Tag Archives: Beautiful Birds of Cape Ann

BEAUTIFUL BOY OSPREY IN THE MARSH

Dad Osprey taking a break from nesting duties

WHY DO THESE CEDAR WAXWINGS LOOK SO HAPPY?

A flock of what has to be one of North America’s most enchanting birds, the Cedar Waxwing, has magically, albeit temporarily, taken residence in our garden and neighbor’s gardens. Their lovely chattering arrival has become an annual event my family looks forward to, especially Charlotte and me.

What have they found to eat that makes them so delighted? Primarily, tiny black insects living on the twigs, stems, and buds of our neighbor’s maple trees. I believe they are Black Bean Aphids, or some type of scale. If you look closely at the photos, in some you can see the bugs. The Waxwings hang every which way pecking and plucking at the insects and have a technique, too, of rubbing their beaks sideways across the bark, which usually results in a tremendous mouthful.

I am overjoyed that our neighbors do not spray their trees with pesticides. By not killing insect pests, a natural balance is restored to the garden. Your gardening pest is a songbird’s dietary mainstay!

About fifteen years ago, the keeper of the historic Gardens at Versailles, Alain Baraton, was beyond dismayed that few if any birds resided in the garden. He ditched pesticides and began promoting native plants. Now nicely plump bugs infest nearly all of the trees, and the songbird’s have returned! Additionally, “Baraton also changed the practice of planting row after row of the same tree. Now Versailles varies the trees — beech, hawthorn, poplar, chestnut — to minimize losses from disease. This is important when your garden has 200,000 trees.”

If the gardener-in-chief of the world’s grandest garden does not use pesticides, I think we need never either.

Trees at Versailles, image courtesy Google image search

 

 

GREENBELT’S LIVE OPSREY CAM IS UP AND RUNNING!

Dave Rimmer, Osprey Program Director writes the following-

2021 Nesting Season Updates

Please send any questions to dwr@ecga.org)

Update Early April 2021 – Annie and Squam (at least we thought at first it was him) returned to the nest earlier this year – probably around April 5-7. The webcam went live on April 13 and new nesting materials had been brought to the nest. However, we have observed a banded Opsrey at the nest on April 13 and 14, which would not be Annie or Squam. So we will have to watch and wait to see what unfolds here.

Update April 15, 2021 – Watching the Osprey pair on the webcam now for the past few days, we have noticed that the male Osprey has a US Fish and Wildlife Service aluminum band on his right leg. I have banded over 200 Osprey chicks in the past 5-6 years and all on the right leg. Squam was not banded and it is highly unlikely he would have been banded during migration. Plus, this banded male is a large Osprey who appears almost equal in size to the female, who looks very much like and we believe is Annie. Squam was noticably smaller than Annie. About noontime today, the banded male attempted to copulate with Annie. Since then there has been a third Osprey around the nest and much commotion, including a lot of chasing and calling.

It will take more time to determine what is going on here. Are two males competing to be Annie’s mate. Did something happen to Squam or did this larger male just outcompete him? These are all possible scenarios that will unfold in the coming days. Stay tuned!

Don’t miss this TWIST OF EVENTS – READ THE MOST RECENT UPDATES HERE

SUPPORT THE OSPREY PROGRAM HERE

Greenbelt’s OspreyCam is located in Gloucester on Greenbelt salt marsh near LobstaLand Restaurant.

2020 OSPREY PRGRAM YEAR IN REVIEW

PIPING PLOVER STORMY WEATHER WEEKLY UPDATE

Dear Friends of Cape Ann’s Plovers,

Again this past week, our dynamic duo has been busily bonding, nest scraping, and mating up and down the full length of the beach. However, the extremely high tide that rose to the base of the dunes washed out the pair’s nest scrapes and temporarily put the kibosh on all things romantic. The two disappeared for a full day after the storm departed, with no spottings anywhere, not even tell tale PiPl tracks.

