Tag Archives: Beautiful Birds of Cape Ann

BEAUTIFUL CAPE ANN WINTER WILDLIFE UPDATE

Our shores abound with wonderful wild creatures we more often see in wintertime, and species we can view better because the trees are bare. The duo of male American Wigeons are still here, as are the pair of Pipits. I watched yesterday afternoon as the Pipits flew away from the beach in unison, and then returned together about twenty minutes later to continue to forage in the seaweed and sand.

American Wigeons

American Pipits

It’s easier to catch a glimpse of a Downy Woodpecker pecking and a wasp nest in the tangle of thickets when viewed through naked limbs and branches.

The Harbor Seals are seen almost daily. One day last week 24 were present!

A sleepy-eyed female Common Eider was peacefully resting on the beach. I know she was okay because on our way back she slipped back into the surf.

Song Sparrow

Red-breasted Merganser

And that’s our Charlotte, my favorite wild one, and ever at the ready to go exploring. After we get dressed in the morning she chortles, “Now I’m ready for action Mimi.”

A PAIR OF PIPITS AT BRACE COVE!

Don’t you just love the name ‘Pipit?’ At first glance the American Pipit looks rather like a Plain Jane but their sweet name complements their spunky personality. I loved watching them energetically forage on the beach as they ran hither and thither wagging their tails and craning their necks chicken-like while searching for tiny bits of seafood amongst the popples and seaweed.

With a silhouette that looks something like a slender and smaller American Robin, and a facial expression to match, I was having trouble identifying the bird. I emailed John Nelson, author of Flight Calls and a recent guest on our GMG podcast, and he knew just what they were.

The photos were taken in low light and at some distance, but you can still get a good idea of what to look for. In Massachusetts, the American Pipit is reportedly seen during spring and fall migration, much less so in winter. They breed in both the high Arctic tundra as well as alpine meadows. Their varied habitats include mudflats, sandbars, airfields, and farms.

Notice the Pipits long, long hind claws – excellent for foraging on the ground.

American Pipit range map

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

HERE’S TO A HAPPY NEW YEAR AND A HAPPY NEW DECADE! 

In spending the afternoon reflecting on the past year’s wildlife stories and photos, I have been thinking about what an extraordinary place is Cape Ann. How fortunate we all are to see amazing and beautiful wildlife stories unfolding in our own backyards each and every day! I am planning a Cape Ann Wildlife 2019 Year in Pictures and hope to find the time to post that this week.

News this year of an increase in Monarchs at the butterfly’s overwintering sites in Mexico, as well as strong numbers during the summer breeding season and fall migration, gives me great hope for the future of this beautiful species, and for all wildlife that we take underwing.

Monarchs flying into Gloucester butterfly trees, forming an overnight roost.

Our community has taken under its wings a pair of Piping Plovers. The two began calling Good Harbor Beach home in 2016. Because the community came together and worked as a team, this year we were able to fledge three tiny, adorable marshmallow-sized fluff balls at Gloucester’s most well-loved and populous beach. Thank you Piping Plover friends and Community for all that you did to help these most vulnerable of shorebirds successfully reach flying age. 

Another example of “underwing” – three nearly full grown PiPl chicks, all determined to nestle for warmth under Papa

LITTLE RED SQUIRREL OF THE WOODLAND

Much more commonly seen in our neighborhood are Gary Squirrels so it was a real treat for my daughter and I to see this little Red Squirrel on a recent walk at Halibut Point. He scampered over a quarry pool frozen with thick ice and then retrieved from a midden, hidden in a jumble of granite rocks, a sprig of what appeared to be Bayberry. The little fellow then proceeded to devour both the fruits and twig before retreating deeper into the wood.

Red Squirrels eat a wide range of foods including seeds, bark, nuts, insects, fruits, mushrooms, maple tree sap, and pine seeds and pine cones. Occasionally, Red Squirrels also eat young birds, mice, and rabbits. And as we can see from the photos, Bayberry fruits and twigs.

Going, going, gone

Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) is a wonderfully easy native plant that doesn’t mind salt, compacted soil, and is both heat tolerant and very tolerant of flooding. The waxy winter fruits of Bayberry are eaten by myriad bird species including Tree Swallows, Chickadees, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Gray Catbirds, and Eastern Bluebirds. The wax coated fruits are high in fat, making them a great source of energy for migrating birds such as Cedar Waxwings and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Bayberry thickets also provide excellent nesting habitat for songbirds, offering protection from raccoons and other nest predators.

THE WONDERFULLY WHACKY FEET OF THE AMERICAN COOT!

Positively pre-historic looking, I was amazed when watching an American Coot lift its foot out of the water. What on earth!Have you ever seen such wildly wonderful feet?

The Coot’s whacky-looking feet only adds to the charm of this adorable waterbird, with its chicken-shaped silhouette, white pointed beak that ends in a sploge of maroon, and garnet, bead-like eyes. Oh, and when the light hits just right, you can see the Coot’s feet are colored in shades of blue, green, and yellow.

