A congregation of egrets has many collective names including skewer, siege, sedge, wedge, and congregation. I like the names siege and congregation and the above photo shows a siege of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets preening after a day of fishing at the Jones River Salt Marsh.
What fun to encounter a small flock of terns teaching its young to fish. Nearly as large as the adults, the tubby terns cheekily squawk and demand food (shrimp I think in this case). Watch as the fledglings try to master fishing skills while the adults tirelessly guide the young on how to feed themselves.
There is nothing common about the uncommon Common Tern. They were named Common because hundreds of thousands formerly nested along the Atlantic Coast. As with many species of shorebirds, the rage for wearing fancy feathered hats during the 1800s nearly drove these exquisite “swallows of the sea” to extinction. After the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was ratified in 1918, terns began to recover.
A second major setback occurred when in the 1970s open landfills were closed, displacing thousands of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls. The aggressive and highly adaptable gulls resettled to offshore nesting sites used by terns.
Common Terns are a Species of Special Concern in Massachusetts. Through a statewide long-term commitment of restoration, protection, and management of nesting colonies, the populations are very slowly and gradually increasing.
Former nesting sites include islands such as Cape Ann’s Thacher Island. During the mid 1950s, over 1,125 pairs of Arctic, Common, and Roseate Terns nested on Thacher Island. Today there are none.
The southern side of Thacher Island is owned by the Thacher Island Association. The northern end of Thacher Island is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under the authority of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. These organizations are working together to restore terns and other species of birds to Thacher Island.
Mr. Swan has resumed his habit of traveling from body of water to body of water within his territory. Why does he not travel during the summer months, primarily dwelling at Niles Pond? Swans molt each summer and during the molting period, they cannot fly.
Mute Swans molt when their cygnets cannot fly. The female (pen) begins to molt almost immediately after the young hatch. The male, or cob, waits until the female’s flight feathers have grown back completely. The reason for this staggered molting period is because swans use their wings in battle and to defend their young. The swan family will never be left defenseless with at least one of the pair’s set of wings fully functional. The molting period lasts anywhere from four to seven weeks.
Here’s another sweet little migrating feathered friend observed recently on our shores. A bit bigger than the Sanderlings, and not quite as large as the Black-bellied Plovers with which it was feeding, the solitary Ruddy Turnstone’s bright orange short, stocky legs and big feet are what caught my attention. Although its behavior is anything but, the Ruddy Turnstone is anther one of the birds whose plumage appears almost boring compared to its beautiful harlequin patterned summer coat.
As are Black-bellied Plovers and Red Knots, the Ruddy Turnstone is highly migratory, breeding on the rocky coasts and tundra of the Arctic and spending winters in coastal areas throughout the world. And like members of the plover family, the male’s nest-like scrapes are part of the courtship ritual. I was excited to learn Ruddy Turnstones’s are a member of the plover family (Charadriidae) and thought it would be a great addition to our Piping Plover documentary however, as scientists are want to do, they have reclassified the RT and it is now considered a member of the sandpiper family (Scolopacidae). Oh well.
During the non-breeding season, look for the Ruddy Turnstone on rocky shorelines where it energetically feeds by probing and pecking, seeking aquatic invertebrates and insects at the surface of rocks. I believe Ruddy Turnstones are seen with regularity on the “other” Cape. I wonder how many of our readers see Ruddy Turnstones on Cape Ann, and if so so where, and what time of year? Please share, if you do, the information is wonderfully helpful. Thank you!
Don’t mess with these bad boys!
In no uncertain terms
Tussles over turf pop up regularly between the egrets and herons feeding in the marsh. They often conglomerate in one small area to fish for minnows, occasionally steeling a catch from one another, and there is always one who seems to be the big kahuna of the marsh.
After spending the past eight weeks filming the sparrow-sized Piping Plovers, it was fun to unexpectedly encounter these tubby Common Tern fledglings. Although able to fly, they stood at the water’s edge, unrelentingly demanding to be fed. The adults willingly obliged.
Unlike plovers, which can feed themselves within hours after hatching (the term is precocial), tern fledglings are semi-precocial, which means they are somewhat mobile at hatching but remain and are fed by their parents. Terns and gulls are semi-precocial.
The fledglings appear larger than the adults and are very well fed. Both parents feed their young. The terns are building fat reserves for the long migration to the South American tropical coasts, some traveling as far as Peru and Argentina.
Common Tern dive bombing gull
Although unperturbed by my presence, they sure did not like the seagulls. Any that ventured near the fledglings feeding were told in the most cheekiest of terms to buzz off–dive bombing, nipping, and nonstop loudly squawking–the intruder did not stick around for very long.
Common Tern populations are in decline, most probably because of pesticide poisoning and habitat loss.
With sadness, but not entirely unexpected, I am sorry to report that only one baby Piping Plover chick remains at Good Harbor. The good news is that the one surviving chick is doing fantastically as of this writing. Don’t worry when I write too that the Mom has left the family. She has begun to migrate southward. This is somewhat normal and I don’t think she would have left had not the chick been doing so well. Dad is minding the baby full time and he is doing a tremendous job.
A week since the Plovers hatched and it sure has been a joy to film, and wonderfully educational. I am very inspired to work on this short film and hope to have it ready for our community this summer.
A heartfelt reminder to please, please, please let’s all work together to keep the dogs off the beach. I had a terrible encounter, really frustrating and the owner and his friends very cruel. Ninety nine point nine percent of dog owners are wonderful and respectful and are rooting for the Plovers as much as are non-dog owners. The Plovers are all over the sandy beach, at the water’s edge, and down the creek. Although growing beautifully, the chick is still about the size of a cotton ball, maybe a cotton ball and a half. Up until fourteen days old, they are at their most vulnerable.
As with before, please fee free to share the photos and information on social media. The more people know about the garbage and dog owner trouble (certain dog owners that is), the more likely the chick’s chance of survival. Thank you!
Garbage left on the beach late in the day and overnight continues to be an issue. Bring a bag with you and we can help the DPW by cleaning up after the the folks who don’t know any better. Garbage strewn on the beach attracts gulls, and they, especially Great Black-backed Gulls, eat baby Plovers.
Piping Plovers, like many shore birds, are precocial. That means that within hours after hatching, they are ready to leave the nest and can feed themselves. They cannot however immediately regulate their body temperature and rely on Mom and Dad to warm them under their wings. Although the chick is six days old in the above photo, it still looks to Dad for warmth and protection. Examples of other precocial birds are ducks, geese, and chickens.
If you spot the baby and want to observe, I recommend staying fifteen to twenty feet away at least. Any closer and Dad has to spend a great deal of energy trying to distract you. We don’t want him to get tired out and unable to care for the baby. Also, you’ll appear less threatening if you sit or kneel while observing the chick. No sudden movements and talk quietly and the baby may come right up to you!
Around 6pm Saturday evening, this playful dog came bounding down the water’s edge, within inches of the baby. I stood between the owner, dog, and Plovers, with cameras in hand, and cell phone unfortunately back in my bag. After a good twenty minutes of arguing he and his equally unkind friends departed. In the mean time, the Plovers were able to get away from the dog and further down the shore line.