Tag Archives: American Robin

WINTER ROBINS HAVE RETURNED AND THEY ARE RIGHT ON SCHEDULE!

Their shadows in flight crisscrossing the light through my office window, I look up to see one feather-fluffed fellow sitting on a crabapple branch, gazing right back at me. I wonder, if I silently and cautiously open the window, will he fly in?

It is so very cold out doors. The flock seems more weary than in past years. One sits on the ground outside the window, barely moving aside when I walk down the garden path; another is half asleep in the holly limb overhead. There are fewer, too, perhaps only eight to ten when often we see several dozen. On this coldest of January days, it must be difficult to keep warm, especially as there are no little fish to catch along the frozen sea’s edge to warm their bellies.

This one was so worn out, he sat in the snow beneath the holly tree, eating what the other Robins dropped on the ground.

The winter Robins arrive to our garden every year in January, nearly to the day (today, January 21st). Our garden is a postage stamp but we have planted it richly for the songbirds. The pair of ‘Dragon Lady’ holly trees hold their berries for the Robins, the crabapples have yet to be sampled, the winterberry is still ripe with fruit, and the tiny rosehips of the climbing white rose are beckoning.

We’re fortunate that on Cape Ann many American Robins nest and migrate along our shores. Some Robins live here all the year round; some arrive in springtime, having spent the winter further south in parts warmer; and some–the ones I like to call winter Robins–arrive in January, from parts further north. We are like their Bermuda, and they are here to feed on wild fruits and berries, as well as small fish fry and fingerlings, and mollusks.

Rime-sweetened rosehips

Cape Ann Winged Creature Update

Featuring: Brant Geese, Black-capped Chickadees, Black-crowned Night Heron, Blue Jays, Cardinals, American Robins, Mockingbirds, Savannah Sparrows, House Finches, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Common Grackle.  

Beautiful iridescent feathers of the Common Grackle.

Spring is a fantastic time of year in Massachusetts to see wildlife, whether that be whale or winged creature. Marine species are migrating to the abundant feeding grounds of the North Atlantic as avian species are traveling along the Atlantic Flyway to summer breeding regions in the boreal forests and Arctic tundra. And, too, the bare limbs of tree branches and naked shrubs make for easy viewing of species that breed and nest in our region. Verdant foliage that will soon spring open, although much longed for, also obscures nesting activity. Get out today and you’ll be richly rewarded by what you see along shoreline and pond bank.

Male Red-winged Blackbird singing to his lady love

Once the trees leaf, we’ll still hear the songsters but see them less.

Nests will be hidden from view.

Five migrating Brant Geese were foraging on seaweed at Loblolly Cove this morning.

Red-breasted Merganser Bath Time

Cape Ann Wildlife: A Year in Pictures

snowy-owl-gloucester-massachusetts-c2a9kim-smith-2015My husband Tom suggested that I write a year-end post about the wildlife that I had photographed around Cape Ann. Super idea I thought, that will be fun and easy. Not realizing how daunting and many hours later, the following is a collection of some favorite images from this past year, beginning with the male Snowy Owl photographed at Captain Joe’s dock last winter, to December’s Red-tailed Hawk huntress.
red-tailed-hawk-eating-prey-gloucester-massachusetts-21-copyright-kim-smith

Living along the great Atlantic Flyway, we have been graced with a bevy of birds. Perhaps the most exciting arrival of all occurred when early summer brought several pairs of nesting Piping Plovers to Gloucester’s most beloved (and most highly trafficked) of beaches, Good Harbor Beach. Their story is being documented on film.

piping-plovers-chicks-nestlings-babies-kim-smithWork on Mr. Swan’s film will also resume this January—the winters are simply not long enough for all I have planned!swan-outstretched-wings-niles-pond-coyright-kim-smith

While photographing and filming Red-winged Blackbirds this past spring, there was a face-to-face encounter with a hungry coyote, as well as several River Otter sightings.

female-red-winged-blackbird-copyright-kim-smitrhFemale Red-winged Blackbirdeastern-coyote-massachusetts-kim-smith

The summer’s drought brought Muskrats out from the reeds and into full view at a very dry Henry’s Pond, and a short film about a North American Beaver encounter at Langsford Pond. Numerous stories were heard from folks who have lived on Cape Ann far longer than I about the extraordinary number of egrets, both Snowy and Great, dwelling on our shores.
three-muskrat-family-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithThree Muskrateers
female-monarch-depositing-eggs-1-copyright-kim-smithnewly-emerged-monarch-butterfly-copyright-kim-smith-jpgThere were few Monarch sightings, but the ones seen thankfully deposited eggs in our garden. Thank you to my new friend Christine who shared her Cecropia Silkmoth eggs with me and thank you to the countless readers who have extended an invitation to come by and photograph an exciting creature in their yard.

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Pristine beaches, bodies of fresh water, and great swathes of protected marsh and woodland make for ideal wildlife habitat, and Cape Ann has it all. With global climate change pushing species further away from the Equator, I imagine we’ll be seeing even more creatures along our shores. Butterfly and bee populations are overall in decline, not only because of climate change and the use of pesticides, but also because of loss of habitat. As Massachusetts has become less agrarian and more greatly forested, fields of wildflowers are becoming increasingly rare. And too fields often make the best house lots. Farmers and property owners developing an awareness of the insects’ life cycle and planting and maintaining fields and gardens accordingly will truly help the butterflies and bees.
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Thank you to all our readers for your kind comments of appreciation throughout the year for the beautiful wild creatures with which we share this gorgeous peninsula called Cape Ann.

The images are not arranged in any particular order. If you’d like to read more about a particular animal, type the name of the animal in the search box and the original post should come up.

