Tag Archives: beautiful Birds of Massachusetts

SNOWBIRDS – WE LOVE YOU, BUT PLEASE GO BACK FROM WHERE YOU CAME!

Life at the Edge of the Sea- Dark-eyed Juncos arrive September 19th

Over the very last remaining days of summer a sweet flock of Dark-eyed Juncos has been spotted on Eastern Point. Beautiful Song Sparrow-sized birds feathered in shades of gray and white, Dark eyed Juncos purportedly arrive in mid-October and are thought to presage the coming of winter.

Really little ones, you are much TOO EARLY.

Nicknamed Snow-bird in New England days of old, in fact Dark-eyed Juncos actually nest in Massachusetts, primarily in the western part of the state. Mostly Dark-eyed Juncos breed further north and migrate to warmer climes in the fall. Does their early arrival in the eastern part of the state portend of an early winter? The weather prediction for the winter of 2020 – 2021 is much more snow compared to last year’s nearly snow-less season, along with the possibility of a blizzard in mid-February (Farmer’s Almanac).

 

Study in shades of gray

BABY CEDAR WAXWINGS IN THE HOOD!

Life at the Edge of the Sea – Cedar Waxwing Baby Masked Bandits

For over a month I have been filming a flock of Cedar Waxwings. Exquisitely beautiful creatures, with their combination of soft buffy and brilliantly punctuated wing patterning, along with graceful agility, it’s been easy to fall in love with these birds and they have become a bit of an obsession. 

I filmed some wonderful scenes and will share the photos and story as soon as there is time but in the meantime I wanted to share these photos of a juvenile Cedar Waxwing so you know what to look for. Waxwings are often found high up in the treetops. They are most easily seen on limbs bare of leaves. Their repetitious soft trilling song gives them away and if you learn the sound you will begin to see Cedar Waxwings everywhere. They have an extended breeding period in our region and because it is so late in the season, this juvenile may be one of a second brood.

While I was shooting for my short short story, the Waxwing flock was mostly on the ground in a wildflower patch devouring insects. Cedar Waxwings are more typically berry-eating frugivores. During the summer they add insects to their diet and I think it may have to do with keeping the hatchling’s bellies filled. It wasn’t until they moved back up into the treetops that this little guy began appearing amongst the flock. He has the same masked face, but the breast is softly streaked. You can see the yellow feathers tips beginning to grow in.

Juvenile Cedar Waxwing

Adult Cedar Waxwing

GOOD MORNING FROM GOOD HARBOR!

Despite the pandemic heartbreak, along with the social and economic hardships so many are experiencing, the summer of 2020 been a beautiful season of sunrises and sunsets. This one is from several days ago.I’m so behind in posting local wildlife stories while trying to prepare all the ancillary materials needed to send my film to APTWW, a huge back log of stories really. But I did want everyone to be aware that there is a a great flock of juvenile Laughing Gulls on our shores right now. They are fishing feeding with juvenile Herring Gulls as well as with adult Laughing Gulls. The Laughing Gull juveniles are smaller than the Herring Gulls and have a very distant scallop pattern on their flight wings. Will try to post some more photos later today 🙂Laughing Gull juvenile

SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS HAVE ARRIVED!

Hello PiPl Friends and Ambassadors,

It took awhile to discover where Marshmallow was this morning. He was at the wrack line calling nearly continuously with his soft melodious piping call, (which is how I was able to locate him), before then flying off over the dunes. I found him on my return walk, preening and fluffing at the PiPls favorite piece of driftwood within the enclosure. Note that is the very same driftwood that our PiPl Mom and Dad had their very first nest scrape at, way back in April!

No sign of Dad this morning.

Semipalmated Plover

Heidi noticed the pair of Semipalmated Plovers as well; it’s one of the first sightings of Semipalmated Plovers at GHB this summer and is a sure sign that the summer/fall migration is underway. Last year we had an unusual occurrence, Mystery Chick – a Semipalmated Plover fledgling appear suddenly and foraged for a bit with our three PiPl chicks.

