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FOURTH OF JULY PLOVER LOVE STORY

Good Morning PiPl Friends,

Thank you Susan, Maggie, and Jane for the morning update. Adding to update that the CHB chicklets (all three) were snuggled in when I left Cape Hedge.

Sharing a sweet short story – For six years, since our PiPl Dad and Mom first arrived, I have also been filming and photographing a Killdeer Mom and Dad. I am pretty certain they are the same pair from year to year because they nearly always make their nests in the exact same spot in the dunes, with the exception of one year when there was a particular person allowing her dog to run through the dunes every night, and the pair moved to the perimeter of the parking lot.

Killdeer Chicks hatching, 1st brood

Killdeers are very similar in many ways to Piping Plovers. They lay four speckled eggs (although darker and larger), do not begin brooding until all four have been laid, defend their territory, nests, and chicks in a variety of ways including the broken wing thing. We have all seen the incessant battles over foraging rights at the Creek between the Killdeers and Plovers. Killdeers are larger and nest in a wider variety of habitats than do PiPl and that may be just two of many reasons why there are many more Killdeers than Plovers.

First brood

The Good Harbor Beach pair of Killdeers are wonderfully successful parents. This year they had a very early nest and all four eggs hatched.The amazing thing was that when the chicks were only a few days old, and without much fanfare (nothing like the PiPl courtship dance), they mated!

Killdeer mating with day old chicks

I lost track of exactly when the eggs from the second nest hatched but several days ago, I caught a glimpse of the family, Mom, Dad and three younger chicks zooming around the marsh, foraging, and thermoregulating.

Second brood eggs

Second brood July 4th weekend

Happy Fourth of July!
xoKim

 

Killdeer nest scrape

Broken wing distraction display behavior

 

OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVER NEST HAS FOUR EGGS!

Dear PiPl Friends!

Happy News! The nest at Area #3 is complete with four eggs. Based on when I think the last egg was laid, we can expect the chicks to hatch around June 8th or 9th, which is when we begin monitoring full time. The fact that they will be hatching relatively early in the season tremendously increases their chance of surviving. By the time the busiest beach days are upon us, usually beginning around the weekend of July 4th, the hatchlings will be more than three weeks old.

I ‘d like to plan a PiPl ambassador informational meeting on the weekend of the 4th -6th. I thought perhaps 5:00 on Sunday, the 6th would be a good time to meet?  Mainly we’ll discuss any questions and issues along with protocol and our non confrontational roles as ambassadors for the Plovers and representatives of the City.

Saturday morning while checking on the PiPls, a man and a woman walked onto the beach with three unleashed dogs. Fortunately an officer appeared and escorted all off the beach. Way to go Gloucester GPD!!! It takes a community to help endangered and threatened species and without the police helping to enforce the laws, it just makes it all that much harder. We are grateful to the GPD for taking the time to check on the beach and remove the scofflaws!

Dad on nest within the exclosure

Sunday morning I met ambassadors Sally and Jonathan at #3.  Dad was contentedly on the nest while all was quiet at the #2 and #1 areas. Just as we were readying to leave, the new Dad on the scene appeared, calling to the new Mom, the beautiful pale PiPl, and without wasting much time, the pair courted and mated. It was quite a thrill as it was Sally’s first time witnessing courtship and I was thrilled she was able to see!  We were standing a safe distance away, and Sally came well prepared with a strong set of binoculars.

We need volunteers to commit to fill the time periods between 1 to 2pm, 2 to 3pm, and 3 to 4pm. Also, the 9am to 12pm, although we may have someone interested in filling that spot. Are you interested in becoming a Piping Plover Ambassador but don’t see a time slot that works for you? Let me know anyway because if we have two nests, we may be doubling up during the shifts. kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com

Looking forward to PiPl days ahead!

Warmest wishes,

Kim

THREE EGGS!

Three eggs in the Good Harbor Beach PiPl nest this morning -hoping for a fourth tomorrow!

HAPPY NEWS TO SHARE -TWO PIPING PLOVER EGGS AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH AND THANK YOU ONCE AGAIN DAVE RIMMER AND GREENBELT FOR YOUR KIND ASSISTANCE!

