What a lift for all who saw the beautiful bevy of Mute Swans at Niles Pond Tuesday afternoon. Many thanks to Duncan B for the text letting me know. I am so appreciative to have seen these much missed magnificent creatures.
The flock is comprised of three adults and five youngsters. You can tell by the color of their beaks and feathers. Five of the eight still have some of their soft buttery brown and tan feathers and their bills have not yet turned bright orange.
The two in the foreground are adults; the two in the background are not yet mature
Deep diving for nourishing pond vegetation
The swans departed at night fall. Where will they go next? Mute Swans don’t migrate long distances, but move around from body of water to body of water within a region. Please keep your eyes peeled and please let us know if you see this bevy of eight beauties. The following are some of the locations to be on the lookout at: Niles Pond, Henry’s Pond, Pebble Beach, Back Beach, Front Beach, Rockport Harbor, Gloucester inner harbor, Mill Pond, Mill River, Annisquam River – pretty much anywhere on Cape Ann!
The recent winter storms of 2018 have provided empirical evidence of how global climate change and the consequential rising sea level is impacting the Massachusetts coastline. Whether broken barriers between the ocean and small bodies of fresh water, the tremendous erosion along beaches, or the loss of plant life at the edge of the sea, these disturbances are profoundly impacting wildlife habitats.
The following photos were taken after the March nor’easter of 2018 along with photos of the same areas, before the storm, and identify several specific species of wildlife that are affected by the tremendous loss of habitat.
Barrier Beach Erosion
Nesting species of shorebirds such as Piping Plovers require flat or gently sloping areas above the wrack line for chick rearing. Notice how the March nor’easter created bluffs with steep sides, making safe areas for tiny chicks nonexistent.
You can see in the photos of Good Harbor Beach (top photo and photos 3 and 4 in the gallery) that the metal fence posts are completely exposed. In 2016, the posts were half buried and in 2017, the posts were nearly completely buried. After the recent storms, the posts are fully exposed and the dune has eroded half a dozen feet behind the posts.
In the photo of the male Piping Plover sitting on his nest from 2016 the metal posts are half buried.
Although scrubby growth shrubs and sea grass help prevent erosion, the plants have been ripped out by the roots and swept away due to the rise in sea level.
Plants draw tiny insects, which is food for tiny chicks, and also provide cover from predators, as well as shelter from weather conditions. If the Piping Plovers return, will they find suitable nesting areas, and will plant life recover in time for this year’s brood?
Other species of shorebirds that nest on Massachusetts’s beaches include the Common Tern, Least Tern, Roseate Tern, American Oyster Catcher, Killdeer, and Black Skimmer.
Common Tern parent feeding fledgling
Where Have All the Wildflowers Gone?
Female Monarch Depositing Egg on Common Milkweed Leaf
Wildflowers are the main source of food for myriad species of beneficial insects such as native bees and butterflies.
Monarch Butterflies arriving on our shores not only depend upon milkweed for the survival of the species, but the fall migrants rely heavily on wildflowers that bloom in late summer and early fall. Eastern Point is a major point of entry, and stopover, for the southward migrating butterflies. We have already lost much of the wildflower habitat that formerly graced the Lighthouse landscape.
Masses of sea debris from the storm surge washed over the wildflower patches and are covering much of the pollinator habitat at the Lighthouse.
American Wigeon Migrating at Henry’s Pond
Barriers that divide small bodies of fresh water from the open sea have been especially hard hit. The fresh bodies of water adjacent to the sea provide habitat, food, and drinking water for hundreds of species of wildlife and tens of thousands of migrating song and shorebirds that travel through our region.
The recently rebuilt causeway (2014) between Niles Pond and Brace Cove was breached many times during the nor’easter. The causeway is littered in rocks and debris from the sea.
The causeway being rebuilt in 2014.
The road that runs along Pebble Beach, separating the sea from Henry’s Pond has been washed out.
The footsteps in the sand are where the road ran prior to the storm.
Mallards, North American Beavers, Muskrats, North American River Otters, and Painted Turtles are only a few examples of species that breed in Massachusetts fresh water ponds and wetlands. All the wildlife photos and videos were shot on Cape Ann.
Migrating Black-bellied Plover
Cape Ann is hardly alone in coping with the impact of our warming planet and of rising sea level. These photos are meant to show examples of what is happening locally. Regions like Plymouth County, which include Scituate and Hingham, have been equally as hard hit. Plum Island is famously heading for disaster and similar Massachusetts barrier beaches, like Cranes Beach, have all been dramatically altered by the cumulative effects of sea level rising, and recently accelerated by the devastating winter storms of 2018.
