The strip of land that narrowly divides Niles Pond from Brace Cove suffered storm damage this past winter. Rough rocks and boulders were strewn willy nilly all about the berm. The path has been greatly smoothed and looks fantastic!
A brief break from election coverage –
Buffleheads may be the tiniest diving duck found in North America; they are also the spunkiest, and quite possibly the cutest. Buffleheads, along with their waterside courtship antics, have returned in full force to Cape Ann’s shores, having spent the breeding season in central Canada. Some will migrate as far south as central Mexico and lucky for us, we will have a population that remains all winter.Male Bufflehead
The English name is a combination of buffalo and head, referring to the bulbous head shape. This is most noticeable when the male puffs out the feathers on his head, greatly increasing how large his head appears to competing males and potential mates.
The genus name, Bucephala, is derived from Ancient Greek boukephalos, “bullheaded”, from bous, “bull ” and kephale, “head”, again a reference to the bulbous head shape of the species. The species name albeola is from Latin albus, white.
Life at the Edge of the Sea – Web Weaver’s Works
Beautiful spun silver and gold works caught between branches and dissipating wildflowers
Clethra alnifolia is more commonly known by its many descriptive names of Summersweet, Sweet Pepperbush, and Honeysweet. In an old book on fragrance, written by Louise Beebe Wilder, she writes that in Gloucester of old it was described as ‘Sailor’s Delight.’ During the 19th and early 20th century, as told by Wilder, the sailors entering the harbor on homebound ships would reportedly delight in its fragrance wafting out to see.
The following is an excerpt from a book that I wrote back in 2004-2007, which was published by David R. Godine in 2009. The book is about designing landscape habitats for wild creatures and for people, titled Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities: Notes from a Gloucester Garden, and all that I wrote then, still holds true to day.
“Summersweet bears small white florets held on racemes, and depending on the cultivar may be shaded with varying hues of pink to rose-red. The tapering spires of fragrant blossoms appear in mid to late summer. Clethra has a sweet and spicy though somewhat pungent aroma, and when the summer air is sultry and humid, the fragrance permeates the garden, Summersweet is a nectar food attractive to bees and a wide variety of butterflies, notably the Silver-spotted Skipper.” See more at Oh GardenMyriad species of bees and butterflies, along with Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, are attracted to Clethra for its sweet nectar, while American Robins, Goldfinches and warblers dine on Summersweet’s ripened berries.
Clethra fruits ripening
So very curious about the Bald Eagle that I photographed last week, a quick google search led to some very handy images and websites. I’m still not sure exactly how old is the one that I have been seeing but after searching, I’d say it was three and half years old. Bald Eagles don’t gain their pure white heads and tails, intensely yellow eyes, and overall dark brown plumage until they are five years old.
These were the most helpful websites for aging Bald Eagles:
Several years ago, a juvenile Bald Eagle was at Niles Pond. After looking through the images, I would think it was a Basic II Plumage, about two and half years old, when the photos were taken.
Bald Eagle Niles Pond Gloucester
Walking along the edge of the pond I heard a new-to-my-ears sound, an odd sort of mewing, repeated over and over again. What could that be? I snuck along as quiet as could be following the sound. To my amazement, it was a pair of Muskrats cavorting in the reeds, and they were courting and mating!!! You can just barely make out two together in the photo with the dense reeds, too dense to get a good photo, but not too dense to see what they were up to.
A female Muskrat is ready to breed at only one year of age. The breeding season lasts from March through August. A pair will mate while partially submerged, or on water-logged debris above the surface (where our little pair was mating). She may have 2-3 litters per year, with an average of 6 to 8 kits per litter.
Lest folks worry the pond will become overrun with Muskrats, they are a relatively short-lived mammal and have many, many predators including Snapping Turtles, large fish, Eastern Coyotes, Red and Gray Foxes, Weasels, River Otters, Bobcats, Great Horned Owls, and Northern Harriers. But their chief enemy are Minks and Raccoons.
For our reader’s general information, Muskrats are easy to distinguish from Beavers. They are about a tenth the size; Muskrats weigh 1 to 4 pounds whereas Beavers weighs 30 pounds or more. The muskrat’s tail is not large large and flat, but slender and elongated.
