Tag Archives: American Bald Eagle

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 little River (nestling photo courtesy ECGA)

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

BALD EAGLE PAIR NESTING ON CAPE COD!- FIRST NEST IN OVER 100 YEARS

Mass Wildlife reports that there are over 70 active Bale Eagle nests in Massachusetts, a record!  Now there is a brand new nest in Barnstable. The last reported Bald Eagle nest was seen on Cape Cod in Sandwich, in 1905.

The public can support the conservation of Bald Eagles and other rare species in Massachusetts by reporting sightings and donating to MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

What does a Bald Eagle nest look like?

All images courtesy wiki commons media google search

A GUIDE TO AGING BALD EAGLES

So very curious about the Bald Eagle that I photographed last week, a quick google search led to some very handy images and websites. I’m still not sure exactly how old is the one that I have been seeing but after searching, I’d say it was three and half years old. Bald Eagles don’t gain their pure white heads and tails, intensely yellow eyes, and overall dark brown plumage until they are five years old.

A side note- You can’t tell the difference between male and female unless side by side; the females are slightly larger.

These were the most helpful websites for aging Bald Eagles:

How to Age and Identify a Juvenile and Sub-Adult Bald Eagle

Several years ago, a juvenile Bald Eagle was at Niles Pond. After looking through the images, I would think it was a Basic II Plumage, about two and half years old, when the photos were taken.

Bald Eagle Niles Pond Gloucester

BALD EAGLE VS OSPREY SKY DRAMA

On a weekly basis I have been noticing a morning battle taking place between two large raptors. The shrill calls alert me to look up at the sky however, the fights generally take place so far off shore I was never entirely sure what was happening.

This morning the two briefly flew overhead. The larger of the pair was a juvenile Bald Eagle and it was in hot pursuit of an Osprey with a fish clutched tightly in its talons. Back over the water they flew, far, far off, too far to take any more good photos, but not so far that I could not see the fish still in the Ospreys clutches. A few moments later the Eagle returned empty-taloned.

Score- Osprey 1, Bald Eagle 0. Will keep you updated if I am again fortunate enough to see the pair flying overhead.

EARTH DAY 1970 – 2020: Why do we see so many more Eagles today than fifty years ago? WITH BEAUTIFUL PHOTO BY DOUG BURGESS!

The return of American Bald Eagles to Massachusetts is a wonderful conservation success story. We now see Bald Eagle nests expanding throughout the state with overall numbers steadily rising each year. Several pairs are thought to now nest on Cape Ann!

By the turn of the previous century, the Bald Eagle had nearly disappeared from Massachusetts. Loss of habitat, hunting, trapping, and poison contributed to their demise during the 19th century. The last known nest was seen at Sandwich, Cape Cod in 1905. Nationwide, by the mid-twentieth century, the pesticide DDT nearly pushed the birds to extinction.

The Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife (Mass Wildlife) now reports that as of January 2019, there are 76 territorial pairs, which is up from 68 pairs in 2017, and 59 pairs in 2016. From these 76 pairs, 65 chicks successfully fledged! How was this made possible?

In the early 1980s, it was discovered that some Bald Eagles were spending winters in the Quabbin Reservoir area.  In 1982, MassWildlife, along with other organizations, including MassAudubon, began a project that would encourage nesting in the area.

Young eaglets from wild nests in Canada were reared in cages overlooking the Reservoir. This was done in hopes the eagles would view the area as home base and return to nest when mature.

The first fledged bird returned in 1989 and the Massachusetts Bald Eagle population has been steadily growing ever since! Forty-one chcks were raised using the “Hacking” method. Over 780 chicks have fledged since the program’s inception however this is likely an underestimation as the counts have largely centered around the Quabbin Reservoir, and most recently Lake Quinsigamond.

If you suspect a Bald Eagle nest in your area , please contact the State Ornithologist Andrew Vitz at andrew.vitz@mass.gov.

LATE WINTER WILDLIFE UPDATE -AND LOVE IS IN THE AIR!

Beautiful bird songs fill the air as songbirds are pairing up.

Carolina Wren

Red-winged Blackbirds

American Robin

Winter resident ducks are seen in pairs, too.

Buffleheads, Ring-necked Ducks, and Scaups

Our young Black-crowned Night Heron has made it through the winter!

And a pair of American Pipits has been here all winter, too.

Many Short-eared Owls and Snowy Owls have not yet departed for their summer breeding grounds.

Red-tailed and Marsh Hawks are here year round and this is a wonderful time of year to observe their behaviors, before sparse vegetation turns lush with summer growth.

Fox and Coyotes have been busy mating; their kits and pups are born from mid-March-through May.

Bald Eagles in our area may begin laying eggs as early as February.

The Harbor Seal posse is seen nearly everyday. The highest count so far was 27!

A pair of sweet Snow Buntings has been here for several days, eating tiny seeds found on the ground.

Brant Geese are seen in small to large flocks before heading to the high Arctic tundra to breed.

RULER OF THE MARSH – FEATURING RABBIT, HAWK, OWLS, AND EAGLE

Life on the marsh –

The Marsh Hawk (Northern Harrier) sitting in the grass off in the distance, was holding captive a bunny.

