Check out the Gloucester Times article by Taylor Ann Bradford about the wandering Wood Stork that called Cape Ann home for about a month in November. Such a gift to have this magnificent species in our midst!
The footage was shot on the Annisquam River, on November 21st, at dusk. I wish it was brighter, but this is what we have to show that the stork was feeding well, flying, and pooping often (at about 3 mins), all signs he/she was in good health.
Fantastic news about the young Wood Stork, at least we have no reason to believe it is not the same WS as our Cape Ann Wood Stork. On November 29th, a juvenile WS was photographed by two observers at a marsh on Sconticut Neck, Fairhaven, which is just east of New Bedford, on Buzzards Bay. The Stork is heading in the right direction!!
Fun fact about Wood Storks – Friend and fellow lover of all creatures Jill Whitney Armstrong had a question about Wood Storks as they are born without a bird voice box, or syrinx. The only sounds the adults make are bullfrog-like croaks and snake-like hisses. I have read that Wood Stork nestlings are very noisy and that a colony sound like a bunch of braying donkeys!
For more information about the Wood Stork that came to Cape Ann see:
About six years ago, Cape Ann was graced with another great rare bird sighting, that of a White Pelican. He spent a very brief twenty minutes or so at Niles Pond, before then heading in the wrong direction, north. The White Pelican was spotted an hour later flying over Plum Island.
The beautiful young Wood Stork appears to have departed the shores of Cape Ann. As far as I am aware, no further sightings have been reported. A week ago, Tuesday the 23rd of November, the weather turned much cooler with early morning temps dipping in the low thirties. I observed the young WS foraging and swooping across the marsh at daybreak before heading to work. At the end of Tuesday, I didn’t see him, nor the following morning when temps were in the low twenties. Daily checks in all his hotspots have resulted in no sightings. Possibly the cold weather prompted a movement southward. Many of the Great Blue Herons that were also feeding in the marsh have also moved on. Perhaps most have gotten the message that it’s time to get out of here!
The Wood Stork has been on Cape Ann for over a month. I first caught site of him swooping over the marsh and into a tall deciduous tree along Route 128. The site of the WS in flight took my breath away. Several times I circled around trying to catch a second glimpse, but did not see. Over the course of the next month, many sightings were reported and by the mid-November, the WS had settled into the marsh near the railroad tracks.
Fortunately, I did manage to capture some footage of the Wood Stork foraging at dusk and am working on a short video. Most of its time spent feeding on Cape Ann, the WS was crouched down low with only torso visible. I really lucked out because the Wood Stork flew to an opening in a marsh tidal pool where I could see his legs and feet in action. This great gawky bird does an elegant dance shaking its feet in the mud to stir up edible creatures. At one point that you can clearly see in the footage, he does a delightful backward turn whilst foraging.
In reading abut Wood Stork sightings in Massachusetts (see story here, of an elusive juvenile Wood Stork on Cape Cod in 2019), I learned the Wood Stork is rather tolerant of people, which would explain why Cape Ann’s Wood Stork appeared relatively unfazed by the large crowds he attracted:
Mike Faherty, NPR, “I connect with Wood Storks, and not just because we are both bald. They remind me of my younger days doing bird research in the Everglades, where the Wood Stork is one of those birds that, although federally Endangered, could be seen in roadside ditches next to strip malls. Such is birding in South Florida, where the birds are tame and abundant even in the unlikeliest of places. Wood Stork populations crashed from 15,000 pairs to 500 pairs when the Everglades were ditched and drained in the early 20th century, but populations have stabilized enough recently to upgrade them from Endangered to Threatened.
A tender young Wood Stork has been calling our local marshes home for the past several weeks. Along with a second Wood Stork that was rescued from Horn Pond in Woburn, perhaps the two came in with the storm that tore through in October. Unlike the Woburn Wood Stork, Cape Ann’s Wood Stork has been observed feeding beautifully, flying magnificently, and pooping regularly!
The juvenile Wood Stork is far outside’s its normal range. From a population of tens of thousands, there remain only about 10,000 in the US due to habitat loss, most notably in the Florida Everglades. Juveniles disperse northward after breeding and the birds are increasingly nesting farther north. Northwards as far as North and South Carolina, that is, not Massachusetts!
