Tag Archives: Branta bernicla

CAPE ANN WILDLIFE 2018: A YEAR IN PICTURES AND STORIES Part One: Winter

Part One: Winter

By Kim Smith

Cape Ann provides welcome habitat for a menagerie of creatures beautiful, from the tiniest winged wonder to our region’s top predator, the Eastern Coyote. Last year and the previous year I posted a Cape Ann Wildlife: A Year in Pictures 2016 and Cape Ann Wildlife: A Year in Pictures 2017. This year I changed the title to A Year in Pictures and Stories and have provided a partial list of some of the stories. You can find links to the posts at the end of each season. I hope you have found the wildlife stories of 2018 equally as interesting and beautiful. Click on the image to find the name of each species.

*   *   *

The first days of January began with the dramatic rescue of our blue-eyed swan by Mr. Swan’s Niles Pond caretakers, Skip, Lyn, and Dan. He flew onto the ice and could not maneuver off. The most amazing thing is that two black-eyed “angel swans” magically appeared at just the right time they were needed and, in a swan sort of way, helped release Mr. Swan from the ice.

Mr. Swan stuck on the ice.

One of a pair of mystery black-eyed  “angel” swans.

“The” story of the winter of 2018 though is the story of Hedwig, the female Snowy Owl that made Gloucester’s Back Shore her home for several months.

She arrived sometime in December and stayed until mid-March. Hedwig staked out a territory that covered a great part of East Gloucester, from Captain Joes Lobster Company on the inner harbor, up over the Bass Rocks Golf Club hill, and all along Atlantic Road, even battling a young male we called Bubo to maintain her dominance over this rich feeding ground. Late in the afternoon we would see her departing for her nightly hunt and she was seen eating a wide variety of small animals, including rabbits, mice, and Buffleheads. 

Hedwig was photographed battling, bathing, grooming, and eating.

Mostly though, Hedwig was observed while sleeping and resting on her various perches; not only the beautiful rocks along the shoreline, but Atlantic Road homeowner’s chimneys, as well as the rooftop railings of the Ocean House Hotel and Atlantis Oceanfront Inn.

Hedwig’s onlookers creating traffic jams on Atlantic Road

This remarkably people-tolerant owl drew crowds from all over (including a Canadian visitor), providing a wonderful window into the secret world of these most magnificent of Arctic wanderers.

Resident Eastern Coyotes and beautiful migrating ducks were photographed and filmed. And then came the terribly destructive power of the four’easters of March, reeking havoc on wildlife habitats all along the coastline.

Hedwig was last seen during the early evening on March 12th, departing the rooftop of the Ocean House Hotel. This was also the night before the third nor’easter. She was perched on the railing of the Ocean House Inn facing towards the sea. The wind was blowing fiercely. After making several attempts, she successfully flew in a southerly direction out over the water.

We Love You Too Snowy Owl!

Mr. Swan Rescue Update and a Pair of Mysterious Swans Arrive at Niles Pond!
Mr. Swan Update Rescue #2
Not One, But Two Snowy Owls on the Back Shore
Snowy Owl Aerial Fight
Close Encounter of the Coyote Kind
Snowy Owl Hedwig Takes a Bath
My What Big Feet You Have Hedwig
Hello Hedwig! What Are You Eating
How Can the Wings of a Snowy Owl Be Quieter Than a Butterfly’s Wings?
Good Morning Sleepyhead
Snowy Owl Feathers in the Moonlight
Beautiful Brants, Scaups, and Ring-necked Ducks Migrating Right Now On Our Shores
Gloucester March Nor’easters Storm Coverage 2018
Clear Evidence of the Destructive Forces of Global Warming on the Coastline and How this Negatively Impacts Local Wildlife

Brant Battle Royale

King of the Mountain

Brants are monogamous and juvenile Brants typically stay with the parents until their first spring, most likely to learn migrations routes. Whether this was a battle between family members or between competing families I am not sure. From previous observations, Brants mostly feed together amicably, so it was surprising to see this extended battle for the best feeding platform.

Enjoy the Brants while they are here on our shores, most leave during the moth of April.

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.

READ MORE HERE Continue reading

M is for May Migration Through Massachusetts

During the month of May, Massachusetts is graced daily with species arriving from their winter homes. Some need to fortify for the journey further north, to the boreal forests, bogs, and tundra of Canada and Alaska. Some will nest and breed in Massachusetts, finding suitable habitat along the coast, and in the marsh, scrub, shrub, forest, and grassland found throughout the state. For several projects on which I am currently working, I have been exploring wildlife sanctuaries along the Massachusetts coastal region. Here is just a sampling of some recently spotted migrants, and it’s only May 4th. Lots more to come!

Biggety Brant ~ This Brant Goose appeared to be the bossy boots of his gaggle, chiding, nipping, and vocally encouraging the group along. A large of flock of approximately 40 Brants was recently reported by readers Debbie and Dan, seen at Back Beach in Rockport. The Brants are heading to the wet, coastal tundra of the high Arctic. No other species of goose travels as far north or migrates as great a distance as do Brants.

