Tag Archives: Eastern Point

#ploverjoyed FOR A BIT OF PLOVER FLOUFERY!

Over the weekend a mini flock of a half dozen Semipalmated Plovers arrived on Eastern Point, basking in the warm sun and partaking of an abundance of sea worms. I had to take a second look because at this time of year, Semipalmated Plovers look very similar to Piping Plovers. The SemiPs fade from rich chocolate brown and black plumage to hues of weathered driftwood and sandy shores, very closely resembling their cousins.

SemiPs bathe just as do PiPls. They cautiously approach the water, making sure there are no predators before plunging. Repeatedly dipping and diving, then springing from the water with  outstretched wings in a hopping flourish, they then take some quiet moments to flouf and to pouf.

Thank you to our PiPl friend Todd Pover for sharing the hashtag #ploverjoyed!

 

Semipalmated Plover in summer breeding plumage

TWILIGHT FROM EASTERN POINT AND THEY ARE BACK!

Harbor Seals

Recent twilight scenes from Eastern Point. And the Harbor Seals have returned! In actuality, they are here all year round. We just see many more of them in the fall through spring.

Niles Beach Panorama

SPLENDID COOPER’S HAWK – A CONSERVATION SUCCESS STORY GIVES HOPE

Cooper’s Hawk at Twilight

A crow-sized bird, we often see Cooper’s Hawks at the edge of woodlands where mature trees grow. They have a blue-gray back and rusty orange streaking on white breast, similar to Sharp-shinned Hawks. The easiest way  to differentiate the two species is by their head shape and size. Sharp-shinned Hawks have smaller, rounder heads, while the Cooper’s head is larger and flatter on top.

The explosion of Cooper’s Hawks in Massachusetts is a result of several factors. Partly because fewer dairy farms has led to plant succession and maturing forests. Cooper’s nest toward the top of tall trees.

As with so many species of birds, the banning of DDT has also played a role in the bird’s resurgence.

Cooper’s Hawks prey on chickens. They were at one time considered a pest and hunted mercilessly. Because of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it is illegal to hunt and kill birds of prey, and punishable by a fine of up to 15,000.00 and six months in jail.

Cooper’s Hawks also prey on squirrels, pigeons, starlings, and sparrows, all of which are abundant in suburban and urban environments. With their ability to adapt to human behaviors and habitats, Cooper’s Hawks, Barred Owls, and Red-tailed Hawks are rapidly expanding their breeding range in Massachusetts. In thinking about the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and in banning dangerous chemicals that harm wildlife, it gives hope to think about how changes in our laws and behavior have had a profoundly positive impact on these three beautiful species.

Most Cooper’s Hawks migrate south for the winter but increasingly more and more are choosing to overwinter in Massachusetts.

Cooper’s Hawk range map

THE DIFFERENTIAL GRASSHOPPER

I am not entirely certain, but I think the species name of this grasshopper is the Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis). Whatever the species, he’s pretty charming, and so well-camouflaged!!

 

While poking around looking for information about grasshoppers, I came across this fascinating article about how a chemical in the grasshopper’s brain changes the creature from harmless to a swarming locust : https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/a-brain-chemical-changes-locusts-from-harmless-grasshoppers-to-swarming-pests

EASTERN POINT BRACE COVE-NILES POND BERM RESTORATION UNDERWAY

The strip of land that narrowly divides Niles Pond from Brace Cove suffered storm damage this past winter. Rough rocks and boulders were strewn willy nilly all about the berm. The path has been greatly smoothed and looks fantastic!

BEAUTIFUL SNOWSHOEING AND SLEDDING SNOW BUNTING SNOWFLAKES

I have so loved filming and photographing Snow Buntings this winter, finding small and medium sized flocks from Sandy Point to Cape Ann, and further south, all along the coast of Massachusetts. The flocks I have been filming are becoming smaller; male Snow Buntings have already begun their long migration north. Don’t you find all migrating species of wildlife fascinating? Especially a tiny creature such as the Snow Bunting, which breeds the furthest north of any known land-based bird. From the shores of Massachusetts Snow Buntings migrate to the high Arctic where they nest in rocky crevices.

The range shown in orange is where Snow Buntings nest

What has been especially fun to observe is when the Snow Bunting uses its feet as snowshoes and belly like a sled when traversing snow covered beaches. Oftentimes that’s how you can find them, with their unique step-step-slide-tracks. Snow Buntings seem to forage nearly non-stop, perching while shredding grassy seed heads and leaves, and pecking on the ground for seeds caught between sand, stones, and snow.  To get from one clump of vegetation to the next, they hop lightly over the surface, snowshoeing along, and then slide along on their bellies. Snow Buntings must gain 30 percent of their body weight before beginning their journey.

