Tag Archives: birds of cape ann

BEAUTIFUL BRANTS, SCAUPS, AND RING-NECKED DUCKS MIGRATING RIGHT NOW ON OUR SHORES!

The northward avian migration is heating up! The following are just three of the fascinating species of wild birds readily seen at this time of year, found all around Cape Ann. Look for Brants, Scaups, and Ring-necked Ducks at coves, bays, ponds, quarries, and marshes.

Currently migrating along Cape Ann’s shoreline is a beautiful brigade of Brant Geese. They usually turn up at about this time of year, late winter through early spring, and I have been looking for them in all the usual places. Brants thrive in Cape Ann coves, devouring sea lettuce while riding the incoming and outgoing waves. I see them eating and pecking for food atop barnacle-crusted rocks and am not sure if they are eating seaweed caught on the rocks or tiny crustaceans.

Brants eating bright green sea lettuce.

In the 1930s a terrible disease devastated eel grass and the Brant population plummeted. Surviving Brants adapted to sea lettuce and as the eel grass recovered, so too is the population of Brants recovering.

Brants are wonderfully vocal, making a funny “cronk” sound. I was walking past a flock of geese off in the distance and wasn’t paying much attention. Thinking they were Canada Geese, I ignored them until hearing their vigorous cronking.

They fight with each too, over rocks and food. Tomorrow if I can find the time I will try to post photos that I took of a Brant scuffle.

Brants feeding on the rocks are knocked off by the incoming tide, but then quickly get right back up again.

Brants migrate the furthest north of any species of goose, as far north as Hedwig territory.

Two Males and a Female Greater Scaup

The Greater Scaup breeds as far north as Snowy Owls and Brant Geese, and Ring-necked Ducks are also passing through, not traveling quite as far, but on their way to the Alaskan and Canadian boreal forests. Greater Scaups travel in flocks, sometimes forming rafts of thousands. You can see why in the photos Greater Scaups are colloquially called Bluebills.

Three male Greater Scaups and a Red-breasted Merganser

The most significant threat to Greater Scaups is habitat loss, oil, and sewage pollution. Nearly eighty percent winter over in the Atlantic Flyway where they are subjected to heavy metals in foods and habitat.

So many suitors! Lone female Ring-necked Duck with potential mates.

The two species are closely related (Aythya collaris and Atythya marila); both are small diving ducks and both are vulnerable to becoming poisoned by lead from diving for food and incidentally eating the lead shot and lures that continues to cause problems in our wetlands.

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BRAVO LITTLE CHICK!

All by his lonesome, Little Chick survived his first super busy Sunday entirely on his own. Perhaps he needs a new grown up name such as Tuffers, something that recognizes his strong spirit–or instinct for survival–subject to how anthropomorphic your views. I’ve gotten used to calling him Little Chick, but am open to suggestions 🙂

Little Chick in a Bowl

Stretch two three, right two three, left two three.
Thirty-nine-day old Piping Plover

PIPING PLOVER CHICK DAY THIRTY-SEVEN AND THIRTY-EIGHT AND NO PAPA PLOVER

Saturday through Sunday and still no sign of Papa. He has not been seen since Friday night. We can only surmise that he has departed of his own accord or been killed by a predator. Either way, it’s terribly worrisome for the chick, just one of its kind, at the city’s most popular of beaches. Little Chick hasn’t as of yet shown great flying skills, and only Friday, Papa was piping warning commands when predators approached.

Bonapartes Gull

The summer migration is underway and within this past week we’ve seen Bonarparte’s Gulls, Laughing Gulls, Least Sandpipers, Sanderlings, and Semipalmated Plovers at Good Harbor Beach.

Flock of Semipalmated Plovers at Good Harbor Beach

Little Chick has been foraging in close proximity to the Semipalmated Plovers, which are similar in size to Piping Plovers, only much darker. The SemiP know to fly away when the beach rake is near; Little Chick still only hunkers down deeper into the sand. His plumage works as both an advantage and disadvantage. He’s well camouflaged from predators, and too much so from well meaning beach goers.Notice how much paler the Piping Plover (foreground) is in comparison to the Semipalmated Plover. Little Chick tried to rest at the high tide line during yesterday’s blustery afternoon. He didn’t like the strong winds one bit and quickly changed his mind, taking shelter beneath the vegetation in the roped off area.Thirty-seven-day old Piping Plover

More About Gloucester’s Splendid Ospreys on the Annisquam

Male female Osprey copyright Kim SmithThis morning I had the joy to meet Don and Eleanor. Don built the fantastic Osprey platform that you see in the photos. Several years ago, Don noticed that an Osprey pair were trying to construct a nest on a post by the train tracks; the post that houses the all important train signals. Understandably, railroad workers had to destroy the nest as it was interfering with train operations. After watching the Osprey pair attempt to build a nest two years in a row, Don decided to build and install an Osprey platform in the marsh adjacent to his home. With some advice from Greenbelt, Don installed the platform early this spring. Wonder of wonders, his plan worked! The young pair built a perfect nest and one egg hatched.

