The past week I have been astounded with the array of warblers that we are seeing in our garden and on walks in the neighborhood. The big attraction in the garden is the native pink flowering dogwood tree (Cornus florida ‘Rubra’), my neighbor’s maple tree and the tiny insects feeding there, and our funky weathered old bird bath. There has been so much activity in the bird bath we are changing the water several times a day! Perhaps the travelers are dusty and dirty and appreciate the fresh bathing water.
One of the most fun to see was an American Redstart and the new-to-my-eyes Bay-breasted Warbler.
We also had a trio of black and white birds for an afternoon, the Black and White Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and a female Yellow-rumped Warbler.
Black and White Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Yellow-rumped Warbler
There’s much that could be written about each species. I’m posting these photos for ID purposes in case anyone else has noticed a recent influx of warblers in your backyard or neighborhood. Please write if you do. Thank you!
What’s going on in this little nest with eggs from two different species of birds? House Finches love to nest in the eaves of our front porch and every year we host a brood, or two. This year, the pair abandoned their first nest of five eggs and moved to eaves on the other side of the porch. When we checked again on the nest before taking it down, three of the House Finch eggs were missing and in their place, a Brown-headed Cowbird had laid one of its own. I guess Mama Cowbird didn’t get the 411 that no one was home to raise her baby.
Avian brood parasitism, or laying of one’s eggs in the nest of another individual, is a reproductive strategy when parasitic birds, such as the Brown-headed Cowbird, foist the cost of rearing their offspring onto another bird.
Female Brown-headed Cowbird
From wiki –
Brood parasites are organisms that rely on others to raise their young. The strategy appears among birds, insects and fish. The brood parasite manipulates a host, either of the same or of another species, to raise its young as if it were its own, using brood mimicry, for example by having eggs that resemble the host’s (egg mimicry).
Brood parasitism relieves the parasitic parents from the investment of rearing young or building nests for the young, enabling them to spend more time on other activities such as foraging and producing further offspring. Bird parasite species mitigate the risk of egg loss by distributing eggs amongst a number of different hosts. As this behaviour damages the host, it often results in an evolutionary arms race between parasite and host as the pair of species coevolve.
The strength of defenses and counter-adaptation rely on the host/parasitic species’ ability to evolve; some host species have very strong rejection defenses resulting in the parasitic species evolving to have very close mimicry. In other species, hosts do not show rejection defenses and as a result, the parasitic species will show no evolved trait (example: egg mimicry).
Recently I asked my friend Paul Wegzyn, owner of School Street Sunflowers, if I could poke around his sunflower field after it had closed for the season. The field had not yet been turned over to prepare for planting a winter cover crop and with all the expiring flowers, I thought perhaps it might be a wonderful place to photograph. He is so kind and said surely, no problem.
Suffice it to say, Paul’s field far exceeded my expectations for dreamy “expiring” beauty. The sunflowers not only provide myriad species of wildlife with seeds, but the tall, sturdy heads and leaves make for an outstanding songbird perch. The Song Sparrows use the sunflower heads to both forage and groom, the warblers for cover as they are hunting insects, and the most ingenious of all is how the Bobolinks make use of the seed heads. The grass that grows in and amongst the sunflowers is nearly as tall as the flower heads. The Bobolink lands on the sunflower and after thoroughly eyeballing the surrounding landscape for danger (hawks, I imagine), she slides a mouthful of grass seeds down the stalk and into her beak.
Over a period of several days I counted between half a dozen to a dozen Bobolinks, all females and immatures, not a single adult male amongst the flock. I wonder if the males migrate earlier than the females and immatures or if this was just a fluke. The males are striking in their crisp coat of black, white, and yellow, while the female’s feathers look nothing like the male’s wing patterning. (Thank you to author John Nelson for the positive bird ID!)
Male and female Bobolink, image courtesy The Bobolink Project
School Street Sunflowers has been providing a fantastic source of fuel for this super long distant migrant. At this time of year Bobolinks eat seeds and grains, switching over to insects during the breeding season.The Bobolink’s journey is an impressive 6,000 mile trek and they can fly 1,100 miles in a single day. Each year Bobolinks fly approximately 12,500 miles round trip and during the course of an average Bobolink’s life span, they will have traveled a distance equal to circumnavigating the earth four to five times.
Bobolinks are, as are many species of grassland birds, in overall decline. In some areas of New England they are recovering, due in large part to the success of The Bobolink Project. Because Bobolinks nest on the ground and because hay fields are typically planted and mowed earlier than in previous decades, the nest, eggs, and nestlings are churned up in plowing. The Bobolink Project is non profit organization that pays farmers to plant and to mow a little later in the season, which allows the birds to mature to fledge.
Note how well hidden is the Bobolink nest
Above photo gallery courtesy The Bobolink Project
Because of habitat loss, the use of neonicotinoids, and global climate change, grassland species need our help. Like other charismatic species of wildlife–Monarchs, Snowy Owls, and Piping Plovers come to mind–perhaps the Bobolink can be that grassland flagship species that people get excited about. Understanding a wild creature’s life story and lending a helping hand also provides habitat conservation for other species of wildlife as well.
This morning while observing a juvenile Little Blue Heron fishing he captured a small pond creature, but then spit it out almost immediately. No wonder, it is so odd looking. Can anyone help ID? Thank you!
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.
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 🙂
This morning I found the corner post at Piping Plover area #1 buried in the sand from last night’s high tide. There’s a super nice gentleman, retired Coast Guard officer John Burlingham, who daily walks GHB in the summer. He’s an avid naturalist and always keeps his eyes out for the PiPls. He righted the post and continued on his walk.
As I was leaving GHB, I asked DJ, one of the nice gentlemen working on the water and gas pipes on Salt Island Road, if he happened to have a sledge hammer in his truck box. No, but he had something nearly as good. He whacked the pole into the sand.
Hopefully the poles will stay put but it was great to have such kind hearted caring people at Good Harbor Beach to lend a hand. Thank you John and DJ so very much for your kind assistance!
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.
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.
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
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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 ❤
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
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.
Shortly before it began raining this afternoon, my husband called to me to the garden to have a look see. Three male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were zinging about, drinking nectar from the flowers and fearlessly whizzing by each other in territorial displays. The tiny boys were mostly interested in our beautiful old Japanese flowering quince ‘Toyo-nishiki’ (Chaenomoles speciosa). They were also investigating the flowering pear tree and almost-ready to bloom crabapples, but not nearly as much so as the quince.
I hope to see them again on a brighter day, the male’s beautiful red gorget (throat patch) flashes much more brilliantly in the sunshine.
Providing a continuously blooming array of nectar rich flowers, from spring through late summer, will encourage RTHummingbirds to nest nearby and you may even see the fledglings later in the season. You will probably never see the nest as it is only as big as one half a walnut shell, and the eggs only pearl-sized 🙂
When one Snowy Owl boy left his perch and flew within several feet of a second Snowy stationed further down the beach I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially after witnessing several territorial battles between Hedwig and Bubo last winter, as well as a Snowy dispute between a male and female at Crane Beach.
These two behaved as if they were expecting a visit from their best bud. After landing next to the stationary one, the active one immediately began to eat seaweed. This went on for several minutes.
Then he washed his big feet and fluffed his feathers. Both nodded and dozed off, like it was the most normal thing to hang with a Snowy bestie on the beach. They were spotted a few days later again, not too far apart 🙂