Super high tide through the spray zone

My heart always skips a beat after a day or two of no “eyes on the PiPls,” but I am happy to report Mom and Dad are back to the business of beginning a new family, seemingly unfazed. The storm and super high tide left in its wake lots of great bits of dried seaweed and sea grass which will in turn attract tons of insects, one of the PiPls dietary mainstays. There is a silver lining to every storm cloud 🙂

Just a friendly reminder if you would please, if you see the PiPls at the edge of the symbolic rope line or foraging in the tide pools, please do not hover. Hovering will distract the Plovers and delay courtship. And hovering attracts gulls and crows to the scene. Step back at least 50 to 60 feet and give them some space. Bring binoculars or a strong lens if you would like to observe the PiPls from a comfortable distance, comfortable to them that is. Thank you much!

Take care and Happy Spring!

xxKim

Mom’s also dig out the nest scrapes

High stepping Dad, courting Mom

Nest scrape

Dad taking a moment to preen after courting

 

BANDED PIPING PLOVERS FROM THE CANADIAN MARITIMES, BY WAY OF ABACO BAHAMAS, NORTH CAROLINA, AND MASSACHUSETTS!

On Friday I spotted two banded Piping Plovers and wrote the following day to Dr. Cheri Gratto-Trevor, who is a research specialist with the Canadian government and also the point person for reporting sightings of banded Piping Plovers from Canada. Plovers with white or black bands, and metal bands on the opposite tibia, are from Eastern Canada. Many thanks to Cheri for responding so quickly with with some fascinating information!

Cheri writes, “White 6U is band 2651-85405, banded as an adult male on 30 May 2018 at Big Merigomish Island in N Nova Scotia.  He nested in that general area (James Beach) in 2019 and 2020.  His black flag was faded so replaced with white flag 6U in the summer of 2020 (see, it was worth the effort in a pandemic, Julie!).  He winters in the Bahamas (Man of War Cay, Abaco).  The only other time he was reported from migration was fall 2018 in NC (South Point Ocracoke).

Black flag UU (terrific to get such a good photo of the faded code – you’ll have to go after her this summer, Julie) is band 2231-06500, banded as a chick on 19 July 2018 at Pomquet Beach, also N NS.  She nested at East Beach, PEI in 2019, but then returned to nest at Pomquet Beach NS in 2020.  She has never previously been reported from the non-breeding season, so we don’t know where she winters.

It will be interesting to see if they mate together in N NS this summer!  (Normally pairs just meet up on the breeding grounds, so it’s probably unlikely).

Very much appreciated!!  (and no, we don’t name our birds).

Cheri

Now we can add Massachusetts to their migration route!

On April 16th in 2019, a banded Piping Plover from Cumberland Island Georgia was spotted at Good Harbor Beach. We learned that only five days prior to arriving at GHB, he had been seen at Cumberland Island, approximately 1,140 miles away. If any of our readers are so fortunate as to spy a banded Plover, here is the link with color coded guidelines: Great Lakes Piping Plover Color Band Information. And link to the GHB-Cumberland Island PiPl:

FUN 411 UPDATE ON ETM, THE CUMBERLAND ISLAND BANDED PLOVER

The black banded Plover was very tricky to photograph because the white painted letters had worn away. I tried my best to take a photo with the band in full light, not shaded, so we could see the engraved code.
I wish there was a more comprehensive map that clearly labels Canadian, American, and Bahamian PiPl locations and am thinking about making one.

OSPREY LOVEBIRDS, OPSREYS MATING!

Beautiful Ospreys are returning to Massachusetts nesting sites. Annie and Squam, Cape Ann’s resident pair, are actively re-establishing their bond, arranging the nest and courting. Their nest is located in the marsh behind Lobstaland and when driving past, you can often catch sight of the pair’s nesting activity. Annie and Squam’s nest is managed by Essex Greenbelt’s director of land stewardship, Dave Rimmer.

Lobstaland Osprey nest

Osprey courtship is wonderfully fun to observe. Pairs typically mate for life and seem to simply enjoy hanging out together in the nest.  They return each year to an established nest site, which is always near water and may be at the top of a dead tree, cliff, rocky outcropping, or manmade structure including Osprey nesting platforms, telephone poles, channel markings, and even church rooftops (see last photos)! By reusing the same nest from year to year a ready-made nest allows for earlier egg laying, which generally leads to greater success. And if the first nest fails, there may be time to try again.