Covering storms back to back, I didn’t have time to post on both Good Morning Gloucester and on my blog. The following are links to storm posts from the region’s three March nor’easters, beginning on March 2nd.
Article by Boston Globe correspondent Emily Sweeney
Photos courtesy Kim Smith
A popular swan at Henry’s Pond in Rockport managed to stay one step ahead of rescuers who were trying to capture him Tuesday.
The elderly bird, known affectionately as “Mr. Swan,” has been a common sight at the pond for many years. During that time, he’s fathered many cygnets and outlived two of his mates, and led a peaceful existence on the water.
But things took a turn recently when Mr. Swan hurt his leg. Although he could still swim, some people began to notice that Mr. Swan was having difficulty walking. And they began to worry.
Soon enough, the Animal Rescue League was called in to help.
“The swan is considered a community pet, so the goal was to capture it, have it treated, and then returned to the pond,” said Michael DeFina, a spokesman for the Animal Rescue League.
While that mission sounds simple, carrying it out proved to be anything but. Catching Mr. Swan turned out to be an impossible task for the organization’s rescue team. Armed with large nets, the two rescuers — Bill Tanguay and Mark Vogel — used kayaks to pursue Mr. Swan on the water. At one point, Vogel almost caught Mr. Swan in his net, but the bird was able to break free.
Mr. Swan eventually sought refuge in the reeds, and the rescuers decided to call off the chase.
“The swan was stressed, and the soaring temperatures made him very tired,” said DeFina. “The fact he eluded capture and was able to swim without showing obvious signs of pain led to the conclusion that the injury may not be that severe.”
“After giving up the chase, ARL and the concerned parties agreed to continually monitor the swan’s condition, and if it worsens, ARL will be contacted to get the swan medical attention, and again, have him returned to the pond,” DeFina said.
Kim Smith, a Gloucester resident who counts herself among one of Mr. Swan’s many fans, described the rescue attempt as a “wild swan chase.”
“He was chased back and forth across the pond,” she said.
What made his escape even more impressive is Mr. Swan’s age. According to Smith, sightings of Mr. Swan date back to the early 1990s, which would make him at least 27 years old. (Smith knows Mr. Swan well: she’s spent the past six years filming him for a documentary film.)
“He’s an amazing creature,” she said.
DeFina said that the average lifespan for a swan in the wild can be about 10 to 15 years due to the hazards they can encounter (getting caught in fishing gear, getting hit by a boat, etc.), while a swan living in a protected environment can live 20 to 30 years.
“It’s clear that there are certainly people in Gloucester who care for this swan, if he’s in fact been around that long,” DeFina said.
Smith said that although the Animal Rescue League’s efforts were well-intentioned, she’s happy that Mr. Swan eluded capture.
“He’s lived this long, he deserves to spend his last days in his own neighborhood with his friends,” she said.
After suffering the extraordinary trauma of yesterday’s attempted capture, Mr. Swan was seen late in the day by friends, peeking his head out between the reeds. I stopped by to see him this morning at about 6:30, thinking perhaps I would catch a glimpse, and to my utter surprise he was sitting on the edge of the road that divides Pebble Beach from Henry’s Pond. Very deliberately, Mr. Swan was heading to the open ocean. He was obviously extremely weary from the effort, and from the previous day’s event, taking only a few difficult steps at a time, before plopping down, then a few steps more. Slowly and determinedly he made his way.
Crossing the road between Henry’s Pond and Pebble Beach
Friends Lois, Serena, and Skip Monroe stopped by to offer food and encouragement. After at least an hour of effort, he made it to the water’s edge and took off toward Niles Pond (it usually takes him about five minutes to cross the road).
Making his way through the super yucky red seaweed.
Shortly after we got a call from Lyn that Mr. Swan had arrived safely at Niles Pond. I stopped by Niles on my way to work to see him and he appeared so much happier and relaxed than earlier in the morning. A true survivor, he was gliding and preening and vocalizing. Long live Mr. Swan!
In regards to how old is Mr. Swan, I was reminded by another great Friend of Mr. Swan, Skip Hadden, that Mr. Swan is actually at least TWENTY SEVEN years old!! When Skip arrived at Niles Pond in 1992, Mr. Swan was an adult breeding male with a family (swans do not begin to breed until they are at the very least two years old).