Snowshoeing and Sledding

Lively disagreements over food ensue, usually nothing more than a mild spat.

Males typically depart the northeast for their nesting grounds earlier than do the females, arriving three to six weeks ahead of the females. Snow Buntings migrate entirely at night, following the geomagnetic field of the Earth, independent of any type of visual clue!

Notice in several of the photos you can see their “feathered pantaloons,” providing extra protection against freezing temperatures.

Snow Bunting eggs and nest in rocky crevice, images courtesy Google image search

Nicknamed Snowflakes because of their ability to nest in snow!

BEAUTIFUL PASTEL-HUED BRACE COVE SUNRISE AND SEA SMOKE

Today’s winter sunrise, with the added beauty of sea smoke

BEAUTIFUL FV JEAN ELIZABETH LOBSTER BOAT AT THE DOGBAR BREAKWATER

Friday morning found the Jean Elizabeth at the Dogbar Breakwater. The lobster boat was close enough inshore for Charlotte to watch and understand what was happening and she was fascinated. Despite the  numbing cold and wind, the men were hard at work. Thanks to our local Cape Ann lobstermen, we are blessed to have fresh caught lobsters throughout the year!

Reader Ned Talbot writes that the captain of the boat is Jay Gustaferro. Thank you Ned for commenting!

HORNED LARK THREESOME!

Three brownish songbird sorts flew on the scene. Feeding along the pond’s edge at this time of year the brown birds we mostly see are Song Sparrows, but they are more solitary and I don’t usually see them flying around together in a group. Hoping for a bunch of beauties, I approached the trio very quietly, one baby step at a time, and was delighted to see not one but three Horned Larks! I wish the sun had been shining so you can see how beautiful is the male’s lemony yellow throat.

Several weeks ago there was one, possibly two, feeding with American Pipits and a Snow Bunting. What a treat to see three!

Two appeared to be male and one female. The easiest way to tell the male from the female is by looking at the facial markings. The female lacks the black eye patch.

Male and female Horned Larks foraging on seeds

A LOLLYGAGGING SEAL GOOD MORNING TO YOU!

Good Morning!

STARTING THE NEW YEAR OFF ON A HAPPY BUT MELANCHOLY NOTE

As was the case for so many, New Year’s Day was joyful but bittersweet, too. I drove Liv to the airport at dawn for her return trip to LA. She can work remotely and was able to travel home in early December, before the second surge. When she arrived home she quarantined, taking a Covid test prior to, and again after arriving. Liv extended her visit an extra week so that she did not have to fly back last weekend. It’s nerve wracking dropping her off at the airport but she has had to fly occasionally for work during the pandemic and Delta is only allowing at most 50 percent capacity. She flies at odd times so the planes are mostly empty, and she is often allowed to upgrade to first class for free, as she was on this flight. All that being said, with the surge on top of the surge and the new strain running rampant, praying and hoping she will remain safe and Covid-free.

Having both adult children home, along with our darling Charlotte here with us full time, we are having more fun as a family – cooking together, playing card games, laughing, joking, and telling stories. This family time together has been the silver lining to the pandemic and the part I will choose to remember.

I stopped on the way home to watch the planes taking off and snap a photo of the first sunrise of 2021.

After returning from the airport, Charlotte and I took one of our mini nature walks around Eastern Point. The very first creature we encountered was a young Double-crested Cormorant. He was attempting to cross the berm. We almost walked right into him! For some reason we couldn’t quite understand, he didn’t care to fly from Brace Cove to Niles Pond, but was on foot.

After we stood very quietly for several minutes (no small feat for a three-year-old) he decided we weren’t a threat and crossed our path, not three feet away!

Continuing on our mini trek, we spotted the rare Black-headed Gull bobbing along in the cove (see yesterday’s post).

To top off our day, a young Cooper’s Hawk flew overhead and landed in a nearby tree.

Wishing you a healthy New Year Friends!

RED-TAILED HAWK IN THE WAXING CRESCENT MOON

As luck would have it, the Red-tailed Hawk swooped in and perched on a phone pole just opposite where I was standing taking snapshots of the Harbor. I turned to take a photo of the Hawk and the crescent Moon was rising! The Hawk only stayed a brief moment, but it was a beautiful thing to see.

Then, as we walked closer to the Lighthouse, a juvenile Great Blue Heron flew overhead! All on a  December’s afternoon!