This past week I had the unexpected joy to observe close up a pair of Osprey reuniting. The two flew to a phone pole adjacent to their established nest after which the male took off, quickly returning with a large stick. He placed the stick on the phone pole near to where the female was perched, repeating this behavior half a dozen times. The pair called to each other frequently during the stick placement bonding, when they both suddenly flew to their nest and mated. Osprey mating is very brief, lasting only seconds. The female positions her self higher on the rim of the nest while the male jumps on her back. During this extraordinarily brief cloacal kiss, sperm is transferred. I have read pairs will mate frequently during the few days before she begins laying eggs, her most fertile time.

After mating, the lovebirds stayed in their nest for several hours, continuing to “talk” to each other, housekeeping, and what appeared to be simply doing nothing more than hanging out together.

I didn’t see the male delivering fish to the female or the Osprey’s famous courtship flight; hopefully another day 🙂

Goin’ to the chapel

How to tell the difference between male and female Osprey. The female of a pair is oftentimes, but not always, larger than the male, by as much as twenty percent in some instances. But unless you see them side-by-side from exactly the same angle, that can be difficult to compare. Females may also have a more prominent ” necklace,” sometimes referred to as “freckling,” around the neck. Her feather necklace patterning is usually more pronounced. You can see the difference in the photo below.

Female Osprey right, male Osprey left

Fun facts about Osprey

Osprey are one of the largest birds of prey, with a wingspan of five feet.

Osprey are found worldwide, in every continent except Antarctica.

The oldest Osprey lived to be 30 years old.

Osprey are recovering from the use of the pesticide DDT, which caused breeding failure from eggshell thinning. DDT was banned in 1972.

Ospreys are piscivorous, with fish comprising 99 percent of their diet.

When an Osprey catches a fish, it arranges the fish head first, reducing aerodynamic drag.

PIPING PLOVER WEEKEND UPDATE FROM BEAUTIFUL GOOD HARBOR BEACH!

Good Morning PiPl Friends!

Our sweet pair of PiPls has been left largely undisturbed this past week. Word is getting out that the dog officers are ticketing. There are fewer dog tracks running through the symbolically roped off areas, which is fantastic.

Mom and Dad are running the length of the beach, as evidenced by their tiny fleur-de-lis imprints in the sand. They are also nest scraping along the length of the beach however, the pair are primarily sticking within areas #1 (Salt Island side) and #3 (Creekside).

I am excited to think about the possibility of an early nest! If this warm, mild weather continues we may be in luck. For our newest Ambassadors and new friends of Gloucester’s Plovers, the earlier in the season that Piping Plovers nest, the greater the chance the chicks have of surviving. We owe tremendous thanks to Gloucester DPW assistant director Joe Lucido and his crew for installing the roping early. I just can’t express how grateful we are for the early action taken.

This past week I was traveling along the Massachusetts coastline documenting other Piping Plover locations for the PiPl film project and came across a duo of banded Plovers from Eastern Canada. I am waiting to hear back from the Canadian biologist in charge and will write more as soon as she writes back. It was wonderfully exciting to see not one, but two, all the way from Canada and I can’t wait to find out more!

Looking forward to working with you all!

xoKim

Piping Plovers foraging Good Harbor Beach April 2021

 

JOYOUS PIPING PLOVER WEEKEND UPDATE!

Hello PiPl Friends,

Just a brief note to let you know the first nest scrape of the season was spotted in Area #3 (Creekside) and even though the following two days were stormy and windy, the pair scraped in the exact location three days later. They are settling in and it is happy news!

Many have written and phoned about the dogs still on the beach. Please, if you are on the beach, and you see a dog, whether on leash, off leash, large, medium sized, or the tiniest most cutest dog you have ever seen, please call the AC officer. The number is 978-281-9746. If we don’t continue to call, there will be no record of the extent of the disturbances. We are very aware of the problem and trying to solve. Thank you. 🙂

On another note, the Massachusett Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) installed symbolic roping at the same time as did Gloucester. We are right on par with other north shore communities in providing Piping Plover protections! Again, many thanks to Joe Lucido and Gloucester’s awesome DPW crew!

I hope everyone had a joyful Easter. Happy Easter, Happy Spring, Happy Everything <3

Warmest wishes,

Kim

THREE PLOVERS AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH! AND A NEST SCRAPE!

