Driving home from Logan this morning I was blessed to see this beautiful vivd ruby and intense blue-gray sky story beginning to unfold. I was so hoping to get to the backshore before all the color had evaporated. Shots from Atlantic Road and Brace Cove.
The wonderful Hairy Woodpecker featured in this short film was seen on a sunny afternoon along the banks of Niles Pond. He spent a great amount of time alternating between excavating a fallen log, foraging for wood boring beetles, and climbing up and down trunks of trees. I’ve been back several times and can usually find him by his funny high pitched squeak that sounds much like a pup’s squeaky chew toy.
Snagging a grub
On that very same day the Hairy Woodpecker was pummeling away at the log, a sweet little Downy Woodpecker and beautiful Red-bellied Woodpecker were also in the neighborhood. And too, there is an elusive golden-winged Northern Flicker flitting about, but he has been a challenge to capture. Hopefully, at some point in the future, we can add him to the short film.
Related Post –
Repair work to the Niles Pond/Brace Cove berm was completed last week. Severe storms over the past several years had breached the area of the Pond adjacent to the Retreat House. Sand, rocks, popples, and even boulders have been pushed by the pounding surf into the Pond.
Despite the excellent repairs, this corner of Niles Pond continues to remain vulnerable. The causeway needs not only to be repaired, but to also be rebuilt to withstand future storms and rising sea level.
Why not just let nature take its course and let the sea pour in you may ask? Won’t Niles Pond eventually become a saltwater marsh? Wouldn’t that be a good thing?
The answer is a resounding NO!
For readers not familiar, the very narrow strip of land that runs between freshwater Niles Pond and Brace Cove is interchangeably referred to as a berm or causeway. This narrowest bridge of land plays an outsized, yet invaluable, role in preventing the salty sea of the Atlantic from swallowing Niles Pond.
It is believed that long ago Niles Pond was a lagoon, which was sealed off by rising sand and rock. Over time, it became a freshwater pond, fed by springs and rainfall. The detail of the Mason map from 1831 clearly shows the division between the Pond and the Cove.
It can’t be overstated enough how uniquely invaluable is the ecosystem created by the causeway, this juncture where Niles Pond meets Brace Cove. Ponds are widely regarded as ecological “hotspots,” for the diversity of life they support. Nowhere is that more evident than at Niles Pond. The sheer number of species of wildlife supported by Niles Pond is simply breathtaking. To name but a few: Painted Turtles, Snapping Turtles, Spring Peepers, American Bullfrogs, Leopard Frogs, Muskrats, Minks, Red Squirrels, Green Herons, Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Screech Owls and Barred Owls, Cedar Waxwings and songbirds of every tune and color, Honeybees and native pollinators, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Coyotes, Red Fox, White-tailed Deer … the list goes on and on.
Common Buckeye drinking nectar from Seaside Goldenrod, Niles Pond causeway
The Niles Pond ecosystem not only supports myriad species of resident wildlife but also hundreds of species of migrating songbirds, waterbirds, raptors, and insects. Eastern Point is an important stopover and staging area for wildlife traveling the Atlantic flyway. Niles Pond provides essential freshwater while both the Pond and Brace Cove provide much needed sustenance. Berries, wildflower seeds, pond vegetation, and the zillions of invertebrates found at the Pond, in the seaweed, and at the shoreline support a wondrous array of travelers; a small sampling includes herons, Merlins, hawks, songbirds, Monarch butterflies, Bald Eagles, gulls and ducks and geese (rare and common), Snow Buntings, Plovers, Whimbrels, and many more.
Juvenile Wood Stork
Why, even the wildly-rare-for-these-parts White Pelican and juvenile Wood Stork have stopped at Niles Pond to rest and to refuel!
To lose Niles Pond to some misguided notion that it needs to become a saltwater marsh would be tragic beyond measure. Our nation as a whole is losing its freshwater ponds at an alarming rate. Ponds are absolutely critical to the survival of local and migrating wildlife, especially large scale, healthy natural ponds that are located within the four US Flyway zones. Niles Pond has been a great pond for millennia. The accessibility of the fresh water ecosystem found at Niles Pond is part of the instinctual DNA of both resident and migrating wild creatures.
