Tag Archives: female red-winged Blackbird

The Magical Month of May for Migrations in Massachusetts

May is a magical month in Massachusetts for observing migrants traveling to our shores, wooded glens, meadows, and shrubby uplands. They come either to mate and to nest, or are passing through on their way to the Arctic tundra and forests of Canada and Alaska.

I am so excited to share about the many beautiful species of shorebirds, songbirds, and butterflies I have been recently filming and photographing for several projects. Mostly I shoot early in the morning, before setting off to work with my landscape design clients. I love, love my work, but sometimes it’s really hard to tear away from the beauty that surrounds here on Cape Ann. I feel so blessed that there is time to do both. If you, too, would like to see these beautiful creatures, the earliest hours of daylight are perhaps the best time of day to capture wildlife, I assume because they are very hungry first thing in the morning and less likely to be bothered by the presence of a human. Be very quiet and still, and observe from a distance far enough away so as not to disturb the animal’s activity.

Some species, like Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons, Great Egrets, Brant Geese, and Osprey, as well as Greater and Lesser Yellow Legs, are not included here because this post is about May’s migration and these species were seen in April.

Please note that several photos are not super great by photo skill standards, but are included so you can at least see the bird in a Cape Ann setting. I am often shooting something faraway, at dawn, or dusk, or along a shady tree-lined lane. As so often happens, I’ll get a better capture in better light, and will switch that out, for the purpose of record keeping, at a later date.

Happy Magical May Migration!

The male Eastern Towhee perches atop branches at daybreak and sings the sweetest ta-weet, ta-weet, while the female rustles about building a nest in the undergrowth. Some live year round in the southern part of the US, and others migrate to Massachusetts and parts further north to nest.

If these are Short-billed Dowitchers, I’d love to see a Long-billed Dowitcher! They are heading to swampy pine forests of high northern latitudes.

Black-bellied Plovers, much larger relatives of Piping Plovers, look like Plain Janes when we see them in the fall (see above).

Now look at his handsome crisp black and white breeding plumage; its hard to believe we are looking at the same bird! He is headed to breed in the Arctic tundra in his fancy new suit.

The Eastern Kingbird is a small yet feisty songbird; he’ll chase after much larger raptors and herons that dare to pass through his territory. Kingbirds spend the winter in the South American forests and nest in North America.

With our record of the state with the greatest Piping Plover recovery rate, no post about the magical Massachusetts May migration would be complete without including these tiniest of shorebirds. Female Piping Plover Good Harbor Beach.

Cape Ann Wildlife: A Year in Pictures

snowy-owl-gloucester-massachusetts-c2a9kim-smith-2015My 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.
red-tailed-hawk-eating-prey-gloucester-massachusetts-21-copyright-kim-smith

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.

piping-plovers-chicks-nestlings-babies-kim-smithWork on Mr. Swan’s film will also resume this January—the winters are simply not long enough for all I have planned!swan-outstretched-wings-niles-pond-coyright-kim-smith

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-copyright-kim-smitrhFemale Red-winged Blackbirdeastern-coyote-massachusetts-kim-smith

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-muskrat-family-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithThree Muskrateers
female-monarch-depositing-eggs-1-copyright-kim-smithnewly-emerged-monarch-butterfly-copyright-kim-smith-jpgThere 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.

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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.
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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.

I wonder what 2017 will bring?

nine-piping-plovers-napping-gloucester-copyright-kim-smith

sandpipers-copyright-kim-smith

SHADBLOW, SHADBUSH, CHUCKLEBERRY TREE, SERVICEBERRY, JUNEBERRY…

Yellow Warbler Shadblow Amelanchier copyright Kim SmithYellow Warbler hopping through the Shadblow branches eating small insects

Shadblow Red-winged Blackbird Atlantic Coastal Plain copyright  Kim SmithShadblow blooming with Red-winged Blackbird coming in for a landing

Shadbow, Shadbush, Chuckleberry Tree, Serviceberry, and Juneberry are just a few of the descriptive names given the beautiful Shadblow tree lighting up our marsh and woodland edges. With lacey white flowers, Shadblow (Amelanchier canadenisis) is one of the first of the natives to bloom in spring, growing all along the Atlantic coastal plains.

A fantastic tree for the wild garden, over 26 species of songbirds and mammals, large and small, are documented dining on the fruits of Shadblow (including bears). The small blue fruits are delicious, though rarely consumed by humans because wildlife are usually first at the table. The foliage of Shadblow is a caterpillar food plant for the Red Admiral Butterfly. Look for her eggs on the upper surface at the tip of the leaf. Dew drops and Shadblow -2 c Kim SmithShadblow in bud  at the water’s edge with dewdrop necklace

Fruiting in June at the same time of year as the annual spawning migration of shad, is how the names Shadblow and Juneberry came about. The common name Serviceberry is derived from the flower clusters gathered for use in church services. Shadblow reeds Atlantic coastal plain copyright Kim SmithShadblow in bloom Loblolly Cove

The Shadblow and reeds create a beautiful symbiotic habitat for the blackbirds, Grackles and Red-wings, especially. Reeds of cattails and phragmites make ideal nesting material and sites, and come June, above the nesting area, a songbird feast of Shadblow berries ripens.

Common Grackle males copyright Kim SmithCommon Grackle nesting copyright Kim SmithMale Common Grackles nest building in reeds

Female Red-winged Blackbird copyright Kim SmitrhFemale Red-winged Blackbird perched on cattail while collecting fluff for her nest and calling to her mate.

Shadblow moonlight copyright Kim SmithAmelanchier in the moonlight

Star of the Marsh

Male Red-winged Blackbird Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015Heard at nearly every New England marsh, one can’t help but notice the beautiful and seemingly never ending song of the male Red-winged Blackbird. From sunrise to sunset he’s calling to his girl. Early this spring I set out to record the sounds of the marsh for my Monarch film. The male Red-winged Blackbirds are the stars of the marsh and while capturing their vocalizations over the past several months, I also was also able to capture footage of their fascinating behaviors. 

Male Red-winged Blackbird Massachusetts -5 ©Kim Smith 2015Male Red-winged Blackbirds Perching on Cattails (and Eating the Seed Heads, Too)

You’ll see many more males because they perch on higher ground, at the top of the cattails, phragmites, scrubby shrubs, phone lines, and treetops. They are defending their territory through song and a showy display of red and yellow wing bars. The males too, often swoop to the edge of the pond’s shoreline and peck at the sand.

Female Red-winged Blackbird Massachusetts  -3©Kim Smith 2015

Plain Jane Female ~ What’s All the Fuss About!

The female Red-winged Blackbird, with her more subdued feathers of brown and beige, typically stays closer to the ground, building her nest and eating insects.

Female and Male Red-winged Blackbird Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015

Female Red-winged Blackbird in the foreground with male in the background. As you can see in the photo, the female looks like a large dark sparrow.

Loblolly Cove ©Kim Smith 2015Loblolly Cove ~ Red-winged Blackbird Superhighway

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