Tag Archives: Beautiful Birds of Cape Ann

Grand Heron of the Great Marsh: Cape Ann’s Great Blue Herons

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.

Great Blue Heron range map

HAPPY AUTUMN DAYS!

Spring Peeper out and about before hibernating for the winter.

Relishing the last of these golden days, we took advantage of Sunday’s delightfully beautiful weather with a hike around Eastern Point. Several female Yellow-rumped Warblers were spotted feeding on seed heads, a lone turtle was basking on a sun-warmed rock, the Harbor Seals were lolling about, and a tiny Spring Peeper was spied in the fallen leaves.

You can see why these sweet birds are called Yellow-rumped Warblers. Note the little flash of yellow on the rump of the warbler flying in the background.

Eastern Painted Turtle

Who me?

Harbor Seals warming in the sun.

GREAT BLUE HERON SILHOUETTE IN THE REEDS

Poised to catch a fish, one of a trio of beautiful Great Blue Herons seen recently traveling together on Cape Ann.

Great Blue Heron Times Four

Last week we posted a photo of a group of Great Blue Herons, Cormorants, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, and Great Egrets all foraging together on a rainy morning. The Great Blue Herons are so perfectly camouflaged when perched on the rocky shoreline and we asked how many GBH folks could see. Reader Julie W. saw the most and she even sent the photo back with the Great Blues circled. Thank you Julie for taking the time to do that!!

 

SHORT BIT OF FOOTAGE OF THE ENDANGERED RUSTY BLACKBIRD FORAGING

As I was filming a Great Blue Heron, and standing as still as a tree, the beautiful Rusty Blackbird flew on the scene, not four feet away! My heart skipped a beat and I quickly turned my camera on the little blackbird. It’s foraging habit of flipping leaves to uncover insects and plant matter was fascinating and my only wish was that he stayed longer than a brief minute.

Scientists only relatively recently became aware of the dramatic decline of the Rusty Blackbird. Reports show that the population of the RB has plummeted between 80 and 99 percent.

As is the case with so many creatures the whole earth wide, two of the greatest threats facing the Rusty Blackbird are loss of habitat and climate change. The birds are elusive, nesting in remote areas of the great northern boreal forest and wintering over in the wet woodlands of the southeastern United States. Over 80 percent of their winter habitat in the southeast has been lost to development. Changes in the ecosystem of the boreal forests has affected nesting and foraging.

Without doubt, global climate change is the greatest challenge of our day. All living life as we know it is at risk. Millions of human lives have been directly impacted by the Earth’s warming temperature. We are at risk of losing thousands of species of flora and wild creatures.

In the current political climate, restrictions on drilling and mining are being dramatically loosened in ecologically sensitive areas, not only creating a greater carbon footprint, but irreparably harming wildlife.

Politicians are gutting the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Is your candidate, in more than only words, willing to take a strong stand to address the environmental crisis and wildlife conservation issues? Does your political party fully support renewable energy initiatives such as wind and solar? Or are they ramping up coal, gas, and oil production.

The Monarch Butterfly, Piping Plover, and the Rusty Blackbird are bellwether species that we can see in our own “backyards,” and they are sounding the clarion call loud and clear. Can you imagine Planet Earth without extraordinary and fascinating creatures such as this–and the world of beauty they provide?

Vote with your mind and your heart.Non-breeding Male Rusty Blackbird

GLOUCESTER TO BOSTON EXPRESS

Both kinds 🙂

Click the photos to make larger and you can see the fine ribbon of migrating birds. Many, many species of birds migrate at night. You can often see them very late in the day as they are beginning their night time journey, traveling along the shores of Cape Ann before crossing Massachusetts Bay on their southward migration.

TWO TERRIFIC WILDLIFE PRESENTATIONS UPCOMING AT SALEM STATE UNIRVERSITY

JENNIFER JACKMAN SHARES THE FOLLOWING:

On Monday, November 5, from 2:30-3:50pm in Veteran’s Hall B, Ellison Campus Center, Salem State University, Dr. Andrea Bogomoloni, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Chair of the Northwest Atlantic Seal Research Consortium will speak on “Seals & Society: Biology, Ecology and Interactions in New England.” Her talk will review the history of seals in New England, examine their roles in the ecosystem and as ocean health sentinels, and discuss seal-fishery interactions.

Harbor Seal Gloucester

On Monday, November 19, from 2:30-3:50pm in Veteran’s Hall B, Ellison Campus Center, Salem State University, there will be a panel on “Wildlife in Peril.” Panelists include Andrea Zeren (Psychology) who will highlight the plight of elephants globally; Jack Clarke (Director of Public Policy and Government Relations, Mass Audubon) who will describe current threats to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act; and Mendy Garron (NOAA) who will discuss the plight of large whale species (particularly right whales). All three speakers also will discuss efforts to protect wildlife.

Snowy Egrets are just one of myriad species of birds that have been saved from the brink of extinction by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act.

These events are sponsored by the Salem State University Human Dimensions of Wildlife Unit at the Bates Center for Public Affairs and the Political Science Department and are open to the public. For more information contact, Jennifer Jackman at jjackman@salemstate.edu.