With tiny shapes of human figures for scale
East Gloucester and Veteran’s kindergarten classes were treated to a fabulous excursion aboard the Hurricane II, Cape Ann Whale Watch’s premiere whale watching boat. The kids had a blast and were fantastically well behaved. Miss Daly, Charlotte’s kindergarten teacher, mentioned that this was the Gloucester kindergartener’s first ever whale watch adventure. The trip was so successful they hope to make it a tradition. Many, many thanks to Cape Ann Whale Watch for the special rate for kindergarteners and their families!
The first sighting of the morning was a Basking Shark, which delighted everyone, including the crew, as Basking Sharks had not been seen for several years. Our naturalist, Tina McMahon, is wonderfully knowledgeable as well as passionate about marine life and she shared so much information, I hope I am reporting accurately. According to Tina, Basking Sharks are filter feeders and harmless.
We motored on until reaching Stellwagen Bank, where, to the utter delight of everyone on board, a female Humpback, named Dross, and her approximately two-to three-month old baby were spotted. Tina reported that this is the fourth calf of Dross’s that the Cape Ann Whale Watch team has seen over the years.
Reading more about baby Humpbacks, they are approximately 1 to 1.5 tons at birth. For the first six months, they only drink mother’s milk; a super concentrated formula high in nutrients and fat. On a diet of about 100 gallons of mother’s milk each day, they grow an inch a day and gain about 100 pounds per day! Doing the math, baby Humpbacks add on an additional ton about every 20 days!
Needing to keep Baby Dross well fed, Mom dove deeply and frequently to feed, leaving her calf at the surface. The baby was very curious and came within inches of the boat. When calves are in the area, the Captain turns off the motor to keep the calf safe and to allow the young whale to check out the boat to satisfy its curiosity.
Humpback Whale flukes help naturalists and scientist identify individual whales. The markings on the under side, revealed when the whale dives, as well as the pattern of the serrated edge of the fluke all provide information in identifying the Humpback. Baby whales are not named until they are a bit older and their flukes take on a distinctive pattern.
In the footage, first you see Dross deep diving for food, with her fluke thrust upward. In the next clip, she has resurfaced alongside her calf and deeply exhales (blows). In the third clip, Mom and calf are swimming side-by-side and the baby does a mini blow. He then dives, but without the upward thrust of the fluke, which is a learned behavior. In the last clip, Mom does another deep dive and her calf dives, too.
The music is the from the album Songs of the Humpback Whale, produced by Roger Payne in 1970. The track is ” Distant Whale.” Reportedly, only the males sing however, I thought the ethereal vocalizing was beautiful when combined with the footage.
More about Head Naturalist Tina McMahon: “Please join me aboard the Hurricane II. I have been fascinated with whales and marine environment since my first whale watch in the early 90’s. I love to share my passion for the natural world and have passengers experience the awe of mother nature. My goal is to inspire others, to instill a curiosity and promote stewardship for the planet.”
Biography and Experience: An Adirondack native, Tina relocated to Gloucester in the early 90’s and taught science for 32 years. During her summer months, she was a naturalist for Cape Ann Whale Watch. Tina recently retired from teaching and is the educational coordinator and senior naturalist for the company. In addition, she was a PolarTREC teacher on a research expedition to Greenland, a member of the Stellwagen Bank Advisory Council and continues to look for experiences that she can bring back to the passengers aboard the Hurricane II.
Check out the excellent commentary featured in the Gloucester Daily Times on Wednesday –
Commentary: Creating Commons
“If this land be not rich, then is the whole world poor.”
So wrote Thomas Morton upon his arrival on Cape Ann in 1624. In a treatise published in London, Morton described the coast he encountered as a “New English Canaan,” a promised land filled with flora and fauna the likes of which Europeans had not yet known. Morton’s description of the area’s bounty was not singular. For example, John Smith’s report back to the imperial center preceded Morton’s and John Josselyn’s was published shortly after Morton’s. Such 17th-century writings inspired the English occupation of what would become the New England colonies and the accompanying genocide of the Native populations that had been here for centuries before the first European set foot on Cape Ann.
