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.
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.
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
Creating joy during the 2020 holiday season hasn’t been as simple as in previous years. Despite all, I am grateful for so much, but most especially for my loving family, and, too, that our very elderly relatives –my husband Tom’s parents , my Mom, and Auntie Joy– have not been struck down by the virus.
I am especially thankful for Tom, who always puts his family first in every way imaginable way. He has been our anchor during the past ten months. Last night we celebrated our anniversary. Usually we would go out to celebrate but instead, Alex and Liv made a wonderfully fun delicious surprise dinner. My favorite is lobster, so they prepared that for the first course. Tender, sweet, and cooked to perfection. One of Tom’s favorite dinners is Alex’s Bolognese sauce, accompanied by Danielle’s pasta. That, along with a super deluxe bottle of Lambrusco from Savour, and a loaf of Virgilio’s bread made extra delicious with buttery garlic, well it was heavenly. The best fun and most memorable anniversary ever <3
Photos by Liv
Best Christmas <3
Wishing all my Friends a peaceful Winter Solstice <3 Today marks the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year. Tragedy after tragedy every day fills our lives but there is hope and light. Praying 2021 will bring peace, compassion, and the best of health to all.
Since Thanksgiving, Charlotte has been back with us full time. Even if one tried, it’s nearly impossible to be sad living with a three year old. She’s at the tender, magical age of wonderment, accompanied by innumerable questions, all the while daily conquering new challenges.Saturday was her very first time sledding. She sped down the hill countless times with her Dad (our son Alex), and TiTi (daughter Liv) and loved every minute.
The following day, Sunday, Charlotte only wanted to sled down on her own and insisted on carrying her sled to the top of the hill without adult assistance.
Day three, and she was fearlessly snowboarding with her Dad. I think we have another natural born athlete in the family <3
Rockport looks wonderfully festive for a covid-safe stroll through the town’s main streets. Charlotte and I made a special trip to deliver her letter to Santa at the most charming of post boxes, a North Pole special delivery pint-sized mail box.
Next stop was magical La Provence. Dawn’s shop is chock full of beautiful, beautiful linens, gifts, and treats. La Provence is open at 10am in the morning, which is great if you are concerned about shopping around crowds. We went on a weekday morning, early, and felt very welcome and very comfortable shopping.
Wishing all our local shops a safe and successful holiday season.
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
No matter your choice of candidate or the results, it’s nearly unbearable to see our nation so extraordinarily divided. How will we ever cross the divide? Heartbreaking, discouraging, and compartmentalizing is necessary for the soul. Our lives go on, our dreams need fulfilling, and our friends and families need us.
Our daughter Liv has been home visiting for the past three weeks. She worked from home the first week and then had a much deserved staycation.
Because of coronavirus, Liv had rescheduled a trip home several times. Eight months is the longest we have ever gone without seeing each other. Her visit was THE highlight of the year and hopefully she is returning at Christmas time. Lots of singing, cooking wonderful dinners, day trips, family game nights, and so much love. Oh how I love my family and for that reason, I feel like the luckiest person in the world. Counting my blessings.
Hiking Dogtown with my family on Saturday, we headed out when it was raining. I left my good camera behind and only had the cell phone. Oh how I wished I had my Fuji with me! It was gorgeous and beautiful and because of the drought you can walk out onto the shore a little ways, too.
We were having a fantastic time until Charlotte was stung by a Yellow Jacket. Fall is Yellow Jacket season so be on the lookout if you go (they are everywhere at this time of year). Yellow Jackets can become very aggressive in autumn as their food supply dwindles and they are looking for food to feed their larvae.
Charlotte helping with organizing the summer to winter wardrobe transition and very enthusiastically pretending we are having a snow day. This is how we dressed for a walk around the neighborhood on a warm Indian Summer October day.
School Street Sunflowers has once again added a wonderful element to their ever expanding ideas about creating a joyfully fun nature experience for visitors. Paul has added three baby Belted Galloway cows and three of the sweetest, most friendly Shetland sheep imaginable. Our bright and curious three year old granddaughter Charlotte was thoroughly engaged with both the sheep and the baby cows but it was Deanna Gallagher’s adorable and super child friendly Shetland sheep that stole our hearts.
We have met the kindest people at School Street Sunflowers and Charlotte and I were completely taken with Deanna, owner of a flock of nine Shetland sheep. Her farm is just around the corner from School Street Sunflowers. Her three sheep that are currently at Paul’s sunflower field are Detective Jimmy Perez, Abu, and Alistair. Jimmy is the leader of the herd, funny, smart, and outgoing, and he is famous in Ipswich as an “escape mastermind. ” You can read about his most recent escapade here: Smart and determined, sheep on the lam knew exactly what they were doing
Shetland sheep are smaller than what you may typically think of as a sheep, more goat like in size. Deanna’s sheep love to be stroked and hand fed the weeds growing in and amongst the sunflowers, especially Common Ragweed. This is the second time over the past week I have learned of or seen Ragweed used in a great way. The first was earlier when I watched a flock of Cedar Waxwings hungrily descend on a patch of Ragweed, looking for tiny insects to devour.
When you go – the baby cows are at the field all day; the Shetland sheep are on the premises from approximately 9am to 1pm. The sunflower trail is one way, which is great for avoiding mashups on the pathway during the pandemic. Paul and his staff all wear masks, so please wear your mask as well. This year, the tractors are not available for playing on because they would need to be disinfected after each use. There are picnic tables and wonderful vignettes for family photos.
School Street Sunflowers is located on School Street in Ipswich, behind the high school. For more information visit –