Tag Archives: Beautiful Birds of Cape Ann

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.

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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.
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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.

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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.
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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?

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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

Warning: Graphic Images Red-tailed Hawk Devouring Great Cormorant Close Up

ALERT: Please skip this article if you are feeling the least bit squeamish.

Click on the Read More tab below the text to see all the photos.

red-tailed-hawk-eating-prey-gloucester-massachusetts-21-copyright-kim-smithLooking for Snow Buntings while walking alongside Niles Pond, I came around a bend in the road and noticed from a distance the head of a large bird pecking at something on the embankment. Hmmm, a hawk, that’s why there weren’t any birds to be found. Hawks swooping their territory overhead quickly clears the woods and puts the kibosh on photographing songbirds.

Inching forward, baby step by baby step, the hawk was broad and large, and with its beautiful rust-red tail feathers, I thought it was most likely a female Red-tailed Hawk. The females are 25 to 30 percent bigger than the males, and because this bird was definitely on the larger size, for the sake of our story, we’ll refer to the hawk as a female.

She was intently devouring a freshly killed bird and if she had not been very hungry, I doubt she would have allowed me to move in so close. At one point, after having nearly eviscerated the entire bird, she tried to lift and carry away the carcass with her claw-shaped talons (one of the last photos in the batch). She did not succeed and finding more body parts, continued to eat.

red-tailed-hawk-eating-prey-gloucester-massachusetts-23-copyright-kim-smithAfter a bit, some boisterous folks came up from behind, startling both the hawk and myself, and off she flew to the far side of the pond. I found a stick and turned the dead carcass over onto its back. The head was missing, but by looking at the black webbed feet as well as the chest and belly feathers, it quickly became apparent that the victim was a Great Cormorant. I am sad to say that I think it was the very same juvenile Great Cormorant that had been living at Niles Pond for the past month as I have not seen another since.

Red-tailed hawks are extraordinarily adept hunters and highly variable in their diet. Eighty percent of the Hawk’s prey is comprised of mammals. For example, mice, voles, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, and rabbits. Records indicate that they also eat songbirds, pigeons, shorebirds, and unbelievably so, female Wild Turkeys and pheasants. Now we can add Great Cormorant to the list. Red-tailed Hawks weigh approximately between 1.5 pounds to 3.2 pounds, female Wild Turkeys average 9 to 10 pounds, and Great Cormorants weigh 5 to 8 pounds.

There were birders in the neighborhood earlier that morning, the morning of the winter solstice, December 21st. I wonder if they saw the Hawk kill the Cormorant, or if the Hawk came upon the freshly killed bird and it had been taken down by another predator. If you were one of the birders watching the Hawk out on Eastern Point near Niles Pond, on December 21st, please write. Thank you so much!

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