The facial disc of an owl is the concave collection of feathers around its face that collects sound waves and directs those sound waves towards the owl’s ears. The owl can adjust the feathers of the facial disc, enabling the bird to focus at different distances, which allows it to locate prey by sound alone under snow and plant cover.
Amazingly, a Wood Stork has been calling New Harbor, Nova Scotia, home for the past week or so. I think quite possibly it could be our Wood Stork. Many thanks to Rowland Spear, Angela MacDonald, and Susan Holmes from Nova Scotia, who generously shared their photos. In the images, you can see the young Wood Stork’s face transitioning from youth to adult and becoming darker and balder, timing-wise, following in what may very well be the progression of Cape Ann’s Wood Stork.
Wood Stork New Harbour, Nova Scotia, June 16, 2022 Angela MacDonald Photo
Wood Stork New Harbour, Nova Scotia , June 16, 2022 Rowland Spear Photo
Wood Stork New Harbour, Nova Scotia , June 16, 2022 Susan Holmes Photo
Wood Stork Cape Ann, Massachusetts, November, 2021
The male and female pair of dabbling Gadwalls pictured here have been enjoying the aquatic vegetation, salt water invertebrates, and relative quietude of Cape Ann’s cove beaches. They’ll soon be heading north and west to breed.
Gadwalls are “seasonally monogamous,” and almost always pair up during the fall migration. Seasonally monogamous– a new term to my ears–and one I find rather funny.
Black butt feathers
With understated, yet beautifully intricate feather patterning, look for the males black rear end feathers.
One of the earliest warblers to migrate in spring, I don’t recall seeing a Yellow-rumped Warbler this early in the season. This little fellow was finding insects, seeds, and berries in the snow covered scrub line along the shore.
Yellow-rumped warblers have a highly varied diet, which allows them to winter further north than any other warbler, including as far north as Nova Scotia. Their diet consists of every imaginable insect, along with seeds, fruits, and berries including bayberry, myrtle, juniper, poison ivy, Virginia creeper, dogwood, grapes, poison ivy, grass and goldenrod seeds.
Until 1973, Yellow-rumped Warblers were listed as two different species, the western Audubon’s Warbler and the eastern Myrtle Warbler. Both names are much lovelier than the undignified ‘yellow-rumped,’ don’t you think? More research and DNA studies has revealed they are two distinct species. Let’s hope the names Audubon’s and Myrtle will be reinstated 🙂
Perhaps this young warbler has been here all winter. Please write and let me know fellow bird lovers, are you too seeing Yellow-rumped Warblers?
One of the most beautiful creatures of the snowy landscape has to be the Snow Bunting. Also known as Snowflakes, Snow Buntings light up winter scapes with swirls of flight and highly animated foraging habits.
During the breeding season in the high Arctic, Snow Buntings eat a protein rich insect diet but while here during the winter months in the relatively milder climate of Massachusetts, they forage on tiny grass seeds and must constantly eat. Although their feeding habits are highly entertaining to the human observer, it’s really a matter of life or death for these cold weather warriors.
Standing on tiptoes for breakfast
Snow Buntings have several methods for extracting seeds. Sometimes they vigorously shake a wildflower or stalk of grass at the base of the plant. Other times they alight on a single blade of dried beach grass and slide their beaks along, shredding the stalk and releasing teeny seeds. They may stay alit and eat their foraged treasure, but more often than not, they shake the blade while perched and release the seeds to the ground. The Snow Bunting’s fellow flock member will seize upon the shower of released seeds and try to gobble them up. Herein lies the the conflict and disputes occur non stop while a flock is feeding. Typically one will readily retreat while the other dines, but occasionally a nasty battle ensues.
The wonderfully rich beach grass habitat where the Snow Buntings flock was formerly a barren scape that persistently washed away after every storm. Beach grass was planted, temporary dune fencing installed, and small rocks were added. After only several seasons, this habitat restoration project began attracting butterflies, songbirds, and nesting shorebirds during the spring and summer months, along with glorious creatures such as the beautiful Snow Bunting during the winter months.
I plan to find out exactly what this species of beach grass is that the Snow Buntings find so appealing because there are several locations on Cape Ann where habitat restoration is badly needed and I think this precise species of grass would surely be at the top of the list for stabilizing shoreline conservation projects.
