Tag Archives: Beautiful Birds of Cape Ann

Clear Evidence of the Destructive Force of Global Warming on the Massachusetts Coastline and How This Negatively Impacts Local Wildlife

Female Piping Plover Sitting on an Egg

The recent winter storms of 2018 have provided empirical evidence of how global climate change and the consequential rising sea level is impacting the Massachusetts coastline. Whether broken barriers between the ocean and small bodies of fresh water, the tremendous erosion along beaches, or the loss of plant life at the edge of the sea, these disturbances are profoundly impacting wildlife habitats.

The following photos were taken after the March nor’easter of 2018 along with photos of the same areas, before the storm, and identify several specific species of wildlife that are affected by the tremendous loss of habitat.

Barrier Beach Erosion

Nesting species of shorebirds such as Piping Plovers require flat or gently sloping areas above the wrack line for chick rearing. Notice how the March nor’easter created bluffs with steep sides, making safe areas for tiny chicks nonexistent.

You can see in the photos of Good Harbor Beach (top photo and photos 3 and 4 in the gallery) that the metal fence posts are completely exposed. In 2016, the posts were half buried and in 2017, the posts were nearly completely buried. After the recent storms, the posts are fully exposed and the dune has eroded half a dozen feet behind the posts.

In the photo of the male Piping Plover sitting on his nest from 2016 the metal posts are half buried.

Although scrubby growth shrubs and sea grass help prevent erosion, the plants have been ripped out by the roots and swept away due to the rise in sea level.

Plants draw tiny insects, which is food for tiny chicks, and also provide cover from predators, as well as shelter from weather conditions. If the Piping Plovers return, will they find suitable nesting areas, and will plant life recover in time for this year’s brood?

Other species of shorebirds that nest on Massachusetts’s beaches include the Common Tern, Least Tern, Roseate Tern, American Oyster Catcher, Killdeer, and Black Skimmer.

Common Tern parent feeding fledgling

Where Have All the Wildflowers Gone?

Female Monarch Depositing Egg on Common Milkweed Leaf

Wildflowers are the main source of food for myriad species of beneficial insects such as native bees and butterflies.

Monarch Butterflies arriving on our shores not only depend upon milkweed for the survival of the species, but the fall migrants rely heavily on wildflowers that bloom in late summer and early fall. Eastern Point is a major point of entry, and stopover, for the southward migrating butterflies. We have already lost much of the wildflower habitat that formerly graced the Lighthouse landscape.

Masses of sea debris from the storm surge washed over the wildflower patches and are covering much of the pollinator habitat at the Lighthouse.

Broken Barriers

American Wigeon Migrating at Henry’s Pond

Barriers that divide small bodies of fresh water from the open sea have been especially hard hit. The fresh bodies of water adjacent to the sea provide habitat, food, and drinking water for hundreds of species of wildlife and tens of thousands of migrating song and shorebirds that travel through our region.

The recently rebuilt causeway (2014) between Niles Pond and Brace Cove was breached many times during the nor’easter. The causeway is littered in rocks and debris from the sea.

The causeway being rebuilt in 2014.

The road that runs along Pebble Beach, separating the sea from Henry’s Pond has been washed out.

The footsteps in the sand are where the road ran prior to the storm.

Mallards, North American Beavers, Muskrats, North American River Otters, and Painted Turtles are only a few examples of species that breed in Massachusetts fresh water ponds and wetlands. All the wildlife photos and videos were shot on Cape Ann.

Migrating Black-bellied Plover

Cape Ann is hardly alone in coping with the impact of our warming planet and of rising sea level. These photos are meant to show examples of what is happening locally. Regions like Plymouth County, which include Scituate and Hingham, have been equally as hard hit. Plum Island is famously heading for disaster and similar Massachusetts barrier beaches, like Cranes Beach, have all been dramatically altered by the cumulative effects of sea level rising, and recently accelerated by the devastating winter storms of 2018.

To be continued.

Impassable Road to Plum Island

Snowy Owl Cranes Beach


The northward avian migration is heating up! The following are just three of the fascinating species of wild birds readily seen at this time of year, found all around Cape Ann. Look for Brants, Scaups, and Ring-necked Ducks at coves, bays, ponds, quarries, and marshes.

Currently migrating along Cape Ann’s shoreline is a beautiful brigade of Brant Geese. They usually turn up at about this time of year, late winter through early spring, and I have been looking for them in all the usual places. Brants thrive in Cape Ann coves, devouring sea lettuce while riding the incoming and outgoing waves. I see them eating and pecking for food atop barnacle-crusted rocks and am not sure if they are eating seaweed caught on the rocks or tiny crustaceans.

Brants eating bright green sea lettuce.

In the 1930s a terrible disease devastated eel grass and the Brant population plummeted. Surviving Brants adapted to sea lettuce and as the eel grass recovered, so too is the population of Brants recovering.

Brants are wonderfully vocal, making a funny “cronk” sound. I was walking past a flock of geese off in the distance and wasn’t paying much attention. Thinking they were Canada Geese, I ignored them until hearing their vigorous cronking.