The Association of Eastern Point Residents has assumed responsibility for the maintenance of the causeway. In the future, the Association needs permission to bring riprap in to distribute at the weakest points of the causeway. Every time the topography of the causeway is redistributed to rebuild the corner where the greatest number of breaches are occurring, the vegetation from another part of the berm is disturbed. This is wholly counterproductive because it is in part preventing a natural succession of vegetation to permanently take hold.
Niles Pond is enjoyed by dog lovers, ice skaters, ice boat sailors, birders, painters, photographers, joggers, walkers, and more. We can all give thanks to the Association of Eastern Point Residents for the stellar job they are doing in maintaining the causeway. Their time and expense is a gift of the greatest kind to the entire community.
This narrowest of causeways plays the critical role in preventing a freshwater dedicated Massachusetts great pond from becoming a salty marsh or lagoon. Cherished greatly by residents and guests alike for the beautiful, peaceful walk it affords along the banks of the Pond, the preservation of Niles Pond benefits all of Cape Ann, her citizens and wildlife.
With thanks to Karen Gorczyca, John McNiff, and Mike S. for sharing information about preserving the Niles Pond causeway.
Cattails Niles Pond
If you see a larger, chunkyish sandpiper foraging alongside Semipalmated Plovers and Sanderlings, look at its neck and chest feathers. The Pectoral Sandpiper is heavily streaked above with bright white below.
This long distant traveler breeds in wet coastal areas of the Arctic tundra, from easternmost Russia, across Alaska, and into Canada. According to Cornell’s All About Birds, most winter over in southern South America, which means that some Pectoral Sandpipers migrate a whopping 19,000 miles every year!
The weekend was spent learning a new film editing program. I thought using the early morning B-roll that I shot of the beautiful sea smoke event we are experiencing would make wonderful content to practice my new skills. Filmed along Cape Ann’s eastern most shore from Thacher Island to Loblolly Cove, Pebble Beach, Back Shore, Good Harbor Beach, scenes around Gloucester Harbor, and ending at Brace Cove.
Music – Edvard Grieg “Anitra’s Dance”
PiPl Friends, I thought you may be interested in what looks to be an interesting celebratory event, tonight a 6pm. If you are interested and can’t attend, register anyway, and they will send a link to a recording of the event.
In 2019, on a small island in coastal South Carolina, biologists discovered a phenomenon that was difficult to believe.
Nearly 20,000 whimbrel were stopping at Deveaux Bank along their migration north — half the estimated eastern population of the declining shorebird.
Hear from the people who were there. Join us on June 22, 2021 for a free virtual screening and panel discussion featuring members of the dedicated team who made the discovery.
Join us on June 22 at 6 p.m. EST as we celebrate the newly announced discovery with a virtual screening, panel discussion and audience Q&A with the dedicated team who made it happen.
Registrants will receive an email with a link to the webinar on the evenings of June 21 and 22.
Maina Handmaker (Panelist), Whimbrel Researcher & Graduate Student, University of South Carolina
As a graduate student in the Senner Lab at the University of South Carolina, Maina studies the role nocturnal roost sites play in the stopover ecology and migratory performance of Atlantic flyway Whimbrel. Prior to joining the Senner Lab, Maina worked as the Communications Specialist for the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN). Her current research uses GPS transmitters to track the daily movements of Whimbrel that roost on Deveaux Bank during their migratory stopovers on the coast of South Carolina, seeking to better understand how individuals select foraging and roosting sites and how those choices influence their entire annual cycle.
Andrew Johnson (Panelist), Conservation Media Center filmmaker, Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Andy Johnson is a film producer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Center for Conservation Media. Andrew studied biology at Cornell University, where his research focused on tracking Whimbrel migrations. Now, with a career in natural history filmmaking, the work on Deveaux Bank has been a convergence of his longtime interests in shorebird migration, conservation, and visual storytelling.