We begin with a return to this early settler history not to celebrate the violence and destruction it inspired, but to recall how awestruck Europeans were by the abundant natural beauty of the place that we call our home. Cape Ann was beautiful then, and it is beautiful now. This hardly needs saying. Artists have captured its twilight, poets have described its “granite teeth,” and mystics have meditated on its shores. But even as the land has been celebrated over the centuries, it too has been exploited. This story is not unique to Cape Ann, of course; it is the American story of land. On this island, the merchants of the 18th century were replaced by industrialists who then gave way to the 20th century’s financiers, all of them extracting, privatizing, and profiting from Cape Ann’s abundant timber and granite. With the dawning of beach tourism in the mid-19th century, the extensive coastline with its generous beaches led to further cordoning off and construction.
Now, in the 21st century, as we stare down the barrel of climate collapse, we must consider how, over four centuries of European occupation, we have grown so estranged from the land, so out of step with its natural rhythms and cycles. We are invited, in the spirit of the Potawatomi environmental biologist Robin Wall Kimmerer and others who advocate for new paradigms of land stewardship, to consider how we might live in relationships of reciprocity with the place we inhabit and with its many abundances. We seek, to borrow a phrase from the novelist Catherine Bush, “not control, but the agency to engage in acts of repair.”
This is the common cause that unites our collective of artists, avant gardeners, arborists, historians, and thinkers. We are all longtime residents of Cape Ann, and we share an endless fascination — even infatuation — with its local flora. READ MORE HERE
Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea) currently blooming at Millbrook Meadow, Rockport
Over the past several weeks, MM and his partner, the young sub-adult, have been seen mating at least five times, as observed by myself and neighbors. One neighbor commented, “they must be newlyweds.” In all matings observed, MM has assumed the dominant position so we think he must be the male. We hope the love birds are making lots of baby eaglets although, its not entirely clear whether or not a sub-adult is mature enough to produce eggs.
In thinking about tiny Piping Plovers and majestic Bald Eagles, it’s inspiring to know that conservation success measures, such as those taken to bring the Bald Eagle back from near extinction, are tremendously meaningful and impactful.
The below graph of Bald Eagle breeding pairs speaks a thousand words –
While the scallop boats are still here delivering fresh plump scallops daily to Gloucester, we are making the most of the fabulous quality and terrific prices. At Cape Ann Lobstermen, a two pound tub is only $32.00!!
Several weeks ago I mentioned a scallop and spring risotto yummy dinner that was a big hit with the Family. Friends have asked for the recipe but I don’t usually use a recipe when making risotto. Last night I tried to think about amounts.
I love making risotto and find it utterly relaxing to just stand at the stove and stir, as long as you have all the ingredients chopped, grated, and lined-up ready to go. I am writing this hurriedly so if anything is left out or you have a question, please write and let me know, happy to answer <3
Do this first – For the vegetable stock, cover with about 8 cups of water – 1 onion quartered, I carrot cut in half, several stalks of celery. Do not add salt. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down, and allow to gently simmer while cooking the risotto
1/4 lb. chopped pancetta or bacon
I medium onion loosely chopped
About 1 3/4 Cup Arborio rice
Veggies – whatever you like. Last night’s dinner we had fresh fiddleheads from the garden!, also 1/2 zucchini chopped, handful of snowpeas, 2 ears of fresh corn (kernels removed from the cob), and about six stalks of asparagus chopped in 1 inch pieces.
Butter to taste – 2 TBs or more
Romano or parmesan to taste (about 1/2 to 3/4 C.), grated
Render the fat from the pancetta. Remove pancetta from pan and set aside. Leave the fat in the pan.
Add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Sautee onions until translucent.
Add arborio rice. Turn heat down. Toast rice for a minute or two with the onions, until you hear a crackly sound. Cover rice with Prosecco.
Stir continually throughout. Allow rice to absorb most of the Prosecco. Add about two ladle-fulls of the simmering stock. Allow rice to absorb the stock before adding more.
Continue adding stock and stirring until the rice is almost done, still a tiny bit al dente. Add the veggies and more stock if needed. Add back the pancetta. Cook for a few more minutes until veggies are done, bright green but cooked through.
Take off the heat. Add butter and cheese to taste. While the risotto is resting, pan sear the scallops. Our whiz in the kitchen Alex cooks the scallops 🙂
Serve with extra cheese, salt and pepper to taste.