Good Harbor Beach, and all of Cape Ann’s shorelines, continue to provide an extraordinary window into the world of migrating creatures. Despite 2020 being such a challenging summer on so very many levels, a saving grace has been our Piping Plovers and having the joy of meeting and getting to know our Ambassadors, and all of Marshmallow’s friends.

Semipalmated Plover fledgling, “Mystery Chick”

Heather Atwood updated us that the Cape Ann Today PiPl episode is not going to air until Friday or Monday and as soon as I know, will let you know.

Have a great day and thank goodness for today’s cooler temperatures 🙂

xxKim37 day old Marshmallow

FRIENDS CHECK OUT THIS SUPER INTERESTING AND FAMILY ORIENTED ZOOM WEBINAR I AM PARTICIPATING IN, ALONG WITH WITH JOHN NELSON AND MARTIN RAY

Save the date for the Zoom event “Try Birding in Your Own Backyard” with fellow guests Martin Ray and John Nelson, moderated by Eric Hutchins and hosted by Literacy Cape Ann.

So very much looking forward to participating and so very honored to be asked.

Try birding in your backyard!
Zoom in for something fun on summer solstice eve!
Three of our favorite chroniclers of birds and nature share birding tips and experiences via Zoom and all are invited. Literary Cape Ann presents authors/naturalists John Nelson, Kim Smith and Martin Ray on Friday, June 19, from 6:30 to 7:30 for a lively talk the family will enjoy. Learn ways not just to observe birds but to capture your experience with birds via blogs, journals, photos or sketches. Make some popcorn, gather your family and join us.

Check in with the Literary Cape Ann Facebook page on June 19 for the Zoom link.

CAPE ANN EARLY SPRING WILDLIFE UPDATE

Hello Friends,

I hope you are all doing well, or as well as can be expected during this heartbreaking pandemic event. The following kind words were spoken by Pope Francis today and I think they could not be truer.

“We are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed,” he said.

“All of us called to row together, each of us in need of each other.”

In the world of wildlife, spring migration is well underway and gratefully, nothing has changed for creatures small and large. That may change in the coming days as resources for threatened and endangered species may become scarce.

A friend posted on Facebook that “we are all going to become birders, whether we like it or not.” I love seeing so many people out walking in the fresh air and think it is really the best medicine for our souls.

Several times I was at Good Harbor Beach over the weekend and people were being awesome at practicing physical distancing. Both Salt Island Road and Nautilus Road were filled with cars, but none dangerously so, no more than we would see at a grocery store parking lot. I’m just getting over pneumonia and think I will get my old bike out, which sad to say hasn’t been ridden in several years. Cycling is a great thing to do with a friend while still practicing distancing and I am excited to get back on my bike.

An early spring wildlife scene update

The Niles Pond Black-crowned Night Heron made it through the winter!! He was seen this past week in his usual reedy location. Isn’t it amazing that he/she survived so much further north than what is typical winter range for BCHN.

Many of the winter resident ducks are departing. There are fewer and fewer Buffleheads, Scaups, and Ring-necked Ducks at our local ponds and waterways.

Male and female Scaups

No sign lately of the American Pipits. For several days there were three! Snow Buntings at the Brace Cove berm.

I haven’t seen the Northern Pintail in a over a week. Sometimes the Mallards play nice and on other days, not so much.

Male Northern Pintail and Mallards

As some of the beautiful creatures that have been residing on our shores depart, new arrivals are seen daily. Our morning walks are made sweeter with the songs of passerines courting and mating.

Black-capped Chickadees collecting nesting fibers and foraging

Song Sparrows, Mockingbirds, Robins, Cardinals, Chicadees, Nuthatches, Tufted Titmice, and Carolina Wrens are just a few of the love songs filling backyard, fields, dunes, and woodland.

Newly arrived Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets have been spotted at local ponds and marshes.

Cape Ann’s Kildeers appeared about a week or so ago, and wonderful of wonderful news, a Piping Plover pair has been courting at Good Harbor Beach since they arrived on March 22, a full three days earlier than last year.

