Fittingly for Mother’s Day, this morning I watched two Super Mom’s defending their progeny. We’re familiar with the GHB Piping Plover Super Mom who, despite her handicap, defends her nest and chicks with the same do-or-die energy as does Dad. She did just that this morning, keeping the scruffy bachelor from getting to close to her nest.
Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover Super Mom
Later in the morning I unexpectedly ran into one of my best friends Claudia (and a Super Mom herself!) who was out on a walk. We were admiring the ducklings and the beautiful Mama duck when we noticed a male behaving in a mildly aggressive manner. Mama duck put herself between the male and her ducklings.
I said bye to my friend and began to head home when suddenly the male attacked the Mom, separating her from the ducklings. She fought like crazy to get back to her family but he kept attacking , flying her around in circles and down the beach. The attacks lasted about half an hour; all the while the ducklings were sadly adrift and very confused. A second male joined in the attack. I don’t know how she made It back because they were out of sight for a good amount of time, flying in and out of the dunes, but return she did. Mom gave a series of loud quacks and the ducklings quickly scooted to her side.
Soon after a male showed up and it must have been her mate because he planted himself between the family and the two aggressors. The attacking Mallards lost interest and drifted away. It was scary for a bit and I was imagining a call to Cape Ann’s Wildlife rescuers Jodi and Erin, wondering if they take in ducklings.
Note in the last clip when Mom gives one of the ducklings a gentle nudge on the head and then another of the ducklings stretches his budding winglets; they are so tiny!
Observing mini wildlife dramas, especially the fierce behavior of these valiant, yet highly vulnerable, Mom creatures is a reminder of all the women in our lives who are fierce protectors of their loved ones, and who have inspired us to reach for the stars. Rock On Super Moms!
Wishing you peace, love and the best of health in 2022 – Happy New Year dear Friends. I am so grateful for blog, Facebook, and Instagram friendships, new and old. Thank you for your kind comments throughout the year.
I would like to thank our wonderfully dedicated volunteer crew of Piping Plover Ambassadors, who provide round-the-day protections to one of Cape Ann’s most tender and threatened species.
I wish also to thank you for your kind support and contributions to our Monarch documentary, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. 2021 was a fantastic year for the film, winning many awards, including honors at both environmental festivals and awards at family-oriented film festivals, We also had a very successful fundraiser that allowed us to re-edit the film, and to distribute Beauty on the Wing through American Public in order to bring to the widest television audience possible.
Please stay healthy in the coming year. Wishing all your dreams come true. To peace, love, and great health in 2022. <3
Cape Ann Wildlife – a year in pictures and stories
Thinking about the wonderful wildlife stories that unfolded before us this past year I believe helps provide balance to the daily drone of the terrible pandemic. 2021 has been an extraordinarily beautiful and exciting year for our local wildlife. Several are truly stand out events including the three pairs of Piping Plovers that nested on Cape Ann’s eastern edge, the most ever! The summer of 2021 also brought a tremendous up take in Monarch numbers, both breeding and migrating, and in autumn a rare wandering Wood Stork made its home on Cape Ann for nearly a month. The following are just some of the photographs, short films, and stories. Scroll through this website and you will see many more!
A rarely seen in these parts Black-headed Gull (in winter plumage), a Horned Lark, American Pipits, Red Fox kit all grown up, and an illusive Snowy Owl living at Gloucester Harbor.
A red and gray morph pair of Eastern Screech Owls, flocks of winter Robins, and snowshoeing and snow sledding Snow Buntings grace our shores.
Bluebirds return to declare their nesting sites, the raptors delight in songbirds’ returning, American Wigeon lovebirds, signs of spring abound, and the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers return on March 26th, right on schedule! Gratefully so, Gloucester’s DPW Joe Lucido and crew install PiPl fencing on March 29th!
Ospreys mating, Cedar waxwing lovebirds, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds return, and the Plovers are nest scraping and courting. The early spring storms also brought a dead Minke Whale to the shores of Folly Cove.
The Good Harbor Beach Killdeer family hatches four chicks, beautiful new PiPl on the block, many PiPl smackdowns with three pairs vying for territory, eggs in the nest at Area #3!, warblers and whatnots migrating, Make way for Ducklings – Cape Ann Style, the Salt Island PiPls have a nest with eggs but it is washed away by the King Tide of May 29th, and Cecropia Moths mating and egg laying.
Piping Plover ambassadors first meeting of the season, on June 9th the Boardwalk #3 PiPls hatch four chicks, one chick perishes, Super Mom has a foot injury, Horseshoe Crabs at Good Harbor Beach, Piping Plover Ambassador badges from Jonathan and Duncan, a second nest is discovered at Salt Island with a new pair of parents (the first was washed away in the storm surge during the May King Tide), and for the first time, Piping Plovers are nesting at Cape Hedge Beach.
Photos from area ponds – I spent far more time observing the cygnets but all three families were super sweet and adorable. The Mute Swan cygnets are about a week old, the Mallard ducklings tiny, probably only a few days old, and I am not sure how old are the Canada Geese goslings.
The female Mute Swan is on the left. You can tell by the size of the black knob above the bill. Typically, the male’s knob, also called a blackberry, is slightly larger during the breeding season.
Mom Mute Swan repeatedly dives deeply to pull up pond vegetation for the cygnets meal. Growing swans have huge appetites. Both she and the male do this many time during the course of a day.
Without making a peep, from the dense patch of reeds on the north side of Niles Pond appeared Mama Mallard and four little ducklings. As long as I stood perfectly still and didn’t make any rustling noises, Mama didn’t mind my presence. She and the ducklings foraged all along the edge of the pond, until they spotted the males. They quickly skedaddled, making a beeline back to the reeds and just as quietly as they had emerged, back they slipped into the shelter of the cattails.
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.
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.
The Mallard Duck family that I have been filming during the early morning hours this past week is allowing me to get very close, venturing to within two feet from where I am tucked in amongst the reeds by the water’s edge. The ducklings mirror the parent’s every action and they are especially adorable learning how to oil their feathers. Although the female attempts to stay close, and the male is always hovering nearby, one is becoming increasingly independent, a little too independent if you ask me. I can’t get over the ducklings vulnerability–its a miracle any survive to adulthood.
The mixed flock of ducks is comprised mostly of Mallards, with several pairs of American Black Ducks mixed in. A single pair of Blue-winged Teals was spotted for several days.
I was standing so still while filming yesterday morning that I don’t think the female mallard was at first aware of my presence. What a wonderful treat to see she and the ducklings emerge from the reeds growing along the water’s edge. They are amazingly fast and adeptly darted through the water and across the beach, as though they had been born months earlier. I was getting a tremendous cramp and had to stand quickly, which was mama mallard’s cue to chide the ducklings back into the tall grass.