Oh Happy Day! Our amazing Mom and Dad Plover have done it once again. Despite raging wave and wind storms that brought super high tides all the way to the base of the dunes, along with cold wet weather, we have a nest with two beautiful eggs!!!

The pair nesting at area #3 are our original Mom and Dad; the two have nested in nearly exactly the same spot for six years. They are super experienced parents and because it is not too late in the season and if all goes well, the chicks will be approximately 2 to 3 weeks old by July 4th, which will increase their odds of surviving exponentially.

Over the course of the next several days, we hope the pair will lay two more eggs. They will continue to mate during the egg laying period. Please do not hover by the edges of the roped off area; this only serves to disrupt the Plovers reproductive behavior and attracts gulls and crows. Thank you!This morning Dave Rimmer, Essex County Greenbelt’s director of land stewardship, along with his assistant Adam Phippen, placed the wire exclosure around the nest. Encircling the nest with an exclosure is a simple, yet extremely effective way to help protect eggs from predators, including gulls, crows, and small mammals such as skunks and foxes. The spacing between the wires of the exclosure is just large enough for PiPl parents to run in and out, but too small for most other creatures.

Papa feigning a broken wig

I was so proud of our Papa Plover during the installation. After six years of nesting at GHB, he’s familiar with the routine, but installing the exclosure is still a dramatic event for a Plover parent. Papa piped vigorously and valiantly did his broken wing display, trying  with all his tiny self to distract. At one point he fearlessly stood right next to Dave!

Within less than sixty seconds of Dave and Adam walking away from the completed installation, Papa was back on the nest!

We owe tremendous thanks to Dave and to Greenbelt. This is the sixth year in a row he and his Greenbelt crew have installed the exclosures and provided expert advice and assistance to the City of Gloucester and Piping Plover Ambassadors. Greenbelt gives this assistance absolutely free of charge!

Would you like to volunteer to be a Piping Plover Ambassador? The shifts are one hour long, seven days a week, for approximately five weeks, from the day the chicks hatch til they fledge completely. We have a great team of Ambassadors and would love to have you join. Please email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com if you would like to volunteer. We are looking for people to commit to cover the 1 to 2pm, 2 to 3pm, and 3 to 4pm shifts. Thank you 🙂

Papa Plover back on the nest in record time!

 

PLOVER BABIES IN THE WEEDS

All four Killdeer Plover chicks that hatched a little over a week ago are all doing remarkably well! They are zooming around the outskirts of Good Harbor Beach and managing to stay out of the way of people and automobiles.

Notice the newborn hatchling’s tiny white dot on the end of its bill. That is the egg tooth it used to pip its way out of the shell. The egg tooth falls off after the first day or so.

I wonder sometimes why Killdeers are so successfully able to reproduce while their smaller cousins struggle so. I think being that much bigger helps a great deal. Killdeer chicks don’t appear to need to thermo snuggle (thermoregulate) nearly as often as do Piping Plover chicks, even on the coldest mornings. And, too, Killdeers are the least beach dwelling Plovers of all and have adapted to nesting in a diverse range of habitats including fields, rooftops, parking lots, gravel pits, and grassy lawns.

My what big feet you have little chick!

The Killdeer Plover family is finding lots to eat amongst the dandelions and weeds at Good Harbor Beach.

 

PIPING PLOVER CHRONICLES CONTINUE – My what a week it’s been at Good Harbor Beach!

Love is in the air! 

First things first though; the Good Harbor Beach Killdeer Plover family that nests every year in nearly an identical spot to the year before, hatched four perfectly healthy and vigorous chicks! Today marks their eight day old birthday and they are all four doing exceptionally well. More about this bundle of adorableness in an upcoming post.

Killdeer Plover Chicks  in dune camo

Mid-week we had a rough morning, with four dogs from the same family. The dogs not only ran through the symbolically roped off area as Mom and Dad were just about to mate, the larger of the four chased Dad. The ACO and DPW have been made aware and they are thankfully managing the situation.

