This morning on my way out I saw the most gratifying sight. A Red Fox KIT was carrying a captured rabbit in its mouth! Why so happy to see this? Because it means our neighborhood Red Fox family is dispersing, the Mama and Papa fox have taught the kits well, and that the young ones are able to hunt for themselves! The moment was so fleeting I wasn’t able to take a photo but the sighting reminded me that I hadn’t finished posting the last batch of photos from the week with the Good Harbor Beach Red Fox Family.
Face to face encounter with a kit – I was very quietly filming his siblings when I heard a faint scraping/rustling noise behind me and turned to see this curious one, perched on a garage roof above looking down. We were only several feet apart and for many good long moments we were able to examine each other eye to eye before he scampered off the roof. Dad Red Fox
I just want to add for the benefit of people who think Red Fox are a nuisance and may even be a bit frightened by their presence. Red Fox are solitary animals (unless denning). They do not hunt in packs and are about half to two-thirds the size of the Eastern Coyote, also seen in our neighborhoods. Their diet consists largely of small rodents, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, fruits, berries, and insects. Generally speaking, they do not go after people’s cats and dogs.
A tremendous plus to having Red Fox in our community is that they are the best hunters of mice and chipmunks, far better than Eastern Coyotes. Chipmunks and mice are the greatest vectors (carriers) of Lyme disease. So the presence of Red Fox is a good thing to help cut down on Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. Because Red Fox compete with Eastern Coyotes for habitat, and because Coyotes eat fox kits, Red Fox are denning closer to human dwellings as they deem it a safer choice than denning where they may encounter a Coyote.
The one drawback to the presence of Red Fox is that they also eat chickens. I am sure. you have heard the phrase don’t allow the ‘fox to guard the henhouse.’ The root of that phrase comes from the fact that unlike many of their competing predators, fox cache their food, meaning they will kill a large number, and then hide the food, which has been known to happen at henhouses.
Here are some fun facts I learned about Red Fox while photographing and filming the Good Harbor Beach fox family –
Red Fox are super fast runners that can reach speeds of nearly 30 miles per hour. And they can also leap more than six feet high!
The Red Fox was originally thought to be introduced from Europe in the 19th century, recent DNA tests have shown that these foxes are indeed native to North America.
To keep warm in winter, the Red Fox uses its bushy tail.
Enjoy any fox sightings, Red or Gray, and please let me know if you are continuing to see them in your neighborhood.
Prior to dawn this morning, two Eastern Coyotes were spotted perusing Saratoga Creek and Good Harbor Beach. They appeared to be a pair; the huskier of the two was definitely the ‘alpha’ Coyote, with the smaller trotting after the larger. Before crossing the Creek, they both stopped to go pooh and pee in a pile of seaweed.
The larger (am assuming a male, but not entirely sure) has a more mottled snout with a black tail tip, while the smaller of the two has a very black snout and no black on its tail tip.
Our little Piping Plover family has for the second year in a row been shunted into the parking lot. Saturday morning at 7am they were seen courting and nest scraping on the beach. After a full morning of plenty of dogs off leash romping on the beach, they were nest scraping in the parking lot. By nightfall, they were mating in the parking lot.
Piping Plover Good Harbor beach nest scrape April 13, 2019
This behavior is precisely what happened last year. The PiPls would begin their morning courting and nest scraping on the beach but by the end of each warm April weekend day, especially off leash days, they were found courting and nest scraping in the parking lot.
Piping Plover parking lot courtship Good Harbor Beach April 2019
Sadly, there is a contingency that endlessly denies that the people not following the leash laws have any responsibility. They expertly spread misinformation and twist words around and this is not helping the Piping Plovers successfully nest and fledge chicks. It’s heartbreaking really because nesting in the parking lot very adversely affects the health of the parents and chicks for a whole host of reasons. The adults will be expending twice as much energy, guarding a nest scrape in both the parking lot and on the beach. Last year, the birds maintained their territory on the beach the entire time they were brooding eggs in the parking lot. Intelligently so, when you think about it, because the beach nest is the precise location they marched their chicks to only one day after hatching.
To help quell the endless misinformation, falsehoods, and downright lies being perpetuated on Facebook –
Piping Plover monitors are not dog haters. Many of us are dog owners (some with multiple dogs) and most of us love all animals, wild and domestic.