They fight with each too, over rocks and food. Tomorrow if I can find the time I will try to post photos that I took of a Brant scuffle.

Brants feeding on the rocks are knocked off by the incoming tide, but then quickly get right back up again.

Brants migrate the furthest north of any species of goose, as far north as Hedwig territory.

Two Males and a Female Greater Scaup

The Greater Scaup breeds as far north as Snowy Owls and Brant Geese, and Ring-necked Ducks are also passing through, not traveling quite as far, but on their way to the Alaskan and Canadian boreal forests. Greater Scaups travel in flocks, sometimes forming rafts of thousands. You can see why in the photos Greater Scaups are colloquially called Bluebills.

Three male Greater Scaups and a Red-breasted Merganser

The most significant threat to Greater Scaups is habitat loss, oil, and sewage pollution. Nearly eighty percent winter over in the Atlantic Flyway where they are subjected to heavy metals in foods and habitat.

So many suitors! Lone female Ring-necked Duck with potential mates.

The two species are closely related (Aythya collaris and Atythya marila); both are small diving ducks and both are vulnerable to becoming poisoned by lead from diving for food and incidentally eating the lead shot and lures that continues to cause problems in our wetlands.

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Our beautiful Snowy Hedwig’s routine hasn’t much changed since she discovered the safety zone provided by hotel rooftops (safe from crows, that is). Hunting during the night, returning at dawn to the roof to various well-hidden niches, and then making her “entrance” at around sunset, she has adapted well to New England coastal living. After preening, pooping, and occasionally passing a pellet, she then scans the neighborhood. Hedwig bobs her head in an up and down motion a half dozen times, then flies east over the sea or west over the Arctic tundra-like golf course.

Snowy Owl Hedwig lifts her head in a bobbing motion to track prey.

Owls cannot move their eyes in the eye sockets. Instead, they employ several techniques to increase their range of sight. An owl can swivel its head a full 270 degrees. Additionally, owls bob their head up and down, a movement that aids in triangulating potential prey.

Dagger Sharp Talons.

Because the forceful impact of the Snowy Owl hitting its prey is so powerful, combined with the vise-like grip of its talons, the animal usually dies instantly.

Hedwig has so far survived three tremendously fierce storms during her stay in Gloucester. Last night, on the eve of the blizzard, she tried to take off several times towards the water. The wind current was strong, but she eventually flew successfully, heading in the direction of Thacher Island. Heres hoping she is waiting out the blizzard in one of her hideaways.

Folks are wondering how long will Hedwig stay. Most Snowies leave Massachusetts by April, although one was recorded at Logan Airport as late as July.



Our winter resident Snowy Owl Hedwig finds plenty to eat along the backshore. Prior to taking off to hunt in the early evening we see her swivel her head and look out to sea, and then swivel around to scan the golf course. We wonder, is she thinking “Shall I have Duck a la Buffledhead for dinner, or shall I have Rarebit Tartare?” Here she is yesterday morning, face covered in schmutz, a happy sign to see.


Our beautiful Snowy Owl Hedwig survived, and looks none the worse for wear. She spent the afternoon of March 5th resting in a sunny, but wholly unphotogenic location (and extremely windy corridor, too, I might add). Perhaps a New England Nor’easter is nothing to her, when compared to an Arctic tundra storm. She’s clearly a genius 🙂 And has some mighty good survival skills.

Thank you to Betty G. Grizz for sharing her Hedwig sighting this afternoon ❤

Snowy Owl Feathers in the Moonlight

Hedwig is the gift that keeps on giving! What a joy to see her awakening in the rising full moon last night. She preened and fluffed, then flew through the moonlight to a nearby phone pole.

The wind was whipping up and ruffling Hedwig’s feathers, making her look extra fine in the glow of the Snow Moon rising.

Dear Friends,

While I am sorting through the challenges of one of the hard drives for my Monarch film crashing, I have been organizing the Snowy footage. Captured in photos and on film, we have her bathing, passing a pellet, pooping, eating, flying, and much more, and is going to make a terrific short film. It’s a mystery to me exactly where she goes when she disappears for several days and I am hoping to document every aspect of her stay in Gloucester. She has been spotted at several locales in East Gloucester, Salt Island, and Twin Lights but, if by chance, she is a regular visitor to your yard, please write and let me know. The best way to keep the information from becoming public knowledge is to email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. I am also looking for a few minutes of footage of a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) as they are closely related to Snowies (Bubo scandiacus), so please write and let me know if you have a resident Great Horned Owl. Thank you so much for any leads given 🙂

Full Snow Moon Rising


A tiny pelagic seabird, the Dovekie, was discovered this morning laying dead in the sand. I think it must have died very recently as it was completely intact. Dovekies are the smallest of the auks (the puffin family) and when on the beach they are in serious trouble because they walk very poorly and have difficulty taking off. Most of us will only ever catch a glimpse of this tiny treasure far away and out to sea and although very dead, it was beautiful to see.

Dovekies (also known as the Little Auck) breed on islands in the high Arctic and move south to the the north Atlantic in the winter. Several weeks ago, one was spotted off the shoreline on Atlantic Road.

Photos of living Dovekies courtesy wikicommonsmedia.