Perhaps some day soon, in the not too distant future, the US flag will come to represent all its citizens equally, including women and children; people of every color, ethnicity, and religion; and the LGBTQIA+ community. That’s what I am thinking about this Independence Day. How about you?
July’s evening sky
Beautiful golden Blue Moon set over Gloucester Harbor. The photos were taken from East Main Street, looking towards City Hall. Capturing the flag from across the Harbor on the eve of this historic election, Blue Moons occur about every 2.5 years while the next Halloween Full Moon won’t take place for another 18 – 19 years.
Happy Halloween everyone!
A note about the photos – for the past five years I have been photographing and filming the Cormorants massing. The photos are from 2016 – 2019, and most recently, from 2020. Some of the earliest ones were taken at Niles Beach in 2017. In 2018, my friend Nina wrote to say that the massing also takes place in her neighborhood on the Annisquam River. Several weeks ago, while hiking on the backside of Sandy Point, facing the Ipswich Yacht Club, the Cormorants were massing there, too. Please write if you have seen this spectacular event taking place in your neighborhood. Thank you so much!
Massing in great numbers as they gather at this time of year, Double Crested Cormorants, along with many species of gulls and herons, are benefitting from the tremendous numbers of minnows that are currently present all around the shores of Cape Ann.
At inlets on the Annisquam and Essex Rivers, as well as the inner Harbor and Brace Cove, you can see great gulps of Cormorants. In unison, they push the minnows to shore, where gulls and herons are hungrily waiting. The fish try to swim back out toward open water but the equally as hungry Cormorants have formed a barrier. From an onlooker’s point of view, it looks like utter mayhem with dramatic splashing, diving, and devouring. In many of the photos, you can see that the birds are indeed catching fish.
The Double-crested Cormorants are driving the feeding frenzy. I have seen this symbiotic feeding with individual pairs of DCCormorants and Snowy Egrets at our waterways during the summer, but only see this extraordinary massing of gulls, herons, and cormorants at this time of year, in late summer and early autumn.
Cormorants catch fish by diving from the surface, chasing their prey under water and seizing it with the hooked bill.
Double-crested Cormorants are ubiquitous. When compared to Great Cormorants, DCCormorants are a true North American species and breed, winter over, and migrate along the shores of Cape Ann.
After feeding, the herons often find a quiet place to preen before heading back in the late afternoon to their overnight roosting grounds.
Double-crested Cormomrant range map
Essex-built Schooner Roseway moored at Gloucester Harbor this morning -such a beauty and always easy to spot with her distinctive rose-colored sails.
The West Coast wildfires continue to cast a strange and eerie haze over Eastern skies. The sun appears redder and later in the sky in the morning and disappears behind a thick gray haze earlier in the afternoon.Gloucester Harbor Cape Pond Ice Sunset
Six schooners sailed about Gloucester Harbor Sunday morning. Oh how we all missed this year’s Schooner Festival! But it was glorious to see these sailing beauties out in the harbor together at the same time. I was at Niles Beach Sunday morning and raced home to get my camera. The parade was coming to an end by the time I returned, but how lucky to catch a glimpse of Cape Ann Schooners Redbird, Thomas E. Lannon, and Ardelle lined up.
I was at one of the beaches where documenting the Piping Plovers and noticed a little chocolate brown duckling shape smack in the middle of a wide sandy beach, sitting all alone. I moved closer to the duckling and it ran towards me, peeping and piping all the while. The little thing would run pell mell through the flats and then plop down exhaustedly. It appeared to be a Common Eider duckling but, not having seen any that small, I wasn’t entirely sure. I looked for its Mom but could not find her.
To my utter surprise, a short time later and while I was still trying to figure out what to do, a second duckling appeared. It, too, was moving in the same direction, running and plopping. I scooped both ducklings up and put them together and they immediately began to cuddle and snuggle with each other. A sweet couple with a baby agreed to watch the pair while I went further down the beach looking for Mom.
I only found a dead female Common Eider and decided these babies were never going to make it on their own. A quick call to wildlife rehabilitator Jodi from Cape Ann Wildlife and she referred me to her friend Hilary, who she said would take the ducklings out on her boat to search for, and possibly join, another Common Eider family.
One thing you should know about Common Eiders is that Common Eider Moms, along with non-breeding “Aunties,” band together for protection. The individual broods come together to form a crèche, which may include as many as 150 ducklings!
The sweet couple and I packed sand at the bottom of one of Charlotte’s beach pails that were conveniently stored in the car’s trunk, placed the ducklings ever so carefully, and then gently covered with an unused diaper. I drove home with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand applying slight pressure to the diaper. I was just imagining what would be the outcome of the two rambunctious little fellows escaped in my car.
Stopping for a minute at our home to grab a larger container because I was again imagining the little escape artists, this time running around on a boat. Husband Tom had packed a crate and Charlotte had a brief, but squealing-with-joy moment.
I arrived at Harbor Loop just before sunset and after quick introductions, Hilary escorted the ducklings and I to her skiff. Pulling out of her slip and passing the Schooner Ardelle two minutes hadn’t gone by when eagle-eyed Hilary spotted a crèche! She zoomed the boat over to the other side of the Harbor at Pirate’s Lane and sure enough there was a small flock of five ducklings and several adult female Common Eiders.