Regarding Mr. Swan’s foot injury, Skip writes, “He has injured this foot in the past. He fell off our roof after crash landing there in turbulent winds circa 2000. Heartily agree in daily monitoring as he is one determined character. He has a strong chance of survival if left to his own devices and our small efforts to assist from a distance.”
Mr. Swan at Niles Pond this morning! I hope he chooses to stay here to recuperate.
Despite repeated attempts by Boston Animal Rescue League workers Bill Tanguay and Mark Vogel to capture Cape Ann’s beloved swan, Mr. Swan escaped.
The day began a little after 6:00am when the Friends of Mr. Swan convened at Henry’s Pond to strategize on how to manage and understand the mysterious notice posted at the pond, which read, “Please don’t feed swan. He is being rescued on Tuesday.” The Friends of Mr. Swan are a group of people who feed and monitor Mr. Swan on a daily basis throughout the year and they include Skip Hadden, Lois, Serena, Skip and Joel Monroe, Lyn Fonzo, Elaine Somers, and myself. The news had spread quickly amongst the group about the scheduled rescue. Mr. Swan’s left foot appears to be sprained or in some way injured at the ankle (possible snapping turtle bite) but we had taken the tactic of allowing the foot to hopefully heal on its own. Wildlife capture can lead to euthanasia and that is truly the last diagnosis any of us would want for Mr. Swan (also known as Buddy, Poppa Swan, Old Blue Eyes, and Papa Swan).
Lois and her Buddy
Mr. Swan is at least 27 years old, has outlived two mates, and fathered many cygnets. With his beautiful blue eyes and pure white cygnet offspring, Mr. Swan is a rare form of Mute Swan (Cygnus immutabilis), thought to originate from the Baltic Sea region. All these many years that he has called Cape Ann home Mr. Swan has brought joy and happiness to countless people, especially to young children. At this point, he is not showing outward signs of physical pain, he is feeding and drinking, and maintaining his feathers (preening). We hope with all our hearts that his foot will heal but believe that if it his time to go, he should be permitted to live out his remaining days in his own neighborhood with his community of friends.
Lyn and her Poppa
The Friends agreed to take turns watching for the ARL workers. Our objective was to speak with them to learn more about the specifics of the capture and how it would impact Mr. Swan’s overall health, what would be the various courses of action based upon veterinary examination, if we could determine the outcome with covering his medical bills, and to insure that Mr. Swan be returned to Cape Ann, if he did have to undergo rehabilitation.
ARL’s Bill and Mark arrived at around noon. We discussed the various options and were assured that as Mr. Swan is a community “pet,” with plenty of friends to look out for him, he would less likely be euthanized.
Coaxing Mr. Swan to the pond’s edge was easy when offered some favorite foods, but getting him to walk onshore was another story. Out came the kayaks, where Mr. Swan led Bill and Mark on a wild swan chase back and forth from one end of the pond to the other. He skillfully led the workers through the thick reeds of phragmites, where he has a secret nest and many avenues of escape. At one point it appeared as though Mark had captured him with the swan-sized net, but he wriggled out and bolted free. We could see Mr. Swan panting and visibly tiring and at that point he slipped deep, deep into the reeds and was not seen again. We all came to the mutual decision that it was best not to continue as Mr. Swan was clearly super stressed and exhausted.
Super stressed and panting after being chased around the pond numerous times.
Final slip into the reeds.
Bill, Mark, and the Friends decided that the logical course of action is to continue to monitor Mr. Swan on a daily basis. If his condition worsens we will at that time call the ARL. In the meantime, we are urging everyone to please follow these simple guidelines in helping Mr. Swan on his road to recovery.
A healthy diet while healing is critically important. He should only be fed cracked or whole corn. Additionally, chopped lettuce or grass cuttings can be offered along with the corn. PLEASE NO JUNK FOOD, which includes bread, chips, and every other kind of processed food snack.
Please do not bring your pooch to the shoreline where Mr. Swan is resting. Dogs, especially bird chasing dogs, create a great deal of stress for swans.
If you see Mr. Swan in any kind of distress please contact any one of the Friends of Mr. Swan or email me at email@example.com
Please share , thank you! We Friends of Mr. Swan would like to know who posted the do not feed sign because there is a planned “rescue” of him, which is to take place tomorrow, Tuesday.
We are all aware of his injured leg, and expect that it will heal. If it does not heal, we will have a swan expert have a look at him and take him to Tufts, if needed.