I have, as well as have many of our PiPl advocates, been addressing not only the issue of people not following the leash laws at Good Harbor Beach, but problems around littering and trash collection and how these issues adversely affects Piping Plovers and all wildlife. Before there was the Animal Advisory Committee list of recommendation and the city’s Piping Plover Plan, I presented a list of recommendations, which included how to help the PiPl in regard to littering. This plan was presented on July 9, 2018. We fully recognize the threat gulls and Crows pose to the chicks. The focus of late has been the dogs on the beach because they are the greatest disrupters to courtship and brooding and because the PROBLEM IS STILL NOT RESOLVED, despite the ordinance change. There were dogs off leash all over Good Harbor Beach at the time of this writing (Saturday night) and only a very few gulls and Crows.
To address the controversy over “other predators.”
As we have posted many times (including photos of), there are Eastern Coyotes and Red Fox on our local beaches. We see their easily recognized tracks in the sand. But one coyote or one fox, which is the most set of tracks that we ever see on a beach on a given morning at dawn or an evening at dusk, does not in any way equal the disruption to Piping Plovers while they are courting and brooding to that which is caused by several hundred dogs romping on the beach on a single day.
ADULT BIRDS ARE NOT IN DANGER OF BEING EATEN BY FOX, COYOTES, AND DOGS BECAUSE THEY CAN FLY AWAY FROM MAMMALIAN PREDATORS.
Crane Beach, which has by far many more natural predators than does GHB, successfully fledges chicks every year.
Crow in the dune this morning at daybreak. I have posted often about the problem of gulls, Crows, and litter and how the issue negatively impacts Piping Plovers.
ADULT PIPING PLOVERS AND GULLS FEED SIDE BY SIDE ALONG THE SHORELINE.
Gulls and Crows threaten Piping Plover chicks, but we are not even at the chick stage yet. Folks might want to know that because of the restaurants lining the boulevard at Revere Beach, the community has a much, much greater problem with gulls and Crows than we could ever imagine, literally hundreds, if not thousands, on any morning or afternoon. And yet, Revere Beach successfully fledges chicks each year in the exact same locations, and only doors down from where the restaurants are located.
Winthrop Shores Reservation Beach, a densely packed neighborhood with rows upon rows of of triple decker homes facing their beach has a problem with house cats on the beach, and yet this community manages to successfully fledge chicks year in and year out, in the exact same locations.
What do these three very different types of beach habitats have in common, and what are these three beach communities doing right that we are not doing? Perhaps it is because the citizens respect their community’s leash laws.
Repeatedly claiming disbelief at the number of dogs we are encountering at Good Harbor Beach, I have been pressured and cajoled into sharing photos of dogs on the beach by the dog friendly group’s administrator, and when I do, they publicly object. I invite all the negative PiPl Facebook commenters who we NEVER, EVER, EVER see at Good Harbor Beach, to come lend a hand. You were invited to work with us on solving the dogs on the beach issue and our invitation was ignored.
Additional note- Today, Sunday, a former off-leash day, there were fewer dogs on the beach than yesterday, a former on-leash day (as of 12pm). Puzzling, but we are not questioning the PiPls good fortune! Huge shout out to ACOs Teagan and Jamie for their hard work, to to all the people who did not bring their dogs to the beach today, to Gloucester’s DPW for installing the unmissable new signs, and to all the folks who came to GHB today, read the signs, and departed (we saw that happen)!
Our GHB Piping Plovers are weighing their options. Perhaps if we can keep the dog disturbance to a minimum, they will abandon their nest scrape in the parking lot and stay on the beach.
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.
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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.
Saturday morning at 8:30 am, an injured Eastern Coyote was spotted In East Gloucester. The coyote was not bearing weight on its right back leg. He trotted gimpily up Plum Street, before heading down a driveway halfway up the street.
Note in all the photos the Coyote is holding up his right back paw.
Sick and injured coyotes can be unpredictable although, this one appeared nonchalant. I at first thought it was a large dog and was headed towards him to possibly help him find his way home. Despite its inability to put weight on its paw, his coat looks healthy and and he was almost jaunty, leg injury and all.
Just some of the paw prints seen on our local beaches this spring are Eastern Coyote, Red Fox, Skunk, Racoon, White-tailed Deer, and of course, a plethora of crows and gulls.
If you would like to see what wildlife traverses and scavenges Cape Ann beaches when we humans are not there, the best time to look is early, early in the morning, before the tracks are disturbed. Oftentimes the best days to look are after a rain storm, especially after the sand has dried a bit. Forget about tracking tracks on a windy morning. If you are not sure what you are seeing, take a close-up photo of the track, and then take a long shot, too, to see the pattern of the tracks.