Dr. J. Drew Lanham (Panelist), Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology, Master Teacher, and Certified Wildlife Biologist at at Clemson University
A native of Edgefield, South Carolina, Dr. J Lanham is an author, poet, ecologist, and an extraordinary birder. His focus is on the ecology of songbirds and the intersections of race, place, and conservation with wild birds as the conduit for understanding. Dr Lanham is the author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature, which received the Reed Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Southern Book Prize, and was a finalist for the John Burroughs Medal. He is a birder, naturalist, and hunter-conservationist who has published essays and poetry in publications including Orion, Audubon, Flycatcher, and Wilderness, as well as anthologies including The Colors of Nature, State of the Heart, Bartram’s Living Legacy, and Carolina Writers at Home.
Just as did Robert McCloskey’s Beacon Hill Mr. and Mrs. Mallard Duck hatch eight ducklings, so too did our Niles Pond pair. Meet Luck, Chuck, Puck, Cluck, Stuck, Huck, Oouck, and Muck.
The family foraged for seaweed in the rough surf of the Cove before crossing the berm. The ducklings bathed, preened, and swam in fresh water Niles Pond. Mrs Mallard found a cozy patch of dried reeds to take a nap, which lasted all of two minutes before the little quackers were back in the water.
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.
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
As was the case for so many, New Year’s Day was joyful but bittersweet, too. I drove Liv to the airport at dawn for her return trip to LA. She can work remotely and was able to travel home in early December, before the second surge. When she arrived home she quarantined, taking a Covid test prior to, and again after arriving. Liv extended her visit an extra week so that she did not have to fly back last weekend. It’s nerve wracking dropping her off at the airport but she has had to fly occasionally for work during the pandemic and Delta is only allowing at most 50 percent capacity. She flies at odd times so the planes are mostly empty, and she is often allowed to upgrade to first class for free, as she was on this flight. All that being said, with the surge on top of the surge and the new strain running rampant, praying and hoping she will remain safe and Covid-free.
Having both adult children home, along with our darling Charlotte here with us full time, we are having more fun as a family – cooking together, playing card games, laughing, joking, and telling stories. This family time together has been the silver lining to the pandemic and the part I will choose to remember.
After returning from the airport, Charlotte and I took one of our mini nature walks around Eastern Point. The very first creature we encountered was a young Double-crested Cormorant. He was attempting to cross the berm. We almost walked right into him! For some reason we couldn’t quite understand, he didn’t care to fly from Brace Cove to Niles Pond, but was on foot.
After we stood very quietly for several minutes (no small feat for a three-year-old) he decided we weren’t a threat and crossed our path, not three feet away!
Wishing you a healthy New Year Friends!
Sunday night was simply wonderful for sky watching. Looking eastward, the nearly full Beaver Moon (also called Frost Moon) rose over Brace Cove while the seals were still lolling about on the rocks.
Passing Niles Beach on the way home the last lingering red rays of light were illuminating the Boston skyline and the Dogbar Breakwater light.
Full Beaver Moon rising
No matter how your candidates fared, we can still all rejoice in the beauty found on Cape Ann –Halloween weekend brought a flower-melting snow storm, surfers in sea smoke at daybreak, wildy winds, Full Blue Halloween Moon, beautiful sunrise and sunsets
Brace Cove- Back Shore sea smoke surfers sunrise
Our little snow-eater
A bob of five Harbor Seals has spent the past few afternoons lollying about in a socially distant fashion on the rocks at Brace Cove. I write ‘naturally’ distancing not because of coronavirus, but because they prefer some measure of personal space when hauled out. We see both Harbor Seals and Gray Seals at Brace Cove throughout the year although there seem to be fewer during the spring and summer months. I wonder if that is because they are busy breeding and raising young. With the onset of cooler weather their numbers have been increasing once again. On a bright sunny day last winter we counted twenty-nine!