Yet another beautiful vagrant has been spotted on our shores, the Orange-crowned Warbler!
As you can see from the map, the Orange-crowned Warbler is nowhere near its winter range. This, from Cornell, “Medium to long-distance nocturnal migrant. Many birds winter in Mexico, with some continuing south to Guatemala and Belize. Others winter in central California and the southern U.S.”
Finding insects in the brush, bark, and rotting wood
Finding plenty of insects in rotting pieces of driftwood, peeling bark, and drying seaweed, the little fellow is very active and seems relatively unperturbed by the below freezing temperatures of the past month. Orange-crowned Warblers are purported to be one of the most hardiest of warblers. I met up with some old time knowledgeable gentlemen birders and they shared that about once a year an OCW shows up in Massachusetts, but rarely as far east as Cape Ann.
After looking at the photos you may wonder, as did I, why this yellowish-olive green songbird is so named ‘orange crowned?’ You can just barely see a very slight rusty orange hued patch of feathers when its head is bowed forward.
THE STELLER’S SEA EAGLE HAS NOT BEEN SEEN IN MAINE SINCE JANUARY 25th AND IT COULD BE ANYWHERE IN THE REGION!
Cape Ann residents, please keep your eyes peeled for the rare Steller’s Sea Eagle. It may still be in Maine, but the way this phenomenal creature moves around, it may have returned to Massachusetts. One of my readers thinks she saw the Steller’s back in autumn on Eastern Point, prior to when it was observed in Taunton, MA. At the time, she didn’t realize how rare and unusual the sighting.
Based on its observed behavior in the Boothbay area, the Steller’s Sea Eagle appears to like a similar winter habitat to that of our local Bald Eagles, near the mouth of open rivers and waterways where fish, ducks, geese, seabirds, and other water birds are preyed upon. The Annisquam River, Merrimack River, Essex Bay area, and Parker River Wildlife Refuge may be of particular interest to the Steller’s. The SSE also likes to perch in very tall pines.
Please share if you even suspect you see this very special vagrant! Feel free to leave a comment or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In case you missed the wonderfully informational webinar hosted by Maine Audubon’s Doug Hitchcox and Nick Lund, you can watch the full program on youtube. Here is the link.
This past week I made the trek to Boothbay Harbor to sea the rare Steller’s Sea Eagle. Traveling from Cape Ann to Boothbay, you need a chunk of time, of which I am in short supply, but Thursday on a whim I jumped out of bed and decided it was now or never.
The drive took about 3.5 hours, including a brief stop at St. Joe’s Coffee shop in York for some of their sublime chocolate dipped bennies (beignets). Despite overcast skies and an occasional snow squall, the rugged beauty of the Maine coastline was arrestingly beautiful. Towering pine forests meet rocky shores, along with a dusting of snow covering the ground and the frost-glazed boulders made for a very enjoyable drive.
I drove directly to the Maine State Aquarium (closed for the season), where there is ample parking. Shortly after arriving, the Aquarium was flooded with a troop of avid nature lovers having just come from a resort several miles down the road where they had seen the bird fly in the direction of the Aquarium. About half an hour later, the Steller’s Sea Eagle flew directly overhead, to the opposite side of the harbor from where we were standing, to the Factory Cove area. She/he stayed perched atop one of the tallest pines along the tree line for the remainder of the morning, barely moving. She appeared relatively unfazed by the murder of Crows that harassed her in spirts of activity throughout the morning.
The SSE was situated roughly one to two miles away, which is much too far for my camera to get a good photo. It would have been so interesting to see her up close, to get a better idea of her enormity, but it was wonderful fun to witness all the folks that were there also enjoying a chance to catch a glimpse of this rare phenomenon. The onlookers ranged in age from from toddler to the oldest grannies and I was delighted to see tons of teenagers and college students there as well. There were perhaps 60 people or so at any given time and twice that many coming and going. No one drove to the other side of the harbor to flush her out and rest assured, the crowd of onlookers was so very far away from her location, we weren’t in any way compromising her ability to hunt and to rest. We saw a number of Long-tailed Ducks and Loons and I imagine Boothbay Harbor is providing plentiful ducks and seabirds for a hungry eagle.
