite often in Rockport. I have been trying to capture some footage of him/her but only ever saw him soaring high above. The Black Vulture in flight is stunning and you can recognize the bird by its distinctive white wing tips.

As luck would have it, East Gloucester resident Larry shared a photo recently and his friend Frank generously allowed me to stop by and take some photos and footage.White wing tips of the Black Vulture

Being found mostly in South America, Central America, and the southern US, the Black Vulture’s range does not historically include Cape Ann (nor anywhere in Massachusetts). The bird’s range has been expanding northward since the early decades of the previous century and it is safe to say there may even be a few pairs breeding in the furthest most western regions of Massachusetts!

Black Vultures feed primarily on carrion. They fly high above on thermal winds looking for dead creatures, and also follow Turkey Vultures, which reportedly have a better sense of smell and can more easily locate carcasses. Black Vultures also kill skunks, possums, Night Herons, turtle hatchlings, chickens, young livestock, and sickly small pets. And, too, they pick through dumps and dumpsters, and even wade into water for small fish and floating carrion. It’s no wonder their range is expanding!

The Black Vulture visiting Frank’s yard appeared to be communicating with Frank. Black Vultures lack a voice box; instead of singing, one of the sounds they make is a low ruff sort of bark. Frank can imitate the bark perfectly, and the bird barks back!

Black Vulture Historic Status in Massachusetts, from Mass Audubon:

The first Black Vulture identified in Massachusetts was shot in Swampscott in November of 1850. The second appeared in Gloucester on September 28, 1863, where it, too, was killed (Howe & Allen 1901). Throughout the next century, the bird was considered an accidental straggler in Massachusetts; and, by the middle of the nineteenth century, the species was on the move from its deep Southern roots, breeding in southern Maryland for the first time in 1922 (Court 1924) and in Pennsylvania by 1952 (Brauning 1992).

If you see Cape Ann’s Black Vulture hanging around your property, please let me know at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you so much!

Comparing Black Vulture to Turkey Vulture

Black Vulture Range Map

TUBYLETTES BASKING

As was everyone else, the Harbor Seals were enjoying Tuesday’s 50 degree weather. Much jockeying, grunting, and gnarling over prime rock-real estate was taking place. Paintings of nudes by Renoir and Botero, along with the made-up word tubylette, come to mind whenever I see these bathing beauties basking on the rocks at Brace Cove.By the time I left after sunset, there were no less than fourteen Harbor Seals hauled out on the rocks.

HIGHER NUMBERS GIVE HOPE FOR MONARCHS

By Kim Smith

January 31, 2019

The World Wildlife Fund Mexico and Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) announced on January 30th that this year the Monarch Butterfly population has increased significantly.

Each year the orange and black winged beauties return to the oyamel fir and pine tree forests, which are located in the heart of Mexico’s trans volcanic mountain belt. In December and January, Lepidoptera population specialists and citizen scientists measure the area the Monarch colonies cover at their over wintering sites. This year (2018-2019) the butterflies are blanketing 6.05 hectares (approximately 15 acres), up from an all-time low of only 0.67 hectares (1.65 acres) during the winter of 2013-2014.

Not since 2006-2007 has this great an area been covered by the butterflies, although the numbers are still quite low when compared to the numbers recorded in the late 1970s when the butterfly’s winter roosts were first discovered by Dr. Fred Urquhart.

I have been following the butterfly counts around the US as they were reported. The Monarch population has been decimated in California. This year only about 30,000 butterflies were counted, down from several million just two decades ago. There is the very real possibility that the Monarch butterfly will become extirpated (extinct from an area) on the West coast. The winter count is down drastically in Florida as well.

It was clear though that east of the Rockies–the Midwest and Northeast regions of the US, as well as southern provinces of Canada–there were many more Monarchs in gardens and on the wing than in recent previous summers.

Leading Monarch scientists are reluctant to become excited about the increase, and justifiably so. Last spring the weather was slightly cooler in Texas, which allowed more Monarch eggs to hatch, which in turn allowed more caterpillars to mature. A greater number of butterflies emerged and set the stage for a strong breeding season throughout the summer. That scenario, along with the overall good weather during the summer of 2018, also helped create ideal conditions. It was a true “goldilocks” summer, not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

In autumn of 2018, the Monarchs arrived to Mexico about a week later than usual, but once they began to arrive, a kaleidoscope of butterflies poured into their winter roosting grounds.

The 2018-2019 Eastern population count is a reprieve from the past ten years of heartbreaking news, but one good year does not change what the butterflies need most, which is protection for the Monarchs under the Endangered Species Act.

Monarch and Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia)

There is disagreement among scientists whether planting milkweed has any bearing on the health of the Monarch butterfly population. Does creating corridors of Monarch habitat help mitigate the death and destruction caused by climate change, modern agricultural practices, the devastating use of pesticides and herbicides, and the planting of GMO crops (corn, sorghum, and soybeans, for example) that were engineered to withstand the deadly poisons, but which wildflowers and caterpillars cannot?

Monarch Butterflies and New England Aster, Gloucester, 2018

I think the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Monarchs are a bellwether species. The love for this one butterfly has helped to shape a consciousness towards all species at risk. An uncomplicated stand of milkweed and asters can make every public walkway, park, community center, church, school, and backyard a haven for Monarchs and together we can bring about a conservation victory for the pollinators.

Superb Owl Sunday

Here’s my Superb Owl Sunday photo, which I forgot to post on Sunday. Since the photo was actually taken on Super Bowl Sunday, I thought better late than never.

THE LUXURIOUS AND ELEGANT BRIAR BARN INN IS OPEN!

Briar Forsythe, owner of the Briar Barn Inn, recently took me on a grand tour of her newly opened inn. I had visited several times while under construction and I have to say, now that it is open, the Inn is even more beautiful than imagined. Elegant, luxurious, serene, relaxing, and welcoming are just some of the many superlatives that come to mind. Briar Barn Inn is just off Route 1A in scenic Rowley, minutes away from Route 95, yet as you head down the long driveway, you feel as though you have entered another world.

Gerald Fandetti, architect; Charlotte Forsythe, artist and interior designer; and art and antiques curating firm Electric Iris, have created a stunning first-rate inn and special events venue. The interior rooms are an eclectic mix of contemporary art, the fine antique furniture once found in ship captain’s homes, curious collections, luxurious bedding and textiles, folk art, and Arts and Crafts period inspired furnishings.

Coffee and a light breakfast can be had in the common areas found on each floor. The gathering areas are furnished with comfort in mind (think down cushioned chairs and settees you can sink into). Did I mention every guest room and gathering area has a cozy working fireplace? No two guest rooms are alike and each one either faces into a lovely central courtyard or has a bucolic woodland view. It’s an easy stroll from the Inn to the restaurant, through the expansive terraced alfresco dining area, which surrounds a large fire pit.

The fabulous country barn restaurant, boasting stunning post and beam construction, is opening very soon. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be served to hotel guests, and to the public, seven days a week. I (and my husband) simply can not wait to experience the cuisine! Chef Ben Lightbody, Briar Barn Inn’s executive chef, has gained a reputation for the wonderfully delicious and seasonally fresh food served at Willowdale Estate. The Fandetti-Forsythe Family is renowned in the Cambridge area for their hospitality (The Kendall Hotel and The Mary Prentiss Inn). With Willowdale Estate, and now Briar Barn Inn and Restaurant, I think you will see why.

The pool, spa, and art gallery are opening this summer.

Briar Barn Inn is located in Rowley on the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway at 101 Main Street (Route 1A). For more information about the Inn visit the Briar Barn Inn website here. To book your stay call 978-653-5323.