The Mass Wildlife Pocket Guide is the best handy track identification tool because it shows clearly the tracks, as well as the pattern of the tracks, and only shows wildlife we see in Massachusetts.
My favorite tracks to find are (no mystery here) Piping Plover tracks, which are wonderfully shaped, like a diminutive fleur de lis.
Piping Plover tracks showing courtship activity
I am waiting to see Black Bear tracks. Just kidding, although, the range of the Black Bear is expanding from western Massachusetts eastward. I imagine that within ten years Black Bears will, at the very least be frequent visitors to Cape Ann, or will be living in our midst. Just the thing Joey will be thrilled to know 🙂
Well hello there little mouse! My husband Tom was releasing a mouse that was caught in his have-a-heart trap. He first opened opened the front door of the trap, with no sign of movement within, and then the back door. After a few minutes passed, out ran the little mouse, but then he froze in his tracks, only several feet from where I was standing. As I was motionless taking his photo, I think he must have thought I was a tree. He suddenly ran up my leg, up under my dress, and poked his head out from beneath my coat. It’s too bad I was holding the camera and not my husband!
Thinking about hantavirus, as well as other diseases mice carry, and just to be on the safe side, I changed my clothes and washed immediately.
Off towards the woods he ran.
Studies show how the increasing Eastern Coyote population has impacted White-footed Mice, Red Fox, and the explosion of Lyme disease. In areas where the Eastern Coyote has outcompeted the Red Fox for habitat, Lyme disease has increased. Coyotes not only kill Red Fox, they simply aren’t as interested in eating mice as are the fox.
Answer: Both the White-footed and Deer Mouse carry hantavirus, not the House Mouse. To be on the safe side, if you find rodent droppings in your home or office, do not vacuum because that will disperse the virus throughout the air. Instead, wipe up with a dampened paper towel and discard.
Please be on alert for a pair of very bold coyotes in the neighborhood. Over the weekend I was standing with a group of photographer friends and we were noticing the coyotes along the edge of a field. The coyotes ducked behind the shrubby growth and soon after, my friends left. I became distracted and forgot about the coyotes while photographing a chatty little Downy Woodpecker. Without warning, the coyotes were suddenly quite near, within twenty feet. I yelled and clapped loudly, which did not in the least intimidate one of the pair. The smaller trotted a few steps back toward the woodland edge while the larger one started to dig in the ground, similar to a bull marking his territory. It was more than a little eerie, and while yelling I began to walk backwards off the field.
When a gentleman came to the field to walk his dog, the coyotes headed back towards the shrubs. Reappearing a few minutes later, they had circled around in the shrubs and began to stalk the leashed dog. I walked towards the man to give the coyotes the idea that we were a group and they didn’t come any closer after that. This post is not meant to alarm anyone, but to let you know that we have some very hungry coyotes in our midst; I had the oddest sensation that they had an expectation of dinner. I sure do hope no one is feeding them.
The bolder coyote is on the left in the above photo. You can see in the middle photo in the first row that the bolder one’s coat is darker (also on the left).
Stopping on my way home from a job site in Boston late this afternoon, I met up with a beautiful immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron. While photographing and filming, out from the woods appeared a pack of coyotes, two youngsters and two adults, I think. Then the heron that I was filming flew low and toward the coyotes; please don’t do that I said to nobody but myself. Up he then flew into the trees above and you can see one of the adult coyotes looking up toward the heron.
The canids took a few sips of water from the pond’s edge before stealing back into the brush. A few seconds later there was a series of loud growling and yelping. I was tired and shaky from a long day with no lunch, a little spooked that the coyotes were so close and didn’t wait to see what would happen next. With both cameras in hand, I did manage to film the scene (and record audio of the ferocious growling!) and here are a few snapshots.
My husband Tom suggested that I write a year-end post about the wildlife that I had photographed around Cape Ann. Super idea I thought, that will be fun and easy. Not realizing how daunting and many hours later, the following is a collection of some favorite images from this past year, beginning with the male Snowy Owl photographed at Captain Joe’s dock last winter, to December’s Red-tailed Hawk huntress.
Living along the great Atlantic Flyway, we have been graced with a bevy of birds. Perhaps the most exciting arrival of all occurred when early summer brought several pairs of nesting Piping Plovers to Gloucester’s most beloved (and most highly trafficked) of beaches, Good Harbor Beach. Their story is being documented on film.
