After Monday night’s unexpected snowstorm, I stopped by the Lighthouse the following morning and was delighted to find a large flock of gorgeous Snow Buntings foraging in the marsh. There are tons of wildflowers at Eastern Point, both native and nonnative species, and the Snow Buntings were feasting on the seeds. Snow Buntings are wonderfully fun to watch as they dive into the snow mounds, hop across the snow with snowshoe-like feet, take flight in unison, and get into tussles over plants particularly rife with seed heads.
I spent most of the time filming the snow birds but here is one photo. It’s the first and only time I have ever seen Snow Buntings at the Lighthouse. I stopped by this morning several times, but no sign of the little beauties, and most of the snow had already melted. Yesterday was a very fortunate few moments!
November through December is White-tailed Deer mating season in New England. At dusk in late November we watched a magnificent buck chase a doe across the marshy field back and forth a number of times, before they both disappeared behind a clump of phragmites.
A grand Great Egret has been hanging out at the Good Harbor Beach marsh. He has been dining on small fish mostly. The photos are from Sunday but I didn’t spot him either yesterday or today; perhaps he has moved on.
The long breeding plumes are called aigrettes.
Cape Ann is part of the Great Egrets breeding range, particularly House Island. This Egret is in full breeding plumage, advertising to a potential mate how fit and desirable he is to other Great Egrets. These same beautiful feathers, and humanity’s indiscriminate killing of, are what caused the bird to become nearly extinct. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the long breeding plumes, called aigrettes, of many species of herons and egrets were prized as fashion accessories to adorn women’s hats. Thanks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, it is illegal to hunt or harm in any way gorgeous birds such as the Great Egret, and egrets and herons are making a comeback.
Featuring: Brant Geese, Black-capped Chickadees, Black-crowned Night Heron, Blue Jays, Cardinals, American Robins, Mockingbirds, Savannah Sparrows, House Finches, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Common Grackle.
Beautiful iridescent feathers of the Common Grackle.
Spring is a fantastic time of year in Massachusetts to see wildlife, whether that be whale or winged creature. Marine species are migrating to the abundant feeding grounds of the North Atlantic as avian species are traveling along the Atlantic Flyway to summer breeding regions in the boreal forests and Arctic tundra. And, too, the bare limbs of tree branches and naked shrubs make for easy viewing of species that breed and nest in our region. Verdant foliage that will soon spring open, although much longed for, also obscures nesting activity. Get out today and you’ll be richly rewarded by what you see along shoreline and pond bank.
Male Red-winged Blackbird singing to his lady love
Once the trees leaf, we’ll still hear the songsters but see them less.
Nests will be hidden from view.
Five migrating Brant Geese were foraging on seaweed at Loblolly Cove this morning.
From far across the marsh, large brown moving shapes were spotted. I just had to pull over to investigate and was happily surprised to see a flock of perhaps a dozen male turkeys all puffed up and struttin’ their stuff. I headed over to the opposite side of the marsh in hopes of getting a closer look at what was going on.
Turkey hen foraging
Found along the edge, where the marsh met the woodlands, were the objects of desire. A flock of approximately an equal number of hens were foraging for insects and vegetation in the sun-warmed moist earth.
Males begin exhibiting mating behavior as early as late February and courtship was full underway on this unusually warm February morning. The funny thing was, the toms were not fighting over the hens, as you might imagine. Instead the males seemed to be paired off, bonded to each other and working together, strategically placing themselves in close proximity to the females. A series of gobbles and calls from the males closest to the females set off a chain reaction of calls to the toms less close. The last to respond were the toms furthest away from the females, the ones still in the marsh. It was utterly fascinating to watch and I tried to get as much footage as possible while standing as stone still for as long as is humanly possible.
With much curiosity, and as soon as a spare moment was found, I read several interesting articles on the complex social behavior of Wild Turkeys and it is true, the males were bromancing, as much as they were romancing.
Ninety percent of all birds form some sort of male-female bond. From my reading I learned that Wild Turkeys do not. The females nest and care for the poults entirely on her own. The dominant male in a pair, and the less dominant of the two, will mate with the same female. Wild Turkey male bonding had been observed for some time however, the female can hold sperm for up to fifty days, so without DNA testing it was difficult to know who was the parent of her offspring. DNA tests show that the eggs are often fertilized by more than one male. This behavior insures greater genetic diversity. And it has been shown that bromancing males produce a proportionately greater number of offspring than males that court on their own. Poult mortality is extremely high. The Wild Turkey bromance mating strategy produces a greater number of young and is nature’s way of insuring future generations.
The snood is the cone shaped bump on the crown of the tom’s head (see below).
The wattle (or dewlap) is the flap of skin under the beak. Caruncles are the wart-like bumps covering the tom’s head. What are referred to as the “major” caruncles are the large growths that lie beneath the wattle. When passions are aroused, the caruncles become engorged, turning brilliant red, and the snood is extended. The snood can grow twelve inches in a matter of moments. In the first photo below you can see the snood draped over the beak and in the second, a tom with an even longer snood.
It’s all in the snood, the longer the snood, the more attractive the female finds the male.
Male Turkey not puffed up and snood retracted.
A young male turkey is called a jake and its beard is usually not longer than a few inches. The longer the beard, generally speaking, the older the turkey.
Male Wild Turkey, with beard and leg spurs.
Male Wild Turkeys with snood extended (foreground) and snood retracted (background).
When the butt end is prettier than the front end.
In case you are unsure on how to tell the difference between male (called tom or gobbler) and female (hen), compare the top two photos. The tom has a snood, large caruncles, carunculate (bumpy) skin around the face, and a pronounced beard. The hen does not. Gobblers also have sharp spurs on the back of their legs and hens do not.
Heard at nearly every New England marsh, one can’t help but notice the beautiful and seemingly never ending song of the male Red-winged Blackbird. From sunrise to sunset he’s calling to his girl. Early this spring I set out to record the sounds of the marsh for my Monarch film. The male Red-winged Blackbirds are the stars of the marsh and while capturing their vocalizations over the past several months, I also was also able to capture footage of their fascinating behaviors.
Male Red-winged Blackbirds Perching on Cattails (and Eating the Seed Heads, Too)
You’ll see many more males because they perch on higher ground, at the top of the cattails, phragmites, scrubby shrubs, phone lines, and treetops. They are defending their territory through song and a showy display of red and yellow wing bars. The males too, often swoop to the edge of the pond’s shoreline and peck at the sand.
Plain Jane Female ~ What’s All the Fuss About!
The female Red-winged Blackbird, with her more subdued feathers of brown and beige, typically stays closer to the ground, building her nest and eating insects.
Female Red-winged Blackbird in the foreground with male in the background. As you can see in the photo, the female looks like a large dark sparrow.