Have you ever seen a Herring Gull feed its young? I was experimenting with my new camera and turned it towards this adult and fledgling at the tidal flats. The fledgling was begging like crazy and then helped pull out the mass from the adult’s throat. At first I thought they were fighting over the regurgitated food but perhaps the adult was teaching the fledgling how to break off a bit. Other nearby gulls took notice of the feeding and swooped in to grab the food. Mom gulped the mass back down her throat and quickly departed.
Unfortunately, the camera went out of focus briefly, but you get the idea. Gulls are such a menace on the beach, to both beachgoers and Plovers, but they are still beautiful creatures and it was fascinating to see how they feed their babies.
Life at the Edge of the Sea- Double-crested Cormorant Feeding Frenzy!
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.
Waiting for the Cormorants early morning
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.
Nearly all the species of herons that breed in our region have been spotted in the frenzy including the Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron, and Black-crowned Night Heron.
After feeding, the herons often find a quiet place to preen before heading back in the late afternoon to their overnight roosting grounds.
Over the past several months of documenting our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers, beginning in March, we have seen a beautiful collection of shorebirds, gulls, hawks, and wading birds. The continuous ebb and flow of replenishing waters at the tidal creek, expansive marsh, and intertidal pools make for a range of rich habitat where birds can find food and shelter. Minnows, sea worms, crabs, tiny mollusks, and a wide variety of other invertebrates provide fuel for hungry travelers as well as summer residents.
Too many photos for one post I just realized and will post heron and egret photos next.
Look for this unmistakeable gull at Good Harbor Beach. It has been here for several days. You can’t miss his distinguished black head and deepest slate gray wings. If lucky, he may even laugh his funny laugh for you. This is a first for me, seeing a Laughing Gull at Good Harbor Beach. When I was a child we would see them often at my Grandparent’s beach on Cape Cod. If you have seen Laughing Gulls on Cape Ann please write and let us know.
Mass Audubon’s historic status on the Laughing Gull reports that this smallest of our breeding gulls has had a difficult time reproducing in Massachusetts. In the mid 1800s, Laughing Gulls reigned over Muskeget Island, off the Nantucket coast, but within a 25-year period, commercial eggers reduced their population to but only a few nesting pairs. “By 1923, however, protective actions taken by the keeper of the island’s lifesaving station helped the Laughing Gull population rebound to the thousands. Further bolstered by the protection afforded by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, Laughing Gulls expanded their colony at Muskeget Island to 20,000 pairs by the 1940s. Unfortunately, a preponderance of Herring Gulls also benefited from the protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as from the increase in food available to them at open landfills at that time.” The rise of the Herring Gull has ultimately led to the severe decline of breeding Laughing Gulls in Massachusetts and today there are thought to be only about 500 pairs. Imagine, from 20,000 pairs to only 500!
One interesting fact is that not only do they nest in Dune Grass, but also have a penchant for dense patches of Poison Ivy. The Good Harbor Beach Laughing Gull has been foraging on crustaceans and invertebrates at the tide pools.