Tag Archives: Beautiful Birds of Cape Ann

Turkey Bromance

eastern-wild-turkey-males-gloucester-ma-6-copyright-kim-smithConferring

From far across the marsh, large brown moving shapes were spotted. I just had to pull over to investigate and was happily surprised to see a flock of perhaps a dozen male turkeys all puffed up and struttin’ their stuff. I headed over to the opposite side of the marsh in hopes of getting a closer look at what was going on.

eastern-wild-turkey-female-foraging-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithTurkey hen foraging 

Found along the edge, where the marsh met the woodlands, were the objects of desire. A flock of approximately an equal number of hens were foraging for insects and vegetation in the sun-warmed moist earth.

eastern-wild-turkey-males-3-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithMales begin exhibiting mating behavior as early as late February and courtship was full underway on this unusually warm February morning. The funny thing was, the toms were not fighting over the hens, as you might imagine. Instead the males seemed to be paired off, bonded to each other and working together, strategically placing themselves in close proximity to the females. A series of gobbles and calls from the males closest to the females set off a chain reaction of calls to the toms less close. The last to respond were the toms furthest away from the females, the ones still in the marsh. It was utterly fascinating to watch and I tried to get as much footage as possible while standing as stone still for as long as is humanly possible.

eastern-wild-turkey-males-gloucester-marsh-copyright-kim-smithWith much curiosity, and as soon as a spare moment was found, I read several interesting articles on the complex social behavior of Wild Turkeys and it is true, the males were bromancing, as much as they were romancing.

Ninety percent of all birds form some sort of male-female bond. From my reading I learned that Wild Turkeys do not. The females nest and care for the poults entirely on her own. The dominant male in a pair, and the less dominant of the two, will mate with the same female. Wild Turkey male bonding had been observed for some time however, the female can hold sperm for up to fifty days, so without DNA testing it was difficult to know who was the parent of her offspring. DNA tests show that the eggs are often fertilized by more than one male. This behavior insures greater genetic diversity. And it has been shown that bromancing males produce a proportionately greater number of offspring than males that court on their own. Poult mortality is extremely high. The Wild Turkey bromance mating strategy produces a greater number of young and is nature’s way of insuring future generations.

The snood is the cone shaped bump on the crown of the tom’s head (see below).eastern-wild-turkey-male-snood-carnuckles-gloucester-ma-2-copyright-kim-smith

The wattle (or dewlap) is the flap of skin under the beak. Caruncles are the wart-like bumps covering the tom’s head. What are referred to as the “major” caruncles are the large growths that lie beneath the wattle. When passions are aroused, the caruncles become engorged, turning brilliant red, and the snood is extended. The snood can grow twelve inches in a matter of moments. In the first photo below you can see the snood draped over the beak and in the second, a tom with an even longer snood.

eastern-wild-turkey-male-close-up-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithIt’s all in the snood, the longer the snood, the more attractive the female finds the male.

eastern-wild-turkey-male-snood-extended-carnuckle-gloucester-ma-10-copyright-kim-smitheastern-wild-turkey-male-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smitheastern-wild-turkey-male-gloucester-ma-9-copyright-kim-smithMale Turkey not puffed up and snood retracted.

A young male turkey is called a jake and its beard is usually not longer than a few inches. The longer the beard, generally speaking, the older the turkey.

eastern-wild-turkey-male-beard-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithMale Wild Turkey, with beard and leg spurs.

eastern-wild-turkey-males-snood-extended-retracted-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithMale Wild Turkeys with snood extended (foreground) and snood retracted (background).

eastern-wild-turkey-male-tail-feathers-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithWhen the butt end is prettier than the front end.

8643866_origIn case you are unsure on how to tell the difference between male (called tom or gobbler) and female (hen), compare the top two photos. The tom has a snood, large caruncles, carunculate (bumpy) skin around the face, and a pronounced beard. The hen does not. Gobblers also have sharp spurs on the back of their legs and hens do not.turkeycharacteristics

Read more here:

http://www.alankrakauer.org/?p=1108

http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2005/03/02_turkeys.shtml

http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dfw/fish-wildlife-plants/wild-turkey-faq.html

New Short Film: The Uncommon Common Tern

What fun to encounter a small flock of terns teaching its young to fish. Nearly as large as the adults, the tubby terns cheekily squawk and demand food (shrimp I think in this case). Watch as the fledglings try to master fishing skills while the adults tirelessly guide the young on how to feed themselves.

With many thanks to Paul St. Germain, president of the Thacher Island Association, for information about the ongoing restoration of shorebirds on Thacher Island.common-tern-fledgling-feeding-copyright-kim-smith

There is nothing common about the uncommon Common Tern. They were named Common because hundreds of thousands formerly nested along the Atlantic Coast. As with many species of shorebirds, the rage for wearing fancy feathered hats during the 1800s nearly drove these exquisite “swallows of the sea” to extinction. After the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was ratified in 1918, terns began to recover.

A second major setback occurred when in the 1970s open landfills were closed, displacing thousands of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls. The aggressive and highly adaptable gulls resettled to offshore nesting sites used by terns.

Common Terns are a Species of Special Concern in Massachusetts. Through a statewide long-term commitment of restoration, protection, and management of nesting colonies, the populations are very slowly and gradually increasing.

