Tag Archives: New England pond

WHY NILES POND IS VITALLY IMPORTANT TO CAPE ANN’S ECOSYSTEM AND WHAT IS BEING DONE TO PROTECT THE CAUSEWAY

Repair work to the Niles Pond/Brace Cove berm was completed last week. Severe storms over the past several years had breached the area of the Pond adjacent to the Retreat House. Sand, rocks, popples, and even boulders have been pushed by the pounding surf into the Pond.

Despite the excellent repairs, this corner of Niles Pond continues to remain vulnerable. The causeway needs not only to be repaired, but to also be rebuilt to withstand future storms and rising sea level.

Why not just let nature take its course and let the sea pour in you may ask? Won’t Niles Pond eventually become a saltwater marsh? Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

The answer is a resounding NO!

For readers not familiar, the very narrow strip of land that runs between freshwater Niles Pond and Brace Cove is interchangeably referred to as a berm or causeway. This narrowest bridge of land plays an outsized, yet invaluable, role in preventing the salty sea of the Atlantic from swallowing Niles Pond.

It is believed that long ago Niles Pond was a lagoon, which was sealed off by rising sand and rock. Over time, it became a freshwater pond, fed by springs and rainfall. The detail of the Mason map from 1831 clearly shows the division between the Pond and the Cove.

It can’t be overstated enough how uniquely invaluable is the ecosystem created by the causeway, this juncture where Niles Pond meets Brace Cove. Ponds are widely regarded as ecological “hotspots,” for the diversity of life they support. Nowhere is that more evident than at Niles Pond. The sheer number of species of wildlife supported by Niles Pond is simply breathtaking. To name but a few: Painted Turtles, Snapping Turtles, Spring Peepers, American Bullfrogs, Leopard Frogs, Muskrats, Minks, Red Squirrels, Green Herons, Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Screech Owls and Barred Owls, Cedar Waxwings and songbirds of every tune and color, Honeybees and native pollinators, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Coyotes, Red Fox, White-tailed Deer … the list goes on and on.

Common Buckeye drinking nectar from Seaside Goldenrod, Niles Pond causeway

The Niles Pond ecosystem not only supports myriad species of resident wildlife but also hundreds of species of migrating songbirds, waterbirds, raptors, and insects. Eastern Point is an important stopover and staging area for wildlife traveling the Atlantic flyway. Niles Pond provides essential freshwater while both the Pond and Brace Cove provide much needed sustenance. Berries, wildflower seeds, pond vegetation, and the zillions of invertebrates found at the Pond, in the seaweed, and at the shoreline support a wondrous array of travelers; a small sampling includes herons, Merlins, hawks, songbirds, Monarch butterflies, Bald Eagles, gulls and ducks and geese (rare and common), Snow Buntings, Plovers, Whimbrels, and many more.

Monarch Butterfly drinking nectar Smooth Asters Niles Pond

Juvenile Wood Stork

Why, even the wildly-rare-for-these-parts White Pelican and juvenile Wood Stork have stopped at Niles Pond to rest and to refuel!

To lose Niles Pond to some misguided notion that it needs to become a saltwater marsh would be tragic beyond measure. Our nation as a whole is losing its freshwater ponds at an alarming rate. Ponds are absolutely critical to the survival of local and migrating wildlife, especially large scale, healthy natural ponds that are located within the four US Flyway zones. Niles Pond has been a great pond for millennia. The accessibility of the fresh water ecosystem found at Niles Pond is part of the instinctual DNA of both resident and migrating wild creatures.

The Association of Eastern Point Residents has assumed responsibility for the maintenance of the causeway. In the future, the Association needs permission to bring riprap in to distribute at the weakest points of the causeway. Every time the topography of the causeway is redistributed to rebuild the corner where the greatest number of breaches are occurring, the vegetation from another part of the berm is disturbed. This is wholly counterproductive because it is in part preventing a natural succession of vegetation to permanently take hold.

Migrating yellow-rumped Warbler Niles Pond

Niles Pond is enjoyed by dog lovers, ice skaters, ice boat sailors, birders, painters, photographers, joggers, walkers, and more. We can all give thanks to the Association of Eastern Point Residents for the stellar job they are doing in maintaining the causeway. Their time and expense is a gift of the greatest kind to the entire community.

This narrowest of causeways plays the critical role in preventing a freshwater dedicated Massachusetts great pond from becoming a salty marsh or lagoon. Cherished greatly by residents and guests alike for the beautiful, peaceful walk it affords along the banks of the Pond, the preservation of Niles Pond benefits all of Cape Ann, her citizens and wildlife. 

With thanks to Karen Gorczyca, John McNiff, and Mike S. for sharing information about preserving the Niles Pond causeway.

American Bullfrog Niles Pond

Cattails Niles Pond

 

AUTUMN MEADOWHAWKS MATING AND IN-TANDEM

At this time of year, look for Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonflies at our local ponds, wetlands, slow moving streams, marshes, and woodlands. They emerge in mid-summer and are on the wing as late as through November. The males especially are easily spotted with their brilliant vermilion abdomens. Male Meadowhawks dart about chasing other males away from their territory.Autumn Meadowhawks copulating in the typical dragonfly “mating wheel” fashion. The male (vermilion abdomen) grasps the female behind her head while the female places the tip of her abdomen at the spot on his abdomen where he stores sperm.

Autumn Meadowhawks in-tandem

After mating, the female Autumn Meadowhawk oviposits (lays) her eggs in-tandem with the male. They stay attached while he repeatedly dips her in water and at the base of vegetation as she deposits her eggs. By staying joined together and flying in-tandem, he prevents other male Meadowhawks from replacing his sperm with their own.

These late season dragonflies are an important strand in our wetland ecology. Their tiny larvae provide food for ducks, fish, frogs, shorebirds, and wading birds, while migrating songbirds traveling through dine on the adults.

American Bullfrog patiently waiting for a dragonfly snack

Autumn Meadowhawks range map

 

Coyote Clan

Stopping on my way home from a job site in Boston late this afternoon, I met up with a beautiful immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron. While photographing and filming, out from the woods appeared a pack of coyotes, two youngsters and two adults, I think. Then the heron that I was filming flew low and toward the coyotes; please don’t do that I said to nobody but myself. Up he then flew into the trees above and you can see one of the adult coyotes looking up toward the heron.

The canids took a few sips of water from the pond’s edge before stealing back into the brush. A few seconds later there was a series of loud growling and yelping. I was tired and shaky from a long day with no lunch, a little spooked that the coyotes were so close and didn’t wait to see what would happen next.  With both cameras in hand, I did manage to film the scene (and record audio of the ferocious growling!) and here are a few snapshots.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Immature