This past week after enjoying a delicious lunch of clam chowder and fried clams at Woodman’s, Charlotte, my friend Claudia, and I stopped by Greenbelt’s Cox Reservation en route home. Claudia moved to CapeAnn a year ago and had never been. She was delighted to know about Cox Reservation for future beauty walks through meadow and marsh and of course Charlotte had a fantastic time as she always does when running about in nature. While there, we spied a Monarch depositing eggs on Common Milkweed shoots emerging in the grassland meadow.
I returned the following day to see if the female Monarch was still afield and to try also to capture an audio recording of the music where ‘seaside marsh meets grassland meadow.’
I found so much more. A photo tour for your Memorial Day weekend –
Bobolinks in the Chokecherry Tree (Prunus virginiana)
There are several fields at Cox Reservation that are maintained grassland habitat to help nesting birds such as Bobolinks; a beautiful songbird in steep decline.
We’re accustomed to hearing and seeing male Red-winged Blackbirds; it’s not often we see the females as they are usually on the nest. This pretty female flew into a tree, waved her wings, and stuck out her very showy cloaca. I wasn’t sure what she was up to and when a male came from nowhere and suddenly jumped on her back to mate, I was startled and unfortunately jerked the camera, but you get the idea.
Female Red-winged Blackbird
Male and Female Eastern Bluebirds feeding their brood
Osprey pair nesting in the far distant marsh
With deep appreciation and thanks to Essex County Greenbelt Association’s Director of Land Stewardship Dave Rimmer for his continued help with Cape Ann’s Piping Plovers. Dave has been providing free of charge guidance, along with exclosing the Plover nests, since 2016.
Wishing you peace, love and the best of health in 2022 – Happy New Year dear Friends. I am so grateful for blog, Facebook, and Instagram friendships, new and old. Thank you for your kind comments throughout the year.
I would like to thank our wonderfully dedicated volunteer crew of Piping Plover Ambassadors, who provide round-the-day protections to one of Cape Ann’s most tender and threatened species.
I wish also to thank you for your kind support and contributions to our Monarch documentary, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. 2021 was a fantastic year for the film, winning many awards, including honors at both environmental festivals and awards at family-oriented film festivals, We also had a very successful fundraiser that allowed us to re-edit the film, and to distribute Beauty on the Wing through American Public in order to bring to the widest television audience possible.
Please stay healthy in the coming year. Wishing all your dreams come true. To peace, love, and great health in 2022. <3
Cape Ann Wildlife – a year in pictures and stories
Thinking about the wonderful wildlife stories that unfolded before us this past year I believe helps provide balance to the daily drone of the terrible pandemic. 2021 has been an extraordinarily beautiful and exciting year for our local wildlife. Several are truly stand out events including the three pairs of Piping Plovers that nested on Cape Ann’s eastern edge, the most ever! The summer of 2021 also brought a tremendous up take in Monarch numbers, both breeding and migrating, and in autumn a rare wandering Wood Stork made its home on Cape Ann for nearly a month. The following are just some of the photographs, short films, and stories. Scroll through this website and you will see many more!
A rarely seen in these parts Black-headed Gull (in winter plumage), a Horned Lark, American Pipits, Red Fox kit all grown up, and an illusive Snowy Owl living at Gloucester Harbor.
A red and gray morph pair of Eastern Screech Owls, flocks of winter Robins, and snowshoeing and snow sledding Snow Buntings grace our shores.
Bluebirds return to declare their nesting sites, the raptors delight in songbirds’ returning, American Wigeon lovebirds, signs of spring abound, and the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers return on March 26th, right on schedule! Gratefully so, Gloucester’s DPW Joe Lucido and crew install PiPl fencing on March 29th!
Ospreys mating, Cedar waxwing lovebirds, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds return, and the Plovers are nest scraping and courting. The early spring storms also brought a dead Minke Whale to the shores of Folly Cove.
The Good Harbor Beach Killdeer family hatches four chicks, beautiful new PiPl on the block, many PiPl smackdowns with three pairs vying for territory, eggs in the nest at Area #3!, warblers and whatnots migrating, Make way for Ducklings – Cape Ann Style, the Salt Island PiPls have a nest with eggs but it is washed away by the King Tide of May 29th, and Cecropia Moths mating and egg laying.
Piping Plover ambassadors first meeting of the season, on June 9th the Boardwalk #3 PiPls hatch four chicks, one chick perishes, Super Mom has a foot injury, Horseshoe Crabs at Good Harbor Beach, Piping Plover Ambassador badges from Jonathan and Duncan, a second nest is discovered at Salt Island with a new pair of parents (the first was washed away in the storm surge during the May King Tide), and for the first time, Piping Plovers are nesting at Cape Hedge Beach.
Did you ever wonder why some birds, such as Bluebirds and Robins, lay blue or bluish green eggs? And just as interesting why, in some cases, Bluebirds which generally lay blue eggs, a nest may comprise eggs that are almost white?
The earliest avian eggshells probably lacked color, or pigmentation. Over time, most likely to protect the eggs from predators, birds evolved a diverse range of colored shell markings from mottled brown, gray and beige to rainbow hues from pure white to pale pink, lavender, yellow, aqua, orange, blue, born and even black.
