Tip Top Tulips cutting field opens today! SEE MORE HERE
You may recall that I have written a number of times about my friend Paul Wegzyn and his stunning and enchanting School Street Sunflowers. Paul has created another magically enchanted flower experience for the community! This past autumn, Paul, and his Dad Paul, planted several hundred thousand tulips at two different fields.
The smaller field at 22 School Street, Ipswich, is opening on Sunday, April 18th. This field is planted for pick-your-own tulips. Charming wicker baskets are provided and the cost is $1.00 per stem.
The second field, named Tip Top Tulips (located at 71 Town Farm Road, Ipswich ), is going to be the show stopper. Rows and rows of beautiful multi-colored tulips, from early flowering varieties to late flowering cultivars will be blooming over the next two months. Tip Top Tulips is scheduled to tentatively open the following week, approximately April 24th, depending on the weather.
The theme this first year for Tip Top Tulips is Love, in honor of Paul’s Mom, and as with School Street Sunflowers, there will be beautiful photo vignettes positioned around the field.
Deanna Gallagher will have her adorable and friendly Shetland Sheep and cows at Tip Top field, providing even more fun and wonderful photo moments for the family. Charlotte had the best time with Deanna and her goats at School Street Sunflowers last summer and I cannot wait to take her to Tip Top Tulips this spring!
Fo more information, visit Tip Top Tulips website here and follow on Instagram here.
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!
Male Eastern Bluebird Wing-waving
For over a week, American Wigeons have been spotted along our shores. They spend most of the day foraging on sea lettuce and seaweed. One pair appear particularly fond of each other. They share meals, preen simultaneously, and occasionally come onto shore together. In the photo you can see the two lovebirds sharing their sea lettuce dinner.
Both male and females have beautiful baby blue bills. The females feathers are softly hued in shades of brown while the male has a brilliant white “bald” spot atop his head, earning him the not widely used common name “Baldpate.” The males also sport a brilliant eye patch that in certain light flashes emerald green or may appear coppery bronze.
Cape Ann is a stopping over point for the dabbling American Wigeons on their journey north. Pairs form at their wintering grounds and the two will stay together during incubation. The males practice a low bow and sings a soft whistle during courtship. Both times I tried to record it was too windy. You can find a recording of the males courtship calls here: American Wigeon sounds. The first two recordings are the sounds they are currently making.
Between the years 1966 and 2015, the American Wigeon population fell by approximately 2 percent per year, resulting in a cumulative decline of 65 percent over the 49-year period (Cornell). During 2012-2016, hunters took approximately 650,00 Wigeons per year. USFWS monitors duck hunting, limiting the number of ducks killed based on population. The population decline is also attributed to drought as well as loss and degradation of wetland habitat.Male courtship bow
American Wigeon range map
This beautiful pair of Eastern Screech Owl lovebirds has made its nest in the cavity of an ancient maple tree. The tree is on the property of a kindly and very tolerant gent, Ron, who always has a nice word or humorous comment for the many observers and photographers that have visited.
According to neighborhood lore, this is not the first year the pair has nested here. What makes these lovebirds especially wonderful to see and fun for comparing life forms is that one is a gray morph (or phase) and the other a rufous (red) morph. The color has nothing to do with the sex of the owl. There are rufous males and rufous females, and vice versa. There is also a brown morph. The gray and brown morphs are thought to have evolved to better blend with deciduous trees such as maples and oask, whereas the rufous morph is better camouflaged in pine trees.
With this pair of lovebirds I am still unsure of who is who. Sometimes you see only the red Screechie sitting in the fore, more often the gray lately, and very rarely now, the pair together. As I suspected, and as was confirmed by Mass Audubon, the male will roost with the female during nesting, which also makes it challenging to determine one from the other. The females are larger but when they are sitting side by side snuggled up against each other as they were at the beginning of courtship, it doesn’t help much in determining size.
My best guess is the red is the female and the gray the male, because it is the gray one I have seen heading out at night to hunt.
Screech Owls don’t create their own nests; they use abandoned woodpecker homes and other natural cavities.The Screech Owl’s nest is merely the cavity. They don’t add sticks or twigs or any nesting material and simply lay eggs on the substrate. The female lays between three to eight eggs. The male does the better part of hunting for both during incubation. After approximately 26 days the eggs hatch. The owlets grow quickly and will begin to stretch their wings at about one month old.
Screech Owls are nocturnal and are seen hunting mostly in the first hours after nightfall. They eat just about anything they can catch, from small mammals such as mice, bats, squirrels, moles, shrews, and voles to small birds such as finches, as well as doves and quail. Other prey include large insects, earthworms, toads, lizards, snakes, spiders, centipedes, and crawdads.
I haven’t heard this pair make the “screeching” sound for which they are famous, instead they make the most beautiful gentle tremolo trilling at dusk. I tried to record it and if it came out well and when I have a few spare minutes, I will post.
The tree provides food and habitat for many species of songbirds. All these birds photographed are aware of the owl’s presence and some, like the Tufted Titmice, Bluejays, and Nuthatches make it their business to harass on a daily basis.
Love is in the air!
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.