Male female Osprey -3 copyright Kim Smith

Thanks to citizen scientists like Don and Eleanor and the Essex County Greenbelt’s amazing Osprey program, the north of Boston region is rapidly being repopulated with Opsrey. Don is already building a second platform with hopes of installing it in the spring of 2017.

Male Female Osprey -4 copyright Kim SmithDon reports that since the Osprey have been on the scene, they are no longer bothered by pesky crows. He witnessed a pair of crows trying to rob the Osprey nest of its egg. The Osprey swooped in, snatched both crows, and beat them down into the marsh. The crows have yet to return!

Many thanks to Don and Eleanor for their warm hospitality and efforts to help the Osprey.

Osprey and fledgling Annisquam Essex County -1 copyright Kim Smith

Osprey nesting platform built by Don

To take some truly terrific closeups, a longer zoom lens is required than my own 400mm, but we can at least get a glimpse of the Osprey family with these photos.Male Osprey copyright Kim Smith

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

Sanderling eating insect copyright kim SmithMy grandmother was fond of saying “the early bird catches the worm.” I assumed she said that because I adored getting up early to eat breakfast with my grandfather before he left for work. In a large family with siblings and cousins, I had him all to myself in those day break hours. Having developed a passion and love for wild creatures and wild places, I understand better what she meant. She and my grandfather built a summer home for their family in a beautiful, natural seashore setting and both she and my parents packed our home with books and magazines about nature. Now I see her design…

Day break, beautiful scene, beautiful creatures by the sea’s edge

God Harbor Beach Sunrise August 3, 2016 -2 copyright Kim SmithSong Sparrow copyright Kim SmithSong Sparrow breakfast

American Robin fledgling copyright Kim SmithAmerican Robin fledgling, note its speckled breast feathers

Mockingbird copyright Kim SmithMockingbird feeding its fledgling

Song Sparrow Virginia creeper  copyright Kim SmithSong Sparrow and Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) flowers and fruit

Sanderling copyright Kim SmithSanderlingGull eating crab copyright kim SmithGod Harbor Beach Sunrise August 3, 2016 copyright Kim Smith

Well hello there!

Beauty Surprise at Twilight!

Female Mallard Nine ducklings Kim SmithAs much as I was surprised by this sweet glimpse of mama and her ducklings coming around a bend in the marsh, she was as equally surprised to see me, hidden behind a clump of tall grasses. One glance, and mom quickly departed with her nine (!!) newly emerged ducklings. 

HOW COLOR IS CREATED IN BIRD FEATHERS PART 2

Turkey male fanning tale feathers feathers Kim SmithStructural Color

Have you ever wondered why sometimes you can see the brilliant red gorget (throat feathers) of the male Ruby-throated and Allen’s hummingbirds, and sometimes not at all? Or why iridescent feathers appear green, and then blue, or possibly purple, and then in the next moment look drab and dreary? I think about this when photographing birds such as grackles, buffleheads and hummingbirds. Most recently, the turkeys in our community are currently displaying their wildly varying iridescent feathers when in full courtship mode.

Bufflehead Kim SmithBufflehead Iridescence

Iridescent red gorget in male Allen’s Hummingbird; same bird, different angles

Layering

There are two types of structural color, layering and scattering. Iridescence in bird feathers is created by layering. Bird feathers are made of a translucent protein called keratin, which is a very rugged substance. Not only are the feathers made of keratin, but keratin coats the bird’s claws, legs, and bill. Because of the structure of the feather, with its microscopic barbules, when light hits the feather it causes the wave lengths to bend, or refract. Keratin reflects short wave length colors like purples, blues, and violets. The other colors are absorbed by the underlying layer of melanin. The refraction works like a prism, splitting the light into an array of colors. As the viewing angle changes, because of the viewer’s movement or because the bird is moving, the refracted light displays a shimmering iridescence, or none at all. Beautiful color combinations are created when iridescent layers are combined with pigments present.

Turkey male iridescent feathers -2 Kim SmithIn the above photo, the male Turkey’s iridescent feathers surrounding the head make a splendid display in full sun.

Turkey male iridescent feathers Kim SmithThese same feathers appear entirely different when back lit.

Grackle Kim Smith 2016Iridescence in Grackles

Scattering

Keratin is interspersed with tiny pockets of air of within the structure of the feather filament (called barb). Scattering is created when light hits the pockets of air, which results in specific, non-iridescent color. The color blue in feathers is almost always created in this manner. Feathers of Blue Jays, Bluebirds, and Indigo Buntings are prime examples of scattering.

Here are two graphics found online from Cornell that I found very helpful in trying to visualize the difference between layering and scattering. The first shows how iridescence is produced and the second, how blue scattering is created.Struct-Color-DIA-Iridescent_Myaedit_coloracrticle-674x441Bird_Biology-Feather_structural_blue-674x450