Kildeers, Gloucester

Why do I think it is our PiPls returned? Because Piping Plovers show great fidelity to nesting sites and this pair is no exception. They are building nest scrapes in almost exactly the same location as was last year’s nest.

Piping Plover Nest Scrape Good Harbor Beach 2020

I’m not sure if the Red Fox photographed here is molting or is the early stages of mange. It does seem a bit early to be molting, but he was catching prey.

We should be seeing Fox kits and Coyote pups any day now, along with baby Beavers, Otters, and Muskrats 🙂
It’s been an off year for Snowy Owls in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic with relatively many fewer owls than that wonderful irruptive winter of 2017-2018 when Hedwig was living on the back shore. 2019 was a poor summer for nesting however, reports of high numbers of Lemmings at their eastern winter breeding grounds are coming in, which could lead to many owlets surviving the nesting season of 2020, which could lead to many more Snowies migrating south this coming winter of 2020-2021.

Take care Friends and be well ❤

Mini-nature lover

A SOGGY SNOWY OWL FOR A SOGGY DAY

This sweet messy-faced girl was relaxing on the limb of a craggy tree after what had clearly been a successful morning hunt. She coughed up a pellet while enjoying a rare quiet moment perched in the branches.

BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL SNOWY OWLS

I haven’t seen any Snowies yet this winter on Cape Ann; there simply seem to be fewer that migrated to our region than there were several years ago when Hedwig was the star of the backshore.

These Snowy Owl photos were taken earlier in the month at Parker River. The dirt road, the one that begins after the Hellcat Trail, has reopened, although I wouldn’t recommend going there on the weekends, much better to go during the week. There are so many photographers and owl lovers on the weekends, especially in the afternoon, that it has become really disruptive to the owls, both the Snowies and Short-eared. Even though folks are very respectful and (most) stay on the road, the Short-eared Owls aren’t catching much food, as far as I can observe, when there are great crowds chasing them up and down the road.

BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL SHORT-EARED OWLS!

A backlog of owl, and other wildlife pictures. Trying to find the time to sort through and will try to post a bunch this weekend. Here is a recent photo of a Short-eared Owl as the sun was setting. Beautiful creature, beautifully camouflaged.

BEAUTIFUL AND FUNNY RARE BIRD IN GLOUCESTER THE “LITTLE AUK” OR DOVEKIE

The tiny “Little Auk” has been on our shores for several days and this morning I was finally able to take a few good snapshots. It dips and bobs in a funny manner, weaving back and forth, up and down the channel, before using its wings to deeply dive for small fish and crustaceans.

The Dovekie is the smallest member of the auk (puffin) family. A bird of the open Atlantic Ocean that breeds on Islands in the high Arctic, Dovekies are only seen during winter months in New England.

SHORT-EARED OWLS IN OUR MIDST!

Melded to the grass as he was, in monochromatic winter pasture shades of taupe, buff, and gray, it was nearly impossible to spot the impostor posing in the dry stalks and twigs. But there he was, a small mound resting along the thicket edge. You can barely see him in the photo below.

He sat up for a brief moment and even from a great distance his wide-eyed, and only seconds long, golden-eyed look was unmissable.

I’ve read the Short-eared Owl flight described as erratic, but I would call it anything but that. They swoop gracefully over fields in multi-directions, with great intention, listening for the sound of voles, moles, mice and other small mammals scurrying through the tall winter grass and phragmites. Flying low while hunting, their wingbeats are smooth and steady.

The Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)  is called as such because of the little tufts of display feathers atop its head, which aren’t really ears at all. The Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) is a cousin of the Short-eared and it has longer feather tufts. Owls have a highly developed hearing system and their ears are actually located at the sides of their heads, behind the eyes, and are covered by the feathers of the facial disc.

Unlike many species of owls, which prefer forest and woodland, the Short-eared Owls is a bird of open country. They require fields, grasslands, marshes, bogs, heaths, and dunes. Shorties are crepuscular, which means they mostly feed at dawn and dusk.