We hear so much gibberish nonsense from scofflaw dog owners. This week, for example, “I thought the date was Memorial Day,” or the sign says “dogs are permitted,” or “dogs are allowed after 5pm,” and my personal favorite, “my dog is special.”

   *     *     *

Much of the week was cold and windy but on several mornings, including a slightly warmer today (Sunday), there were EIGHT Plovers! Three females and five males. We are not too concerned about all eight nesting at GHB. This influx seems to happen every year during May, which is peek migration month in Massachusetts. Many species of shorebirds arrive at GHB during May, stopping to rest and refuel before journeying further north. There were also half a dozen Black-bellied Plovers at GHB this past week and I was reminded of the May we had three Wilson’s Plovers show up one foggy morning.

The two new females that have joined the scene are easy to spot, with binoculars or a long lens. Please, please, do not stand at the edge of the roped off area with your cell phone, trying to take cell phone movies of courting and mating behavior. Hovering for long periods is incredibly disruptive to courtship behavior. Trust me, I have seen this disruption during courtship countless times and it only  serves to dramatically slow, or inhibit all together, the nesting season.

Meet our newest female – isn’t she beautiful!

Back to the new girls; they both have very faint headband and collar band markings, one is the palest I have ever seen a PiPl. I am already in love with her, she is feisty and ready for action, no fickle behavior on her part!

The three pairs, plus two odd boys out, are vying for territory. This morning there was a wildly intense smackdown between three of the boys. Repitiously charging, wing flourishing, then retreating, and as usual, no clear victor.

Piping Plover Smackdown. More smackdown photos to follow, when I have a few spare moments to look over the photos.

Dads are nest scraping along the length of the beach; note their little legs going a mile a minute.

Dear Friends, please consider making a tax deductible donation to launching my Monarch Butterfly documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly for distribution to national television. For more information, go here.

To contribute, please go here.

 

 

 

 

CAPE ANN WILDLIFE 2020: THE YEAR IN PICTURES, MOVIES, AND STORIES

Several years ago my husband suggested I write a “year end” wildlife review about all the creatures seen over the preceding year. That first review was a joyful endeavor though daunting enough. Over the next several years the reviews became more lengthy as I tried to cover every beautiful, wonderful creature that was encountered on woodland hikes, beaches, dunes, marshes, ponds, and our own backyards and neighborhoods. 2020 has been a very different year. There were just as many local wildlife stories as in previous years however, the pandemic and political climate have had far reaching consequences across geographic regions around the world, touching every living creature in the interconnected web of life we call our ecosystems.

This first year of the global pandemic has had a profoundly negative impact on wildlife and their habitats. In urban areas in developed countries, perhaps the economic slowdown afforded wildlife a break, with less pollution, less air travel, and some wild animals even reclaiming territory. Though the true downside of Covid-19 is that the pandemic has had an extraordinarily harmful impact on wildlife in rural areas and in less developed countries People who are dependent upon tourism, along with people who have lost jobs in cities and are returning to rural areas, are placing increasing pressure on wildlife by poaching, illegal mining, and logging. As mining and logging destroy wildlife habitats, animals are forced into ever shrinking areas, causing them to become sick, stressed, and to starve to death. These same stressed wild animals come in contact with people and farm animals, creating an ever increasing potential to transmit horrifically deadly illness, diseases such as Covid-19.

There are many, many organizations working to protect wildlife and conserve their habitats. I am especially in awe of one particular grass roots non-profit organization located in Macheros, Mexico, previously featured here, Butterflies and Their People. Co-founded by Ellen Sharp and Joel Moreno Rojas, the work they are doing to both protect the butterfly’s winter habit and provide employment for the forest’s guardians is outstanding.

All the butterfly sanctuaries (their winter resting places), are closed this year due to the pandemic. Dozens of people in the tiny town of Macheros are wholly dependent upon the income received by the work they do protecting the butterfly trees from illegal logging, as well as income from the tourist industry.  Ellen, Joel, and their team of arborists have come up with a wonderfully creative way to bring the butterflies to you. For a modest fee, you can sign up to “Adopt a Colony” to receive monthly newsletters and video tours of the Monarchs at Cerro Pelon. The newsletters are written by Ellen, who writes beautifully and clearly about the month-by-month current state of the butterflies in their winter habitat, as well as human interest stories drawn from the community. To subscribe to “Adopt a Colony” from Butterflies and Their People, go here.

