Tag Archives: Beautiful Birds of North America

PIPING PLOVER CHRONICLES CONTINUE – My what a week it’s been at Good Harbor Beach!

Love is in the air! 

First things first though; the Good Harbor Beach Killdeer Plover family that nests every year in nearly an identical spot to the year before, hatched four perfectly healthy and vigorous chicks! Today marks their eight day old birthday and they are all four doing exceptionally well. More about this bundle of adorableness in an upcoming post.

Killdeer Plover Chicks  in dune camo

Mid-week we had a rough morning, with four dogs from the same family. The dogs not only ran through the symbolically roped off area as Mom and Dad were just about to mate, the larger of the four chased Dad. The ACO and DPW have been made aware and they are thankfully managing the situation.

We hear so much gibberish nonsense from scofflaw dog owners. This week, for example, “I thought the date was Memorial Day,” or the sign says “dogs are permitted,” or “dogs are allowed after 5pm,” and my personal favorite, “my dog is special.”

   *     *     *

Much of the week was cold and windy but on several mornings, including a slightly warmer today (Sunday), there were EIGHT Plovers! Three females and five males. We are not too concerned about all eight nesting at GHB. This influx seems to happen every year during May, which is peek migration month in Massachusetts. Many species of shorebirds arrive at GHB during May, stopping to rest and refuel before journeying further north. There were also half a dozen Black-bellied Plovers at GHB this past week and I was reminded of the May we had three Wilson’s Plovers show up one foggy morning.

The two new females that have joined the scene are easy to spot, with binoculars or a long lens. Please, please, do not stand at the edge of the roped off area with your cell phone, trying to take cell phone movies of courting and mating behavior. Hovering for long periods is incredibly disruptive to courtship behavior. Trust me, I have seen this disruption during courtship countless times and it only  serves to dramatically slow, or inhibit all together, the nesting season.

Meet our newest female – isn’t she beautiful!

Back to the new girls; they both have very faint headband and collar band markings, one is the palest I have ever seen a PiPl. I am already in love with her, she is feisty and ready for action, no fickle behavior on her part!

The three pairs, plus two odd boys out, are vying for territory. This morning there was a wildly intense smackdown between three of the boys. Repitiously charging, wing flourishing, then retreating, and as usual, no clear victor.

Piping Plover Smackdown. More smackdown photos to follow, when I have a few spare moments to look over the photos.

Dads are nest scraping along the length of the beach; note their little legs going a mile a minute.

Dear Friends, please consider making a tax deductible donation to launching my Monarch Butterfly documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly for distribution to national television. For more information, go here.

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PIPING PLOVER UPDATE FROM GLORIOUS GOOD HARBOR BEACH – AND ADDRESSING SENIOR SKIP DAY

There appear to be two pairs of Piping Plovers at Good Harbor however, after another week of super highs tides, powerful winds and heavy rain, our Piping Plover nest scrapes have all but disappeared. Saturday afternoon all four were foraging in the outgoing tide. Two are our original pair, a third is a bossy territorial male, and the fourth wasn’t on the scene long enough to tell. Late Sunday afternoon found all four huddled together behind mini hummocks and divots escaping the whipping wind.

The highest tide of the spring (on the night of April 16), the one that brought in the heap of ghost fishing gear to GHB and a dead Minke Whale to Folly Cove, went straight away up to the base of the dune.  That tide washed away all active nest scrapes.

Storm tide night of April 16th brought ghost gear to GHB and a Minke Whale to Folly Cove

The high tide on the night of April 29th , although not quite as high as the tide two weeks earlier in April, again washed away all active nest scrapes. Hopefully, the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers will catch some better weather in May!

Note- the above update was written Sunday evening. On this mild Monday morning, I found Mama and Papa back to courting and nest scraping! 

At several of the other beaches that I am filming at, the nests and scrapes have not been disturbed by the tides. Here you can see this beautiful nest with three eggs as it was thankfully spared.