Above photo taken by Mark S. Allen on Saturday, January 15, 2022
Photo by Cheryl Leathram
Unfortunately the heater had stopped functioning in my car on the drive to Boothbay so I departed early afternoon. The Eagle was still in the exact same spot when I left the Aquarium.
A note about the Steller’s Sea-Eagle – By weight, the Steller’s Sea Eagle is the largest eagle in the world. SSEagles live in coastal northeastern Asia and breed on the Kamchatka Peninsula, the coastal area around the Sea of Okhotsk, the lower reaches of the Amur River and on northern Sakhalin and the Shantar Islands, Russia. The majority of birds winter south of their breeding range, in the southern Kuril Islands, Russia and Hokkaidō, Japan. Steller’s Sea Eagles prey on fish and waterbirds, including seagulls. See the video below to learn more about “The Story of America’s Rarest Eagle.” Link here to read Maine Audubon’s latest updates.
What a lift for all who saw the beautiful bevy of Mute Swans at Niles Pond Tuesday afternoon. Many thanks to Duncan B for the text letting me know. I am so appreciative to have seen these much missed magnificent creatures.
The flock is comprised of three adults and five youngsters. You can tell by the color of their beaks and feathers. Five of the eight still have some of their soft buttery brown and tan feathers and their bills have not yet turned bright orange.
The two in the foreground are adults; the two in the background are not yet mature
Deep diving for nourishing pond vegetation
The swans departed at night fall. Where will they go next? Mute Swans don’t migrate long distances, but move around from body of water to body of water within a region. Please keep your eyes peeled and please let us know if you see this bevy of eight beauties. The following are some of the locations to be on the lookout at: Niles Pond, Henry’s Pond, Pebble Beach, Back Beach, Front Beach, Rockport Harbor, Gloucester inner harbor, Mill Pond, Mill River, Annisquam River – pretty much anywhere on Cape Ann!
Wishing you peace, love and the best of health in 2022 – Happy New Year dear Friends. I am so grateful for blog, Facebook, and Instagram friendships, new and old. Thank you for your kind comments throughout the year.
I would like to thank our wonderfully dedicated volunteer crew of Piping Plover Ambassadors, who provide round-the-day protections to one of Cape Ann’s most tender and threatened species.
I wish also to thank you for your kind support and contributions to our Monarch documentary, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. 2021 was a fantastic year for the film, winning many awards, including honors at both environmental festivals and awards at family-oriented film festivals, We also had a very successful fundraiser that allowed us to re-edit the film, and to distribute Beauty on the Wing through American Public in order to bring to the widest television audience possible.
Please stay healthy in the coming year. Wishing all your dreams come true. To peace, love, and great health in 2022. <3
Cape Ann Wildlife – a year in pictures and stories
Thinking about the wonderful wildlife stories that unfolded before us this past year I believe helps provide balance to the daily drone of the terrible pandemic. 2021 has been an extraordinarily beautiful and exciting year for our local wildlife. Several are truly stand out events including the three pairs of Piping Plovers that nested on Cape Ann’s eastern edge, the most ever! The summer of 2021 also brought a tremendous up take in Monarch numbers, both breeding and migrating, and in autumn a rare wandering Wood Stork made its home on Cape Ann for nearly a month. The following are just some of the photographs, short films, and stories. Scroll through this website and you will see many more!
A rarely seen in these parts Black-headed Gull (in winter plumage), a Horned Lark, American Pipits, Red Fox kit all grown up, and an illusive Snowy Owl living at Gloucester Harbor.
A red and gray morph pair of Eastern Screech Owls, flocks of winter Robins, and snowshoeing and snow sledding Snow Buntings grace our shores.
Bluebirds return to declare their nesting sites, the raptors delight in songbirds’ returning, American Wigeon lovebirds, signs of spring abound, and the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers return on March 26th, right on schedule! Gratefully so, Gloucester’s DPW Joe Lucido and crew install PiPl fencing on March 29th!
Ospreys mating, Cedar waxwing lovebirds, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds return, and the Plovers are nest scraping and courting. The early spring storms also brought a dead Minke Whale to the shores of Folly Cove.