The Stork’s striking black tipped wings are so immense they make a wonderfully audible swish when the bird takes flight. Our Wood Stork is really very young; he still has a fluffy crown of fledgling feathers circling its face. When mature, the Wood Stork’s head is completely bald. With his large expressive brown eyes, I think we are seeing a Wood Stork at the age of its max cuteness.
Wood Storks have a fascinating method of feeding. They hold their bodies in a horizontal fashion while stirring up mud with their feet in the flats at low tide. They open wide impressively lengthy bills and anything that wriggles in is swallowed, including small fish (what we have been observing), crustaceans, snakes, eels, small rodents, and in their native range, even small alligators.
There are many herons and egrets still feeding in the marshes and I am reminded of the juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron that several years ago spent the entire winter here. As long as he/she is finding plenty to eat, we can hope eventually it will take off for parts warmer.
The Wood Stork was behaving provocatively toward the Great BlueHeron, which is slightly larger. Whenever he got a little too close for comfort, the GHB would give warning with a grand flourishing of wings.
Although the GHB looks bigger, reportedly it is not.
All posts about the Wandering Wood Stork:
SHORT FILM – WOOD STORK IN MASSACHUSETTS! AND SUPER GREAT WS UPDATE!
MASSACHUSETTS WANDERING WOOD STORK UPDATE
CAPE ANN’S WANDERING WOOD STORK FEATURED IN THE GLOUCESTER TIMES TODAY!
Good morning PiPL Friends,
Sunday marked the late nest little chick’s ten-day-old milestone. Thank you to all our GHB and CHB ambassadors for your wonderfully watchful eyes and updates. And thank you Deb and Duncan for the late day/ early evening misty sightings.
Susan Pollack writes from her morning shift,
“Good morning all,
On this drizzly morning I found the new dad and chick all the way down the beach, foraging at the water’s edge. It was high tide, no time to be at the creek.
The dad was as protective ever, chasing off sanderlings skittering at the tideline and piping at walkers to keep their distance. In quieter moments he and the chick, as lively as ever, resorted to some thermo-snuggling.
When Jane arrived at 8, I headed west to look for Handsome and the fledgling. I found them with Mom, who seems to have lost a leg, and a plover I assume is the mother of the new chick. All four birds were resting contentedly in the sand, their bodies cocked into the wind. No other birds were in sight, a peaceful scene.”
and Jennie shares a haiku for Heidi,
Heavy cloud day—
refuge for chick and dad
at river’s bend.
A brief update from Dave Rimmer – although there were PiPls at Coffins Beach, for the first time in a long while, there were no nests. The good news is that there are three chicks in Beverly!! Thanks so much to Dave for sharing the 411.
Jill, please let me know if you touch base with Joe regarding the monofilament bin. Thank you 🙂
Have a great day!
Some photos of our little ten-day-old chick and family
Salt Island Dad puffed out, making himself look larger while defending the littlest chick from Handsome
Good morning PiPl Friends,
Eventful day for our PiPls and our Ambassadors was yesterday!
Thank you Jennie and Ann for being on top of the drone issue. The City’s website only says 50 feet but I am not sure if that follows federal and state guidelines. I thought the distance was 200 meters (650 feet, or approximately two football fields as my husband pointed out), which is what I wrote on the informational one sheets. We can find out from Carolyn where specifically it is written and exactly what is the distance. Either distance, causing a disturbance to the Plovers is considered harassment and is fineable.
Last summer I watched a drone hovering over a Plover family with only one-day-old chicks. It was mortifying to see how terrified the adults were and it took hours for them to settle down. Later that summer, I observed a drone chase a Great Blue Heron from treetop to treetop. These drone operators were there intentionally to film the birds. It was difficult to observe how oblivious they were to the bird’s responses. I reported the PiPl drone incident to the DCR biologists, but the man had left the area.
Thankfully the two guys yesterday at GHB stopped after some talking to by Jennie, and the Plovers were not their focus. Thank you Jennie and Ann for seeing the issue through and staying until they packed up.