After Thursday’s storm we tried going for a beach walk at Good Harbor, Brace Cove, and Niles before giving up and finding a less windy stroll along Niles Pond. The water was a gorgeous deep ultramarine and even the inner harbor was beautiful with whitecaps.
I was concerned and did not not think the young heron could possibly find enough food after Niles Pond froze solidly over. The pond was thick with a heavy layer of ice, so thick people had been skating.
Several days ago when out for a walk, I heard a krickly sound coming from the reeds along the pond’s edge. A beautiful Red Squirrel ran across my path. A few moments later, the same krickly krickly sound, only this time when I peered in, there was the juvenile BCNH, sleepy-eyed and shifting on the cold ice.
I walked out onto the ice adjacent to where he had been standing and there, very clearly, was a trail of his perfectly delineated tracks. Not only that, but there was a hole in the ice, surrounded by several sets of his tracks. Having observed BCNH during the summer months standing stock still in one place for hours on end, I can just imagine that he must have stood over that hole for hours waiting for his dinner to swim by. Simply amazed!
If you are having difficulty viewing the photos large, double click and you should be able to see full size.
My camera lens was too long to get a close up of the tracks. I was only able to take these cell phone pics, but you can still see very clearly the heron’s tracks in the snowy ice, and the ice hole.Cape Ann is located at the tippy northern end of their year round Atlantic coastal range.
He mostly stays well-hidden in the dense thickets at water’s edge. I’ve read that Night Herons occasionally spend the entire winter in northern regions. Cape Ann is at the tippy edge of their year round coastal range. Let’s hope this youngster will survive the next several months.
Our shores abound with wonderful wild creatures we more often see in wintertime, and species we can view better because the trees are bare. The duo of male American Wigeons are still here, as are the pair of Pipits. I watched yesterday afternoon as the Pipits flew away from the beach in unison, and then returned together about twenty minutes later to continue to forage in the seaweed and sand.
People always ask, what causes these gigantic rings?
There’s an old weather saying: ring around the moon means rain soon. There’s truth to this saying, because high cirrus clouds often come before a storm. Notice in these photos that the sky looks fairly clear. After all, you can see the sun or moon. And yet halos are a sign of high, thin cirrus clouds drifting 20,000 feet or more above our heads.
These clouds contain millions of tiny ice crystals. The halos you see are caused by bothrefraction, or splitting of light, and also by reflection, or glints of light from these ice crystals. The crystals have to be oriented and positioned just so with respect to your eye, in order for the halo to appear.
That’s why, like rainbows, halos around the sun – or moon – are personal. Everyone sees their own particular halo, made by their own particular ice crystals, which are different from the ice crystals making the halo of the person standing next to you.
That’s a good question that is not easy to answer accurately because no halo frequency statistics are collected except in one or two mid latitude European countries.
We need to distinguish between (a) halos formed by low level diamond dust during very cold weather and (b) halos formed by ice crystals in high cirrus cloud.
Obviously (a) halos only occur in Polar regions or countries with very cold winters (Canada for example is not high latitude).
(b) Halos can occur anywhere on the planet during winter or summer. Their frequency depends on the frequency of cirrus coverage and whether it has had a history such that it contains halo forming crystals. The latter is hard to predict. For example, there are major differences in halo frequencies and types of halos across even 200 miles [300 km] in the UK.
Bottom line: Halos around the sun or moon are caused by high, thin cirrus clouds drifting high above your head. Tiny ice crystals in Earth’s atmosphere create the halos. They do it by refracting and reflecting the light. Lunar halos are signs that storms are nearby.
The Coot’s whacky-looking feet only adds to the charm of this adorable waterbird, with its chicken-shaped silhouette, white pointed beak that ends in a sploge of maroon, and garnet, bead-like eyes. Oh, and when the light hits just right, you can see the Coot’s feet are colored in shades of blue, green, and yellow.
The American Coot’s foot is an all-purpose foot so to speak. The lobes serve the bird well for both walking on dry land and for swimming. Most ducks have webbed feet, which are great for propelling through water, but which don’t work very well on land. The Coot’s lobes fall back when lifting its foot, which aids in walking on a variety of surfaces including grass, ice, and mud.
The Coot’s oversized feet also help in becoming airborne; the bird must run across the surface of the water and flap its wings vigorously in order to take off. Its palmate toe helps it swim, and lastly, the Coot uses its strong feet for battling other Coots.