The Good Harbor Beach Killdeer family hatches four chicks, beautiful new PiPl on the block, many PiPl smackdowns with three pairs vying for territory, eggs in the nest at Area #3!, warblers and whatnots migrating, Make way for Ducklings – Cape Ann Style, the Salt Island PiPls have a nest with eggs but it is washed away by the King Tide of May 29th, and Cecropia Moths mating and egg laying.
Piping Plover ambassadors first meeting of the season, on June 9th the Boardwalk #3 PiPls hatch four chicks, one chick perishes, Super Mom has a foot injury, Horseshoe Crabs at Good Harbor Beach, Piping Plover Ambassador badges from Jonathan and Duncan, a second nest is discovered at Salt Island with a new pair of parents (the first was washed away in the storm surge during the May King Tide), and for the first time, Piping Plovers are nesting at Cape Hedge Beach.
Cape Ann resident and friend Pat Morss, who also loves our local wildlife, shares several photos his daughter Jeannette took of the Steller’s Sea-Eagle. The photos were taken yesterday, December 31st, in the Georgetown, Maine area. Thank you Pat for sharing!!
The best part of the story is that if you go to see the eagle, a kindly lobsterman, Robbie Pinkham, is taking small groups of folks out on his boat to a more accessible location to observe the bird. He isn’t charging, but gladly accepts tips 🙂
To learn more about the Steller’s Sea-Eagle travels through North America see previous post here:
Check out this outstanding video by Ian Davies that tells the story of a wandering Steller’s Sea Eagle, which is one of the rarest eagles in the world. Although from Asia, for the first time in history, the Steller’s was recently seen in Massachusetts in the Taunton River area.
Look for the Sea Eagle’s very large yellow bill, white feathered shoulders, and dramatic wingspan, up to eight feet! If you happen to be so fortunate as to observe the Steller’s Sea-Eagle please take a photo and please share. Thank you.
Check out the Gloucester Times article by Taylor Ann Bradford about the wandering Wood Stork that called Cape Ann home for about a month in November. Such a gift to have this magnificent species in our midst!
The footage was shot on the Annisquam River, on November 21st, at dusk. I wish it was brighter, but this is what we have to show that the stork was feeding well, flying, and pooping often (at about 3 mins), all signs he/she was in good health.
Fantastic news about the young Wood Stork, at least we have no reason to believe it is not the same WS as our Cape Ann Wood Stork. On November 29th, a juvenile WS was photographed by two observers at a marsh on Sconticut Neck, Fairhaven, which is just east of New Bedford, on Buzzards Bay. The Stork is heading in the right direction!!
Fun fact about Wood Storks – Friend and fellow lover of all creatures Jill Whitney Armstrong had a question about Wood Storks as they are born without a bird voice box, or syrinx. The only sounds the adults make are bullfrog-like croaks and snake-like hisses. I have read that Wood Stork nestlings are very noisy and that a colony sound like a bunch of braying donkeys!
For more information about the Wood Stork that came to Cape Ann see:
About six years ago, Cape Ann was graced with another great rare bird sighting, that of a White Pelican. He spent a very brief twenty minutes or so at Niles Pond, before then heading in the wrong direction, north. The White Pelican was spotted an hour later flying over Plum Island.
As has been the case for many summers (ever since we first planted Cardinal Climber), we have had a Mama Ruby-throated Hummingbird nesting nearby. I have looked and looked for the nest, but our garden is a bit of a jungle and I don’t have any real hopes of finding her half-walnut shell sized nest; it’s just fun to look.
This past week her two young fledglings have been joining her at the feeders and special flowers planted just for them. The youngsters are more playful than the Mama and give chase to each other. I wish I could get a snapshot of all three but am happy with what I can get.
One of the three perched in the pear tree several days ago and proceeded to giver herself a thorough grooming from tip to toe.
She first floofed and fluffed.
Then rubbed both sides of her bill, back and forth, against the gnarly rough bark of the pear tree.
Then used her tiny mouse-sized toes to clean her bill from the base to the tip!
Lastly, she used her toes to arrange (or scratch) her neck feathers.