Regarding the Great Blue Herons at Good Harbor yesterday, GBH are frequent visitors to GHB, both in the marsh, at the Creek, and along the front of the beach, too. They eat everything, including adult Plovers and chicks 🙁 As much as I love them, I keep a close watch.
Sue Winslow has been by to check on the GHB PiPls. She hasn’t yet seen them but can hear peeps in the marsh. Hopefully all survived the unrelenting deluge this early am. High tide was at 6:07, precisely when the storm was at its worse.
Udate, the parent and chick have been spotted down the Creek.
Thank you so very much again to everyone for your kind well wishes and offers to help. I have an appointment with a specialist tomorrow afternoon and will know then whether an operation is needed.
Have a lovely Sunday, funday!
Although I made this video over eight years ago its still fun to see the Great Blue Heron at GHB eating an eel.
Did you ever wonder why some birds, such as Bluebirds and Robins, lay blue or bluish green eggs? And just as interesting why, in some cases, Bluebirds which generally lay blue eggs, a nest may comprise eggs that are almost white?
The earliest avian eggshells probably lacked color, or pigmentation. Over time, most likely to protect the eggs from predators, birds evolved a diverse range of colored shell markings from mottled brown, gray and beige to rainbow hues from pure white to pale pink, lavender, yellow, aqua, orange, blue, born and even black.
The molecules that cause pigmentation in bird eggs are biliverdin (the blue-green shades) and protoporphyrin (red and brown colors and speckles) but we can talk about blue eggs without getting too technical.
Basically, blue and blue-green strikes a balance between white and very dark colored eggs. Darker eggs are predicted in moderate light to shield the embryo from intense light, including harmful UV radiation. If when eggs are in an exposed nest and the shells are too dark, it can cause the interior to heat up, similar to a “dark car effect.” Simply stated, blue eggs regulate the effects of sunlight on the developing chick (embryo).
This doesn’t explain entirely why Eastern Bluebird eggs range from white to blue green. Many cavity nester’s eggs are white because the adults need to see the eggs in the dark. Wood Ducks are an example of cavity nesters with white eggs. American Robins generally nest in trees or a semi-exposed site and their eggs are blue, affording both protection from dangerous UV light and low risk from heating up. Eastern Bluebirds are cavity nesters but only about 4 to 5 percent of their eggs are white. Oftentimes when learning about a topic, myriad more questions come to mind!
To read more –
Some birds with blue eggs that nest locally include Red-winged Blackbird, Gray Catbird, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, House Finch, Bluejay, Goldfinch, European Starling, Eastern Bluebird, and American Robin.
Both Bluebird nest egg photos courtesy Google image search
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.
Great Blue Herons truly are the Jet Blue of the avian world! The following incredible story is shared with us by reader Chris Callahan and comes from the Heron Observation Network of Maine.
Harper Wows Us Again!
Harper, an adult female great blue heron outfitted with a solar-powered GPS unit, has just flown nonstop for 68 hours on her southward migration! She spent the summer in New Brunswick, Canada, and the post-breeding season on Chaleur Bay on the border of QC and NB. At around 7pm on October 8th she left this rich feeding area and flew continuously crossing over Nova Scotia and then out over open ocean. She came within 165 miles of Bermuda but turned westward toward the US mainland. At 3:15pm on October 11th, she finally made landfall on the southern tip of Cumberland Island on the Georgia coast. She has since gradually made her way to the Everglades in Florida. Last year she impressed the world by flying nonstop over open ocean for 38 hours. She nearly doubled that duration this year! We will be watching to see if she returns to last year’s wintering area in Guajaca Uno, Cuba, and will post updates on our Facebook Page. For more information on the tracking project, including how to download the data to explore on your own, visit: https://www1.maine.gov/wordpress/ifwheron/tracking-project/.
Great Blue Heron range map
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
The past week Eastern Point has seen a wonderful influx of wildlife, in addition to the beautiful creatures already wintering over and migrating through.
On Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a great raft of Ring-necked Ducks joined the flock of Buffleheads and Mallards at Niles Pond. Five chunky American Coots have been there for over a week, and two female Ruddy Ducks have been spotted.
Fifteen Harbor Seals were sunning and basking on the rocks at Brace Cove on Wednesday, along with several Bonaparte’s Gulls that were diving and foraging in the waves. The increasingly less timid Lark Sparrow is still here, too.