The American Coot’s foot is an all-purpose foot so to speak. The lobes serve the bird well for both walking on dry land and for swimming. Most ducks have webbed feet, which are great for propelling through water, but which don’t work very well on land. The Coot’s lobes fall back when lifting its foot, which aids in walking on a variety of surfaces including grass, ice, and mud.

The Coot’s oversized feet also help in becoming airborne; the bird must run across the surface of the water and flap its wings vigorously in order to take off. Its palmate toe helps it swim, and lastly, the Coot uses its strong feet for battling other Coots.

Before the current cold snap, there was a small flock of Coots at Niles Pond, foraging on pond vegetation alongside the flock of four Swans. They all departed shortly before the snowstorm.

The American Coot chicks are equally as whacky looking as are the adult birds. Image courtesy wikicommonsmedia.

BEAUTIFUL WILDLIFE CURRENTLY AT EASTERN POINT, BRACE COVE, AND NILES POND – GREAT BLUE HERON, HARBOR SEALS, AMERICAN COOTS, BONAPARTE’S GULLS, RUDDY DUCKS, RING-NECKED DUCKS, LARK SPARROW AND WILL THE RECENTLY DEPARTED SWANS RETURN?

The past week Eastern Point has seen a wonderful influx of wildlife, in addition to the beautiful creatures already wintering over and migrating through.

On Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a great raft of Ring-necked Ducks joined the flock of Buffleheads and Mallards at Niles Pond. Five chunky American Coots have been there for over a week, and two female Ruddy Ducks have been spotted.

American Coot

Fifteen Harbor Seals were sunning and basking on the rocks at Brace Cove on Wednesday, along with several Bonaparte’s Gulls that were diving and foraging in the waves. The increasingly less timid Lark Sparrow is still here, too.

Lark Sparrow

Great Blue Heron agitating the Ring-necked Ducks

The most enigmatic of Great Blue Herons criss crosses the pond a dozen times a day but, unlike last year’s fall migrating GBH, who allowed for a closer glimpse, this heron is super people shy. He has been here for about a week and was present again today.

This morning I watched the four beautiful Mute Swans depart over Brace Rock, in a southerly direction. Will they return? Mute Swans migrate from body of water to body of water within a region. Perhaps they will return, or they could possibly have flown to a nearby location–further exploring our Island.

The four had not returned to Niles Pond by day’s end. If any of our readers sees a group of four Mute Swans, please write and let us know. Thank you so much!

Leaving Niles Pond this morning and flying over Brace Cove.

THE RARELY SEEN IN MASSACHUSETTS LARK SPARROW IS STILL WITH US!

The sweet Lark Sparrow has been spotted daily at Eastern Point now for over two weeks. I’ve been able to take a longer look on a sunny day and think he is an immature Lark Sparrow because he lacks the rich chestnut color of an adult.

On one fine chilly, chilly morning, he even let me spend more than a few moments watching as he dozed in the sun while puffing his feathers for warmth.

The Lark Sparrow spends a good deal of time foraging on the ground for tiny seeds. When disturbed, he flies up into the trees and at that moment you can catch a glimpse of the white outlined feathers of the bird’s long rounded tail.

Lark Sparrow tail feathers

Unlike Song Sparrows that dart and zoom horizontally across the landscape, when heading to the next location, the Lark Sparrow flies upward in more of a whirring helicopter movement. I love this little bird and if he stays all winter I hope he will find plenty of seeds to eat.

Lark Sparrow foraging for seeds

Compare and contrast the Song Sparrow to the Lark Sparrow. Both species are currently at Eastern Point/Niles Pond area. Both species forage on the ground for tiny seeds. The breast of the Song Sparrow is streaky while the breast of the Lark Sparrow is solid white with a dot of black feathers centered at the upper chest.

Song Sparrow Eastern Point

Don’t you find it fascinating, these avian visitors that are so far off course that find themselves on our shores? Here’s an account from 1905 —

The Lark Sparrow in Massachusetts.– On August 12, 1905, at Ipswich, Massachusetts, I observed at close range a Lark Sparrow (Chondesres grammacus). This makes the sixth record of this species for the State, and the fourth for Essex County. Nearly a year before this, on August 21, 1904, I took at Ipswich an adult male Lark Sparrow (Birds [Auk 104 General Notes. I. Jan. of Essex County, p. 268). It has occurred to me that stragglers in the migrations along our Eastern Coast may not be so very rare, but that they are overlooked, being mistaken for Vesper Sparrows, owing to the ‘white outer tail feathers. In both of the above instances, however, the slightly fan-shaped tail, and the fact that the white was not confined to the two outer feathers, as in the Vesper Sparrow, attracted my eye. The characteristic marking on the side of the head in the Lark Sparrow, seen with a glass within thirty feet, made the diagnosis in the second ca. From the Supplement to the Birds of Essex County by Charles Wendell Townsend.