Cape Ann Lobstermen is located at 111 Main Street in Gloucester
A joy, and surprise, to see MM swooping across the marsh, although he wasn’t too happy. A murder of Crows and one Osprey were hot on his trail. MM landed for a brief second, only about twenty feet from where I was standing. I had just arrived and struggled to get may camera out quickly, but did catch the tail end of the action. How beautiful to see his majestic wingspan. You can see his leg bands in the last few frames.
Perhaps MM simply did not want to be annoyed and that is why he flew off. Bald Eagles are very powerful and it was just last spring that either MM, or his mate, drowned a nesting Osprey.
from Avian Report – Female bald eagles have longer wingspans than males
In most birds, males are larger than females, but in most birds of prey is the opposite. The female bald eagle is larger and has a longer wingspan than the male.
Ornithologists suggest that such differences in size and wingspan allow male and female eagles to hunt prey of different sizes and avoid competition over prey of the same size.
Another line of thought suggests that females are larger to protect their eggs and chicks from larger predators and aggressive bald eagle males that may attack their chicks and female eagles.
The literature indicates that the bald eagle’s wingspan ranges between 5.11” feet and 7.7” feet. The lower end indicates the smallest males, while the upper end refers to the largest females in the range. However, most males have a wingspan of 6.4” while most females have a wingspan of 7.2” feet.
As the cat is out of the bag, so to speak (the Eagle’s location is being shared widely on social media platforms), the following is some information that may minimize further confusion and help folks better understand what is happening with the adult eagle and sub-adult eagle living in our midst.
The sub-adult appears to be about 3.5 to 4 years old and is un-banded. The adult (with the pure white head) was thought to have been banded at a north of Boston town (in 2015 or 2016) and is referred to as MM. Eagles get their “names” from the first two letters of the leg bands they received just before they fledged their nests.
The pair have been constructing a nest together. Is it unusual for an adult and sub-adult to bond and nest? Prior to live nest cams, ideas about Bald Eagle nesting and mating behaviors were more rigid. But much, much more is known now and it’s wonderfully captivating!
MM was perched when the sub-adult flew in. MM gave several loud croaky gull-like greetings. He/she assumed the dominant position and copulation took all of ten seconds (which is typical for birds!) MM dismounted and the pair stayed side-by-side together for sometime afterward.
Although MM took the dominant position, that does not mean he/she is a male. Female Bald Eagles also approach. Both male and females initiate bonding and both may assume a dominant position when bonding.
It’s also difficult to tell by observing. Eagles are sexually dimorphic, meaning the females are bigger than the males. To compare MM and his friend side by side, MM looks to be a bit smaller however, juveniles also appear a little bigger than adults due to longer feathers that help them fly more easily.
Bald Eagle MM and subadult, possibly 3.5 to 4 years of age
More reading –
Courtship, Copulation and Other Romantic Things – https://medium.com/@exploreorg/courtship-copulation-and-other-things-romantic-3c31d93e1627
Successful nesting by Bald Eagles Ages Three and Four –
Cape Ann’s beautiful Lobster Trap Tree is ready for lights! Super excited to write that this year, David Brooks and friends have created the magical walk-through style tree. The past few years, because of Covid, the tree was fantastic but we weren’t able to enter, look up, and experience the starry wonderment of being surrounded by the holiday lights..
Lobster Trap Tree lighting is scheduled for Saturday, December 10th, at 4:30.
Buoy painting is full underway. As usual, the event is tremendously well organized. Charlotte had a grand time painting her buoy with Christmas trees and rainbows. So many thanks to Traci and the Cape Ann Art Haven staff for providing a meaningful and fun holiday event for all the local kids. There is no charge although, if able, parents are asked to make a donation when it’s time to pick up the buoys.
Happy Spring dear Friends!
Please forgive me if I am slow to respond to your notes, emails, and kind comments. I am so sorry about that but am spending every spare minute on the Piping Plover film project, creating the first rough cut while converting six plus years of footage. And uncovering wonderful clips of these extraordinary creatures, some I am just seeing for the first time since shooting! Not an easy task but I am so inspired and full of joy for this project, trying not to become overwhelmed, and taking it one chunk at a time, literally “bird by bird,” as Anne Lamott would say.