The most enigmatic of Great Blue Herons criss crosses the pond a dozen times a day but, unlike last year’s fall migrating GBH, who allowed for a closer glimpse, this heron is super people shy. He has been here for about a week and was present again today.
This morning I watched the four beautiful Mute Swans depart over Brace Rock, in a southerly direction. Will they return? Mute Swans migrate from body of water to body of water within a region. Perhaps they will return, or they could possibly have flown to a nearby location–further exploring our Island.
Leaving Niles Pond this morning and flying over Brace Cove.
PART THREE: SUMMER
The most joyous story about Cape Ann wildlife during the summer months of 2018 is the story of the high number of Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in gardens and meadows, seen not only in strong numbers along the Massachusetts coastline, but throughout the butterfly’s breeding range–all around New England, the Great Lakes region, Midwest, and Southern Canada.
Three days after celebrating the two week milestone of our one remaining Piping Plover chick, Little Pip, he disappeared from Good Harbor Beach. It was clear there had been a bonfire in the Plover’s nesting area, and the area was overrun with dog and human tracks. The chick’s death was heartbreaking to all who had cared so tenderly, and so vigilantly, for all those many weeks.
Our Mama and Papa were driven off the beach and forced to build a nest in the parking lot because of dogs running through the nesting area. Despite these terrible odds, the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair hatched four adorable, healthy chicks, in the parking lot. Without the help of Gloucester’s DPW, the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, Ken Whittaker, Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, and the AAC, the parking lot nest would have been destroyed.
These brave little birds are incredibly resilient, but as we have learned over the past three years, they need our help to survive. It has been shown time and time again throughout the Commonwealth (and wherever chicks are fledging), that when communities come together to monitor the Piping Plovers, educate beach goers, put in effect common sense pet ordinances, and reduce trash, the PiPl have at least a fighting chance to survive.
Little Pip at twelve- through seventeen-days-old
All four chicks were killed either by crows, gulls, dogs, or uneducated beach goers, and in each instance, these human-created issues can be remedied. Ignoring, disregarding, dismissing, or diminishing the following Piping Plover volunteer monitor recommendations for the upcoming 2019 shorebird season at Good Harbor Beach will most assuredly result in the deaths of more Piping Plover chicks.
Not one, but at least two, healthy and very hungry North American River Otters families are dwelling at local ponds, with a total of seven kits spotted. We can thank the fact that our waterways are much cleaner, which has led to the re-establishment of Beavers, and they in turn have created ideal habitat in which these beautiful, social mammals can thrive.
Several species of herons are breeding on our fresh water ponds and the smaller islands off the Cape Ann coastline. By midsummer, the adults and juveniles are seen wading and feeding heartily at nearly every body of water of the main island.
In order to better understand and learn how and why other Massachusetts coastal communities are so much more successful at fledging chicks than is Gloucester, I spent many hours studying and following Piping Plover families with chicks at several north of Boston beaches.
In my travels, I watched Least Terns (also a threatened species) mating and courting, then a week later, discovered a singular nest with two Least Tern eggs and began following this little family, too.
Least Tern Family Life Cycle
Maine had a banner year fledging chicks, as did Cranes Beach, locally. Most exciting of all, we learned at the Massachusetts Coastal Waterbird meeting that Massachusetts is at the fore of Piping Plover recovery, and our state has had the greatest success of all in fledging chicks! This is a wonderful testament to Massachusetts Piping Plover conservation programs and the partnerships between volunteers, DCR, Mass Wildlife, the Trustees, Greenbelt, Audubon, and US Fish and Wildlife.
Friends Jan Crandall and Patti Papows allowed me to raid their gardens for caterpillars for our Cape Ann Museum Kids Saturday. The Museum staff was tremendously helpful and we had a wonderfully interested audience of both kids and adults!
In August I was contacted by the BBC and asked to help write the story about Monarchs in New England for the TV show “Autumnwatch: New England,. Through the course of writing, the producers asked if I would like to be interviewed and if footage from my forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing, could be borrowed for the show. We filmed the episode at my friend Patti’s beautiful habitat garden in East Gloucester on the drizzliest of days, which was also the last day of summer.