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.
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.
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
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
The Eastern Coyote breeding season runs from December through March although typically, the end of February is peak mating season. Pairs are generally monogamous and may maintain a bond for several years. In April or May, anywhere from four to eight pups are born and both the male and female will raise the litter.
The Coyote (scientific name Canis latrans or “barking dog”) is one of the world’s most adaptable mammals. It can now be found throughout North and Central America. Eastern Coyote DNA reveals that as it was expanding its territory northward and eastward, coyotes occasionally interbred with wolves encountered in southern Canada. Eastern Coyotes are typically larger than their western counterparts because of the wolf genes they picked up during their expansion. The wolf gene gives them the strength and ability to hunt deer. Because there are no wolves in our area they are not actively cross-breeding and are not “coywolves.” Many species in the Canid Family (dog family) often hybridize so our Eastern Coyote has a nearly equal percentage of both dog and wolf DNA, and an even higher percentage of dog DNA in southern states, Mexico, and Central America. Coyotes that I filmed in Mexico looked much more dog-like than our heavily bodied local Eastern Coyotes.
This young Red Fox was spotted early one recent morning, hungrily scraping the ground for food. Perhaps he was hunting a small rodent or digging for grubs. How have the Red Foxes that were born in our neighborhoods last spring adapted to survive winter’s harsh temperature and snowy scapes?
Red Fox have evolved with a number of strategies and physiological adaptations. Their fur coats grow thick and long, up to their footpads, which aid in heat insulation. Adult Fox begin to moult, or shed, their winter coat typically in April. Young Red Fox do not moult at all the first year but continue to grow fur until their second spring.
Red Fox have relatively small body parts including their legs, ears, and neck, which means less body surface is exposed to frigid temperatures allowing them to conserve body heat. During the winter, Red Fox are less active than during the summer months. Decreased activity also helps to conserve body heat.
The Red Fox’s diet varies according to seasonal abundance. In the summer their diet is supplemented with berries, apples, pears, cherries, grapes, grasses, and acorns. All year round they feed on grubs and insects as well as small mammals such as rabbits, rodents, and squirrels. Red Fox have extraordinarily sharp hearing largely because their ears face outward. They can detect a mouse a football field away, under cover of snow!
Check out this fantastic video created by Dave Rimmer, Essex Greenbelt’s Director of Land Stewardship and Osprey Program. The footage was taken last summer from Greenbelt’s OspreyCam. Watch highlights of the 2020 Osprey season captured from Annie and Squam’s nest in Gloucester. Annie and Squam fledged three chicks, Vivi, Rusty, and Liz, and you can watch their development from egg to fledging.
It’s that time of year again when we occasionally find stranded seabirds on our beaches. Seabirds, also known as marine birds and pelagic birds, are birds that spend most of their time on the ocean, away from land. Ninety-five percent of seabirds breed in colonies. During the nesting season is the only time you will see them on land. Common Murre, Thick-billed Murre, Dovekie, Puffin, and Northern Gannet are examples of marine birds.
Seabirds can become stranded for several reasons. Possibly they are sick, injured, or starving. Seabirds are also generally clumsy when on land. Sometimes they are stranded for no other reason than they can’t make their way back into the water.
If you find a stranded seabird first check to see if it is injured. If the birds appears uninjured and relatively healthy, approach from behind, gently pick up, and place in the water.
If the bird is injured, follow the guidelines provided by Tufts Wildlife Clinic:
Wear gloves. When dealing with waterfowl, a thick pair of work gloves can prevent personal injury. A net is very useful for capturing animals that will try to flee or fly. If a body of water is nearby, get between the water and the animal. If the bird is not flighted, you can try to herd it towards an area like a wall or bush where you can more easily catch it.
Prepare a container
A large crate or large box with air holes, lined with newspaper or a sheet/towel will work for most large birds.
Put the bird in the box
Cover the bird’s head with a towel, keep the wings tucked into the body, and always be careful of its bill and wings. Immediately close the box.
If you can’t transport it immediately
- Keep the bird in a warm, dark, quiet place.
- Do not give it food or water. Feeding an animal an incorrect diet can result in injury or death. Also, a captured animal will get food and water stuck in its fur/feathers potentially leading to discomfort and hypothermia.
- Do not handle it. Leave the animal alone. Remember human noise, touch and eye contact are very stressful to wild animals.
- Keep children and pets away from it.
Transport the Bird
Tufts Wildlife Clinic
50 Willard St.
North Grafton, MA 01536
During transport, keep the bird in the box or crate, keep the car quiet (radio off).
If you need help
If you need help capturing an injured or sick wild animal, the following are good resources for you to reach out to.
The rarely seen Black-headed Gull continues to make his home in Gloucester waters this winter. It’s super fun to watch his troublemaking antics, which include trying to snatch morsels of food from other gulls. Here he is getting into a smackdown with a Ring-billed Gull.
Black-headed Gull lost this round but after flying away briefly and dusting himself off, he jumped back into the fray.
The footage of the Eastern Point Lighthouse and Mother Ann was shot Wednesday afternoon as the storm was waning, about an hour and a half after high tide.
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!