Short-eared Owls are found the world over on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Sadly, in Massachusetts, breeding pairs have been driven to the brink of extirpation. There may still be one or two pairs that breed at Nantucket’s Tuckernuck Island but, because of loss of habitat, the Short-eared Owl was listed as endangered in Massachusetts in 1985.

Listen for the Short-eared Owls wing “clapping” in the video below, and some adorable chicks, too 🙂

From Cornell: “Hawaii’s only native owl, the Pueo (Asio flammeus sandwichensis), is a Short-eared Owl subspecies found on all the chain’s major islands. Pueos may have descended from Alaska forebears, taking hold in the islands after the first arriving Polynesians brought owl food in the form of the Pacific rat.”

Short-eared Owl Range Map

SNOWY OWL ALERT! AND BALD EAGLES, TOO!

It was a beautiful morning at Parker River despite mostly overcast skies and a strong wind. This first day of our “January thaw” was made even more beautiful by the presence of the Snowy Owl.

I believe she’s a female, although the lightest females can look like the darkest males. She appeared largely unperturbed by the gaggle of photographers that came and went. The Snowy flew across the dune for a few moments, but then flew back to roughly the same spot; in both locations she was somewhat protected from the blustery wind.

I have it on good authority that there are currently SIX Bald Eagles at Parker River, two hatch-years, two that are roughly three years old, and two adults. I have only seen one youngster this week, in a battle with a crow, and I couldn’t tell who was chasing who 🙂

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.”

FIRST SNOWY OWL SIGHTING OF THE 2019-2020 WINTER

Far, far down the ridge sat a little white wedge-shaped dot. We were all wishing he would fly our way, but alas, he was content to stay in place while washing his face and preening his flying feathers, with the crowd standing comfortably behind the rope set up by the refuge.

There are two Snowy Owls currently at Parker River and one has been spotted at Salisbury Beach. Hopefully, more will call the North Shore home this winter. The photo below was taken with a 400mm lens and very closely cropped.

ENCHANTING ENCOUNTER WITH THE BEAUTIFUL AMERICAN BITTERN

Taking advantage of whatever sunshine can be had at this time of year, I took Charlotte to Plum Island for the day this past Thursday. We began at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and were immediately enchanted with an American Bittern stealth hunting in the marsh, a regal buck, Pintail Ducks, and hawks. Next we made sand castles at Sandy Point and then spent a great deal of time exploring a seemingly abandoned bulldozer in the parking lot there.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B5J-kSDnwTM/

Lunch was a shared lobster roll from Bob’s Lobster Shack, which is located on the causeway heading out to Plum Island. We then stopped at the refuge headquarters to see the Snowy Owl, Piping Plover, and Monarch displays.

Charlotte’s day was made perfect when we learned that homemade cupcakes could be found at the Buttermilk Baking Company.

Last stop was one of my favorite shops for wonderfully unique and vintage home decor, The Barn at Todd Farm. The shop is decorated beautifully for the holidays and is bursting with Christmas gifts and treasures.

The American Bittern hunting in the marsh at Parker River was not at first easy to locate. Not only do the brown and buff colors of their feathers meld perfectly with the surrounding vegetation, but this heron has adapted an additional, highly effective method of camouflage. The Bittern stands motionless with its neck tilted upward, mirroring the tall reeds where the bird forages for fish, crustaceans, amphibians, insects, reptiles, and even small mammals.

The Bittern was beautiful to watch, perfectly poised in striking mode and waiting for the exact moment to attack. He wasted not an ounce of energy and did not miss a single strike.

American Bitterns breed in our region however, they generally migrate further south for the winter to regions where the water does not freeze. Managed wetlands such as those found within Parker River Wildlife Refuge play an important role in the survival of the American Bittern, especially during migration and the winter months.

 

HAWK-ON-THE-HUNT JOINS US AT CAPT. JOE’S FOR THE GMG PODCAST

Perched on the lobster traps, I only had a fleeting moment to take a photo pulling into the parking lot at Captain Joe’s. While getting my camera out, the Hawk appeared to pop into a lobster trap. He popped back out, I took a snapshot under cover of car, then off he flew.