I wonder what 2017 will bring?

nine-piping-plovers-napping-gloucester-copyright-kim-smith

sandpipers-copyright-kim-smith

Christmas Robin

christmas-robin-winterberry-copyright-kim-smithchristmas-robin-winterberry-2-copyright-kim-smithRobin Finds Christmas was a favorite book from childhood, given to me by my Grandmother. Funny how sweet little children’s stories stay with you forever. Robin Finds Christmas is about searching for the true meaning of Christmas and was written by the English writer and illustrator Molly Brett.b20ff50729fbfb707ae0b2e0df4e799d

Super Moon, Howling Coyotes, Flying Swan, Songbirds Going Crazy, and Beautiful Brace Cove Daybreak

rocky-neck-smith-cove-daybreak-copyright-kim-smithLast Tuesday was a photographer’s magical dream morning. After photographing and filming December’s “Long Night’s Moon” descending over the Gloucester city skyline, I turned toward the east to see a peaceful daybreak scene over Rocky Neck. Perhaps the sun hadn’t fully risen I thought and hurried to Brace Cove. The sun had rose behind Brace Rock with just enough clouds that it was still pretty, not blasted out by too much light.

I then walked along the edge of Niles Pond, meeting up with Mr. Swan who was occupied with his morning swim, which often indicates he is readying to take flight. He did, and with movie camera in hand, he circled the Pond before landing at Brace Cove, near the breakwater.

Eerily, the coyotes were howling in the distance, actually howling, like wolves, and for quite a long while. I often hear their meet-and-greet yipping and socializing barks that they make shortly after sunset, and too the terrible sound they make when killing a creature, but I have never heard them howling in the morning. I wonder if it had something to do with the full moon? Do our readers hear coyotes howling regularly?

tufted-titmouse-copyright-kim-smithTufted Titmouse

Further along the Pond walk there was a large flock of American Robins and they, along with a lively group of Blue Jays, Tufted Titmice, Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and Cardinals were hungrily eating every berry in sight, so much so that when I returned to the same spot a few days later, there wasn’t a berry or fruit to be seen. A magical morning at a magical place we’re fortunate to call home.

full-cold-moon-frosty-moon-december-2016-gloucester-ma-city-skyline-1-copyright-kim-smithDecember Long Night’s Moon

Prettiest Robin’s Nest (and Crabapple, too)!

Robin's Nest copyright Kim SmithThis beautiful Robin’s nest is located at the lovely home of the Del Vecchio family. Daughter Clara noticed that a sprig of lavender was used in nest building so they left out some colorful bits of yarn. The Robins built the nest atop a rolled up rug that was left standing beside their well-trafficked front door. Mama Robin doesn’t seem to mind a bit the constant comings and goings of the household. I’ve seen robins build nests in some crazy places, but this has to take the cake!

Thank you to Michele for allowing me to come and film what has to be the world’s most charming Robin’s nest!

Update on the Robin’s nest: Sadly, Michele reports that the nest was knocked over and the eggs have been scavenged. In our region, Robins typically have several broods and often use the same nest, so perhaps the nest can become reestablished.

pink flowering crabapple tree copyright Kim SmithDel Vecchio’s crabapple in full glorious bloom! 

Crabapple blossoms

HOW COLOR IS CREATED IN BIRD FEATHERS PART 2

Turkey male fanning tale feathers feathers Kim SmithStructural Color

Have you ever wondered why sometimes you can see the brilliant red gorget (throat feathers) of the male Ruby-throated and Allen’s hummingbirds, and sometimes not at all? Or why iridescent feathers appear green, and then blue, or possibly purple, and then in the next moment look drab and dreary? I think about this when photographing birds such as grackles, buffleheads and hummingbirds. Most recently, the turkeys in our community are currently displaying their wildly varying iridescent feathers when in full courtship mode.

Bufflehead Kim SmithBufflehead Iridescence

Iridescent red gorget in male Allen’s Hummingbird; same bird, different angles

Layering

There are two types of structural color, layering and scattering. Iridescence in bird feathers is created by layering. Bird feathers are made of a translucent protein called keratin, which is a very rugged substance. Not only are the feathers made of keratin, but keratin coats the bird’s claws, legs, and bill. Because of the structure of the feather, with its microscopic barbules, when light hits the feather it causes the wave lengths to bend, or refract. Keratin reflects short wave length colors like purples, blues, and violets. The other colors are absorbed by the underlying layer of melanin. The refraction works like a prism, splitting the light into an array of colors. As the viewing angle changes, because of the viewer’s movement or because the bird is moving, the refracted light displays a shimmering iridescence, or none at all. Beautiful color combinations are created when iridescent layers are combined with pigments present.

Turkey male iridescent feathers -2 Kim SmithIn the above photo, the male Turkey’s iridescent feathers surrounding the head make a splendid display in full sun.

Turkey male iridescent feathers Kim SmithThese same feathers appear entirely different when back lit.

Grackle Kim Smith 2016Iridescence in Grackles

Scattering

Keratin is interspersed with tiny pockets of air of within the structure of the feather filament (called barb). Scattering is created when light hits the pockets of air, which results in specific, non-iridescent color. The color blue in feathers is almost always created in this manner. Feathers of Blue Jays, Bluebirds, and Indigo Buntings are prime examples of scattering.

Here are two graphics found online from Cornell that I found very helpful in trying to visualize the difference between layering and scattering. The first shows how iridescence is produced and the second, how blue scattering is created.Struct-Color-DIA-Iridescent_Myaedit_coloracrticle-674x441Bird_Biology-Feather_structural_blue-674x450