To the well-intentioned person, Mr. Swan will be EUTHANIZED if he is rescued by the wrong group. Whoever is planning Tuesday’s rescue should be aware of the following information, passed on by Jodi Swenson, our region’s local bird rescue expert:
“Because he is non-native, Mr. Swan would have to go to New England Wildlife Center. But, if it is just a limp, or something like that, leave him alone because a hurt leg that won’t get better will make him non-releasable, and that means EUTHANASIA”
Mr. Swan, filmed several days ago at Niles Pond. He is staying in the water, probably so as not to bear weight on his leg. He is eating fine and his feathers are well-groomed and in good shape, signs that he does not need to be rescued at this point. Also, in order to fly from Henry’s Pond to Niles Pond, he needs to run on his feet, otherwise he won’t become air born. Mr. Swan is well over twenty years old. If his leg is not curable, he deserves to live out his life in his own neighborhood with his friends.
My 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.
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.
Work on Mr. Swan’s film will also resume this January—the winters are simply not long enough for all I have planned!
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
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 Muskrateers There 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.
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.
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.
Often asked this question, I thought it would be helpful to post the answer again, especially at this time of year when we see numerous numbers foraging in our marshes and along the shore. Both species of birds breed on Cape Ann and the coast of Massachusetts.
The first clue is size. Snowy Egrets are small, about the size of the Mallard Duck. Remember the letter S for small and snowy. Great Egrets are much larger, nearly identical in size to that of the Great Blue Heron.
Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Great Egrets have black feet and yellow bills. Snowy Egrets have reverse coloring, yellow feet and black bills.
Great Egrets stand very still while fishing. Snowy Egrets are wonderfully animated when foraging; they run quickly, walk determinedly, fly, and swish their feet around to stir up fish.
A pair of swans was spotted at Niles Pond by my friend Lyn. I stopped by the Pond at 8:15 to have a look. They were on the far side of Niles, getting ready to take off and was only able to take a few quick photos. The pair flew overhead in the direction of Henry’s Pond. After doing the podcast with Joey and the wonderful Gloucester Stage Company cast, I raced over to Henry’s. In the meantime, the two had returned to Niles, but were chased away by our Mr. Swan. As I arrived at Henry’s they flew in!
The pair appear to be in their third year. This is evident by the patches of brown feathers and dullish pink bills, although the bill of the larger of the two is gaining a more coral-orange hue.
Note both have black eyes, unlike our rare and beautiful blue-eyed swan. I am hopeful that Mr. Swan will find a new mate and if we are fortunate, this newly arrived on the scene pair will decide to make Cape Ann their home too!
If you catch sight of swans at any of our area ponds or in the harbor, please write in and let me know. Thank you so much!
While filming at Henry’s Pond in Rockport I at first thought I was seeing a pair of pint-sized, or immature female Mallards amongst a mixed flock of full grown Mallards and American Black Ducks. But no, upon closer examination, their behavior was different from that of the much larger Mallards. They stayed together, the two females, foraging for food along the pond’s edge. When one flashed her brilliant emerald green wing, I realized it was no Mallard but the beautiful Green-winged Teal.
Like the chubby little Bufflehead, the Green-winged Teal is similar in size, about 13-15 inches in length.
I find it interesting that, based on their style of foraging, waterfowl are assembled by ecologists into several groups.“Dabbler” ducks skim food from the surface, or feed in shallow water by tipping forward to submerge their heads (which is exactly what I had observed while filming the petite Green-winged Teal). “Diving” ducks propel themselves underwater with large feet. A few dabblers may dive, but for the most part, dabblers skim.
Dabblers that we see in our region include Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Mottled Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall, and Northern Shoveler. Diving ducks are the Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Masked Duck, and American Wigeon.
A third category, which includes Buffleheads are called “seaducks.” American Black Duck, Eiders, Scooters, Harlequin Duck, Oldsquaw, Goldeneyes, and Mergansers are encompassed in the seaduck group. Read more about Dabblers vs. Divers here.
In the above photo of a male and female Mallard in the foreground, and Green-winged teal in the background, you can see how close in color are the feathers of the females of the two species. The wing pattern is subtly different and you can also see the difference in size between the two species.
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I have been organizing research and lots of photos for our Birds of Massachusetts series. Upcoming stories will feature songbirds, including Mourning Doves, American Robins, and Northern Cardinals, shorebirds of every size and shape including dabblers, divers, and seaducks, and I’ve planned a post just on bird food to grow in your gardens to attract our fine-feathered friends. As I written often, “When you plant, they will come!”