Senior Skip Days This past week there was reportedly a tremendous gathering of kids on Good Harbor Beach, for senior skip day. Thursday morning I was on the beach when about twenty or so arrived. We had several friendly conversations. They are good kids and were there simply to enjoy a fun day with their friends, something that we did not see much of last year because of the pandemic.

I was not in the least concerned for the safety of the Plovers. Because of the super high tides and as of this writing, there are currently no nests scrapes, no nests, and no chicks on the beach. Adult Plovers fly away if a person gets too close.

Later that afternoon, after reading the reports of hundreds of kids trashing the beach I stopped by again at GHB. There were again only about twenty kids. It had become so unpleasantly windy I didn’t stay long and can’t imagine the kids stayed much later. The following morning after another high tide there was only a smattering of cans and bottles half buried in the sand. I have to say, we see much, much worse harmful plastic pollution and garbage left behind on the beach by adults and families, especially after sporting events and parties, and of course, there is the ever present dog poop in plastic.

Party remnants after kid’s senior skip day – not great but we’ve all seen much, much worse…

such as the adult’s dog poop mess left at Wingaersheek Beach, May 1, 2021 

Our community has done a fantastic job in restricting pets from GHB, beginning April 1st, which makes the beach safer and cleaner for all. Joe Lucido and the Gloucester DPW are amazing in installing the symbolic roping to coincide with the Plovers arrival. These actions are the two most essential in helping Piping Plovers get off to a good start.

We are still in the midst of a global pandemic. So many of us have been isolated from our friends and family for many, many months. There will be tens of thousands of visitors to our shores this summer enjoying summer fun. People flock to Good Harbor Beach because they recognize it is a very special place. From daybreak til day’s end, everything about Good Harbor Beach is magnificent! The way the tides and wind change the landscape daily, the most glorious sunrises and rosy pink sunsets, views of the Twin Lighthouses, families strolling, sunbathing, surfing, kite flying, picnicking, volleyball playing, hikes to Salt Island, swimming (especially kids in the tidal creek!), dunes teaming with life, and the wild creatures attracted.

Once the chicks hatch, Plover Ambassadors will be on the beach throughout the day offering insights about the Plovers. I know we can all be tolerant and respectful towards each other and the wild creatures that find safe harbor at Good Harbor. I think it’s going to be a fantastic summer!

Piping Plover Ambassadors 2020

PIPL WEEKLY UPDATE AND HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SANDERLING AND A PIPING PLOVER

Earlier in the week, our PiPl pair were zooming  up and down the beach nest scraping hither and thither. They appear to be a bit calmer the past few days. Perhaps they are settling on a nesting location?? Wouldn’t that be wonderful!

Dad taking a much needed siesta

Our hope is Mom and Dad will have an early nest, which will give their babies the greatest chance of surviving. A second family of Plovers that I am documenting this year has laid their second egg. This pair arrived in Massachusetts the same day as did our GHB pair. It will be interesting to compare and contrast as the season progresses.

Please note – The eggs pictured are NOT at Good Harbor Beach, just making sure everyone understand this 🙂

Sanderlings are migrating northward and there are many currently foraging along our local beaches. Folks often confuse Sanderlings with Piping Plovers. The above sanderling is in non-breeding plumage, with somewhat similar coloring to Piping Plovers. You can faintly see some of the rusty breeding plumage coming in. Sanderlings have much longer bills and both bills and legs are black.Piping Plovers in breeding plumage have stout, orange bills that are tipped black, striking black collar and neck bands, a yellow orange ring around the eye, and orangish legs. As the PiPls plumage fades later in the season, from a distance especially it can be hard for people to to tell the two apart.

Sanderlings foraging

CEDAR WAXWING LOVEBIRDS

Here my love, have a yummy bug for breakfast – (notice the bug poised on the tip of the Waxwing’s bill).