The molecules that cause pigmentation in bird eggs are biliverdin (the blue-green shades) and protoporphyrin (red and brown colors and speckles) but we can talk about blue eggs without getting too technical.
Basically, blue and blue-green strikes a balance between white and very dark colored eggs. Darker eggs are predicted in moderate light to shield the embryo from intense light, including harmful UV radiation. If when eggs are in an exposed nest and the shells are too dark, it can cause the interior to heat up, similar to a “dark car effect.” Simply stated, blue eggs regulate the effects of sunlight on the developing chick (embryo).
This doesn’t explain entirely why Eastern Bluebird eggs range from white to blue green. Many cavity nester’s eggs are white because the adults need to see the eggs in the dark. Wood Ducks are an example of cavity nesters with white eggs. American Robins generally nest in trees or a semi-exposed site and their eggs are blue, affording both protection from dangerous UV light and low risk from heating up. Eastern Bluebirds are cavity nesters but only about 4 to 5 percent of their eggs are white. Oftentimes when learning about a topic, myriad more questions come to mind!
In reading about blue eggs I thought readers would enjoy seeing the amazing speckled and pear-shaped brilliant blue egg of the Common Murre, from USFWS
Some birds with blue eggs that nest locally include Red-winged Blackbird, Gray Catbird, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, House Finch, Bluejay, Goldfinch, European Starling, Eastern Bluebird, and American Robin.
American Robin nest at a friend’s home
Both Bluebird nest egg photos courtesy Google image search
Happy Spring, Happy Easter dear Friends. To new beginnings for us all as the pandemic hopefully soon recedes. Sending much love and appreciation for your kind comments and friendship throughout the year.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
Bluebird courtship is as beautiful as is the bird! Last week my daughter Liv joined me on a film scouting mini adventure. She loves learning about wildlife and living in Southern California as she does, Liv is surrounded by beautiful wild creatures and wild lands. We had a fantastic morning of it. Brant Geese, Piping Plovers, Great Egrets, Tree Swallows, and Eastern Bluebirds were just some of the creatures we observed.
The Eastern Bluebirds were especially stunning in the crisp early morning sunshine. One particular gent had not yet secured his partner’s affections. From tree branches adjacent to nesting boxes, he sang softly and flashed his glorious blue wings to a female that had flown in on the scene.
At first we thought he was preening, but no, the bachelor was clearly enticing his lady friend with lapis lazuli flags, gesturing with quick up and down lifting movements. Called wing-waving, these gestures are part of Eastern Bluebird courtship.
The male first sings loudly from treetops. If a female shows interest, he further shows off his skill sets with wing-waving and soft warbles. He then entices her to join him at a nesting box or cavity, he entering first. After he flies out of the box and if all goes well, she enters the cavity, a sure sign the pair are hitting it off!
Blessedly warmer weather has made it all that much more enjoyable to spend time outdoors. Beautiful birds are arriving on our shores, some to rest and refuel for their journey further north and some will call Cape Ann home for the spring and summer nesting season.
A lone Gadwall, along with several American Wigeons, are hungrily consuming great quantities of sea lettuce to feast upon before embarking on the next leg of their migration. Black-crowned Night Herons flew in over the weekend, the Killdeers arrived over week ago, and the American Pipits have returned.
Black-crowned Night Herons
Resident Cardinals and Song Sparrows are chortling from the tip tops of budding Pussy Willows and Bluebirds are moving into their nesting boxes and tree holes. The woods are alive with rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat – Downy, Red-bellied, and Northern Flicker are drumming their woodpecker rhythms.
Crocuses, squill, fiddleheads, and snow bulbs- the Snowdrops and Snow Glories -are poking through slowly awakening soil. My friend DB wrote to say she noticed a Mourning Cloak butterfly over the weekend. Mourning Cloaks are typically the earliest butterflies on the wing because they winter over as adults, safely tucked in the cracks and crevices of tree bark. Mourning Cloaks generally do not drink nectar but feed on tree sap in the spring and rotting fruit in autumn. The females will soon be depositing their eggs on leaves of deciduous trees including hackberry, willow, elm, poplar, rose, birch, aspen, cottonwood, and mulberry.
Consistently when out in fields, I see Bluebird pairs that appear strongly committed to each other. I wondered, do Bluebirds mate forever? In our region, we see Eastern Bluebirds. Ornithologists found from a long term study of Western Bluebirds that the great majority stay together for life. No such studies exist for Eastern Bluebirds however, field observations suggest that about 95 percent mate for life when both are still alive.
Eastern Bluebird female, left, male, right
Interestingly though, mating for life does not exclude extra pair copulations. Genetic studies of broods show that about twenty percent of nestlings are sired by more than one male.
Pairs softly warble to each other early in the morning, the male brings nesting material to a chosen site, and once she has entered his nesting cavity, she will begin to bring nesting material and he will bring food to her to “seal the deal.” In our north of Boston region, you can see the courtship behavior beginning as early as February and March.
Eastern Bluebirds re-mate with another partner if one dies.
In the photos below, it’s very easy to see the difference between a male and female Bluebird. The female’s blue is a more subdued grayish hue while the male’s blue feathers are brilliantly hued.
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).