A note about the photos – for the past five years I have been photographing and filming the Cormorants massing. The photos are from 2016 – 2019, and most recently, from 2020. Some of the earliest ones were taken at Niles Beach in 2017. In 2018, my friend Nina wrote to say that the massing also takes place in her neighborhood on the Annisquam River. Several weeks ago, while hiking on the backside of Sandy Point, facing the Ipswich Yacht Club, the Cormorants were massing there, too. Please write if you have seen this spectacular event taking place in your neighborhood. Thank you so much!
Massing in great numbers as they gather at this time of year, Double Crested Cormorants, along with many species of gulls and herons, are benefitting from the tremendous numbers of minnows that are currently present all around the shores of Cape Ann.
At inlets on the Annisquam and Essex Rivers, as well as the inner Harbor and Brace Cove, you can see great gulps of Cormorants. In unison, they push the minnows to shore, where gulls and herons are hungrily waiting. The fish try to swim back out toward open water but the equally as hungry Cormorants have formed a barrier. From an onlooker’s point of view, it looks like utter mayhem with dramatic splashing, diving, and devouring. In many of the photos, you can see that the birds are indeed catching fish.
The Double-crested Cormorants are driving the feeding frenzy. I have seen this symbiotic feeding with individual pairs of DCCormorants and Snowy Egrets at our waterways during the summer, but only see this extraordinary massing of gulls, herons, and cormorants at this time of year, in late summer and early autumn.
Cormorants catch fish by diving from the surface, chasing their prey under water and seizing it with the hooked bill.
Double-crested Cormorants are ubiquitous. When compared to Great Cormorants, DCCormorants are a true North American species and breed, winter over, and migrate along the shores of Cape Ann.
After feeding, the herons often find a quiet place to preen before heading back in the late afternoon to their overnight roosting grounds.
Double-crested Cormomrant range map
For the past several weeks I have been filming at day break at fields with autumn’s beautifully expiring wildflowers and grasses. I didn’t have time this morning for trekking around and all that, and as I lay in bed looking out at the overcast sky, I wondered, should I just loll around for a few extra minutes or go and see sunrise on the Back Shore? It was a beauty this morning and am so glad I did 🙂
Hurricane Teddy delivered wild waves and flooding along Gloucester’s shoreline edges.The GHB parking lot was completely flooded, the high water mark was up to the very base of the dunes, but the footbridge came through with flying colors (last I checked and thanks to Gloucester’s awesome DPW).
Photos from Good Harbor Beach, the Back Shore, Brace Cove, and Eastern Point.
“And all at once, summer collapsed into fall.” – Oscar Wilde
Life at the Edge of the Sea – Web Weaver’s Works
Beautiful spun silver and gold works caught between branches and dissipating wildflowers
Clethra alnifolia is more commonly known by its many descriptive names of Summersweet, Sweet Pepperbush, and Honeysweet. In an old book on fragrance, written by Louise Beebe Wilder, she writes that in Gloucester of old it was described as ‘Sailor’s Delight.’ During the 19th and early 20th century, as told by Wilder, the sailors entering the harbor on homebound ships would reportedly delight in its fragrance wafting out to see.
The following is an excerpt from a book that I wrote back in 2004-2007, which was published by David R. Godine in 2009. The book is about designing landscape habitats for wild creatures and for people, titled Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities: Notes from a Gloucester Garden, and all that I wrote then, still holds true to day.
“Summersweet bears small white florets held on racemes, and depending on the cultivar may be shaded with varying hues of pink to rose-red. The tapering spires of fragrant blossoms appear in mid to late summer. Clethra has a sweet and spicy though somewhat pungent aroma, and when the summer air is sultry and humid, the fragrance permeates the garden, Summersweet is a nectar food attractive to bees and a wide variety of butterflies, notably the Silver-spotted Skipper.” See more at Oh GardenMyriad species of bees and butterflies, along with Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, are attracted to Clethra for its sweet nectar, while American Robins, Goldfinches and warblers dine on Summersweet’s ripened berries.
Clethra fruits ripening