Raptors such as Sharp-shinned Hawks and Peregrine Falcons are attracted to lobster pots because the traps often house songbirds such as sparrows. The smaller birds eat the crusty tidbits found on the pots and the larger birds have learned to find a tasty meal there.

Sharp-shinned Hawk Range Map

Several years back when there was a male Snowy Owl at Captain Joe’s, a Peregrine Falcon flew on the scene, defending his territory by repeatedly dive bombing the Owl. The Falcon disturbed him so much so that the Snowy eventually departed.

MYSTERY CHICK AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH THIS MORNING

There were not one, not two, not three, but four chicks feeding together at the wrack line at day break this morning. The mystery chick appears to be about the same age as our brood, exhibiting all the same habits although it is not a Piping Plover fledgling. I think it is a Semipalmated Plover fledgling.

The chick was sopping, soaking wet and very disheveled, but feeding as vigorously as our family, finding Good Harbor Beach ants, beetles, mollusks, and sea worms to be excellent breakfast fare.

When Papa Plover voiced danger warnings, the little visitor listened as attentively as did our brood of three. At one point Papa ran towards him, I thought to scare him away, but Papa was really after the Bachelor and kept on charging.

How could such a little fledgling fly from their northern breeding grounds at such an early age I wonder. He was so drenched, he appeared to have “washed” ashore, not flown. Semipalmated Plovers breed as far south as Newfoundland so perhaps he only traveled across the Gulf of Maine.

Evocative light at daybreak this morning

 

HAPPINESS IS KNOWING ALL YOUR BABIES ARE SAFELY TUCKED IN FOR THE NIGHT

Doesn’t Papa look content? 🙂

Although state guidelines say piping Plover chicks have fledged by 25 days, that simply is not the case with our chicks. They cannot fly more than a few feet and are still swimming across the creek to the other side (about ten feet wide at mid-tide). If they could fly across, they would.

Every morning I find the chicks thermoregulating under Mom or Dad. Throughout the day, the parents guide the chicks up and down the beach to the most safe locations for foraging. And in the evening, they return to the protected area to snuggle under Mom or Dad, spending the night as a family unit.

The Federal guidelines are much more accurate when comparing my own observations and documentation. USFWS mandates protection up to 35 days. We PiPl monitors are going with protecting our family to 35 days, at five weeks old.

Thank you to all our wonderful Piping Plover volunteer monitors. Without a doubt, our chicks would not have made it this far if not for your time, patience, and dedication.

THE JOHNSON FAMILY OF YOUNG CONSERVATIONISTS!

Thank you to the Johnson Family of Wakefield and Connecticut for their interest in learning about the Piping Plovers and for giving them the space they needed when trying to get to the creek.

Volunteer monitor Laurie Sawin spent time with the family on Wednesday, sharing her binoculars and teaching the young conservation-minded kids all about Piping Plovers and their habitat. The kids were so interested and considerate of the birds, it was a joy to meet them!

People love the portable new signs, both beach goers and the volunteer monitors. The signs provide an opportunity for beach guests to ask questions and learn about the PiPls, and they also provide a reference for the monitors. Many thanks to volunteer monitor Heather Hall for sharing a photo online of the signs used at PiPl protected areas in Ontario.

Our PiPl family are finding lots of fat sea worms at the creek.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO OUR THREE-WEEK-OLD PIPING PLOVER CHICKS, ALL THREE!

On Saturday our Good Harbor Beach PiPl chicks turned three weeks old. They remind me so much of toddlers, with their indefatigable spirits, high energy and great appetites, adventuring, tumbling and bumping themselves throughout the day, flopping their tired selves down and wanting to be cuddled and protected, and then picking themselves up to start all over again.

Our chicks are spreading their wings! Their flight feathers have not yet grown in nonetheless, it doesn’t stop them from testing their wings. They stretch wide and take little leaps in the air, often ending with a face plant.