Former nesting sites include islands such as Cape Ann’s Thacher Island. During the mid 1950s, over 1,125 pairs of Arctic, Common, and Roseate Terns nested on Thacher Island. Today there are none.

The southern side of Thacher Island is owned by the Thacher Island Association. The northern end of Thacher Island is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under the authority of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. These organizations are working together to restore terns and other species of birds to Thacher Island.

TREE SWALLOWS MASSING

This short film is dedicated a dear friend who recently lost a beloved family member. Along with the tender melody by Jules Massenet, especially the last bits of footage, before the credits, made me think of angels and of hope.

  *   *   *

Over the course of the summer while filming the Piping Plover Family at Wingaersheek Beach, Tree Swallows began flocking in ever increasing numbers. They became part of the Piping Plover story not only because a Tree Swallow will occasionally dive bomb a Piping Plover, for whatever reason I am not entirely sure, but also because they are beautiful to observe, and occasionally, seemingly playful, too.

Songbirds that they are, Tree Swallows make a cheery chirping chatter. They have long narrow forked tails, all the better for gliding and for their signature aerial acrobatics. The male’s upper parts are a brilliant iridescent blue-green, the female’s somewhat duller, and both female and male have white underparts. The migrating juveniles are almost entirely brown with either white or pale grayish underparts.tree-swallows-gloucester-massachusetts-11-copyright-kim-smith

Tree Swallows breed in the wetlands and fields of Cape Ann. Their name comes from the species habit of nesting in tree cavities. Tree Swallows have benefited tremendously from efforts to help save the Eastern Bluebird because they also nest in the nest boxes built specifically for the Bluebirds.

Acrobatic aerialists, they twist and turn mid-flight to capture a wide variety of insects including butterflies, dragonflies, greenheads, bees, beetles, and wasps.tree-swallows-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithTree Swallows eating  insects on the beach and from the crevasses in the driftwood. 

Utilizing both fresh and saltwater to bathe, Tree Swallows have a unique habit of quickly dipping and then shaking off the excess water while flying straight upwards.

Tree Swallows begin migrating southward in July and August. The flocks that we see gathering on Cape Ann migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. They overwinter in the southern states of the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Unlike migrating species of butterflies, several generations of Tree Swallows migrate together, the older birds showing the younger birds the way.

Music composed by Jules Massenet: “Méditation” from Thaïs

MEET THE PIPING PLOVERS OF GOOD HARBOR BEACH

Work has begun in earnest sorting through all the Piping Plover footage and editing the documentary. In the mean time, I thought readers would enjoy this rare moment where we catch a glimpse of  the new born chicks, and both mom and dad together.

Impossibly tiny—no larger than a marshmallow—moments after hatching Piping Plover chicks are on the move, running, tumbling, somersaulting, face-planting, and curious about every little thing in their brand new great big world. PuffPuff, FluffFluff, and TootsiePop are less than twenty-four hours old in this clip. Our East Gloucester neighborhood kids named the Plover family after spending an afternoon getting to know them, watching safely from beyond the roped off area.

Dad Joe finds an impression in the sand and the chicks come running to warm under his protective wings. Piping Plover chicks can feed themselves at birth but can’t yet perfectly regulate their body temperature. They need Mom and Dad for protection and for the warmth they provide. After a few moments rest, Joe pops up and Joy zooms in to take his place. Watch how PuffPuff does a somersault and FluffFluff gives her a little bump out of their cozy nest. Mom runs off camera to create a new resting spot and the chicks are chided by piping calls to come join her.

In shades of bone and driftwood, note how beautifully the Plovers are camouflaged in the colors of the sand and dry beach grass. There isn’t a living thing that doesn’t pose a threat to these most vulnerable of creatures. For protection against predators they will soon learn how to stand perfectly still when Joe and Joy pipe commands, but for now, it’s willy-nilly around the beach, much to the parents great consternation.

Thanks to Esme, Lotus, Meadow, Frieda, and Ruby for naming the Piping Plover family!

piping-plover-chicks-babies-nestlings-male-female-copyright-kim-smithThe male Piping Plover is on the left, the female, on the right. The male’s little black forehead band makes it easy to distinguish between the two.

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.

cecropia-moth-caterpillar-copyright-kim-smith

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.
female-mallard-nine-ducklings-kim-smith

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

Hello Little Christmas Snow Bunting

snow-bunting-cape-ann-massachusetts-7-copyright-kim-smithThis sweet sparrow-sized bird caught my attention as it was feeding alongside a more subdued-hued Song Sparrow, both smack dab in the middle of the road. How could it not, with its strikingly patterned tail feathers, brilliant white underparts, and unusual hopping-walking-running habit.snow-bunting-cape-ann-massachusetts-4-copyright-kim-smith

Aptly named Snow Bunting, and colloquially called  “Snowflake”, worldwide this little songbird travels furtherest north of any member of the passerine, breeding in the high Arctic tundra.

In Massachusetts, Snow Buntings are seen during the winter along the coastline and in small flocks, foraging on seeds and tiny crustaceans.

I hope more Snow Buntings join the lone Snowflake spotted on Eastern Point. If you see a Snow Bunting, please write and let us know. Thank you!snow_bunting_map_bigsneeuwgorsm

snbu_ad_gth1Snow Bunting in Arctic summer breeding plumage, photo courtesy BirdNote

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