We can be hopeful in 2021 that with a new administration, a much greater focus will be paid by our federal government to stop the spread of the virus in the US as well as around the globe. Not only is there hope in regard to the course correction needed to battle the pandemic, but the Biden/Harris administration has made climate change and environmental justice a cornerstone of their platform, including measures such as stopping the environmental madness taking place along our southern border and reversing many of the previous administration’s mandates that are so harmful to wildlife and their habitats.

Around the globe, especially in less developed countries, the pandemic has set back environmental initiatives by years, if not decades. We are so fortunate in Essex County  to have conservation organizations such as Greenbelt, MassWildlife, The Trustees, and Mass Audubon; organizations that protect the sanctity of wildlife and recognize the importance of protecting habitats not only for wildlife but equally as important, for the health and safety of human inhabitants.

The following are just some of the local images and stories that make us deeply appreciate the beauty of wildlife and their habitats found on Cape Ann and all around Essex County. Each picture is only a brief window into the elusive, complex life of a creature. Every day and every encounter brings so much more to observe, to learn, to enjoy, and to love.

To read more, each image and story from the past year is Google searchable. Type in the name of the creature and my name and the link to the story and pictures posted on my website should come right up.

Some Beautiful Raptors of 2020 – Red-tailed Hawk, Short-eared Owl, American Bald Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, Merlin, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Osprey, and Snowy Owls

 

Essex County Greenbelt’s Osprey pair, Annie and Squam, successfully fledged three chicks, Vivi, Rusty, and Liz (nestling photo courtesy ECGA)

Dave Rimmer video from the Osprey cam at Lobstaland

The Snowy Owl Film Project was completed in March, with the objective of providing pandemic- virtually schooled kids a window into the world of Snowy Owls in their winter habitat (see all five short films here).

 

Spunky Mute Swan Cygnets

Utterly captivated by the winsome Red Fox Family

A tiny sampling of the beautiful songbirds that graced our shores in 2020 – Cedar Waxwings, Baltimore Orioles, Catbirds, American Robins, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Snow Buntings, American Pipits, Horned Larks, and Eastern Bluebirds

 

A new favorite place to film is at my friend Paul’s wonderfully fun sunflower field in Ipswich, School Street Sunflowers. Beautiful Bobolinks, Common Yellowthroat Warblers, and Bluejays were just some of the songbirds seen feasting on the expiring seedheads  of sunflowers and wildflowers growing amongst the rows of flowers.

Graceful White-tailed Deer herd of adult females and youngsters

Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and juvenile Little Blue Herons delight with their elegance, beauty, and stealth hunting skills. Included in the montage is a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron that spent the winter at Niles Pond

A fraction of the different species of Shorebirds and Gulls seen on Cape Ann this past year – Dowitchers, Killdeers, Black-bellied Plovers, Common Tern, Least Tern, Laughing Gulls, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Glaucus Gull, and rarely seen Dovekie, or”Little Auk.”

Cecropia Moth life cycle unfolding in our garden, from mating, to egg laying, to caterpillar, to adult.

 

Dozens and dozens of orb spider webs draped a small patch of wildflowers. The dream catchers were attracting Cedar Waxwings to feast on the insects caught in the webs. The following day I returned after a rainstorm. The webs had melted away in the downpour and the Waxwings had vanished into the treetops.

Harbor and Gray Seals hauled out on the rocks at Brace Cove, as many as 28 were counted on a winter’s day!

Piping Plovers and Marshmallow Montage

In 2020, our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair fledged one chick, nicknamed Marshmallow. Despite the global pandemic, a group of super dedicated Piping Plover Ambassadors worked tirelessly from sunrise until sunset to help ensure the safety of the Piping Plover family and to help educate beachgoers about the beautiful life story of the Plovers unfolding on Gloucester’s most popular beach destination. We worked with Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, the Gloucester DPW, and Gloucester City Councilor Scot Memhard, with much appreciated advice from Mass Wildlife Coastal Waterbird Biologist Carolyn Mostello.