Gadwall and American Wigeon pairs abound. Both in the genus Mareca, they share similar foraging habits when here on our shores and can often be seen dabbling for sea vegetation together. The Orange-crowned Warbler was still with us as of mid-week last, as well as the trio of American Pipits. The very first of the Great Egrets have been spotted and Killdeers are coming in strong. The first Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will be here any day now; at the time of this writing they have migrated as far north as North Carolina
Have you noticed the Weeping Willows branches are turning bright yellow? In the next phase they will become chartreuse. For me it it one of the earliest, earliest indicators that trees are starting to emerge from dormancy. And our magnolia buds are beginning to swell, too. Please write with your favorite early signs of spring and I’ll make a post of them.
Male and Female Gadwalls, American Wigeons, Black Ducks, and Buffleheads foraging for aquatic vegetation
More spring scenes
Orange-crowned Warbler preening
Ocean effect snow creates a magical scene at Hammond Castle.
Gloucester’s most magical of castles-by-the-sea
My daughter Liv and I love the Cloisters in Manhattan and it’s so interesting to learn that Rockefeller, Hammond’s friend and peer, was so intrigued by Hammond’s new castle, he was inspired to build the Cloisters!!
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 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!
Although this may look like a pig pile from shore, Harbor Seals actually like to maintain a bit of social distancing while they are lolling.
Letting the younger seal know in no uncertain terms, in the above photo, you can see an older seal fwapping the smaller seal away with his flipper (he/she was also grunting at the youngster).Harbor Seal Pig Pile
Wishing you Happy Holidays, good health, peace and joy in the coming year. I am so thankful for you and grateful for your support of our Monarch documentary, Cape Ann’s Piping Plovers, and for the shared love of all our backyard and shorebird wild creatures.
I made this short film for you, mostly for the audio, but there is a funny moment when one of the Waxwings takes a large berry that is a challenge to swallow.
Several people have asked how do I “see” so many Waxwings. Cedar Waxwings are sociable birds that tend to flock together. They make a wonderfully ascending trilling sound, which once you learn their vocalizations, you will begin to hear everywhere. When Waxwings are at eye level dining on fruits and berries, they are readily detected. Often, though, Waxwings congregate in treetops. You can hear them, but can’t see unless you look to the tippy top of trees. Learn the Cedar Waxwing’s lovely trilling sounds and look up!
In the following short, shot several weeks ago in early December, the Cedar Waxwings were intermittently feeding alongside American Robins, flitting between several crabapple trees and a large clump of native Winterberry. You can also hear the Robin’s birdsongs in the video. The Waxwings are here in our midst, as long as there are plentiful fruits. Happy finding!
Laying low in the dunes, I unexpectedly came upon this beautiful Snowy Owl. He appeared to be superficially injured (see arrow in photo below).The Snowy is perhaps a male, and on the younger side. You can often tell the difference between male and female because the male has lighter barring in the wing patterning, although the darkest male can also look like a female with lighter wing barring.
Note the sharp difference in wing pattering: The Snowy Owl on the left (Cape Ann’s Hedwig) is most likely a female, while the Snowy from the dunes, on the right, is more likely than not, a male.
It”s not easy being a bright white Snowy against the golden yellow of dunes. The white wedge shapes are easily detected by all manner of harassing critters, most notably Crows and gulls. Flying overhead, too, was a territorial battle royale between a Peregrine Falcon and a Red-tailed Hawk.
In the video posted here, which is part one of a five part series from the Snowy Owl Film Project, you can see the beautiful Snowy that called Cape Ann’s back shore home for a winter is being harassed and dive-bombed by Crows, at 1:00 to 1:25.
More photos of the Snowy recently spotted in the dunes just after daybreak
Cape Ann Art Haven is accepting reservations for buoy painting for the 2021 Lobster Trap Tree!
This will occur on 4 Saturdays: November 13, 20, 27 and December 4 from 10:00.m. to 3:00 p.m at Art Haven. It is open to all children and adults. Please register for all that want to paint a buoy. The paint we use is permanent so please wear appropriate clothing.