The bunny was staying still and the hawk was, surprisingly, not attempting to capture the rabbit. Perhaps because avian predators, like hawks, hunt by swooping in, and in a short distance stand-off, the hawk would have to sort of hop over to the bunny. Rabbits can hop to escape a great deal quicker than can hawks-on-foot give chase.

The Short-eared Owl arrives and the Marsh Hawk takes cover.

The Snowy Owl appears on the scene…

and the Short-eared Owls are nowhere to be seen.

The Bald Eagle, Ruler of Marsh and Meadow, swoops in. The Snowy departs.American Bald Eagle Juvenile

SNOWY OWL ALERT! AND BALD EAGLES, TOO!

It was a beautiful morning at Parker River despite mostly overcast skies and a strong wind. This first day of our “January thaw” was made even more beautiful by the presence of the Snowy Owl.

I believe she’s a female, although the lightest females can look like the darkest males. She appeared largely unperturbed by the gaggle of photographers that came and went. The Snowy flew across the dune for a few moments, but then flew back to roughly the same spot; in both locations she was somewhat protected from the blustery wind.

I have it on good authority that there are currently SIX Bald Eagles at Parker River, two hatch-years, two that are roughly three years old, and two adults. I have only seen one youngster this week, in a battle with a crow, and I couldn’t tell who was chasing who 🙂

STUNNING BALD EAGLE IN THE HOOD!

Saturday afternoon a captivating young Bald Eagle swooped onto the scene with a fresh catch held tightly in its talons. He was fairly far off in the distance and I couldn’t quite capture what exactly he was eating.

It didn’t take long for the eagle to devour the little creature and after dining, he circled around the pond several times before landing in a nearby tree. I’ve never been so close to an eagle and it was a gift to see, really just gorgeous. It’s feathers were richly mottled in shades of chocolate brown, with contrasting white tips. Despite its youth, you could see the majesty and strength in its wings when soaring overhead.

The eagle perched in the branches for a few moments, completely ignoring the squwacky crows that were gathering, before heading out towards sea.

There have been numerous reports of Bald Eagles in the area. Earlier in the day, a passerby told me she had seen a juvenile Bald Eagle with a crow in its clutches. Although I don’t have a side-by-side comparison, the young Bald Eagle’s talons appeared enormous, even larger than a Snowy or Great Horned Owl’s talons.

Bald Eagles have repopulated the 48 contiguous states, Alaska, Canada, and northern Mexico. Their recovery over the past several decades is largely due to the ban on DDT (yet another deadly dangerous poisonous insecticide manufactured by Monsanto). Bald Eagles mate for life and they are breeding in the area. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to see a nest on Cape Ann!

I believe this to be a second or third hatch year juvenile Bald Eagle. You can tell by the broad brown band on its face, the iris is transitioning from amber to yellow, and because the beak is beginning to turn yellow.

Click on any of the photos in the gallery above to see a full-sized slideshow.

Fourth hatch year Bald Eagle -note the remaining brown feathers around the face.

Mature Bald Eagle (images courtesy wiki commons media).

Year of the Bird

Bald Eagle Soaring Overhead

The year 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, passed in 1918. The treaty is a seminal piece of legislation that has saved, and continues to save, the life of billions upon billions of North American birds. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Geographic, Audubon, and BirdLife have created a timely alliance, joining forces this year to celebrate birds, while also raising awareness about the current dangers that they face.

I have been thinking a great deal about the Year of the Bird while out photographing and today on an early morning dune walk, a juvenile Bald Eagle flew overhead, soaring high, high up in the clouds. It was a first for me, to see a Bald Eagle, and it was simply thrilling. Bald Eagles have been helped tremendously by the stewardship allowed for under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Bald Eagle Protection Act, and the banning of DDT.

Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are one of eight species in the genus Haliaeetus, or “sea” eagles. They are the largest birds of prey in Massachusetts, with a wing span of six to seven feet. Bald Eagles were extirpated (made non-existent) from Massachusetts during the early 1900s. From 1982 to 1988, forty-one young Bald Eagles from Michigan and Canada were relocated to Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts. Eagle numbers have increased steadily since that time. In 2015 (most recent record), the highest number ever recorded, at least 51 pairs, of Bald Eagles maintained breeding territories in Massachusetts.

Why are birds so important? I can think of myriad reasons–practical, aesthetic, and personal. Practically speaking, birds are like the earth’s housekeepers. They annually eat trillions of insects and pick clean carcasses of millions of dead animals. Many species of birds are pollinators–think of hummingbirds sipping nectar from zinnias and Baltimore Orioles drinking nectar from flowering fruit trees along their northward migratory route. Birds, too, are the proverbial canary in the coal mine. The presence and abundance of birds (or lack thereof) speaks to the health of our environment.

BIRDS ARE BEAUTIFUL! They connect us to the natural world that surrounds, and everyone can enjoy their beauty. We don’t all have access to daily bear watching, elephant safaris, or whaling adventures, but everyone can look out their window or go for a hike and see a beautiful bird. Evolved from dinosaurs, but bellwethers for the future, protecting birds and their habitats ensures a healthy planet for future generations.

