Tag Archives: Gooseberry Island

Little New England Cottontail!

Why does this little rabbit look so different from the rabbits we see so often in our gardens, alongside roadsides, and in meadows and dunes? Because it is a New England Cottontail!

Massachusetts has two species of cottontails, the New England Cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis) and the Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus). The introduced vegetable-and-flower-eating Eastern Cottontail has flourished, while this beautiful and illusive little creature’s numbers have dwindled to an alarmingly low number.

Prior to 1930, New England Cottontails were present in all 14 counties of Massachusetts and it was the only cottontail species appearing among 59 reports, except for 7 from Nantucket where Eastern Cottontails were introduced as early as the 1880s. Between 1924 and 1941, at least 16,200 Eastern Cottontails were imported from the mid-west and released. Another 4,600 were raised and released at a state propagation facility.

The most critical threat to New England Cottontails is loss of habitat. They can only survive in the ephemeral landscape of newly emerging forests, which provide low ground cover for shelter. Once a forest matures, the low growing plants become too sparse to offer food and shelter. Today the New England Cottontail resides in only about one fifth of its historic range.

The photo above of the New England Cottontail was taken at Gooseberry Island in Westport. He shot across the path on the way to the beach and wish I had a better photo to share, but now that I know to look for them there, I’ll try again.

You can compare the difference in the rabbit species in the two photos. The New England Cottontail’s (above photo) ears are shorter and his fur a bit grayer than the Eastern Cottontail (below). When I caught a glimpse of him I immediately recognized the rabbits we saw daily at my grandparent’s home, built in the dunes on a bluff on Cape Cod, where at that time, there were few homes and lots of cool scrubby habitat for wild creatures.
The ubiquitous Eastern Cottontail, Good Harbor Beach

Dwindling New England Cottontail Range Map.

As you can see, New England Cottontails have been completely extirpated from Cape Ann and Essex County.

Learn more about New England Cottontails here.

WHERE DO ALL THE MONARCHS GO?

Monarch Butterfly and Seaside Goldenrod at Gooseberry Island, Westport

After departing the shores of Cape Ann in autumn, where is the Monarch’s next destination on their several thousand mile journey to Mexico? Our Cape Ann Monarchs join the stream of Monarchs that are migrating southward along the Atlantic Coast. They hug the coastline, crossing bays and ponds, and pausing at beaches to nectar and rest when caught in a headwind or during a storm. When weather and habitat variables combine to create a favorable year for the Monarchs, there may be tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of butterflies traveling along the Atlantic Coast beaches.

The Gooseberry Island old lookout tower is surrounded by a sea of Seaside Goldenrod.

The next major stopover is Westport in Massachusetts, at Gooseberry Island and Allen’s Pond Wildlife Sancturary. Here they find dunes and fields of nectar-rich wildflowers such as Frost Asters, Purple-stemmed Asters, Seaside Goldenrod, Knapweed, Red Clover, and more.

Monarchs drinking nectar from Red Clover at Allen’s Pond Middle Meadow

The sanctuary at Allen’s Pond is host to many species of butterflies during the Monarch’s fall migration, including Clouded Sulphurs, Orange Sulphurs, and Painted Ladies.  They, too, drink nectar from the Knapweed, Red Clover, asters, goldenrod, and Black Mustard in the sanctuary fields.

The Atlantic Monarchs next head to New York, traveling along the coast of Long Island, from the eastern tip of Montauk, southwest to Fire Island, and continuing to Coney Island. On the day of October 9th, because of a storm passing through, a batch of migrating Monarchs was “stuck” on Plumb Island in Brooklyn.  After the storm passed the following morning, tens of thousand of Monarchs were observed flying over the dunes and along the beach, resuming their journey south.

Monarchs in the gardens at Battery Park with ferry to the Statue of Liberty in the background. Liv photo and video (below).

Our daughter Liv reports that over the weekend of October 21-22, New York City was teeming with Monarchs. She observed hundreds at Coney Island on Saturday, and even more at the gardens at Battery Park on Sunday. Liv has even seen them in the NYC underground subway stations!

After departing the shores of Long Island and NYC, the next great stopover and roosting area is Cape May, New Jersey. The Monarchs pause along the way, stopping to drink nectar and rest on the barrier beaches of the Jersey Shore. Latest field reports suggest that the dunes and fields of Cape May are rife with Seaside Goldenrod that is still in bloom. I am on my way there today and will report all that I see.

From Cape May Point the Monarchs travel ten miles across the Delaware Bay, then journey along the eastern shores of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Some years the Monarchs converge by the millions at the Virginia National Wildlife Refuge waiting for the right winds to carry them across the Chesapeake Bay.

Some Monarch Butterflies travel to Florida, but most are funneled in through the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains, on into Texas and central Mexico.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BaIN9gcFtxOrWP27M6OactjFI6UB_VYRPCaaU00/

If you would like to help towards the completion of my documentary film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, filmed in the wilds of Cape Ann and Angangueo, Mexico, please consider making a tax deductible donation here:

DONATE HERE

Donors contributing over $5,000. will be listed in the credits as a film producer.

For more information, visit the film’s website here: Monarch Butterfly Film

For an overview of the film’s budget, please go here: Budget

Thank you so very much for your help.

With gratitude,

Kim Smith