Read more about Marshmallow, the Ambassadors, and the Piping Plover Film Project here.

Piping Plover Marshmallow Montage, from egg to thirty-eight days old. Filmed at Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester, Massachusetts.

MONARCHS!

It has been a wonderful, exhilarating, infinitely educational, and beautifully challenging journey creating my documentary, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterflies. The film was released in February 2020, but because of the pandemic, was not seen by the public until August, when it premiered (virtually) at the New Haven Documentary Film Festival. Beauty on the Wing has gone on to win honors and awards at both environmental and children’s film festivals, including the tremendous honor of Best Documentary at the Boston International Kids Film Festival. I’ve just received the very attractive award in the mail and have not had time to post a photo yet.

Beauty on the Wing portrays Cape Ann in the most beautiful light and I think when we are ever able to have a live premiere in this area, local friends will be delighted at the outcome. Joyfully so, Beauty is now being distributed to schools, libraries, institutions, and the travel industry through American Public Television Worldwide.

Beauty on the Wing continues to be accepted to film festivals and I will keep you posted as some are geo-bloced to this area, including the upcoming Providence Children’s Film Festival.

 

Last but not least, our wonderfully wildy Charlotte, little adventurer and nature-loving companion throughout the year

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAPE ANN EARLY SPRING WILDLIFE UPDATE

Hello Friends,

I hope you are all doing well, or as well as can be expected during this heartbreaking pandemic event. The following kind words were spoken by Pope Francis today and I think they could not be truer.

“We are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed,” he said.

“All of us called to row together, each of us in need of each other.”

In the world of wildlife, spring migration is well underway and gratefully, nothing has changed for creatures small and large. That may change in the coming days as resources for threatened and endangered species may become scarce.

A friend posted on Facebook that “we are all going to become birders, whether we like it or not.” I love seeing so many people out walking in the fresh air and think it is really the best medicine for our souls.

Several times I was at Good Harbor Beach over the weekend and people were being awesome at practicing physical distancing. Both Salt Island Road and Nautilus Road were filled with cars, but none dangerously so, no more than we would see at a grocery store parking lot. I’m just getting over pneumonia and think I will get my old bike out, which sad to say hasn’t been ridden in several years. Cycling is a great thing to do with a friend while still practicing distancing and I am excited to get back on my bike.

An early spring wildlife scene update

The Niles Pond Black-crowned Night Heron made it through the winter!! He was seen this past week in his usual reedy location. Isn’t it amazing that he/she survived so much further north than what is typical winter range for BCHN.

Many of the winter resident ducks are departing. There are fewer and fewer Buffleheads, Scaups, and Ring-necked Ducks at our local ponds and waterways.

Male and female Scaups

No sign lately of the American Pipits. For several days there were three! Snow Buntings at the Brace Cove berm.

I haven’t seen the Northern Pintail in a over a week. Sometimes the Mallards play nice and on other days, not so much.

Male Northern Pintail and Mallards

As some of the beautiful creatures that have been residing on our shores depart, new arrivals are seen daily. Our morning walks are made sweeter with the songs of passerines courting and mating.

Black-capped Chickadees collecting nesting fibers and foraging

Song Sparrows, Mockingbirds, Robins, Cardinals, Chicadees, Nuthatches, Tufted Titmice, and Carolina Wrens are just a few of the love songs filling backyard, fields, dunes, and woodland.

Newly arrived Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets have been spotted at local ponds and marshes.

Cape Ann’s Kildeers appeared about a week or so ago, and wonderful of wonderful news, a Piping Plover pair has been courting at Good Harbor Beach since they arrived on March 22, a full three days earlier than last year.

Kildeers, Gloucester

Why do I think it is our PiPls returned? Because Piping Plovers show great fidelity to nesting sites and this pair is no exception. They are building nest scrapes in almost exactly the same location as was last year’s nest.

Piping Plover Nest Scrape Good Harbor Beach 2020

I’m not sure if the Red Fox photographed here is molting or is the early stages of mange. It does seem a bit early to be molting, but he was catching prey.