The past week Eastern Point has seen a wonderful influx of wildlife, in addition to the beautiful creatures already wintering over and migrating through.
On Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a great raft of Ring-necked Ducks joined the flock of Buffleheads and Mallards at Niles Pond. Five chunky American Coots have been there for over a week, and two female Ruddy Ducks have been spotted.
Fifteen Harbor Seals were sunning and basking on the rocks at Brace Cove on Wednesday, along with several Bonaparte’s Gulls that were diving and foraging in the waves. The increasingly less timid Lark Sparrow is still here, too.
The most enigmatic of Great Blue Herons criss crosses the pond a dozen times a day but, unlike last year’s fall migrating GBH, who allowed for a closer glimpse, this heron is super people shy. He has been here for about a week and was present again today.
This morning I watched the four beautiful Mute Swans depart over Brace Rock, in a southerly direction. Will they return? Mute Swans migrate from body of water to body of water within a region. Perhaps they will return, or they could possibly have flown to a nearby location–further exploring our Island.
Leaving Niles Pond this morning and flying over Brace Cove.
A very rare-for-these parts Lark Sparrow was spotted by numerous birders today and yesterday at Niles Pond. The beautiful little songster kept either close to the ground foraging on tiny seeds or well camouflaged in the crisscrossing branches of trees and shrubs.
Lark Sparrow Niles Pond Gloucester Massachusetts
Song Sparrows Gloucester and Ipswich
We mostly see Song Sparrows around Niles at this time of year. Compare in the above photos how plain the breast of the Lark Sparrow is to that of the heavily streaked Song Sparrow’s underparts. I write rare-for-these-parts because the Lark Sparrow is entirely out of its range as you can see in the first attached map below.
A second rare bird has been spotted on Eastern Point, a Western Kingbird. It was a rough day for photographing, too overcast, so here is a photo from wikicommons media so that if you are around the Point, you will know what to look for. The Western Kingbird is also far outside its range.
The flock of Mute Swans that arrived just about two weeks ago at Niles Pond is settling in. They are finding plenty to eat and spend their days foraging at pond vegetation, preening, napping, and occasionally stretching their wings for a flight around the pond.
Mute Swans migrate from body of water to body of water within a region. Will they stay in our area or is Niles Pond only a temporary home? When Niles Pond, and all other freshwater ponds and waterways freeze this winter, they will have to move to saltwater coves and harbors.
The absence of Mr. Swan has allowed this small flock to live peaceably at Niles Pond. Mr. Swan and his previous mates spent the winters at Rockport and Gloucester Harbors. Perhaps our Niles Pond flock will do the same. We can tell by the lack of gray in their feathers that they are at least two years old, which means they have managed to survive at least one winter in our region. That is no small feat!
Romance is in the air with these two!
The melodious notes of the Song Sparrow are heard from sunup ’til sundown, spring, summer, and fall. Their beautiful song is most welcome, especially at this time of year when there are fewer songbirds on our shores and many that remain through the winter months don’t sing during the non-breeding season.
Song Sparrows have adapted to a wide variety of habitats. Despite the narrowness of the strip of land that separates freshwater Niles Pond from salty Brace Cove, Song Sparrows find plenty to forage on and excellent cover in the shrubby undergrowth found there.
A beautiful trio of young Mute Swans spent the day at Niles Pond foraging on pond vegetation and enjoying fresh water. When the fresh water ponds thaw, we see our local swans take a break from their salty harbor refuges. The Three Graces spent the entire day eating nearly nonstop, which suggests they are very hungry.
I believe the three young swans are not quite one year old. Their bills are pale, and brown first-molt feathers mix with incoming white feathers. It’s their first winter so if you see the young swans, please be kind.
Mr. Swan, too, has been enjoying the fresh water at Henry’s Pond. He’s so territorial that I hope he stays over in Rockport for a bit so the Three Graces can fortify at Niles.
My fingers froze and I had to call it quits yet despite the bitterly cold five degree temperature and biting wind, day break brought blue skies and beautiful sea smoke all along the backshore, from Gloucester’s Ten Pound Island Lighthouse to Rockport’s Twin Lighthouses.
Take heart friends -today is the last day of January- only 48 more days until the spring equinox!
Fresh wild animal tracks crossing Niles Pond