Slowly and expertly Hilary steered the boat towards the flock. I placed the ducklings in the water however, they all began to swim in opposite directions. It looked bad for a few minutes but Hilary turned the boat around and ever so gently corralled the birds until the flock was headed back toward the orphans. The two were peeping continuously and as the flock grew closer, the adults could hear their peeps. The Moms and Aunties began craning their necks and swimming towards the peeps. After only another brief moment, it appeared flock and babies were united. We didn’t hang back very long because the boat we thought may distress the birds.
I am happy to report that the following morning I walked down to the bottom of our hill and found the crèche of Eiders. Guess how many ducklings were swimming with the Moms and Aunties? Seven!
Hilary was simply amazing. She was ready at a moment’s notice to help. This was actually the third time she has reunited Common Eider ducklings.
Many in the community already know and love Hilary for her GHS sailing program, but for me, it was the first time meeting her and it was completely my joy. Thank you, thank you Hilary.You are the best!
Currently Jodi has some little Wood Ducklings in her care. Please consider donating to Cape Ann Wildlife. Who would I have called if not for Jodi, and who else would know to ask Hilary for her kind assistance? Visit the Cape Ann Wildlife Facebook page here. Thank you!
Called the Worm Moon because the ground begins to soften and earthworms reappear, inviting Robins to our gardens. Among many names, March’s Full Moon is also called the Sleepy Moon, Sap Moon, Crust Moon, Lenten Moon, and Crow Moon.
Photos of the full Super Worm Moon rising and setting.
Good Harbor Beach
In recent weeks there have been more than a few reports of Dovekies and other seabirds found on our local beaches, both alive and dead. Friend Jeff Papows has found several dead birds and has returned one live Dovekie and one Common Murre.
Jeff knew just what to do with the stranded birds, which is to return them to the water. Jodi Swenson, from Cape Ann Wildlife, recommends this is best. She shares that seabirds do not do well in rehab. If on the other hand the bird appears sick or emaciated, then please call Tufts at (508) 839-7918.
Dovekies, like many seabirds, are clumsy on land, however they do nest on land, so we know they are able to walk. Then why are they stranding? It most commonly happens to young, inexperienced birds. But stranding can also happen in great numbers to exhausted adults after large storms. This influx is known as a wreck. One of the most tragic and dramatic wrecks occurred along the East Coast in 1932, when thousands of Dovekies literally “rained” from the sky.
We’d like to get an understanding of how many seabirds are washing ashore. If you have seen a Dovekie, or other species of seabird, dead or alive on the beach this winter, please write and let us know when and where. Thank you so much.
Common Murres are more crow-sized whereas Dovekies are more similar in size to an American Robin
While filming the tiny Dovekie as he was blithely bopping along the inner Harbor, dip diving for breakfast and seeming to find plenty to eat, suddenly from directly beneath the Dovekie, two ginromous chocolate brown heads popped up. Almost sea serpent-like, and so completely unexpected! I leapt up and totally ruined the shot, and the little Dovekie was even more startled. He didn’t fly away but ran pell mell across the water about fifteen feet before giving a furtive look back, and then submerging himself.
So there we were face to face, only about twenty feet apart. We spent a good deal of time eyeing each other, several minutes at least, both trying to figure out the other’s next move. Their eyes are so large and expressively beautiful. Down they dove and search as I might, could not spot them again.
There have been plenty of Harbor Seals seen in Gloucester Harbor, but I have never been so close to a Grey Seal, and so delighted to see not one, but two!
The following are a number of ways to tell the difference between a Harbor Seal and a Grey Seal.
Harbor Seals are smaller (5 to 6 feet) than average Grey Seals (6 feet 9 inches long to 8 feet 10 inches long). Bull Grey Seals have been recorded measuring 10 feet 10 inches long!
Harbor Seals have a concave shaped forehead, with a dog-like snout. The head of a Grey Seal is elongated, with a flatter forehead and nose.
Harbor Seal head shape left, Grey Seal head right
Harbor Seals have a heart or V-shaped nostrils. The nostrils of Grey Seals do not meet at the bottom and create more of a W-shape.
Grey Seals are not necessarily gray. They are also black and brown. Their spots are more irregular than the spots of a Harbor Seal.
The tiny “Little Auk” has been on our shores for several days and this morning I was finally able to take a few good snapshots. It dips and bobs in a funny manner, weaving back and forth, up and down the channel, before using its wings to deeply dive for small fish and crustaceans.
A low flying helicopter overhead prompted Charlotte and I to head to the Harbor this morning. A fishing captain we met suggested it was a Wicked Tuna film crew, but I don’t recognize the boat Kraken from the show. By the time we got there, a dense fog bank was rolling in and filming quickly ended. If any of our readers know more, please write. Thank you 🙂
What is a Kraken I wondered? From wiki: The Kraken is a legendary cephalodpod-like sea monster of giant size in Scandinavian folklore. According to the Norse sagas, the Kraken dwells off the coast of Norway and Greenland and terrorizes nearby sailors. Authors over the years have postulated that the legend may have originated from sightings of giant squids that may grow 13-15 meters (40 to 50 feet) in length. Read more here.