Work on Mr. Swan’s film will also resume this January—the winters are simply not long enough for all I have planned!
While photographing and filming Red-winged Blackbirds this past spring, there was a face-to-face encounter with a hungry coyote, as well as several River Otter sightings.
Female Red-winged Blackbird
The summer’s drought brought Muskrats out from the reeds and into full view at a very dry Henry’s Pond, and a short film about a North American Beaver encounter at Langsford Pond. Numerous stories were heard from folks who have lived on Cape Ann far longer than I about the extraordinary number of egrets, both Snowy and Great, dwelling on our shores. Three Muskrateers There were few Monarch sightings, but the ones seen thankfully deposited eggs in our garden. Thank you to my new friend Christine who shared her Cecropia Silkmoth eggs with me and thank you to the countless readers who have extended an invitation to come by and photograph an exciting creature in their yard.
Pristine beaches, bodies of fresh water, and great swathes of protected marsh and woodland make for ideal wildlife habitat, and Cape Ann has it all. With global climate change pushing species further away from the Equator, I imagine we’ll be seeing even more creatures along our shores. Butterfly and bee populations are overall in decline, not only because of climate change and the use of pesticides, but also because of loss of habitat. As Massachusetts has become less agrarian and more greatly forested, fields of wildflowers are becoming increasingly rare. And too fields often make the best house lots. Farmers and property owners developing an awareness of the insects’ life cycle and planting and maintaining fields and gardens accordingly will truly help the butterflies and bees.
Thank you to all our readers for your kind comments of appreciation throughout the year for the beautiful wild creatures with which we share this gorgeous peninsula called Cape Ann.
The images are not arranged in any particular order. If you’d like to read more about a particular animal, type the name of the animal in the search box and the original post should come up.
When out filming for projects, I’d often thought about what my reaction would be if ever again I came eye to eye with a coyote. Many have crossed my path, but too quickly and too unexpectedly to capture. I don’t bring my dog with me any longer because one brazen one had a go at her two winters ago and it’s just not a good idea to tempt fate. I hoped that calmness would prevail, allowing for a non-blurry photo, or two.
Well, I didn’t panic and got some great footage, and when the coyote was too far out of range for my movie camera, took a few snapshots.
This one appears smaller than what I have typically encountered, perhaps it is only a year or two old, or possibly coyotes are not as plump after the winter months. He/she was very intent upon scavenging in a bed of seaweed that had washed ashore and think it must have been quite hungry to allow me to get so close. He reluctantly left his meal as I moved toward him and then watched me for some time from under cover of beach grass. His shining eyes were easily seen in the fading low light. Mistakenly, I thought that was the end of our meeting and went back to filming B-roll.
Beach grass provides excellent camouflage
I was losing the light and decided to call it a day. Packing up cameras and turning to go, there he was, a hundred yards away, staring at me. Deftly traveling through the tall reeds he had circled around. I don’t think he had me in mind for his next meal, but I was halfway between him and the scavanged dinner from which he had so rudely been interrupted. Plans on how to weaponize my tripod and camera bag quickly came to mind. He trotted leisurely towards me, changed his mind, and then trotted in the opposite direction. A car came down the road and he again turned toward my direction, making his way along the beach until slipping back into the grass.
If ever you have a close encounter with a coyote, be sure to remind yourself of this story and know that they may indeed still be very close by.
Are Coyotes the Cause of an Increase in Lyme Disease?
Struck by the recent interest in coyotes after the fascinating video Two Coyotes Versus One Deer by Shawn Henry was posted on GMG, I became interested in reading various studies and reports about coyotes, wolves, and foxes in Massachusetts and the Northeast. My primary interest at the onset was of concern for the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), which has seen a tremendous decline in numbers. I wondered if the presence of coyotes (Canis latrans) was negatively impacting the Red Fox. In the past, I often saw a Red Fox in the early morning hours trotting along the shoreline at Brace Cove. I wish so much that I had filmed the last that one that I saw because it was a gorgeous scene; a strikingly beautiful creature so completely unaware of my presence and so at home in its realm, investigating rock and seaweed, pausing to sniff the air, and then resuming its journey. The last time I saw a Red Fox in our neighborhood was over three years ago. As I was reading about coyotes I learned the findings of some of the most recent studies indicate that because Eastern Coyotes out-compete the Red Fox, the coyotes are the cause of an increase in Lyme disease. More on that in a moment.