AMAZED AND WONDERFUL TO SEE A HORNED LARK ON THE BEACH! Along with Snow Buntings and American Pipits

This past week while photographing a Snow Bunting and several American Pipits, a friendly bird, not in the least skittish, caught my eye. It was acting sort of Pipit-like, similar size-wise and foraging in the sand, but had a striking black streak across its cheek and lemony yellow face. I wasn’t sure what I was looking at until returning home to look it up. I always take lots of photos when I am unsure of what it is I am photographing, just because you never know. I am so glad, because several of the photos gave a great clue. In the snapshots where the bird is looking dead on, you can actually see its tiny feathery “horns.” I think there were two Horned Larks with the small mixed flock, one slightly paler than the other.

‘Horns’ of the Horned Lark

The Snow Bunting was clearly the boss of the mini flock. If another approached too closely to where it was foraging, the bird gave a brief but aggressive hop and flutter toward the intruder.

In winter time, look for Horned Larks in fields, meadows, beaches, and dunes, in large and small mixed flocks. Interestingly, in Europe, the Horned Lark is called the Shore Lark and after the wonderful beach walk surprise, it’s easy to understand why.

Snow Bunting unfazed by Charlotte

Horned Lark and Snow Bunting

American Pipit

Snow Bunting

 

CROWS ATTACKING HAWK

Poor little Sharpie didn’t stand a chance of going unnoticed. The Eastern Point Crow Patrol was all over him, cawing vociferously and dive-bombing, alerting every creature within earshot of his presence. The juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk held his ground for a bit, before tiring of the sky guardians and heading for cover into a nearby tree.

STUNNING FROST BEAVER FULL MOON RISE WITH HARBOR SEALS AND EVENING SUNSET!

Sunday night was simply wonderful for sky watching. Looking eastward, the nearly full Beaver Moon (also called Frost Moon) rose over Brace Cove while the seals were still lolling about on the rocks.

Passing Niles Beach on the way home the last lingering red rays of light were illuminating the Boston skyline and the Dogbar Breakwater light.

Called the Beaver Moon because according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, November is when Beavers head into their lodges for the winter.

Full Beaver Moon rising

Harbor Seals in the rising moon and fading sun, Brace Cove

 

TONIGHT’S VIBRANT VIOLET SKY DRAMA SILHOUETTE LIGHTHOUSE SUNSET

Tonight’s sunset after the storm

I especially love the colors in the above image

SO COLD YOU CAN SEE THE GREAT BLUE HERON’S BREATH

The second photo was taken during the last cold snap. I didn’t realize until looking at the photos tonight that you could see his breath. Note the rock he is perched on. For over a month I would find him there sleeping in the morning. In the top photo, the rock has barely any pooh, so funny because after only a month, it’s really sloshing with it.

WHEN SNOW BUNTINGS FILL THE SKIES!

At this time of year flocks of Snow Buntings small and large can be found at our local sandy beaches and rocky coastlines. I am finding them throughout my roaming range, from Plum Island to South Boston.

What is not to love about this sweetly charming tubby little songbird, including its name, Snow Bunting, and nickname Snowflake. I am often alerted to the Snow Buntings presence by their distinct and highly varied social chattering. More than once though I and it have been startled as one flutters away to avoid my footsteps. The alarmed Snow Bunting will call loudly, warning its flock mates of a human, and then they will all lift to the skies in a swirling unison of Snowflakes.

Snow Buntings especially love rocky crevices and outcroppings. They nest in rocky areas of the Arctic tundra and while resting and foraging along Massachusetts coastlines, Snow Buntings go largely undetected in the similarly colored rocks.

The conical -shaped bill of Snow Buntings tells us that they are are seed eaters and in autumn and winter, Massachusetts beaches provide a wealth of seed heads remaining on expired wildflowers and grasses. Beach stones, along with piles of beach debris, trap seeds and I have captured a number of photos where the foraging songbirds pop up between the rocks with a mouthful of seed.

Early morning invariably finds Snow Buntings sleeping amongst beach rocks. It is a joy to watch as they slowly awaken, stretching and floofing, before tumbling out in a burst of black, white, and rusty brown to forage for the day.

Remarkably, Snow Buntings are nocturnal migrants. They are able to detect the geomagnetic field of the Earth for guidance to their breeding and overwinter grounds. The orientation of the Snow Bunting during migration is independent of any visual cue.

The 40 plus year old annual Christmas Bird Count shows a 64 percent decline in the Snow Bunting population. Climate change and neonicotinoids (pesticides) are thought to be the main reason for the decline.