Within a recent flock of visiting Cedar Waxwings one pair was courting. Touching bill to bill and animatedly sharing insects and torn off bits of budding trees, we observed the same behavior last spring. It’s very sweet to see. I wish it hadn’t been so hazy but still lovely.

Here is this spring’s pair of lovebirds –

 

Cedar Waxwings are frugivores (fruit-eaters) and they subsist mainly on fruit, although they eat plenty of insects, too. Reportedly, they are becoming increasingly more prevalent in backyards because people are planting more ornamental flowering and fruiting trees.

A courting pair in 2020 –

A beautiful thing to see – Cedar Waxwing male and female pair courting. They were feeding each other, hopping through the branches and passing insects and fruits back and forth.

If you would like to attract Cedar Waxwings  to your garden below is a handy list that I compiled of some of their most favorite fruits and berries –

What to plant to attract Cedar Waxwings to your landscape

Dogwood (Cornus florida, C. alternifolia)
Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontals)
Common Juniper (Juniperus communis)
Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
Holy (Ilex opaca)
Crabapple (Malus sp.)
Hawthorn (Crataegus sp.)
Tall Shadblow (Amelanchier arborea)
Smooth Shadbush (Amelanchier laevis)
Canadian Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)
Mulberry (Morus rubra)
Winterberry (Ilex verticilata)
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Raspberry
Blackberry
Wild Grape
Strawberry

FIRST PLOVER EGG OF THE SPRING!

Although not photographed at Good Harbor Beach but at one of the many locations where I am documenting Piping Plovers, the egg is noteworthy because the pair of Plovers that laid this egg arrived in Massachusetts the same week as did our Good Harbor Beach pair.Precious wildlife eggs symbolizing new life and fresh beginnings, glowing pearlescent and arrestingly beautiful in myriad sizes and colors. Piping Plover egg laid April 20, 2021

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

 

 

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.

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!

 

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

SCREECH OWL LOVEBIRDS

This beautiful pair of Eastern Screech Owl lovebirds has made its nest in the cavity of an ancient maple tree. The tree is on the property of a kindly and very tolerant gent, Ron, who always has a nice word or humorous comment for the many observers and photographers that have visited.

According to neighborhood lore, this is not the first year the pair has nested here. What makes these lovebirds especially wonderful to see and fun for comparing life forms is that one is a gray morph (or phase) and the other a rufous (red) morph. The color has nothing to do with the sex of the owl. There are rufous males and rufous females, and vice versa. There is also a brown morph. The gray and brown morphs are thought to have evolved to better blend with deciduous trees such as maples and oask, whereas the rufous morph is better camouflaged in pine trees.

Rufous Screech Owl at daybreak

Eastern Screech Owls in maple tree

With this pair of lovebirds I am still unsure of who is who. Sometimes you see only the red Screechie sitting in the fore, more often the gray lately, and very rarely now, the pair together. As I suspected, and as was confirmed by Mass Audubon, the male will roost with the female during nesting, which also makes it challenging to determine one from the other. The females are larger but when they are sitting side by side snuggled up against each other as they were at the beginning of courtship, it doesn’t help much in determining size.

Gray Screech Owl

My best guess is the red is the female and the gray the male, because it is the gray one I have seen heading out at night to hunt.

Screech Owls don’t create their own nests; they use abandoned woodpecker homes and other natural cavities.The Screech Owl’s nest is merely the cavity. They don’t add sticks or twigs or any nesting material and simply lay eggs on the substrate. The female lays between three to eight eggs. The male does the better part of hunting for both during incubation. After approximately 26 days the eggs hatch. The owlets grow quickly and will begin to stretch their wings at about one month old.

Screech Owls are nocturnal and are seen hunting mostly in the first hours after nightfall. They eat just about anything they can catch, from small mammals such as mice, bats, squirrels, moles, shrews, and voles to small birds such as finches, as well as doves and quail. Other prey include large insects, earthworms, toads, lizards, snakes, spiders, centipedes, and crawdads.