The coyotes that now inhabit every region in Massachusetts are an invasive species. They are a hybrid cross species of the Western Coyote (found west of the Mississippi) and Red Wolf (Canis lupus rufus). “Researchers now believe that the Eastern Coyote is a hybridization between the Western Coyote and Red Wolf many generations ago in the upper Great Lakes region of the United States. It is theorized that as populations of the Western Coyote increased, they were forced to move east and north in search of food. As they moved into Minnesota they crossbred with Gray/Red Wolves and produced a genetically hardy animal able to sustain itself through New England winters.” (Mass Audubon)
Coyotes are not “re-populating” this region because this new species was never in our region.
Eastern Coyotes have extremely broad food habits and many factors affect the coyotes’ diet, including competition with other mammals, abundance of prey, season, and weather. In the Northeast, their diet consists of shrews, rabbits, voles, woodchucks, mice, deer, beaver, muskrat, weasels, squirrels, and carrion. And according to Mass Audubon, “They eat ground-nesting birds and their eggs, as well as reptiles and amphibians. When other prey is scarce they will eat a variety of insects including grasshoppers, beetles and cicadas. When animal matter is scarce, they will eat available fruits including apples, cherries, grapes, and strawberries.”
The rapid invasion of the alien Eastern Coyote has negatively impacted many sympatric native species, as the coyote has assumed the role of top-order predator. The coyote has fundamentally altered the existing ecosystem and various species have experienced population declines as a direct result of their role as coyote prey or from direct competition for food. “Culturally and ecologically significant species including Red Fox decline dramatically in response to increasing coyote populations. Eastern Coyote and Red Fox share many common habitat requirements and occupy overlapping niches. Through time, the larger and more resilient coyote is able to out-compete and displace resident fox populations.” (Department of Natural Resources, Maryland.)
Studies have shown repeatedly that Eastern Coyote predation on deer is minimal. Most herds can handle the coyotes. Typically coyotes have success with fawns that are 4-5 weeks old (after they have become more active and are not by the mother’s side), weakened and sickly adults, and deer separated from the herd. These targets represent approximately one or two percent of the total deer population. While coyote diet studies show consistently the use of deer for food, it does not appear that coyote limit deer population on a regional scale.
Although the population of White-tailed Deer has stabilized, Lyme disease continues to increase. In June of 2012 researchers at the University of California Santa Cruz published their findings from the study “Deer, Predators, and the Emergence of Lyme Disease.” (Taal Levi, lead author.)
The study found that once where there was an abundance of Red Foxes, there is now an abundance of Eastern Coyotes. Even more significantly, fewer coyotes will inhabit an area once populated by more foxes. The greater number of foxes would have consumed a larger number of small tick-bearing animals, primarily White-footed Mice, Short-tailed Shrews, and Eastern Chipmunks, all of which transmit Lyme disease bacteria to ticks. It appears as though it is the Red Fox that once kept the population of these smaller rodents under control.
Even when there is a threefold rise in deer population, study after study now shows that the strongest predictors of a current year’s risk of Lyme disease are an abundance of acorns two years previously. How does that work?
Many acorns = many healthy mice and chipmunks.
Many healthy mice and chipmunks = many tick nymphs.
The following year when it may not be a bumper acorn crop = fewer mice.
Fewer mice and chipmunk = dogs and humans become vectors for the ticks.
While acorns don’t serve as a universal predictor because Lyme disease can be traced to forests where there are no oak trees, the data suggest that food sources and predators of small forest mammals are likely to be valuable in predicting Lyme disease risk for humans.
To summarize, multiple studies suggest that the invasive Eastern Coyote out-competes and kills the native Red Fox population, which leads to a rise in the number of small animals particularly the White-footed Mouse and Eastern Chipmunk, which in turn leads to an increase in ticks that carry Lyme disease. The impact of the Eastern Coyote on native deer population is negligible. And, as many family’s can attest, the impact of the Eastern Coyote on populations of domestic cats and small dogs has been devastating.
Typically the excuse given for unwanted encounters with wildlife is that people are encroaching on the animal’s habitat. That simply is not the case with the Eastern Coyote. The Eastern Coyote is advancing on humans–and they like what they see; no large predators, a reluctance on the part of people to hunt and trap, and an abundance of food. The environmentally and culturally destructive chain reaction caused by the Eastern Coyote invasion is taking on added urgency as the coyote strikes closer and closer to home.
If confronted by a coyote, make as much noise as possible, if attacked, fight back aggressively.