W is for Wading Willet. A PAIR were well hidden in the marshy grass! Both the flesh and the eggs of Willets are considered tasty. They were nearly hunted to extinction, saved only by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Willets breeding in Massachusetts is nothing short of a miracle. Notice how closely they resemble Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs; all three belong to the Genus Tringa.

Y is for Yawping Yellowlegs. Both Greater and Lesser Yellow are seen in Massachusetts marshes at this time of year. Greater Yellowlegs have a loud, distinct call, which they utilize often. The Greater Yellowlegs are feeding on tiny crustaceans, killfish, and minnows to fortify for the journey to the boggy marshes of Canadian and Alaskan coniferous forests.

Piping Plover Piping ~ We should be proud that our state of Massachusetts has the greatest record of Piping Plover recovery. I recently saw a bar graph at a lecture presentation, given by Dave Rimmer at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, which illustrated that the recovery rate has flatlined in Canada and New Jersey, and diminished in the Great Lakes region.

T is for Tree Swallow Tango ~ Males arrive on the scene prior to the females. The courtship ritual involves the gents showing the ladies possible nesting sites.

Tree Swallow preparing for takeoff.

 

How to Tell the Difference Between Geese and Ducks

During a recent Good Morning Gloucester podcast we were talking about the wonderful influx of Brant Geese that have been seen all around the coves of Cape Ann. Joey asked a great question, “how to tell the difference between ducks and geese?” Ducks, geese, and swans all belong to the Anatidae family and I could only answer that size is the predominate difference between duck and goose. If you are out on the water or onshore and trying to id whether duck or goose I think the surest way to tell is that geese are larger, with longer necks and bodies. I was curious to learn more and google led to interesting differences, some obvious and correlate to what we observe in our region, and some not so obvious.

Geese are generally white, gray, or monochromatic and both males and females are the same color. Ducks are multicolored and there are obvious pattern differences between the males and females.

Geese migrate further distances. We have seen that this past year with our Snow Goose visitor, a bird that breeds in colonies on the Canadian tundra, as do the Brants.

Another quick way to determine whether goose or duck is by what they are eating; geese generally eat grasses and grains; ducks eat fish and insects. The Snow Goose that visited Good Harbor Beach this past winter foraged for sea grass alongside the Canadian Geese.

Snow Goose Juvenile Canadian Geese Gloucester Massachusetts Essex County  ©Kim Smith 2015Snow Goose and Canadian Geese Foraging for Sea Grass

Photographer and fisherman Brian O’Connor reported that a fisherman mentioned to him that Brants are observed in an area when there is a heavy crop of sea “vegetables” and that is precisely what is occurring in our region–the “green” waves. Sea lettuce is a staple of the Brant’s diet and it is sometimes referred to as “Brant lettuce!”

Brants Cape Ann Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015Brants in Sea Vegetable Heaven

Please let us know if you see any Brants, where and at what time. Thank you to Zefra for writing last week about Brants at Lighthouse Beach. And thank you to Bill Hubbard who wrote to say that during the 40s and 50s hundreds were often seen, less so beginning in the late 50s.

Snow Goose Juvenile Gloucester Massachusetts -4 ©Kim Smith 2015

Juvenile Snow Goose Good Harbor Beach Gloucester

Brant Geese Invasion

Brant Geese Plum Cove Beach Gloucester Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015Brant Geese Plum Cove Beach Gloucester

Just kidding, however, they have recently been spotted all around Cape Ann! Several weeks ago I noticed three on Niles Beach, yesterday another 20 or so bobbing and diving in the waves off a little beach in Rockport, and this morning Michelle Anderson emailed that her son Atticus, with his eagle eyes, had spotted a blizzard at Plum Cove Beach. I was working on a design project in Andover and wasn’t able to get there until afternoon. The Brants were still there! Perhaps there were 50 or so feeding at the shoreline and another several hundred further off shore.

Brant Goose Plum Cove Beach Gloucester Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015The geese are shy. At one point while photographing, I lay flat down in the beach grass trying to blend in with the landscape while inching forward, but they were not deceived. Too far away for my camera to get a good close up, and heavily overcast today, nonetheless you can see that they are quite beautiful creatures.

Brant Geese Plum Cove Beach Rockport Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015Brant Geese Rockport

Smaller than Canadian geese, the Brant Goose, also called Brent, Black Brant, and American Brant, is a coastal bird that breeds in the Arctic tundra. It migrates along both the Atlantic and Pacific flyways. With white or buff belly, black head and neck, and contrasting white bars at the neck, Brants are easy to identify. They feed on green plants including sea lettuce and eel grass. Brants have a highly developed salt gland, which allows them to consume salt water.

PLEASE LET US KNOW IF YOU SEE ANY BRANTS, AT WHAT LOCATION AND WHEN. We would love to hear from you!

Brant Geese Plum Cove Beach Rockport Massachusetts -2 ©Kim Smith 2015