And sometimes, lift-off!

The chicks spend a good part of the day at the creek. On Saturday they crossed the creek and much to PiPl monitor Laurie Sawin’s dismay it appeared as though they were trapped on the other side and might have been swallowed up by the incoming tide. Instead, all three chicks swam across the creek to the safety of the shore.

We are stymied by the decision to shrink the Piping Plover’s protected area and are working toward re-establishing the size of their designated area. It’s really much too soon to be shrinking the roped off area and to have raked over the mini mounds of sand they sleep on every night. The chicks are all over the beach at all times of day and the protected area not only provides safety from people and pets, the un-raked areas provide a feast of good eating.

It clearly takes a village to raise a family of chicks at a popular city beach and we have a corps of wonderfully dedicated volunteers. We could really use help over these final ten days before the chicks are fully fledged. The weather has warmed and the beach has become much busier. Please contact Alicia Pensarosa if you would like to help. You can also directly sign up here. Thank you so much, and even more importantly, the PiPls thank you, too ❤

Tiny mollusks for breakfast.

GONE FISHIN’ -THE ONE THAT DIDN’T GET AWAY

Snowy Egret in the creek this morning, and Coyote, too.

Snowy Egrets are the most animated of hunting herons and this one did not disappoint, tossing his minnows in the air, flapping his wings while leaping from rock to rock, stirring the sand with his bright cadmium yellow feet, dip diving, and shimmy shaking his feathers.

Our Good Harbor Beach PiPl Family is thriving. Here’s another morsel that didn’t get away. More on the PiPls on Friday 🙂Seventeen-day old Piping Plover Chicks

OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVER CHICKS ARE TWO WEEKS OLD TODAY!

Two weeks ago today, four tiny Piping Plover chicks hatched at Good Harbor Beach. Nesting got off to a rocky start, with the mated pair first attempting to nest at the beach, then at the parking lot, but then thankfully, returning to their original nest site.

The relative peace on the beach, excellent parenting by Mama and Papa PiPl, cooler than average temperatures, vigilant monitoring by a corps of dedicated volunteers, outpouring of consideration by beach goers, as well as support from the DPW, City administration, and City Councilors has allowed the chicks to attain the two-week-old stage of maturity. With each passing day, we can see the chicks are gaining in strength and fortitude and listening more attentively to their parent’s voice commands. Adhering to Mama and Papa’s piping calls is an important milestone in their development. The parents continuously pipe commands and directions, warning of danger and directing the chicks to come to a stand still. The tiny shorebird’s best defense is its ability to blend with its surroundings when motionless.

The chicks spent the early morning warming up and foraging at the protected area. Afternoon found them camped out at the creek.

Snapshots from the morning

There was a group of young people stationed near the PiPl protected area enjoying the beach on this fine sunny afternoon. All was good though as the chicks were perfectly safe, foraging far down the creek. With gratitude and thanks to everyone who is helping to keep our PiPl family safe.

Snapshots from the afternoon

RAINY DAY MARSH HUNTER

Passing by and pausing to take a few snapshots of a pretty Little Blue Heron foraging in the marsh on this rainy day Thursday.

GREAT EGRET OF THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH SALT MARSH

A grand Great Egret has been hanging out at the Good Harbor Beach marsh. He has been dining on small fish mostly. The photos are from Sunday but I didn’t spot him either yesterday or today; perhaps he has moved on. 

The long breeding plumes are called aigrettes.

Cape Ann is part of the Great Egrets breeding range, particularly House Island. This Egret is in full breeding plumage, advertising to a potential mate how fit and desirable he is to other Great Egrets. These same beautiful feathers, and humanity’s indiscriminate killing of, are what caused the bird to become nearly extinct. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the long breeding plumes, called aigrettes, of many species of herons and egrets were prized as fashion accessories to adorn women’s hats. Thanks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, it is illegal to hunt or harm in any way gorgeous birds such as the Great Egret, and egrets and herons are making a comeback.

Fine dining in the marsh

Dagger-like bill