We should be seeing Fox kits and Coyote pups any day now, along with baby Beavers, Otters, and Muskrats 🙂
It’s been an off year for Snowy Owls in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic with relatively many fewer owls than that wonderful irruptive winter of 2017-2018 when Hedwig was living on the back shore. 2019 was a poor summer for nesting however, reports of high numbers of Lemmings at their eastern winter breeding grounds are coming in, which could lead to many owlets surviving the nesting season of 2020, which could lead to many more Snowies migrating south this coming winter of 2020-2021.

Take care Friends and be well <3

Mini-nature lover

TWO UNRELATED BUT JOYFUL SIGNS OF SPRING!

I look forward to the appearance of these beautiful lavender crocus, a patch that blooms without fail every spring. It has naturalized from a garden probably planted long ago and now springs up along the road’s edge at Niles Pond.

And we had our first sighting of plovers, not Piping Plovers mind you, but Kildeers!

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH!

A trio of Black-bellied Plovers was foraging at Good Harbor Beach late Wednesday afternoon. They were only there very briefly; Black-bellied Plovers flush easily and the three skittishly flew off together when a happy group of noisy kids came along.

We will never see Black-bellied Plovers nesting. They are migrating north, to breed along the Arctic coast, from Baffin Island, Canada to western Alaska. Just like Piping Plovers, Black-bellied Plover males build nest scrapes and both male and female incubate the eggs.

The eggs look very similar to Killdeer eggs (Killdeers are also a species of plover), the eggs of both species are darker than Piping Plover eggs, and both are more heavily spotted at the large end.

Piping Plover Eggs

Black-bellied Plover eggs , left Killdeer eggs, right

So many species of shorebirds nest in the Arctic. We are so fortunate that Piping Plovers and Killdeers nest on our shores, providing a wonderful window into the life stories of these amazing and resilient creatures.

PLOVERS NESTING IN THE PARKING LOTS AT STAGE FORT PARK, O’MALEY, AND GOOD HARBOR BEACH

HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PIPING PLOVER AND A KILLDEER

This past week, we have received a half dozen reports of “plovers” nesting in local parking lots. Folks are correct, they are a type of plover, but they are not Piping Plovers. The bird is a more common sort, a Killdeer, and Killdeers, like Piping Plovers (and other species of plovers), share many similar courting, nest scraping, mating, and defensive behaviors.

Killdeer courting in the parking lot at Stage Fort Park

Killdeers have been nesting in the dunes and in the Good Harbor Beach parking lot for a number of years, and some years they even have two broods. Last year, the first brood of the season hatched from a nest in the dunes, the second brood, from a nest at the perimeter of the parking lot. For the second nest, Gloucester’s amazing DPW crew  put up a large rock adjacent to the nest, to prevent cars from driving over the nest.

We don’t hear as much about Killdeer Plovers because they are not an endangered species. Killdeers are found in every state of the continental US, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America. They are the least shorebird-like of shorebirds because they breed and dwell in many types of habitats including grasslands, fields, urban areas, gravel pits, airports, parking lots, athletic fields, and golf courses. Despite their super ability to adapt to human habitats, it is a species in decline.

Killdeers are nearly twice as large as Piping Plovers, but you wouldn’t know that unless you see them side-by-side. The easiest way to tell the difference is Killdeers have two black collar bands whereas PiPls only have one.

Killdeers have a red eye ring, two collar bands, and a black, longer bill.

Piping Plovers have one collar band, no red eye ring, and an orange bill tipped black.

The back and wing feathers of the Killdeers are a mid-shade of brown, with rust and orange under wings. This coloration more easily blends with gravel pits, grasslands, and scrubby dune habitats. The Piping Plover’s wing and back feathers are a soft pale gray, in shades of driftwood and sand; the birds are much better camouflaged for beach life.  The Killdeer has a red eye ring, the Piping Plover’s eyes are jet black. Killdeer’s bills are more elongated and are a solid black, the PiPls’s is shorter and orange, tipped in black. Piping Plovers have orangish legs; Killdeer’s legs are light buff and light gray.