From AUDUBON

The History and Evolution of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

The law has already saved billions of birds’ lives. Here’s how it’s accomplished so much in its 100-year history.

Passed a century ago, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibits the harming of just about all native birds, along with their nests and eggs. To this day it remains the primary tool for protecting non-endangered species. As threats to birds continue to evolve, so does the law itself.

Here’s a look back at some of the key moments in the law’s evolution to date.

1800s: With essentially zero regulations in place, market hunters decimate U.S. bird populations, in part so that well-to-do women can wear hats adorned with ornamental feathers. By the end of the century, Labrador Ducks and Great Auks are extinct, soon to be joined by Passenger Pigeons, Carolina Parakeets, and Heath Hens. Numerous other species stand on the brink. Outrage over these alarming trends leads to the formation of the first Audubon societies, as well as other conservation groups.

1900: Congress passes the Lacey Act, the first federal law to protect wildlife. It takes aim at market hunters by prohibiting them from selling poached game across state lines.

1913: Congress passes the Weeks-McLean Migratory Bird Act, which, in another broadside against market hunters, bans the spring shooting of migratory game and insectivorous birds and declares them to be under the “custody and protection” of the federal government. However, two district courts soon rule the act unconstitutional.

1916: The United States signs a treaty with Great Britain (acting on behalf of Canada, then part of the British Empire), in which the two countries agree to stop all hunting of insectivorous birds and to establish specific hunting seasons for game birds. The stated goal is to preserve those species considered beneficial or harmless to man.

1918: To implement the new treaty, Congress passes the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which officially makes it a crime to “pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill,” or “sell” a migratory bird or any of its parts, including nests, eggs, and feathers. The newly passed act eliminates “the necessity of watching the legislation of every state and of combating the numberless attempts to legalize the destruction of birds for private gain,” according to famed ornithologist Frank M. Chapman (also the founder of Audubon magazine).

1920: The U.S. Supreme Court shoots down a challenge to the constitutionality of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, ruling that it does not violate states’ rights.

1936: Following up on its treaty with Great Britain, the United States signs a similar treaty with Mexico (it would go on to sign additional treaties with Japan and the Soviet Union in the 1970s). As a result, more birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and habitat conservation and pollution abatement is encouraged.

1940: Congress passes the Bald Eagle Protection Act, the first federal legislation to ban hunting or otherwise disturbing America’s national emblem (it would later be amended to include Golden Eagles). Modeled after the MBTA, it nonetheless fails to stem the Bald Eagle’s decline at the hands of DDT poisoning.

1970s: For the first time, U.S. prosecutors begin charging not just hunters who violate the MBTA, but also oil and gas, timber, mining, chemical, and electricity companies. Though not directly targeting wildlife, these industries incidentally cause millions of bird deaths each year that could have been avoided with simple infrastructure modifications, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In publicly available documents, the DOJ states that it will first notify companies of a violation and work with them to correct it. But if they “ignore, deny, or refuse to comply” with best management practices, then the “matter may be referred for prosecution.”

1972: An amendment to the MBTA protects an additional 32 families of birds, including eagles, hawks, owls, and corvids (crows, jays, and magpies). Even more species have been added since, bringing the total number to 1,026—almost every native species in the United States. With such additions, the word “‘migratory” in the act’s title becomes largely symbolic—many birds that do not embark on actual migrations are still protected.

2000: A federal appeals court holds that private citizens (such as conservation groups) may sue the government over alleged violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Nonetheless, they remain unable to sue out-of-compliance private companies, which differs in that regard from the Endangered Species Act and many other environmental laws.

2001: Just before leaving office, President Bill Clinton orders all relevant federal agencies, including the Department of Defense and the U.S. Forest Service, to take migratory bird conservation into account as part of their regular decision making.

2002: A federal district court rules that the U.S. Navy violated the MBTA during live-fire exercises in the northern Marianas Islands. Congress responds by exempting the incidental taking of birds during “military readiness activities.”

2013: In a first, the Department of Justice enforces the MBTA against a wind farm operator, imposing $1 million in penalties for the killing of Golden Eagles and other protected birds at two sites in Wyoming. It follows this up a year later with $2.5 million in penalties against a second Wyoming wind farm operator. Actual enforcement of the MBTA against these problems tends to be sporadic.

2015: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announces that it will rethink the MBTA’s implemention to hold industries more accountable for the harm they do to birds. Specifically, the changes will address bird deaths due to open oil pits, power lines, gas flares, cell phone towers, and wind turbines—which combined kill millions of birds each year.

2017: The Trump Administration does away with the USFWS’s potential rulemaking updates. Also in 2017, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) introduced an amendment to the SECURE American Energy Act that would change liability under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) to no longer cover incidental takes. This would prevent any enforcement of industrial impacts, end accountability from oil spills, and removed incentives to protect birds, all of which Audubon opposes.

“Rep. Cheney is giving oil and gas companies and other industries a free pass to kill birds with impunity,” said David Yarnold, Audubon’s President and CEO, in an official statement.

Dune sunrise this morning.