A third Piping Plover has joined our original PiPls! The trio sometimes feed together although the newcomer is often chased away by both Mom and Dad.

Wednesday morning our little pair were intently courting. Papa was doing his fanciful high stepping and calling for Mama to come inspect his teacup saucer sized nest scrape. The Instagram is of one of Papa’s nest scrapes, which is located just outside the roped off area. A nest scrape is a shallow bowl dug mostly by the male. The male and female toss in bits of shell, dried beach grass, tiny pebbles, whatever is handily available.

Papa PiPl

Mama PiPl

Today’s colder temperatures will slow courtship. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a mild spring and few dogs disturbances on the beach. The combination of the two, along with the fact that the area has been roped off early in the season, will greatly increase the likelihood of a successful nesting season!

 

BEAUTIFUL BLUEBIRD “WING-WAVING!”

Bluebird courtship is as beautiful as is the bird! Last week my daughter Liv joined me on a film scouting mini adventure. She loves learning about wildlife and living in Southern California as she does, Liv is surrounded by beautiful wild creatures and wild lands. We had a fantastic morning of it. Brant Geese, Piping Plovers, Great Egrets, Tree Swallows, and Eastern Bluebirds were just some of the creatures we observed.

The Eastern Bluebirds were especially stunning in the crisp early morning sunshine. One particular gent had not yet secured his partner’s affections. From tree branches adjacent to nesting boxes, he sang softly and flashed his glorious blue wings to a female that had flown in on the scene.

At first we thought he was preening, but no, the bachelor was clearly enticing his lady friend with lapis lazuli flags, gesturing with quick up and down lifting movements. Called wing-waving, these gestures are part of Eastern Bluebird courtship.

The male first sings loudly from treetops. If a female shows interest, he further shows off his skill sets with wing-waving and soft warbles. He then entices her to join him at a nesting box or cavity, he entering first. After he flies out of the box and if all goes well, she enters the cavity, a sure sign the pair are hitting it off!

Male Eastern Bluebird Wing-waving

The lucky female

 

 

THANK YOU TO GLOUCESTER TIMES MICHAEL CRONIN AND ANDREA HOLBROOK FOR GETTING THE WORD OUT ABOUT OUR GHB PIPING PLOVERS!!

Thank you so very much to Gloucester Times Editor Andrea Holbrook and staff writer Michael Cronin for sharing about the fence post installation and the great information provided for the public. We are so appreciative of the ongoing support given by the community and the Gloucester Times.

GLOUCESTER TIMES

By Michael Cronin

Photo by Paul Bilodeau

March 29, 2021

Part of Good Harbor Beach is fenced off to protect some tiny seasonal visitors.

A crew of Public Works personnel began fencing out an area of the beach on Monday to protect migrating piping plovers. The first pair of the threatened shorebirds reportedly landed this weekend.

“They put up the posts today,” said Kim Smith, a local documentarian and advocate for the piping plovers. “The roping will come next and then they’ll put up the signage telling people what’s going on. This is super that they’re doing it early this season. The earlier it goes up, the earlier the chicks hatch which gives them a better chance of survival as the beaches aren’t so busy yet.”

According to Smith, the piping plovers that visit Good Harbor typically nest in the same spot each year.

“One year they nested out in the parking lot because they were pushed out by the dogs on the beach,” she recalled. “But once the ordinance was put in place they were able to return to their usual spot.”

Dog are banned from Good Harbor Beach between April and September. Wingaersheek will remain open to canines on odd numbered days until April 30.

Smith said she’s waiting for the birds to lay their eggs. Once they do, members of the Essex County Greenbelt Association will encapsulate the nest with wire netting.

“Dave Rimmer of Essex County Greenbelt has been guiding us since 2016,” said Smith. “He’s the first one I call when the first egg is laid. The holes in the cage are big enough for the birds to enter and leave, but small enough to keep predators out.”

READ THE COMPLETE ARTICLE HERE

 

 

ROCK ON GLOUCESTER DPW – THANK YOU FOR INSTALLING THE PLOVER FENCE POSTS!!!

Huge shout out to Gloucester’s DPW crew today for installing the metal posts that the rope and signs will attach to. It’s simply awesome that the posts are going up so early in the season! The PiPls thank you, too!