I haven’t heard this pair make the “screeching” sound for which they are famous, instead they make the most beautiful gentle tremolo trilling at dusk. I tried to record it and if it came out well and when I have a few spare minutes, I will post.

The tree provides food and habitat for many species of songbirds. All these birds photographed are aware of the owl’s presence and some, like the Tufted Titmice, Bluejays, and Nuthatches make it their business to harass on a daily basis.

Eastern Screech Owl range map

GREAT VIDEO OF CAPE ANN OSPREYS, FROM EGG TO FLEDGING!!!

Check out this fantastic video created by Dave Rimmer, Essex Greenbelt’s Director of Land Stewardship and Osprey Program. The footage was taken last summer from Greenbelt’s OspreyCam. Watch highlights of the 2020 Osprey season captured from Annie and Squam’s nest in Gloucester. Annie and Squam fledged three chicks, Vivi, Rusty, and Liz, and you can watch their development from egg to fledging.

BLACK-HEADED GULL AND RING-BILLED GULL SMACKDOWN!

The rarely seen Black-headed Gull continues to make his home in Gloucester waters this winter. It’s super fun to watch his troublemaking antics, which include trying to snatch morsels of food from other gulls. Here he is getting into a smackdown with a Ring-billed Gull.

Black-headed Gull lost this round but after flying away briefly and dusting himself off, he jumped back into the fray.

 

A BOSSY QUARRELSOME FELLOW IS THAT RARE BLACK-HEADED GULL!

I have returned several times more to see that rare and beautiful little Black-headed Gull. He wasn’t alone but was feeding in a mixed flock of gulls and ducks. All seemed perfectly peaceful at first. Before too long, he was squawking noisily, barking orders, and flying aggressively toward any other gull that crossed his path. Very comical actually, as he was smaller than all the others nonetheless, they took orders readily and moved aside.

Black-headed Gull vs. Ring-billed Gull Battle 

Wonderfully animated surf dancer!

Bonaparte’s Gull left, Black-headed Gull right

A friend wrote wondering if I was sure what we are seeing is a Black-headed Gull. He, as was I initially, wondering if it was a Bonaparte’s Gull. Bonaparte’s have black bills, whereas the Black-headed Gull has a black-tipped red bill, along with red feet and legs. I found this terrific image showing the progressive molting stages of a Black-headed Gull while looking up Black-headed Gulls.

By the way, the head feathers of the Black-headed Gull in breeding plumage are really not black, but chocolate brown. Then again, there is an actual Brown-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus). Whoever gave name to these gulls!!
Black-headed Gull in breeding plumage, photo courtesy Google image search

HORNED LARK THREESOME!

Three brownish songbird sorts flew on the scene. Feeding along the pond’s edge at this time of year the brown birds we mostly see are Song Sparrows, but they are more solitary and I don’t usually see them flying around together in a group. Hoping for a bunch of beauties, I approached the trio very quietly, one baby step at a time, and was delighted to see not one but three Horned Larks! I wish the sun had been shining so you can see how beautiful is the male’s lemony yellow throat.

Several weeks ago there was one, possibly two, feeding with American Pipits and a Snow Bunting. What a treat to see three!

Two appeared to be male and one female. The easiest way to tell the male from the female is by looking at the facial markings. The female lacks the black eye patch.

Male and female Horned Larks foraging on seeds

RARE BLACK-HEADED GULL IN GLOUCESTER!

At first glance I thought the gull feeding offshore was a Bonaparte’s Gull, but after taking a second look, I believe this is a Black-headed Gull in non-breeding plumage. The black-tipped red bill is the surest way to id when on the water, along with his cute little red legs and feet.

Common throughout Eurasia, they are rarer on this side of the Atlantic; the first sighting north of Mexico was recorded in 1930 in Newburyport. When Black-headed Gulls are spotted in the US, they are most likely seen along the Massachusetts coastline.