I can’t stress enough how important it is to get the posts, signs, and roping up as early in the season as possible. The earlier the protected areas are in place, the earlier the PiPls will nest generally speaking. The earlier in the season that they nest (when the beach is relatively quieter), the greater the chance the chicks will have of surviving and going on to fledge.

It was so windy on the beach this morning, but I think the gentlemen said their names were Brian, Dean, and Dan, but I could have that completely wrong. It’s so challenging to tell who is who when masks are worn.

Thanks so much again to the DPW crew for the fine job this morning, and many thanks for wearing masks, too.

SUPER EXCITING NEWS – THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS HAVE RETURNED

For the past three years, our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers have returned during the first week of spring. This year they are again right on schedule!! Here is the little duo tucked behind a mini-hummock, keeping out of the path of last evening’s blustery wind.

The two are foraging together and are communicating, piping softly, yet audibly, to each other, which makes me believe they are a couple. At the end of the day, they were found together resting in the sand.

The pair were first spotted in the fog on the morning of March 26th.

We have a great bunch of Piping Plover Ambassadors signed up and have covered almost all shifts. There are several openings in the afternoon, the 1 to 2pm, 2 to 3pm, and the 3 to 4pm shifts. Our goal is to help educate the public about the life story of the Plovers in a kind, friendly, non-confrontational, and informational manner. If you would like to join us, we would love to have you! There will be an informational meeting when the Plovers begin laying eggs and we can at that time provide a time frame of the weeks Ambassadors will be needed. If you would like to volunteer one hour a day for the six weeks the Plovers need our help, please email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you!

A hound dog unfortunately chased one of the Plovers up and down the beach and the pair became separated for a period. I do so hope dog owners recall that dogs are not permitted on the beach after March 31st. Today was a beautiful day and there were many dogs off leash at Good Harbor Beach even though it is an on leash day. Folks really seem to struggle with understanding Gloucester’s leash laws. A friendly reminder that it is a federal and state crime for owners to allow their dogs to harass threatened and endangered species, whether a leash day or not.

For everyone’s general information – In 2016 the pair arrived in mid-May; in 2017, early May; in 2018 in mid-April; in 2019 on March 25th; in 2020 on March 22; and this year, 2021, overnight between March 25th and March 26th.

Too windy for Mom

WIGEON LOVEBIRDS!

For over a week, American Wigeons have been spotted along our shores. They spend most of the day foraging on sea lettuce and seaweed. One pair appear particularly fond of each other. They share meals, preen simultaneously, and occasionally come onto shore together. In the photo you can see the two lovebirds sharing their sea lettuce dinner.

Both male and females have beautiful baby blue bills. The females feathers are softly hued in shades of brown while the male has a brilliant white “bald” spot atop his head, earning him the not widely used common name “Baldpate.” The males also sport a brilliant eye patch that in certain light flashes emerald green or may appear coppery bronze.

Cape Ann is a stopping over point for the dabbling American Wigeons on their journey north. Pairs form at their wintering grounds and the two will stay together during incubation. The males practice a low bow and sings a soft whistle during courtship. Both times I tried to record it was too windy. You can find a recording of the males courtship calls here: American Wigeon sounds. The first two recordings are the sounds they are currently making.

Between the years 1966 and 2015, the American Wigeon population fell by approximately 2 percent per year, resulting in a cumulative decline of 65 percent over the 49-year period (Cornell). During 2012-2016, hunters took approximately 650,00 Wigeons per year. USFWS monitors duck hunting, limiting the number of ducks killed based on population. The population decline is also attributed to drought as well as loss and degradation of wetland habitat.Male courtship bow

Preening together

A male Gadwall has also joined the sceneMale Gadwall, fore ground, and Male Wigeon

American Wigeon range map

BEAUTIFUL RED-TAILED HAWK IN THE MORNING SUN – BUT PLEASE DON’T EAT THE BLUEBIRDS!

Good Morning beautiful Red-tail, but Please, leave my Bluebirds be!Red-tail swooped in and frightened all the songbirds out of the perching tree

CAPE ANN’S GHOSTLY SNOWY OWL!

A beautiful mysterious Snowy Owl has spent the winter here on Cape Ann. She is very elusive, never dallying too long in one location. She has been spotted in the Good Harbor Beach dunes, Long Beach, Salt Island, Middle Street rooftops, woods, Back Shore, Bass Rocks, Rocky Neck, Smith’s Cove, and even at the bottom of our hill on Pirate’s Lane.

Thank you to many friends who have alerted me to her presence – Hilary, Catherine, Grace, Nicole, Gordon, Arley, Frankie, Susan, Roger – if I forgot to include you, I mean to thank you, too!

If you spotted a Snowy on Cape this winter, please write. I do not believe Cape Ann’s Snowy is still about however, if you do see a Snowy, please leave a comment or feel free to email at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you!

I am almost certain she is not the same Snowy that stayed with us several winter’s ago. Unlike Piping Plovers, from tracking data, we know that Snowies don’t generally return to the same location every winter, and many only migrate during their youth. In case you missed it, here is a link to a series of fun educational short films that I made about Cape Ann’s 2018 resident Snowy Owl, including bathing, capturing a seabird, and passing a pellet. Snowy Owl Film Project

It’s been a banner year for Snowy Owls at Salisbury Beach, Sandy Point, and Parker River, so much so I have gone out of my way to avoid stopping to photograph owls at these locations for fear of disturbing the Snowies. There are a great deal more people out and about photographing than in previous years, due largely to the pandemic, and the owl disturbances are many.

 

 

BLUEBIRD LOVEBIRDS! – DO BLUEBIRDS MATE FOR LIFE?

Love is in the air!

Consistently when out in fields, I see Bluebird pairs that appear strongly committed to each other. I wondered, do Bluebirds mate forever? In our region, we see Eastern Bluebirds. Ornithologists found from a long term study of Western Bluebirds  that the great majority stay together for life. No such studies exist for Eastern Bluebirds however, field observations suggest that about 95 percent mate for life when both are still alive.

Eastern Bluebird female, left, male, right

Interestingly though, mating for life does not exclude extra pair copulations. Genetic studies of broods show that about twenty percent of nestlings are sired by more than one male.

Pairs softly warble to each other early in the morning, the male brings nesting material to a chosen site, and once she has entered his nesting cavity, she will begin to bring nesting material and he will bring food to her to “seal the deal.” In our north of Boston region, you can see the courtship behavior beginning as early as February and March.

Eastern Bluebirds re-mate with another partner if one dies.

In the photos below, it’s very easy to see the difference between a male and female Bluebird. The female’s blue is a more subdued grayish hue while the male’s blue feathers are brilliantly hued.

Bluebird nest with eggs, courtesy wikipedia

BEAUTIFUL SNOWSHOEING AND SLEDDING SNOW BUNTING SNOWFLAKES

I have so loved filming and photographing Snow Buntings this winter, finding small and medium sized flocks from Sandy Point to Cape Ann, and further south, all along the coast of Massachusetts. The flocks I have been filming are becoming smaller; male Snow Buntings have already begun their long migration north. Don’t you find all migrating species of wildlife fascinating? Especially a tiny creature such as the Snow Bunting, which breeds the furthest north of any known land-based bird. From the shores of Massachusetts Snow Buntings migrate to the high Arctic where they nest in rocky crevices.

The range shown in orange is where Snow Buntings nest

What has been especially fun to observe is when the Snow Bunting uses its feet as snowshoes and belly like a sled when traversing snow covered beaches. Oftentimes that’s how you can find them, with their unique step-step-slide-tracks. Snow Buntings seem to forage nearly non-stop, perching while shredding grassy seed heads and leaves, and pecking on the ground for seeds caught between sand, stones, and snow.  To get from one clump of vegetation to the next, they hop lightly over the surface, snowshoeing along, and then slide along on their bellies. Snow Buntings must gain 30 percent of their body weight before beginning their journey.

Snowshoeing and Sledding

Lively disagreements over food ensue, usually nothing more than a mild spat.

Males typically depart the northeast for their nesting grounds earlier than do the females, arriving three to six weeks ahead of the females. Snow Buntings migrate entirely at night, following the geomagnetic field of the Earth, independent of any type of visual clue!